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S P E C I A L Sinatra: The songs, the voice, the style

'That's Life,' Sinatra-style

Frank with socks
"Anyone that could have that sound come from his mouth had to be good inside."  
In this story: May 15, 1998
Web posted at: 9:06 p.m. EDT (0106 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Never yawn in front of a lady. Top your martini with two olives and give one to a friend. Make sure your trousers break just above the shoes.

Like the rock stars who knocked him (temporarily) off the charts, Frank Sinatra didn't just perform his songs, he lived them.

Around swinging standards and lonely ballads, Sinatra arranged both a broad, brash philosophy and an intricate set of codes and rituals.

"He believed in lecturing to others about how things should be done," said Bill Zehme, author of "The Way You Wear Your Hat," an informal biography that compiles stories about Sinatra and his lifestyle. "He wanted people to live up to his standards of class and elegance."
icon 153K/14 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The Sinatra Style was in the details. Some examples:

  • Cock your hat -- angles are attitudes.

  • Don't put on a brown suit at night -- wear dark gray. Better yet, wear black.

  • Make friends with the sky.

  • If black tie is optional, wear it. Except on Sunday. Never wear a tux on Sunday.

'I am a thing of beauty'

No one knew how to have fun quite like Sinatra.

Frank and Jackie-O
Sinatra's attention to detail were among the traits that helped him attract the world's most glamourous women  

His cigarettes were lit by the most elegant lighters. And he didn't just drink, he carried his own liquor supply in case he found himself someplace where they didn't have Jack Daniels.

Ever meticulous, always in the finest fabrics, he owned more than 100 suits and didn't want anyone ruining them, including the old man who grabbed his arm at the 1956 Democratic National Convention.

"Take your hand off the suit, creep!" the singer reportedly snapped, not realizing -- or caring -- that he was talking to Sam Rayburn, the speaker of the House.

"I am," Sinatra once said, "a thing of beauty."

Frank and Eva Gardner
Frank with the wife that broke his heart, Ava Gardner  

Sinatra had it all thought out: Tip big and tip quietly -- fold the bills three times into small squares and pass them in a handshake. Let the ice sink in your glass so the flavors will blend. Never drink a drink immediately after it's poured. Better a carton of milk than a serving of warm vodka.

Women. Dean Martin once joked that when Sinatra died they were going to leave his zipper to the Smithsonian Institution.

The Chairman liked sex, but he also cared about style. No miniskirts. Forget about topless. He admired poise, restraint, class. He hated chain smokers and too much perfume. And he couldn't stand being nagged.

'Fun with everything'

Lauren Bacall, Angie Dickenson, Juliet Prowse and Marilyn Monroe were all romantically linked to Sinatra at one time or another.

And, of course, there was the woman who broke his heart, Ava Gardner, prompting Sinatra to contemplate suicide.

Instead, it changed his music, and afterward he sang with more emotion than ever. And to numb the pain -- and to share the fun -- he had what he called his "pallies," his playmates.

Some wondered why he always traveled with an entourage, and the answer was simple. He was lonely. He grew up as an only child, and compensated as an adult by always having people around him.

"Fun with everything" was one of his mottoes, as in 1955 when he and his pals -- Humphrey Bogart and Bacall, Judy Garland and David Niven -- spent four days in Las Vegas where they did just about everything but sleep.

On Day 5, with all but Sinatra feeling like they had fallen out of an airplane, Bacall checked out the survivors and a gang was born: "You look like a ... rat pack!"

The Rat Pack

The Rat Pack was Bogart's, but when he died, Frank took over.

Frank and Sammy
Sinatra was one of the first stars to battle racism  

Sinatra brought in Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr. and whoever else might drop by the steam room at the Sands Hotel. They wore monogrammed robes -- FAS (Sinatra), DAG (Martin), SON OF A GUN (Bishop) -- and spoke their own language.

Endsville. Scramsville. A "bunter" was a drag. A "gasser" wasn't. Don't even ask what it meant to lose your "bird."

"Here was a guy who was up all night partying," said Mark Simone, an expert on Sinatra. "He was like a kid. He was famous for throwing firecrackers at people, cherry bombs and water balloons out of hotel rooms.

"But despite all the things that went down in Sinatra's life, the fighting and brawling, (singer) Robert Merrill once said that anyone that could have that sound come from his mouth had to be good inside."

Of all the Rat Pack stories, the best ones usually involved Martin, the laid-back "Abruzzese" Sinatra always wanted to be, the guy who could tell Frank where to go and live to tell about it.

Tender and loyal

There was the night in the mid-1960s when the Martins had everyone over for their anniversary. They had an orchestra and white-coated bartenders. By 11 p.m., however, Martin was missing and the cops had arrived, saying there had been a complaint about the noise. Sinatra couldn't figure it out. All the neighbors were at the party. Who could have done it?

Sinatra family
The Sinatra family in November 1976, left to right: daughter Nancy, son Frank Jr., wife Barbara, Frank, mother Dolly and daugter Tina  

The call, he was told, came from inside the house.

Sinatra headed straight for the master bedroom.

"Did you call the cops on your own party?" he asked Martin, whom he found lying in bed, holding a golf club, watching television.

Martin: "Hey, they ate, they drank. Let them go home. I gotta get up in the morning."

"You," answered Sinatra, paying the ultimate compliment, "are one crazy bastard."

Despite the headlines and his ties to beautiful women, Sinatra was tender with his family and loyal to his friends. Rather than taking a date to the Academy Awards presentations the year he won the Oscar for best supporting actor, he took his children.

His advice on parenting: Hug your kids often and show up for important moments.

He remained friends with ex-wives Nancy Barbato and Mia Farrow, and with Ava Gardner, even after he married Barbara Marx. He was also one of the first stars to battle racism, refusing to perform at segregated functions and helping open doors for performers like Davis.

Anonymous gifts

He is also reported to have circled the names of people he'd read about in the newspaper who had suffered some injustice or misfortune, and directed his secretary to send them a check. The gifts were made anonymously.

"We lost track of how much he raised for charities around the world," said his daughter, Nancy. "It was way up in the millions."

Sinatra believed in God. But death, which he called the Big Casino, left him speechless. For days, Sinatra couldn't talk after the death of his mother, who was killed when the plane he hired for her crashed into a mountain.

On the phone with a dying Davis, the two old friends simply held onto their receivers, grieving beyond words.

He thought you should live every moment as it if were your last, that too much thinking wasn't good for a man. He fought, really fought, for his privacy, but he hated being alone. Anything but boredom, especially after hours.

"You only live once," he liked to say, "and the way I live, once is enough."

Correspondent Jill Brooke and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 
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