Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Happy Birthday Frank!


Yes, Francis Albert Sinatra was born on this day back in 1915.

Don't worry folks, Frank's not winding up to slug ya'. He's just about to roll that lucky seven as he sings, "Luck Be A Lady Tonight". At least that's the song he was singing on the "Sinatra- A Man and His Music - Part II" DVD when I was sketching out this particular pose. Lucky for me, Frank's career is very well represented on DVD, both in his films and, in this particular case, his numerous televised specials from the 60's and 70's. And this is just great with me, as I am a HUGE Sinatra fan! So much so, that I have amassed a fair amount of Sinatra collectibles over the years, many of which can be seen on these display shelves in my own little bachelor den pictured to the left. In addition to the many DVDs, CDs and publications, I've got several original autographs, including the really neat one on the record seen on the top left in the photo, that has some odd little doodle under his signature that I'm thinking may be a quick self caricature.

So why my interest in all things Frank? It started when I was in my twenties, adjusting to early adulthood. Just as Walt Disney (whose own birthday was coincidentally just one week ago) had been such a major figure in shaping my youth and future career pursuits, it was the music of Sinatra that started to really resonate with me as I was beginning to mature. I'd always casually enjoyed hearing him on radio growing up as a kid in the 60's, but now the lyrics and their heartfelt delivery was starting to really mean something in my own life, leading me to more seriously take notice of Frank's artistry. Though certainly a very controversial and complex man, prone to both petty nastiness and immense generosity, what shines through it all is the intense passion and emotion he displays in every song he sings. Sometimes he's the breezy hipster, joyfully swinging through life to the Billy May and Nelson Riddle arrangements that defined much of his 50's output, while at other times he's the guy nursing a broken heart, exposing his hurt and loneliness for all the world to see. Uncannily, even in the various concert footage preserved on video from his TV specials, Sinatra completely immerses himself in the lyrics and emotions of these songs every time, as if he was feeling each of those raw emotions spontaneously for the first time. It never seemed fake, no matter how often he'd performed them - his passion in delivering the lyrics was so genuinely heartfelt. Listening to his "One For My Baby" never fails to elicit an emotional response - it's that powerful a performance. Likewise, as I myself am approaching the age of 50, I take more and more comfort in hearing his bittersweet rendition of "It Was a Very Good Year".

One thing I've always admired about Sinatra was his respect for all the talented songwriters who provided him with his numerous hits through the decades. It was quite normal for him to introduce a song he was about to sing by first crediting the songwriter responsible. He also did the same thing for his regular arrangers. Despite whatever ego Frank likely had as a top entertainer, I believe that deep down he knew that, if not for the songwriters, he would not have been able to enjoy such a long successful career himself. Frank took his music so seriously that he pretty much micro-managed every recording session for his albums, in which he insisted on singing directly with the musicians, as opposed to many other artists who normally came into the studio to lay down their vocals on top of the prerecorded instrumental tracks. For Frank, the music and the words had to be a unified performance to keep it sincere.

As an actor, though, Frank Sinatra's film career is, even by his own admission, rather spotty. After an early career in lightweight MGM musicals, Frank had to fight for the role of Maggio in "From Here to Eternity", to prove his real worth as a serious actor and ended up winning himself an Oscar in the process. Unfortunately, his success in movies was pretty up and down in the years thereafter. I must admit, my favourite Sinatra films are mostly guilty pleasures rather than those that are considered his major achievements by serious film critics. Though I can appreciate his sheer skill in a film like "The Man With the Golden Arm", where he played a card dealer addicted to heroin, I confess I'd rather watch him in far breezier roles in "Pal Joey" or my alltime favourite, "Robin and the 7 Hoods", where he starred alongside his fellow Rat Pack cronies, Dean and Sammy. I like "Ocean's 11" a lot too, but I prefer "Robin and the 7 Hoods" because it's the only Rat Pack movie that's an all out musical. Also it's got Bing Crosby in it, so that's a bonus! Ironically, though, I think the standout performer in that film may be Peter Falk as the nefarious Guy Gisbourne, the rival Chicago mobster trying to eliminate Sinatra's Robbo. Falk is just hilarious in the role, many years before he gained greater fame as TV's "Columbo".

Being the cantankerous rascal that he was, I think Frank too often proved hard to work with in the movies, often refusing to do more than one take, no matter who was directing him. Music definitely was his main passion, with his film work not always getting his best effort. Too bad, since he produced some great work when it did get his full attention. Mostly, though, I'm a fan of Frank Sinatra the singer, and I don't think anyone can ever top his body of work. Frank left us an incredible legacy of music for which I am eternally grateful. It sure gets regular play on my stereo, anyway...

14 comments:

Kitty said...

Fabulous cartoon of Frank - I too like some of his music, though I have to be in the right 'mood'. :-) x

Craig Mahoney said...

Love the caricature. And I love Frank. Just posted a li'l happy happy to him myself. I'm currently listening to my 5 1/2 hour Sinatra iTunes mix and working on my own caricature of him.

Your Sinatra shrine by far dwarves anything I have. I absolutely love it. Also, keep up the great work. I've been enjoying this blog for the last few weeks or so. Great stuff!

Bill Field said...

Pete-- remember the Sinatra worm that the quail won't eat in that classic WB short? Great fluid gestural, his posture is perfect-- OK- I'm gonna break out in a chorus of New York New York-- so I better go- or start handing out earplugs.

Mitch K said...

Love the crosshatching, Pete!

Jeremy Richey said...

Great post...I love Frank and will always count him among my all time favorite singers and actors.
Speaking of his TV specials...I wish they would have gone ahead with the initial plans to turn the incredible WATERTOWN album into a special. That would have been incredible...
I am a huge fan of his Reprise years and count that massive complete box set as one of my favorites in my collection.
Of his films...MAN WITH GOLDEN ARM is an obvious treasure but I like the undervalued SOME CAME RUNNING perhaps even better...of the strictly for kicks pictures, the original OCEANS is pretty untoppable...

I just love the guy...it's Franks world. we are just living in it!!

Great artwork by the way...as usual.

Mike Giblin said...

That's a beautiful take on Ol' Blue Eyes Pete. I love your work.

Craig Zablo said...

Just discovered your site and will be back for the cool art and interesting posts!

Chris MacDonald said...

Hey Emslie! a fellow second year student here> Chris M

I'm planning on getting this solo project I came up with up on its feet during the break. Its a homage to the masterpiece the good the bad and the ugly and will focus on clint.

I was wondering how you would interpret his face. If you could e-mail me anything, it would be much appreciated, if not I'll just track you down next term muwahahahaha...
have a good break! and keep up the awesome caricatures.

cmac_art@homail.com

Honolulu Dogfight said...

This is fantastic stuff. It's definitely Frank's world. Was he a card dealer in the man with the golden arm I thought he was a drummer. I have to re watch it anyhow. Great soundtrack to that one as well.

Tom said...

Even Sinatra thought that he won the Oscar for the wrong role. Shoulda been "Golden Arm" rather than "Eternity."

Thad K said...

Whoa your great collection is incredibly organized. I wish I wasn't so sloppy that I could actually organize my stuff.

Love all those Marilyn figures!

Pete Emslie said...

Ahh, so you noticed Marilyn, huh Thad? Yep, I'm a big fan of both Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, whom you'll notice is also well represented with several books on the shelf. I'll likely be posting caricatures of those two ladies sometime in the near future.

Thad K said...

I love Marilyn and Audrey. Two of my favorite actresses. Can't wait to see your caricatures which are always great!

Sam said...

Hi, Love your cartoons, they're really cool.

I'm trying to find something out for my Grandpa about Frank that you might be able to help me with.

My Grandpa remembers seeing a cartoon of Frank. It starts with an empty stage and microphone stand on the stage. Then all or nothing at all starts playing, suddenly yo see frank leaning out from behind the microphone (obviously a reference to how skinny he was in his younger days.
I was just wondering if you could help me, It would really make my granddad's day if i could get a copy of it.

Many Thanks

Amy