In writing this series of extraordinary men that experienced early success in life, suffered great falls only to rise again to stand taller than before, it’s been tempting to focus solely on politicians and Presidents. So much has been written about all of them and the details of their rise, fall, and rise again are easily catalogued. As tempting as it, however, it would be a disservice to so many great men and women that have proven F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong to find their second and sometimes third acts in American Life.
With that said, the first nonpolitician to be featured is definitely worthy. Francis Albert Sinatra has been hailed as the greatest pop singer of the 20th Century. He’s the winner of 13 Grammys and an Academy Award. The founder of the Rat Pack is also considered to be one of the coolest men to ever live and has been an American standard for masculinity for generations. But even he suffered a fall.
Born in Hoboken New Jersey in 1915, Frank Sinatra was inspired early in life to peruse a career in music after hearing a Bing Crosby recording. He won his first contest when he was 19 and by the time he was 20 he was making a living singing with dance bands and making remote radio appearances.
His career really took off in 1939 when we landed the job of band singer with the James Band. He was 24 years old and in a 6 month period released 10 commercial recordings.
In 1942 he struck out on his own and in 1943 signed a contract with Columbia Records. It was a partnership that put him on the map. Between 1943 and 1945 he recorded 83 hit songs and was a constant presence on radio stations around the country.
He had acquired fame and fortune and his future opportunities seemed endless until it all dried up.
As newspaper articles began to appear in 1948 showing apparent connections to organized crime, a change in American musical tastes and a messy lawsuit with a tabloid reporter, Frank Sinatra had gone from sitting on top of the world to being nobody. He was 32 years old.
To add injury to insult, he lost his voice completely for several months in 1950 due to a vocal cord hemorrhage. In 1952, His contract with Columbia was not renewed, his talent agency dumped him and his television show was canceled. Everything he had worked for seemed to be disappearing which only caused him to slip into a deep depression.
Throughout this difficult period, however, Sinatra continued to scrap and fight for attention. He sang on every show that would have him and continued to record songs. He worked tirelessly to put himself in the right place at the right time and it paid off.
1952 he signed a contract to play a soldier in a war movie. He was to play the good timing friend, a role he was extremely comfortable with, alongside the rising star Burt Lancaster in the movie From Here To Eternity.
He stole the show.
Handsome and playful, his portrayal of Angelo Maggio won him the Academy Award for best supporting Actor. In a moment of overnight success, he was back.
Following the success of From Here To Eternity, Sinatra was once again an in-demand sensation. He was a sought-after screen actor and was offered a contract with Capitol records to sing again.
Throughout the rest of the 1950’s and 60’s, Frank Sinatra was America’s favorite singer, actor, and celebrity. His endorsement of John F. Kennedy for President carried with it so much weight that the candidate had him remake his hit song High Hopes as a campaign anthem.
When one looks at the kind of comeback that Frank Sinatra had in the early 1950’s it’s tempting to pin it all on his Oscar. But it was his constant grinding and hustling when no one was watching that put him in that position.
Throughout his life, he acquired the kind of power and influence that most musicians only dream of. By being a captain of his industry, he earned his title Chairman of the Board. All of it happened because of his relentlessly and with great persistence pursuing his goal. He might not have ever won an election, but Frank Sinatra is a true Profile in Persistence.