17 November: Sinatra on the threshold


The Chairman of the Board to be was on the threshold of resurrection when he played Rocky Fortune. (Photo: NBC.)

The Chairman of the Board to be was on the threshold of resurrection when he played Rocky Fortune. (Photo: NBC.)

Some might believe tonight’s music-based episode in the short-lived crime drama hits a little too close to home for star Frank Sinatra’s comfort, considering his real musical career is in the tank, not to mention his tempestuous marriage to Ava Gardner is all but finished and he has no clue as to just how far his performance in From Here to Eternity will really finish resurrecting him.

He’s barely begun recovering his singing career—following that frightening vocal cord hemorrhage he suffered in 1950, Sinatra’s voice has begun to mature, and Capitol Records has agreed to take the chance on him. Except that, according to some biographies, the Capitol deal is almost blown before it’s consummated, thanks to Sinatra’s enmity toward Dave Dexter, Jr. Once a critic, now a Capitol executive, Dexter had aroused Sinatra’s wrath thanks to a few stinging reviews a few years earlier, and if Sinatra is blessed and cursed with anything at once it’s a long memory.

The good news is that wiser heads prevail. The better news is that Sinatra’s original arranger, Axel Stordahl, who helped steer Sinatra to Capitol in the first place, won’t be doing the same job now. Out go the powderpuff-fluffy strings and sluggish tempi, and in come a series of arrangers more in tune with the more emotional material Sinatra wants to try, whether uptempo or ballad, particularly Nelson Riddle and Billy May.

And, beginning with Songs for Young Lovers a few months from tonight, the advent of arguably his greatest musical influence, the concept albums hook around single themes and yielding both new pop standards as well as remade, remodeled, and matured revisits to some of his earlier material, the albums that establish Sinatra once and for all as the swinger who has it all, knows how to use it one minute, and is brought to his knees by lost or squandered love the next.

Now, his jazzier numbers deliver real commitment (the boy Sinatra doesn’t swing half as hard or deep as on such albums as Come Fly With Me or Swingin’ Session), and his saloon ballads suggest a man exposed as opposed to a boy teasing. (Astute readers may wish to compare his 1940s take of “One for My Baby (One for the Road)” to the 1958 remake he will cut with Nelson Riddle.) Generations of men whose cool fantasies were grounded by real heartbreak come to identify with Sinatra far more than his 1940s bobbysoxer fans did.

Sinatra will hardly mourn the single-season of Rocky Fortune. By the time it ends in March 1954, he’ll have the Academy Award in his hands and his comeback will be in, ahem, full swing.



Rocky Fortune: A Hepcat Kills the Canary (NBC, 1953)

His first music gig in years lures Rocky (Sinatra) into a jam that threatens to become his swan song, when an old friend asks him to stand in for his bassist—once a jazz band mainstay, driven since to the bottle by broken romance. Except that Rocky finds the bassist’s wings on the wrong flight, when his former girlfriend turns up dead and his singer—who just so happens to be his former wife—only appears to be a frame-up victim . . . so far.

This must be a psychologically challenging role for Sinatra’s otherwise wearily footloose character considering the dissipation of Sinatra’s own off-mike, off-camera life at this point.

Additional cast: Jack Kruschen, Jean Tatum, Tom Holland, Frank Gershel, Barney Phillips. Announcer: Eddie King. Director: Andrew C. Love. Writer: George Lefferts.


Further Channel Surfing . . .

Columbia Workshop: Luck (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1937)
Lux Radio Theater: Merton of the Movies (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1941)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Twenty-Thousand Dollar Sofa (NBC, 1942)
It Pays to Be Ignorant: Why is Kissing a Girl Like Opening a Jar of Olives? (comedy quiz; CBS, 1944)
The Judy Canova Show: A Letter from Cactus Junction (NBC, 1945)
Quiet, Please: Kill Me Again (fantasy; Mutual, 1947)
Adventures of Maisie: Next Stop, Niagara Falls (comedy; Syndicated, 1949)
The Hallmark Playhouse: Letter to Mr. Priest (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1949)
Broadway is My Beat: The Joan Fuller Murder Case (crime drama; CBS, 1950)
Dr. Kildare: Mr. Bradley’s Damaged Heart (drama; Syndicated, 1950)
The Life of Riley: Riley’s First Date Flashback (comedy; NBC, 1950)
Broadway is My Beat: The Alex Raymond Murder Case (crime drama; CBS, 1951)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Duck Hunting is Successful (comedy; NBC, 1953)
21st Precinct: The Case of the Basket (crime drama; CBS, 1953)

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