Frank: The Voice

Article excerpt

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. …