Mariecar Mendoza

When the levee starts breaking, when the crowd stops screaming, the Chairman was right – you just gotta loosen up and swing.

In the 1940s, Frank Sinatra was the best game in town. His deep bobbysox ballads and smirking sexuality made him a hat-tipping embodiment of revitalized America; he sang, he acted, he cut a rug, all the while giving wartime audiences a ring-a-ding good time. And then his golden voice gave out, and the silence became deafening – with those valuable vocal cords shot and his starlet wife out the door, his fast track looked over for good. Endsville.

But he made that celluloid comeback, as the tragic soldier Maggio in “From Here to Eternity” (1953), and all the fickle Hollywood doors opened to embrace his new tenacity (and that shining Academy Award in tow). Sinatra shot back up the ladder to record his most hoppin’ songs, embrace the best screen roles, and find the best buddies and broads of his colorful life. Along the way, he also tangled with the mob, partied until the early afternoons nightly, and laid the base for what a real man’s gotta do.

“You only live once,” he said. “And the way I live, once is enough.”

More than the art he left behind, Sinatra’s ferocious way of livin’ is his real legacy. There’s something to be found in the man who tried it all – sometimes wrong, usually right, always his way. It’s time to follow his step and stop brooding in our small messes, stop sulking for what’s gone, and start to jive in the short while we’ve got. So let’s take some timeless tips from Ol’ Blue Eyes, the first and last man to grab life where it hurt.

“I feel sorry for the people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.”

The party stopped when Sinatra did. Doors were locked and if anybody rose to leave early, he earned a stern scolding. Any scene became it in Frank’s presence, which he acknowledged with loud boozing (always Jack and four cubes) and scoring every dame in winking distance. He never forgot a pal’s drink preference, and usually traveled with a glass (cupped elegantly from the bottom) in one hand and a cigarette in the other. (But forget Mary Jane ” his third wife, Mia Farrow, smoked grass and he loathed it.)

According to Bill Zehme’s biography “The Way You Wear Your Hat,” Sinatra hated to be alone, and his round-the-clock carousal was owed to frequent catnaps and suspected bipolarism. Guests to his nightly black-tie galas in Hollywood and Palm Springs were told to bring their sunglasses.

“I’m supposed to have a Ph.D. on the subject of women. But the truth is I’ve flunked more often than not.”

Sinatra hated anyone who disrespected a woman’s honor; it was the source of endless fights. A believer in chivalry, he never swore in front of ladies and sent them ridiculously lavish gifts. (Second wife Ava Gardner received a luxe shower in the jungles of Africa, where she was filming). But he is also said to have posted a long list of gorgeous actresses in his MGM dressing room – and checked off every conquest swiftly.

His relationship with Gardner is immortal – the sultry movie star was every bit as volatile and byzantine as him, and they fought and reconciled with floor-shaking passion. By many accounts, she humiliated and humbled him, and he reeled her back with suicide threats and wild romantic gestures. When they split in 1957, he took the heartbreak hard and acknowledged the pain for decades to come (even through other marriages).

The Gardner marriage preceded his one to Farrow (after she was humiliated by Woody Allen, Sinatra offered to have the director’s legs broken). Ava also broke up his previous union to Nancy Barbato, though he visited that first house weekly for dinners with their children. Years later, while walking his nervous daughter Nancy down the aisle, he whispered to her, “Don’t worry, Pigeon, you can always get a divorce.” She laughed – and eventually did.

“Here’s to the confusion of our enemies!”

The Chairman harbored a fierce loyalty to his friends, and they were many. His closest pallies formed the Rat Pack, the gallivanting gang of entertainers who, among other things, made Vegas stage shows cool again. (The infamous name was bestowed by an amused Lauren Bacall). His best partner in crime was Dean “Dino” Martin, a fellow Italian (though a much more stoic one); he was the only man who could question Sinatra and live (“You crazy bastard!” Sinatra often crowed, in respect for his fellow Rat). The Pack had some falling-outs over the decades; Sammy Davis Jr. was kicked out for a month after a rude interview and, much later in life, the rift between Dino and the Chairman was never resolved.

“Cock your hat – angles are attitudes.”

He was quick to fight, but not to dress. Sinatra had a meticulously honed routine for doffing his suits and grooming his loose ends; he (and Dino) had a great concern for cleanliness. The iconic hats were worn initially to hide his receding hairline, but later became an integral part of his personality – each hat angle held significance. Only black shoes and dark pants were acceptable after sundown; tuxedos were the norm, not the exception, and handkerchiefs (usually orange) always peeked from the pockets.

The man wasn’t classically handsome – he was five feet eight inches tall, astonishingly skinny, and had noticeable indents on the left side of his face, the result of a difficult extraction during his birth. But as he claimed often, a man should never hide his scars – they shaped personality and weren’t going anywhere. Why should they? Whatever was worth fighting for should always be remembered.

Just like him.

Stacey Anderson is a journalism and music senior and KCPR DJ. E-mail her at

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