December 12, 2008
I looked for Frank Sinatra's house before I even moved to Hoboken. I had the address, 415 Monroe Street, and I had my walking shoes on. I knew the house was no longer there, but I wanted to see the neighborhood.
What I saw was a nicely-scrubbed row of houses, some quite old, but all in good shape, and some new buildings that clearly Frank Sinatra never saw. I found the star on the sidewalk in front of where the old tenement building of Frank's early years had been. I walked around the neighborhood and saw an old man walking into a place called Antique Bakery, with its storefront window piled with the rightly famous rounds (all sizes) of Italian bread. I could have been walking on a street in Florence or Rome.
No question about it, Frank Sinatra walked these streets. It's his birthday today, and I'm going to have a marathon of his music in my own home--old records like "In the Wee Small Hours" and some going back to the years when he sang for the Tommy Dorsey band. I'm sure there'll be Sinatra movies on the tube, maybe Young at Heart, the remake of Four Daughters, in which he played the John Garfield role and made it his own, or dancing with Gene Kelly in On the Town. At least in my imagination, I'll raise a glass to him in the old Rat Pack days, when he lit up Las Vegas with his band of talented drinking buddies.
Sinatra and Hoboken had a tenuous relationship after he moved on. The more the town liked him, it seemed, the less he liked it. Many locals were hurt by his ambivalence about Hoboken. When I talk with my blog-buddies about Frank in Hoboken, their admiration for his talent is tinged with bitterness about his personality and his behavior as a big star. The Hoboken in which he grew up was a different place from the little jewel we know today. It was tough and grimy, and though he had it good--with a doting mother and enough pals who were connected with the powerful mob of the day--his character had been forged in the blue-collar Hoboken world and tempered by early success in show business. Everybody has a Frank Sinatra story or two, and not all of them are pleasant. But some of them are wonderful.
His songs were the soundtrack of my early days. My mother used to sing, "It was just a neighborhood dance," (which I was later to learn was Frank's "Oh, What It Seemed To Be,") as she did chores around the house. When I was a little girl, the Swoonatra phenom was in full swing, and we thought it was hilarious that teenagers would keel over at the skinny guy's concerts, saying, "Oh, Frankie!" I wonder if they ever said that. Soon I was a teenager, riveted by his performance as Maggio in From Here To Eternity, and swooning a little myself as his casual swinger Charlie is hogtied by Debbie Reynolds in The Tender Trap.
Complex and fascinating, Sinatra the man has been the subject of many books and articles. Whenever a celebrity on a talk show has a Sinatra anecdote, I sit up and listen well. There's simply something about the guy. And it's something to think about, at least on his birthday.