Biographer James Kaplan succeeds in capturing the fragile ego, contradictory impulses, and immense talent that defined Frank Sinatra.
James Kaplan's look at the greatest singer of them all, Frank
Sinatra, cannily follows the example of some recent celebrity
autobiographies. Both Julie Andrews and Steve Martin realized that
the journey to stardom is a lot more interesting than being (and
staying) on top, so they end their memoirs just as their careers are
taking off for good.
Kaplan knows that too, so his new book charts Sinatra's childhood
days, those early breaks with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, the path
on to the movies and fame (and Ava), up until it all spiraled down
and was seemingly lost forever.
Frank: The Voice ends with one of the most amazing comebacks in pop
culture history. Sinatra finishes shooting his Oscar-winning role on
"From Here To Eternity" and virtually walks off the set in
Hawaii, jumps on a plane, and heads right into the Capitol studios to
record his first song with arranger-producer Nelson Riddle.
But how did he get there? Kaplan interviewed roughly a dozen or so
mostly minor figures in Sinatra's life but "Frank: The Voice"
is a product mostly of diligent research. Kaplan has dug through more
than 120 books, hundreds (if not thousands) of articles and gossip
items, and added a healthy dollop of imagination to tell Sinatra's
story with empathy.
Frankie wouldn't have liked a book that talked about his
weaknesses and fears, multiple suicide attempts, a coddled childhood,
and lucky breaks. He much preferred the image of a tough guy born out
of a hardscrabble youth who rose on pluck and talent and never backed
down from a fight. But Kaplan is on Sinatra's side as much as he
can be without distorting the facts.
If Sinatra were ever honest, this is how he might have told his
story. In Kaplan's words, Sinatra is "scared s***less" during
an early recording session. Sinatra doesn't have sex with groupies.
He f***s them. It's a tough guy patois that Kaplan dips into at
times (though thankfully not that often) to capture the swaggering
self-image Sinatra always projected to the world.
The swagger didn't come naturally to him. Sinatra was a momma's
boy, dressed up in fancy clothes and given every opportunity by his
tough-as-nails, politically active, abortionist mother, Dolly.
Sinatra weaseled his way into a hot local singing trio not because of
his talent or charm (he was a pest, really) but because he owned a
car and would drive them to gigs.
Then came another lucky break when the wife of bandleader Harry
James heard Sinatra singing on a local radio show and touted him to
her husband. That led to touring and more groupies, who no doubt
didn't expect the sweet-voiced, scrawny Sinatra to be quite so red
hot a lover. …