Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)
- Red Skelton, Merton of the Movies, 1946. Can you imagine Ole Blue Eyes as a film-mad klutz from Kansas who gets to take over a Hollywood drama from his favourite actor without realising he’s being used to make it a comedy send-up? Nor could Sinatra! Not Skelton’s best/worst. (Was there ever a best?) The funniest comedy routines were dreamt up by Buster Keaton.
- Peter Lawford, Easter Parade, 1947. The first ideas for the Irving Berlin musical were Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton. The new Jonathan Harrow III was Lawford, part of the Sinatra Clan when he was JFK’s brother-in-law.
- Dick Haymes, One Touch Of Venus, 1948. Silent screen diva Mary Pickford beat Hollywood studios to the rights of the Broadway hit and planneda 1945 film with the New York cast. Even when adding a few Hollywood names - Sinatra, Clifton Webb - she fretted about costs and sold it to MGM.Ironically, the old Sinatra project became an Ava Gardner film five yearslater... They had their first date in1949.
- Van Johnson, In The Good Old Summertime, 1949. First, Ole Blue Eyes quit. Then, Allyson proved pregnant.The two facts were not connected.
- Howard Keel, Lovely To Look At, 1952. MGM originally pegged it for Judy Garland and Sinatra.
- Dirk Bogarde, Penny Princess, 1952. Frank’s career being in the toilet didn’t mean he had toaccept UK trash. Associate producerchief Earl St John told writer-director Val Guest to get Bogarde a good suit. “Give him square shoulders.”Shows how little St John had read ofthe script - the hero is mostly in pyjamas.
- Howard Keel, Lovely To Look At, 1952. Unfortunately, the A Team - Garland, Garrett, Kelly, Sinatra - never re-made Jerome Kern’s Roberta musical. And it sure showed…
- James Mason, A Star Is Born, 1953.
- Marlon Brando, On The Waterfront, 1953.
A feud is born… After the hot-shot, know-it-all moguls and majors - Harry Cohn, Jack Warner, Darryl Zanuck, MGM. Universal - passed, SP Eagle (as Sam Spiegel was still called) took it on, insisting on Marlon Brando. Not so, director Elia Kazan... Furious at Brando saying he’d never work with Kazan again “for turning canary,” exposing his Communist friends, Kazan just didn’t “want that son of a bitch in my film - he’s not right for the part anyway.” He felt pencil-thin Sinatra would be a more believable boxer (!). “He’d grown up in Hoboken, spoke perfect Hobokenese and he’d be simple to work with.” Scenarist Budd Schulberg changed the famous taxi speech line from “You coulda been another Billy Conn” to the much lighter “Jimmy McLarnin.” Then, Kazan, The Boy Genius of Broadway, feared The Voice would split too early for his next gig. Budd Schulberg’s script was sent to Montgomery Clift although Kazan, preferred Paul Newman. Spiegel never gave up on Brando. To make him jealous enough to change his mind, Kazan had Karl Malden direct a test of Newman - and his future wife Joanne Woodward as The Girl, Edie Doyle. Brando finally signed when Sinatra was being fitted for Terry Molloy’s clothes.“Frank was mad as hell,” recalled Schulberg. “God, he wanted that part. He screamed at me. He practically came to blows with Spiegel. He had his heart set on it. The unfortunate truth is that Sinatra couldn't have done it. He just couldn't act in that way... Brando’s way. Who could?”
- Karl Malden, On The Waterfront, 1953. Furious with Sam Spiegel for welshing on their deal, Sinatra wanted $100,000 compensation for the “humiliation” (he settled for $18,000) and the role of the docklands priest, Father Barry. Too late, Malden was aleady signed - “and I wasn’t?” yelled Frank). In a foul mood one night at Romanoff’s, he kept calling Sam “Fat Man” until Spiegel shut him up. “Frank, if you would like to meet me outside, without your henchmen, it would be my pleasure.”
- James Dean, Giant, 1955.
- Dan Dailey, It’s Always FairWeather, 1955. Designed as an On The Townsequel for Kelly, Sinatra, Jules Munshin. Gene Kelly stayed put (and co-directed with Stanley Donen), Frank was unavailable and Dailey and Michael Kidd joined Kelly in, this time, the USArmy. Dancing sailors look better.
- Marlon Brando, Guys and Dolls, 1955.
Producer Samuel Goldwyn was like Robert Redford at the end of The Candidate. He’d won... but what now? MGM refused to loan Gene Kelly, so Sam offeredSky Masterson to every guy he knew: Bing Crosby, Kirk Doughas, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Gene Kelly, Burt Lancaster, even Robert Mitchum! Then, Cary (who had suffered Sinatra tantrums during The Pride And The Passion, 1957) called his one-time lover Marlon: “I hear that you don’t like Sinatra… Take the role... just to piss him off.” “It’s a deal!”Although "heavy-footed with high comedy," Brando insisted on $200,000 for 14 weeks. And Sinatra became Nathan Detroit, running “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in NewYork” - which really required a Jewish comic. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” Brando told Sinatra. “I was wondering, maybe I could come to your dressingroom and we could just run the dialogue together.” Sinatra still smarting from losing Waterfront to “Mumbles,” told him: “Don’t give me any of that Actors Studio bullshit.” Asked about the film, Montgomery Clift told Brando: “You knowwhat I saw? This big, big, fat ass.”
- Jack Lemmon, Mister Roberts, 1955. Too old (already!) for Ensign Frank Thurlowe Pulver.
- Broderick Crawford, Il bidone, Italy-France, 1955. Humphrey Bogart was ill, Sintarawas a louse...Normally, Federico Fellini cast faces first (from photos of stars, actors, extra and amateurs) and their (dubbed) voices afterwards. He foundhis Augustofrom All The King’s Men - not the film, but a vertically torn poster in Rome’s Piazza Mazzini. The hangdog look was perfect but who the hell was “Broderi”...?Fellini found out - and also about Broderi’s alcoholism which made shooting a living hell. The maestro wished he’d gone with eitherof two Paris suggestions, Pierre Fresnay or Jean Servais.
- Dan Dailey It’s Always Fair Weather, 1955. The On The Town sequel, created by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, collapsed when Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin were unavailable. Gene Kelly starred but this time the three pals were soldiers, not sailors…. (Kelly later served two years in the US Army, not Navy).
- Sterling Hayden, The Killing, 1955. Kubrick #2… Sinatra was already dealing with author Lionel White for his Clean Break novel, when the author decided to give it to Kubrick because censors refused him from making the White’s The Snatch, because it was about kidnapping a child. The Killing flopped but made Kubrick. (Kirk Douglas immediately hired him to make Paths of Glory, 1956, and Spartacus, 1959). By 1962, Sinatra was planning a re-make with his Clan: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop. Instead, they re-made Gunga Din as a Western called Sergeants 3. Hayden co-starred with Sinatra in Suddenly, 1954, about assassinating a US President... supposedly watched by Lee Harvey Oswald days before he allegedly killed JFK. After which horror, Sinatra immediately withdrew his film from circulation.
- Gordon MacRae, Carousel, 1956. “I signed for one movie, not two.” One Take Frank hated each scene being shot twice, once for CinemaScope and, again, for normal Academy ratio.MacRae was rushed in from the previous Rodgers-Hammerstein hit,Oklahoma. Three weeks after Frank stalked out, they found a way to shoot in 55mm and transfer it to 35mm. Sinatra settled the Fox suit by making Can-Can, 1960.
- Burt Lancaster, Sweet Smell of Success, 1956. “I love this dirty town…” When Burt Lancaster’s company - Hecht-Hill-Lancaster - bought Ernest Lehman’s story in 1955, it was with The Voice in mind for The Louse, powerful Walter Winchellesque newspaper columnist JJ Hunsecker. Next, Orson Welles, and then… The Boss. Alexander Mackendrick directed so brilliantly that Lancaster (channeling Harry Cohn!) fired the Scot from 1959 HHL production, The Devil's Disciple!
- John Rait, The Pajama Game, 1956. Warner won the rights to the musical about a pajama factory strike (!) and immediately began wooing Sinatra for the lead. Producer George Abbott wanted Marlon Brando. They made do with Broadway’s Rait.
- Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones, 1957. About the two escaped chained convicts, Billy Wilder said: Brando wanted to play the black convict, Mitchum would refuse to be in any film “with a nigger” and Kirk Douglas wanted both roles… Disappointed with The Wild One, Brando never worked for Stanley Kramer again. Sinatra (who often chased ex-Brando roles), Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn all refused to co-star with Sidney Poitier. So much for liberal Hollywood…
- Dean Martin, Rio Bravo, 1958.
- Jack Lemmon, Some Like It Hot, 1958. Billy Wilder pitched his perfect comedy - Sinatra and Tony Curtis as two jazzmen on the lam from The Mob in a girls’ band. The Voice loved it. To talk some more, Billy made a lunch date. Sinatra never showed. More hurt than annoyed, Wilder later admitted he was better off without him. “He would have run off after the first take - ‘gotta see a chick’.” Besides Sinatra and Curtis has just finished Kings Go Forth - so the first shots of them in drag were bound to be headlined: Queens Go Forth. Soon as Wilder won Marilyn, he could have Lemmon or Chetah for Jerry, the jazzman becoming Daphne in an all girls’ band to escape The Mob. This was the first of seven Wilder-Lemmon gems during 1958-1981. Sinatra was later keen on a re-make - co-starrting Madonna.
- Bing Crosby, Say One For Me, 1958. Crosby suggested Sintara for Father Conroy - opposite Reynolds as his daughter. The Voice passed and Der Bingle finally agreed to don the cassock. Again. For the third and last time as a New York City priest - after Going My Way, 1943, and The Bills of St. Mary’s, 1945. Sinatra and Reynolds had been snared by The Tender Trap in 1955.
- Paul Newman, Rally ’Round The Flag, Boys! 1958. When the hero was still Italian-American, producer Buddy Adler tried to interest Sinatra into the one Leo McCarey comic fest that simply… festered. Newman made the gigantic mistake of trying to (over)act funny instead of playing it straight as per Jack Lemmon. Embarrassing!
- Laurence Harvey, The Alamo, 1959. Sinatra was far more keen on this Western - John Wayne’s crusade. His dream project, since the 40s. He would direct and play, maybe, just a short rôle. Sam Houston, maybe. (It was Davy Crockett). But not for a dozen years… on September 9, 1959. Duke was surprised when Sinatra was interested in playing the chilly, driven William Barret Travis. “Frank came over, he talked to me about the Travis part, he knew Travis as well as I do.” But his old blue eyes were booked for the following 12 months… They remained close until Duke’s death “I don’t know why,” admitted Mrs Barbra Sinatra, “because they were completely different in almost everything.
- Steve Forrest, Flaming Star, 1960. The pitch? Enemies Brando and Sinatra as Dolores Del Rio’s half-breed sons. Although hushed up by Colonel Parker, Elvis was proud of his Cherokee roots(even shared them with his GI Blues character) - from his maternal great-great-great grandmother, Morning Dove White.
- Glenn Ford, Pocketful of Miracles, 1961. After making A Hole in the Head together, Sinatra offered Frank Capra the first Clan movie - Jimmy Durante’s story played out by Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crobsy. “Even-steven four-way split - you, me, Dean and Bing - on everything. We’ll murder the people.” Except each superstar had a corporation and they murdered the deal. Same fete met Capra offering this one to Ole Blue Eyes and/or Martin. They passed “faster than Pancho Gonzales’ first serve” and Capra settled for Ford - biggest mistake of his 67 years. Indeed, a terminal error - the reason why he never made another movie.
- George Grizzard, Advise & Consent, 1961. Having triumphed together with The Man With The Golden Arm, six years and seven movies ago, Sinatra thought it would be easy to persuade producer-director-ogre Otto Preminger to let him play the repcugnant Senator Fred Van Akerman. It was not. Otto (“Vot you mean ogre?”) wanted an unknown in the part. What he got was not good. I treasure the film - it introduced me to the circus that is US (indeed, global) politics.
- Stephen Boyd, Billy Rose’s Jumbo, 1962. MGM first cast in 1949: Sinatra and Esther Williams. By 1960:Dean Martin-Doris Day. Finally: Boyd was Day’s (weak) partner in her last musical.
- Gregory Peck, How The West Was Won, 1962. Peck replaced him at extremely short notice in the giant Cinerama epic.
- Robert Preston, The Music Man, 1962. At first, Broadway’s Man was considered too old to romanceShirley Jones. Then again, 76 Trombones is hardly a Sinatra ballad. Writer Meredith Wilson made it clear: "No Preston, no movie.”
- Michel Piccoli, Le Mepris/Contempt, France-Italy 1963. The French New Wave god, Jean-Luc Godard, wanted Sinatra as“the character from Marienbad who wants to be a character in Rio Bravo.” The saloon singer loathed locations - too many people watching and nature interfering with his one-take coda. Second time, a Sinatra-Bardot pairing was run up a Parisian flagpole. Producer Raoul Levy had tried to interest them inParis By Nightin the late 50s. Piccolihad first worked with the the fledgling BB eight yeares earlier in René Clair’s Les Grandes Manoeuvres, 1955.
- Robert Mitchum, What A Way To Go! 1964. First film produced by Hollywood publicist Arthur P Jacobs was jinxed. It was designed for his ex-client, MarilynMonroe - found dead on August 5, 1962. When hisdebut did start rolling, studio boss Darryl Zanuck refused Sinatra’s high salary. And then, it flopped. (Paul Newman played a Larry Flint, Dean Martin was Lennie Crawley).
- Dean Martin, Kiss Me Stupid, 1964. Billy Wilder called again... to co-star with Marilyn Monroe.Presumably, Sinatra’s horny singer would have been called Frankie, not Dino.
- Tony Curtis, Goodbye Charlie, 1964. Sinatra-Marilyn became Curtis-Debbie Reynolds. Hardly the same pizzazz.
- Robert Mitchum, What A Way To Go, 1964. Top stars asked to be Shirley MacLaine’s various millionaire husbandsall agreed to the same fee.Frank wanted three times as much. Henry Fonda was not available. Mitchum was. Of course he was -in mid-affair with MacLaine,.
- George Peppard, The Third Day, 1965 For the amnesiac accused of killing his lover.
- Jason Robards, Any Wednesday, 1966. Warners made the classic mistake, according to Sinatra pal, actor and future producer Brad Dexter: buying a five cent Broadway play for $750,000.“They needed a big name and Frank went almost to the point of doing it.But no matter what you did to the play, it would end up being a bad picture - and Frank would wind up taking the rap for it.”
- Terence Cooper, Casino Royale, 1967.
- Walter Matthau, The Secret Life Of An American Wife, 1968. Frank loved George Axelrod’s script. “Actually,” said Axelrod, “he would’ve been wrong because like so much of my stuff, it inches on the border line of vulgarity and bad taste. Perfect with a slob like Walter playing the greatest sex symbol...!”
- Omar Sharif, Funny Girl, 1968. The Jewish Streisand preferred an Arab screen lover to Sinatra. She disliked him and not just because she trailed way behind his number of best-selling albums and singles.
- Yves Montand, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, 1970. Ole Blue Eyes had little intserst in a co-star who had told William Wyler how to direct Funny Girl. Richard Harris also quit because of her. Barbra Streisand.
- Warren Beatty, The Only Game In Town, 1970. George Stevens’ A Place In The Sun is the film that made the teenage Henry Warren Beaty try acting. So when Stevens called him at the 1968 Democratic Convention to succeed Sinatra in a 9,000-ton soufflé (with the same Liz Taylor!), Beattyreadily agreed. He even refused The Sundance Kid to do so. “I always thoughtit was probably one of the most sensible decisions I had made because I got the chance to work with George.” Then, showing hisspin-doctor side, he added: “Ultimately, itwas more rewarding to me to have made a sort of an unsuccessful picture with him.”Of course it was.
- Topol, Fiddler on the Roof, 1971. Hollywood can be so stupid. IfI was a rich man, ring-a-ding-ding..!
- Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry, 1971.
- Marlon Brando, The Godfather, 1971.
- Burt Reynolds, Shamus, 1973. Announced for Sinatra in 1967.
- Charles Bronson, Death Wish, 1973. Just couldn’t handle guns anymore... Like Steve McQueen, Ole Blue Eyes rejected both Dirty Harry Callahan, 1971, and the New York architect turned vigilante Paul Kersey... in what Paramount aimed to re-title, The Sidewalk Vigilante as thepublic hates Death in titles. You know, like in Death Wish 2, 3, 4, 5. Oh, and the 2009 re-make!
- Richard Kiley, The Little Prince, 1974. Paramount chief Robert Evans made what he saw as a perfect deal in 1972: $200,000 plus a cut. “Frank could work for free on what he’d make from the music alone. He was ready to come out of retirement - but Stanley Donen wouldn’t work with him.”
- Art Carney, Harry and Tonto, 1974. Paul Mazursky wrote it for Jimmy Cagney to be the widower of 72, on an odyssey across the US after being evicted with his cat, Tonto. Also refusing:Frank, Cary Grant, Danny Kaye, Laurence Olivier.Carney got the job - and I saw him pick up his Oscar in LA on April 8, 1975.
- Michael Caine, The Man Who Would Be King, 1975.
- John Huston, Winter Kills, 1978. Even after his famous falling out with the JFK clan, Sinatra was not interested in playing, basically, old man man Joe Kennedy, in this (to cite Churchill) mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.... Besides, Sinatra had made his own presidential assassination movie, Suddenly, and lost his shirt on in when removing it from distribution after Dallas 1963. The book’s author Richard Condon thought it was more about The Voice not wanting to be seen as an old fogey - powerful or not.
- Paul Newman, The Verdict, 1982. Ole Blue Eyes saw another Oscar in the offing. And indeed, Newman was nominated - and lost for the sixth time. It was seventh time lucky for The Colour of Money in 1986. He was nominatedtwice more before his 2007 retirement.
- Jerry Lewis, The King Of Comedy, 1982.Who’s better than Johnny Carson as a talk-show host?Sinatra’s proud boast- “one take is enoughfor me”-had MartinScorsese exclaiming:“My God, he’d be the best.” After he completed shooting, Lewis was pronounced clinically dead for 17 seconds from a massive heart attack in December 1982... and survived.
- Paul Newman, The Verdict, 1982. For the boozehound lawyertrying - finally! - to make sure the guilty do not get away with it..
- Bruce Willis, Die Hard, 1987.
There were 16 possible John McClanes… From Tom Berenger, Michael Madsen and top TV heroes Richard Dean Anderson and Don Johnson to A-listers Charles Bronson, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Michael Madsen,, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone… and Frank Sinatra? Yes, well, Roderick Thorpe’s book, Nothing Lasts Forever, was the sequel to The Detective - and that 1967 film starred Sinatra (as Joe Leland, changed here to McClane) and so Sinatra had first dibs on sequels. At age 73, old Rheumy Blue Eyes wisely passed. Otherwise it could have been “Dooby-doopy-do” in place of “Yippee-ki-yay.” .” In his 1980 move debut, The First Deadly Sin, Willis is seen leaving a bar as Sinatra walks in. So it flows… Willis was soon taking roles from most of those on the McClane list.
- Eli Wallach, The Godfather: Part III,1991
- Robin Williams, The Birdcage, 1996. Before New York stage-screen director Mike Nichols got into re-makingthe most successful of all Frencb comedies (La Cage aux Folles, 1978), the propertyhad been at Cannon - with a surprising OK from Sinatra to play Armand.
- Richard Gere, Chicago, 2002.