“EXTRA ADDED ATTRACTION” was how the Paramount theater first billed Frank Sinatra’s solo debut, just below that of Benny Goodman and his Orchestra… “The Voice That Has Thrilled Millions”. But, as author James Kaplan narrates, “That was so 1930’s, and here we were in 1943”. George Evans, Sinatra’s new publicist, re-worked the moniker to simply read “The Voice”… and the rest is history.
At close to 800 pages, James Kaplan’s biography on Frank Sinatra seems daunting, almost intimidating, yet it reads more like a novel than a biography. From beginning to end the book was a thrill ride. Having read a few books on Sinatra before, I would guess that there are likely no great surprises to the uber Sinatra fans, but to me, a bit of a Sinatra novice (other than being a huge fan of his music), the story Kaplan tells of Frank’s life, of his rise to fame, slow fall and then miraculous comeback gave me the feeling of almost actually being there.
Names like Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Manie Sacks, Nancy Sinatra (big Nancy), Louis B. Mayer and Ava Gardner (amongst many others) were not presented as semi factual historical figures, but living, breathing and feeling characters, brilliantly woven into a story that – although is factually accurate and well researched – reads as breezily as if it were historical fiction. It was simply a fun read.
I must admit though, that although all of the ups and downs of Frank Sinatra’s career are both fascinating and intriguing, the pièce de résistance of Kaplan’s book had to be the toxic and nearly career shattering (for Sinatra) romance between Frank and Ava Gardner. Kaplan was able to evoke empathy, leaving me feeling as if I was enduring Frank’s pain alongside him. I related, and the emotions became real… almost familiar.
Frank was the Voice, literally, for most of the twentieth century. His story is so underdog that the underdog probably says his life is so Sinatra. Sinatra’s portrayal of the character Angelo Maggio in the movie From Here To Eternity is a haunting parable of the chutzpah that defined the real Frank Sinatra’s person, and his career, except he doesn’t die, but is merely born again. Kaplan’s book captures this and more, and at the risk of spoiling it all I will say that like any well told story Kaplan ends his book on an up note, not nearly at the end of Sinatra’s life, but instead, at the end of a story.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Frank Sinatra; his life, his music, and his story. More importantly, to anyone who is interested in how Frank Sinatra shaped the future of popular music, while carving the very definition of the term pop-star for generations to come.