Author William Manchester called him "the most hated man of World War II." Not because he sided with the Nazis or the Japanese, but because he had been classified 4-F. Instead of serving in the army, the young man from New Jersey stayed home in America, made piles of money and enjoyed being photographed with lots of beautiful women.
He was a man of many contradictions. He'd become a big star and was notorious for a kind of in-your-face arrogance and self-confidence. Yet even though the official reason he'd been classified 4-F was because of a perforated eardrum, in fact he was described as neurotic and judged "not acceptable material from a psychiatric standpoint."
He rose to success before World War II. His group, The Hoboken Four, won first prize on the "Major Bowes Amateur Hour" radio show in 1935, then the young heartthrob went on to sing for Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. By 1941, he was voted top male singer in the country.
After World War II his career suffered. He appeared in a couple of movies. He briefly had a radio show, and made a failed run at a TV show. In 1951, the story goes, he was walking through Times Square in New York and saw the name of his rival, Eddie Fisher, up in lights. A crowd of teenage girls was swarming the theater. He got so depressed he went home, shut the door to his kitchen, turned on the gas and lay his head on top of the stove. A friend found him later, lying on the kitchen floor, crying and sobbing that he was such a failure he couldn't even commit suicide.
But he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and soon found his way to Las Vegas, appearing at the Desert Inn. Then he was signed to play Pvt. Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity, the 1953 movie based on James Jones's bestselling novel chronicling the lives and loves of soldiers in Hawaii just before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (the movie won eight Oscars in all, including Best Picture), and with that his career was back on track. In the late 1950s, as he was entering his 40s, he developed a more mature sound that included saloon songs, blues-tinged ballads and jazzier tunes. He was voted top male vocalist, and his albums led the charts with In the Wee Small Hours in 1955, Songs for Swingin' Lovers in 1956 and Come Fly with Me in 1958.
It was during this period when Frank Sinatra -- for surely by now (this is an easy one!) you've guessed he's Frank Sinatra, aka Old Blue Eyes, aka The Chairman of the Board -- divorced his first wife Nancy (with whom he had his three children, Nancy, Frank, Fr., and Tina). He married film star Ava Gardner in 1951, and divorced her in 1957. He married and divorced Mia Farrow in the 1960s, then in 1976 married Barbara Marx and stayed with her until his death at age 82 in 1998.
Sinatra led a storied life in the movies, the music business, in Vegas, even in politics. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in 1955 for his starring role in Man with the Golden Arm. He won critical acclaim for the Manchurian Candidate (1962). He also starred in the original Ocean's Eleven (1960) with buddies Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop -- a group of top Hollywood talent that came to be known as the Rat Pack.
Even as the Beatles and Rolling Stones brought a whole new culture to the world of music, Sinatra won the Grammy for Album of the Year in both 1966, for September of My Years, which included his hit single "It Was a Very Good Year," and in 1967 for his anthology album A Man and His Music. Meantime, he was churning out hit singles including "Strangers in the Night" in 1966, "That's Life" in 1967 and "My Way" in 1969.
In his younger years Sinatra was an ardent Democrat, helping Franklin Roosevelt raise money and register voters in the 1940s. He also had a connection to the Kennedy family through Peter Lawford (married to John Kennedy's sister Patricia), and he joined the Kennedy campaign in 1960. He sang the National Anthem at the Democratic convention in both 1956 and 1960, and helped organize Kennedy's inaugural ball in January 1961. He was also at the time reputed to be associated with the Mafia ("If you sing in joints, you're gonna know the guys that run them," Sinatra said), and was allegedly a liaison between the Kennedy campaign and the Giancana family in an effort to "get out the vote."
Sinatra turned more conservative in his later years. He endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1970 for his second term as governor of California, he supported Richard Nixon in 1972, and backed Ronald Reagan for president in 1980. Sinatra went on to arrange Reagan's presidential gala in 1981 -- just as he had done for John F. Kennedy 20 years earlier.
As for me, I must admit I was never particularly a Sinatra fan (like, you know, some people are crazy about him.) It's just that, in 1965 when I was in high school, and Frank Sinatra was turning 50, he seemed so old. Nevertheless, I always appreciated his talent and his technique and his longevity. He made over 1,400 recordings over his 50-year career. And I did like a few of his songs. Especially this one: