What’s in a name?
Well, when that name is Sinatra, there is magic, music, majesty, mirth, misconception, and much more. And this coming Saturday night, June 20th, at The Smith Center, Frank Sinatra Jr., accompanied by a 38-piece orchestra and Frank Sinatra’s original arrangements, will not only be treating audiences to a fabulous concert of the songs his father made famous but he will be facing the music and setting the record straight on the personal side of his iconic parent as well.
“If he had lived, my father would have been 100 years old on December 12, 2015, and we debuted our ‘Centennial Celebration’ show in Costa Mesa on May 2nd,” Sinatra Jr. relates, “It’s the first time we have ever gone audio-visual and we go through my father’s life in glimpses. It’s all predicated on fact. The Sinatra admirers know the legend and know the music. My attitude is that it’s time that they know him. There are moments that are touching, moments that are funny, moments that are pleasant, and moments that are the opposite of funny – they are truth. Audiences will be surprised by what they see and their impressions of Frank Sinatra will be totally changed when they leave the theater. They will see moments that range from humorous to terrifying but they will know why my father has sustained in people’s consciousness.
“Imagine a portrait of a man’s two beautiful hands,” he further explains. “The hands are perfectly sculptured and manicured. But, upon looking a little closer, you see a little dirt under the fingernails. This is about truth and truth can be a little ugly at times. There’s one moment in which the audience lets out an audible gasp, That has been the intent of this from the beginning.”
Before Saturday rolls around, Sinatra Jr. 71, will have performed the show in seven different cities, where he notes that it has been has been received very, very well and even the press comments have been surprising. The week after he appears at The Smith Center, he will be performing three shows in the U.K. He has not spoken about the show as yet to his mother Nancy Sr., now 98, or his sisters Nancy and Tina, although he says that they will certainly be seeing it at some point. He also acknowledges that while he, Nancy, and Tina did some voiceovers for the two-part special on Frank Sinatra that HBO debuted earlier this year, it had a lot of holes in it and it completely ignored the last 25 years of the renowned entertainer’s life.
As for being the son of such an idolized father, bearing the same name and being in the same business, Sinatra Jr. says that his biggest challenge was always that people expected more of him than he was capable of giving. He quietly states that if he dwelled on it long enough, he would probably regret going into music but that, when all is said and done, there is really no way to know how things will turn out no matter how many lists of pros and cons one makes. He does not see himself as a celebrity but rather as a man bearing a time-honored name who will do everything in his power to preserve the decency of that name. He cites the fact that his father was respectable at times and not at others but that Sinatra himself would be the first to admit it. And therein lies the attributes of Frank Sinatra that his son admires the most – his integrity and honesty.
“The biggest misconception about my father is that he was capable of brutality,” Sinatra Jr. maintains. “Kitty Kelly twisted the truth so much in her unauthorized biography of him. Standing in a room with a few undesirable people doesn’t make you a car any more than standing in a garage does. What I loved the most about my father was that the things he believed in, he practiced devoutly. He never vacillated. He was never a 51-percenter – when he did something, he did it all the way. And it cost him a few hungry nights.”
It has long been documented that Frank Sinatra had mob connections, which Sinatra Jr. acknowledges that his father never denied.
“I had the same connections he had but I was never famous enough to be a target of the press,” he admits. “In those days, organized crime owned the jukebox distributors, the saloons, and more. In many instances, you were working for underworld people. My first paying job was in a saloon. I was 18 years old and working for the mob. My dad was a kid off the streets from Hoboken, New Jersey. As a young child, he was in Prohibition/ He never made any denial when it came to his being connected but he became upset when he was accused of being part of it.”
Among the misconceptions about Frank Sinatra was the long reported discordant relationship between him and Sinatra Jr. The truth, according to the latter, is that, for many years, their relationship was virtually non-existent. Of course, there was the infamous, terrifying event of Sinatra Jr’s kidnapping when he was just 19 years old and was snatched from Harrah’s Lake Tahoe casino in Nevada. His father paid a quarter-million-dollar ransom and Sinatra Jr. was released, unharmed, two days later. The three kidnappers,— Barry Keenan, Johnny Irwin, and Joe Amsler — were very quickly caught, convicted and imprisoned.
“When I was little, my dad was making records, touring, doing three to four movies a year and doing TV,” Sinatra Jr. recalls. “When I was 19, I was on the road with my band so I was never home, either. He spent time with his daughters and he and I ran into each other occasionally. Then in 1988, he called me and asked me to conduct for him. I started at age 44 with him and was with him until I was 51, two months shy of a full seven years. It was the first time our proximity ever gave us a relationship. He learned that I was totally devoted to him and I learned that he was a perfectionist who knew how he wanted things.”
Towards the end of Sinatra’s career, many extra steps such as ensuring balanced lighting and sound were required of Sinatra Jr. because his father was up in years and losing his vision and hearing. One reviewer of Sinatra’s performance said that Sinatra was still Sinatra and had the best sound, the best lighting, and the best songs and that Frank Sinatra Jr. was the glue that held it all together.
“My father provided for me and gave me everything,” Sinatra Jr. reveals. “When I joined his company, he needed me. When it ended, I had the satisfaction of knowing that I gave something back. I’m passing that on to my son and, hopefully, he will pass that on to his son.”
Sinatra Jr. is looking to pass on other things to the public. He notes that among the accolades given to his father, after seeing one of Sinatra’s performances at Radio City Music Hall, Marlena Dietrich lauded him by saying “Frank Sinatra is the Mercedes Benz of entertainment.” President Richard Nixon had previously honored him with his proclaiming, “Frank Sinatra is the Washington Monument to American entertainment.”
“If that’s the kind of stature my father has achieved, I’m grateful,” Sinatra Jr. sums up. “”I want to continue to allow it to go on.”
He’s going all the way with it, too.