Frank Sinatra, Jr. on His Father's Legacy, Ronan Farrow and Why Elvis "Was Mediocre"
"Sinatra Sings Sinatra: As I Remember It" comes to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on May 2.
As a child, Frank Sinatra, Jr. saw more of his dad on television than in real life. A singing icon and movie star, Ol' Blue Eyes was usually either on location or on tour, often accompanied by beauties like Ava Gardner, to whom he was married from 1951-1957, or Mia Farrow, whom he divorced after two years in 1968, but continued to see even after she settled down with Woody Allen in the 1980s. This admission by Farrow in a 2013 Vanity Fair article made her wonder if her son, Ronan might actually be the son of Sinatra, rather than Allen.
“From what I have heard from Ms. Farrow, and this is indirect, is she was being interviewed on behalf of the new book she was trying to promote, and the guy who was interviewing her was a complete idiot,” Frank Jr. tells The Hollywood Reporter about journalist, Maureen Orth. “She said that to him, in order to be flippant. And look at all the trouble it’s caused because somebody took it very seriously.”
This opinion, shared by sisters Nancy and Tina, will not be included in Sinatra Sings Sinatra: As I Remember It, Frank Jr.’s way of celebrating his father’s centenary, featuring first-hand remembrances, photos, clips and, of course, music at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on May 2, for one night only.
One such remembrance dates to 1988, when Frank Jr. was in Atlantic City and the phone rang moments before show time. His father was going on tour and he needed a conductor. At the age of 44, Frank Jr. embarked on a 7-year journey to get to know his father in a way he never could before.
“It’s like it went by in seven weeks,” he says about the experience. “He was a bit of a perfectionist. I was no longer his son in that instance, I was an employee, and I had a job to do, and I was going to move heaven and earth to make sure that I did it. Otherwise, I would have been replaced.”
A gifted pianist, Frank Jr. sings many of the same songs as his father, from whom he inherited his smooth singing voice. Throughout his career, he struggled to distinguish himself, which some attribute to a kidnapping that occurred when he was 19 years old. Abducted from a Lake Tahoe hotel room in 1963, Frank Jr. was held for four days by schizophrenic ex-businessman Barry Keenan and cohorts Joe Amsler and John Irwin. His family paid $240,000 for his release and arrests soon followed. The defense maintained that the episode was a publicity stunt orchestrated by Sinatra in order to bolster his son’s career. It was a lie, but it stuck.
A more practical reason Frank Jr. never achieved the status of his father is that he chose a style that was on its way out in the sixties instead of rock 'n' roll. It was a choice that cost him his contract with RCA Victor.
“I felt I could not sell something I didn’t believe in,” he says. “Rock 'n' roll, for me, is another award for underachievers. It is nothing but a testament to mediocrity. Elvis Presley was rock 'n' roll, I thought that was pretty mediocre. But since that time, the succeeding steps in music has been down, just more degradation. Then we got into punk rock, and now we are into rap music, which is a total oxymoron.”
With six albums produced between 1965 and 2006, and after decades of touring, at the age of 71, Frank Jr. doesn’t consider himself a success. “A person who qualifies for that word, is a person who’s been part of a hit movie a hit television show, or who has had hit records. And I have had none of the above.”
But he did adhere to the greatest lesson his father ever taught him, “What you believe in, stand by them and practice them devoutly,” which explains why rock 'n' roll was never really an option. In the end, he did it his way.