We continue with Frank Sinatra.
1940–50: Sinatramania and decline of career
In May 1941, Sinatra was at the top of the male singer polls in the Billboard and Down Beat magazines.:94 His appeal to bobby soxers, as teenage girls of that time were called, revealed a whole new audience for popular music, which had been recorded mainly for adults up to that time.
On December 30, 1942, Sinatra made a “legendary opening” at the Paramount Theater in New York. Jack Benny later said, “I thought the goddamned building was going to cave in. I never heard such a commotion… All this for a fellow I never heard of.” When Sinatra returned to the Paramount in October 1944, 35,000 fans caused a near riot outside the venue because they were not allowed in.
Sinatra in 1947, at the Liederkrantz Hall in New York
During the musicians’ strike of 1942–44, Columbia re-released Harry James and Sinatra’s version of “All or Nothing at All” (music by Arthur Altman and lyrics by Jack Lawrence), recorded in August 1939 and released before Sinatra had made a name for himself. The original release did not even mention the vocalist’s name. When the recording was re–released in 1943 with Sinatra’s name prominently displayed, the record was on the best–selling list for 18 weeks and reached number 2 on June 2, 1943.
Sinatra signed with Columbia on June 1, 1943, as a solo artist, and he initially had great success, particularly during the 1942–44 musicians’ strike. Although no new records had been issued during the strike, he had been performing on the radio (on Your Hit Parade), and on stage. Columbia wanted to get new recordings of their growing star as fast as possible, so Sinatra convinced them to hire Alec Wilder as arranger and conductor for several sessions with a vocal group called the Bobby Tucker Singers. These first sessions were on June 7, June 22, August 5, and November 10, 1943. Of the nine songs recorded during these sessions, seven charted on the best–selling list.
Sinatra did not serve in the military during World War II. On December 11, 1943, he was classified 4-F (“Registrant not acceptable for military service”) for a perforated eardrum by his draft board. Additionally, an FBI report on Sinatra, released in 1998, showed that the doctors had also written that he was a “neurotic” and “not acceptable material from a psychiatric standpoint.” This was omitted from his record to avoid “undue unpleasantness for both the selectee and the induction service.” Active-duty servicemen, like journalist William Manchester, said of Sinatra, “I think Frank Sinatra was the most hated man of World War II, much more than Hitler”, because Sinatra was back home making all of that money and being shown in photographs surrounded by beautiful women.:91 His exemption would resurface throughout his life and cause him grief when he had to defend himself. There were accusations, including some from noted columnist Walter Winchell, that Sinatra paid $40,000 to avoid the service – but the FBI found no evidence of this.
In her book “Over Here, Over There” with Bill Gilbert, Maxene Andrews recalled when Sinatra entertained the troops during an overseas USO tour with comedian Phil Silvers during the war, observing, “I guess they just had a wing-ding, whatever it was. Sinatra demanded his own plane. But Bing [Crosby] said, ‘Don’t demand anything. Just go over there and sing your hearts out.’ So, we did.” Sinatra worked frequently with the very popular Andrews Sisters, both on radio in the 1940s, appearing as guests on each other’s shows, as well as on many shows broadcast to troops via the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS). He appeared as special guest on a rare pilot episode of the sisters’ ABC Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch series at the end of 1944, and returned for another much funnier guest stint a few months later, while the trio in turn guested on his Songs by Sinatra series on CBS, to the delight of an audience filled with screaming bobby-soxers. Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne also teamed with Frankie when they appeared three times as guests on Sinatra’s CBS television show in the early-1950s. Maxene once told Joe Franklin during a 1979 WWOR-AM Radio interview that Sinatra was “a peculiar man,” with the ability to act indifferent towards her at times.
In 1945, Sinatra co-starred with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh. That same year, he was loaned out to RKO to star in a short film titled The House I Live In. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, this film on tolerance and racial equality earned a special Academy Award shared among Sinatra and those who brought the film to the screen, along with a special Golden Globe for “Promoting Good Will”. 1946 saw the release of his first album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, and the debut of his own weekly radio show. By the end of 1948, Sinatra felt that his career was stalling, something that was confirmed when he slipped to No. 4 on Down Beat’s annual poll of most popular singers (behind Billy Eckstine, Frankie Laine, and Bing Crosby).:149
The year 1949 saw an upswing, as Frank co-starred with Gene Kelly in Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It was well received critically and became a major commercial success. That same year, Sinatra teamed up with Kelly for a third time in On the Town.