There are so many words you can use to describe Frank Sinatra: bold, brash, raconteur, singer, actor, dancer, entertainer, gambler, innovator, Oscar winner, Grammy winner, Chairman of the Board. And yet, the most enduring word to describe the Sinatra mystique? The Voice. Just like the title of the book says, the sounds that he made and recorded for posterity on vinyl throughout his career are what keeps him in the forefront of popular culture, even to this day.
The short guy with the scrappy attitude from Hoboken turned into an elegant and sophisticated gent on stage when he was interpreting the works of Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and others. On-screen, his bulldog-like intensity helped him create magnetic characterizations (not the least of which was Maggio, the Academy Award-winning portrayal he created for From Here to Eternity.) He married famous and iconic women, from Ava Gardner to Mia Farrow, and made the Las Vegas strip his kingdom. With his friends Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., as well as Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, he formed the Rat Pack, a group of entertainers whose sole purpose was to have a party onstage and make you feel grateful to be watching it from the audience.
There aren’t a lot of stories here that will surprise the serious Sinatra fan. However, James Kaplan does make great use of other written material about Sinatra and his cohorts, including Ava Gardner’s biographer and the New York Times. It seems like, according to these sources, lots of people have had their say about Sinatra, and Kaplan doesn’t waste any time culling from this enormous amount of material to tell his story.
This is a lengthy biography, filled with details about Sinatra’s work on and off the screen (i.e., he hated to wear sailor outfits but acquiesced for On the Town). The fact that Kaplan uses other biographers’ work to tell his version of the Sinatra fable makes it feel more like an encyclopedia than a great and enduring portrait of a cultural phenomenon.
Nevertheless, FRANK: THE VOICE is a very enjoyable book that will surely enthrall Sinatra’s most serious fans as well as (perhaps) a whole new generation who will understand how the man who drove Bobbysoxers to the heights of emotional intensity became the sound that most likely will be considered the most important marker for the postwar era and the beginnings of the pop music phenomenon.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on October 31, 2011