WASHINGTON, February 27, 2013 — It’s been 15 years since the legendary Frank Sinatra passed away. It’s been 60 years since Mr. Sinatra’s Oscar-winning performance in “From Here To Eternity.” However, one cannot overestimate the significance of the Oscar on the Sinatra career. It, in fact, launched the greatest comeback story in show business history.
Before that Oscar, Mr. Sinatra had been dropped by his movie company, his record company and his marriage partner, Ava Gardner. The phrase “washed up” had become affixed to the Sinatra name like a barnacle to a sinking boat. And when the name “Frankie” was used on the radio to introduce a hit recording, it was Frankie Laine with such novelty tunes as “Mule Train” and “Cry of the Wild Goose.”
Sammy Davis Jr., Sinatra’s friend and protégé, recalled seeing Sinatra during this down period, casually strolling through Times Square with no one giving him a second glance, whereas a decade earlier, young people (called “bobbysoxers” back then) had tied up traffic in this area to get a glimpse of the American idol.
“Not since the days of Rudolph Valentino has American womanhood made such unabashed public love to an entertainer,” reported Time magazine in 1943. Some entertainment writers had called it “mass hysteria”; others dubbed the phenomenon “Sinatramania.
In retrospect, one thing is certain: after receiving that 1953 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Frank Sinatra was back.
He was signed by Capitol Records which released a series of singles and best-selling “concept albums,” featuring songs like the title song of “From Here To Eternity,” “I’ve Got the World On a String,” “Learnin’ the Blues,” and “Just One of Those Things.”
Frank Sinatra quickly gained superstar status as the prototypical entertainer. He went on to enjoyed a magnificent acting career, making 58 pictures, and becoming more closely associated with Oscar than most people classified strictly as actors.
In his enduring career, Sinatra received three Oscars. His first was in 1945, when he received a special Oscar for a 45-minute short titled, “The House I Live In,” which spoke against prejudice and bigotry.
The second Oscar was that for Best Supporting Actor as Maggio in “From Here To Eternity.” He received his third Oscar in 1971, the prized Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar, given for Mr. Sinatra’s charity work over the years. His good friend Gregory Peck presented it to him.
There was also an Academy Award nomination in 1955, as Best Actor for his outstanding performance in “The Man With the Golden Arm,” as a drug addict struggling to kick the habit. Ironically, although he had credited Ernest Borgnine with helping him win the Oscar for “Eternity,” it was Borgnine who beat him out for his classic portrayal of “Marty.”
Frank became a frequent presenter at the Oscars. It was he who handed the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Eva Marie Saint when she starred in a motion picture filmed in Sinatra’s hometown of Hoboken, N.J., “On the Waterfront.”
Sinatra’s further association with Oscar was hosting the Academy Awards in 1963. Bob Hope quipped that if you think you see one of the statues moving, don’t be alarmed, it’s probably Frank. Sinatra also co-hosted the show in 1975 and in 1969.
Not only did his acting get the 8.5-pound statue’s attention, his movie songs did too. His singing “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” won an Oscar in 1943 from his movie, “Higher and Higher.” In 1955, he recorded the opening title song for a movie he wasn’t even in, and it won the Oscar for Best Song: “Three Coins in the Fountain.”
He sang the 1957 Oscar-winning song, “All the Way,” in his movie, “The Joker Is Wild.” Sinatra, who had been scarred by a doctor’s forceps at birth, used these scars to advantage in this film because his character’s throat is cut by Chicago gangsters.
It is worth mentioning the movie in which Frank Sinatra makes a cameo appearance in the final scene. All he does is jog up on stage and collect an Oscar. The 1966 movie starring Stephen Boyd was titled, “The Oscar.” Frank made another cameo appearance in the Oscar-winning motion picture, “Around the World in 80 Days,” in 1956, as a honky-tonk pianist.
How much did Frank Sinatra love Oscar? So much so that in 1964, he released an album of Academy Award Winners.
Oscar helped launch Frank Sinatra’s colossal comeback career. So, at Sunday night’s Academy Awards show, I was watching to see a statue wink or some Sinatra indicator to show that Old Blue Eyes, after 15 years away, is not forgotten by Oscar.
The first came at the beginning of the show when host, Seth MacFarlane and two others sang and danced to “High Hopes,” a song from the charming 1959 Sinatra movie, “A Hole In the Head.”
But the clincher came in the very last performance of the show. After all the awards were handed out and gushed over, MacFarlane and Kristin Chenoweth sang a closing song: “Here’s To the Losers,” a 1963 song recorded only by Frank Sinatra. Frank and Oscar, the connection goes on.
Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in major newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as the legendary Paul Harvey, White House speechwriter/columnist William Safire, and Mr. Shirley Povich, dean of American sportswriters.
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