on November 9, 2010
This is a unique study of Frank Sinatra. The author, James Kaplan, begins with Frank's upbringing in New Jersey and tells of the lifelong influence of his dominating mother, Dolly. Frank was loved and abused at the same time. Dolly would treat him as a little prince and because of her political connections and powerful personality would open doors for him. At the same time, she would physically and psychologically bully him and leave him vulnerable.
The biography unfolds and talks about Frank's young years of becoming a singer. It is filled with figures of the era - musicians, talent agents, gang members, struggling singers, song writers, and other figures fill the pages. The book teems with these figures as the 1930's and 1940's national politics made them popular. Frank would gravitate towards one figure, for example, Harry James, and then after he felt that he had nothing more to learn, he would choose another person, such as Benny Goodman. All around the talented performers were the temptations of beautiful women, drugs, and alcohol.
Frank vacillated between two types of women represented by his first wife, Nancy, and his second wife, Ava Gardner. While his first wife represented security and steadiness; Ava filled him with passion and obsession. These two women, along with his mother, allow the reader see why Frank was the sensitive, angry, rebellious, and haughty person that he came to be.
The author is also very good at describing how the music was made and how Frank made his unique songs. He describes Frank's watching and imitating other musicians to make his music better. Many times, the author will select a certain song and show how Frank and his orchestra got to its heart and made the song unforgettable. Two examples that are riveting are his serenade to Ava Gardner of Noel Coward's "I Get a Kick Out of You," and his recording of "Young at Heart," with Nelson Riddle. For those of us who treasure his songs, these analyses are worth the entire book.
The book ends with Frank's winning the Academy Award for his performance in the movie, "From Here to Eternity." It was a time that he also made a comeback with his music because of his performances with Nelson Riddle. But his unhappiness over his estrangement with Ava Gardner, led to suicidal and heart-breaking behavior. The biography is a powerful and stirring story of the complicated genius of Frank Sinatra.
on November 15, 2010
This is a wonderfully written, marvelously entertaining full throated biography of Frank Sinatra. If for a moment you think reading 700 pages is more than you want to take on with such a flawed and hedonistic personality as Sinatra I can state categorically that you will turn the pages fast and find every one filled with entertaining insights. Kaplan's writing is conversationalist offering a style that is effortless, breezy, and always fun. (I had previously read Kaplan's fun book DEAN AND ME which he co-wrote with Jerry Lewis.) To my surprise this book only covers Sinatra through his wining of the Academy Award in 1954. There is no mention of a future volume 2 but it's hard to believe it's not in the works. Kaplan has a unique ability to explain both the business side and creative side of Sinatra's music (and of many other artist of the era). But its Sinatra's personal life, value judgments, relationships and self doubt and huge personal drive of ambition that takes center stage. He almost dies at birth and he is born to a strong willed Mother which are events that seem to overwhelm his self worth. Insecure, he trusts no one and maintains relationship so long as they enhance his ambition. The story of Sinatra's meeting and dysfunctional marriage to Ava Gardner is incredible. Gardner appears to have been a woman of extremely good looks, with insatiable sexual appetites, and like Sinatra himself so insecure that she could not control her self destructive impulses. Sinatra is her match in dysfunction as he pines and chases her across the globe. You begin to wonder how they had the energy to live such lives. Kaplan lays out the moves that Sinatra made that earned him is professional success, insights into his relationships with the mob, his huge career tailspin and ultimate career turnaround. Sinatra's story is one of career redemption coupled with the high personal cost of pure ambition (not to mention unchecked hedonist empowerment). Kaplan's narrative lays it all out, the man's flaws, his personality, and his talent born of genius. At the end you may not like Sinatra but you will be pulled in by the charisma of his energy, his genius and how success is a brother of ambition. I think this is perhaps the best entertainment biography I have ever read although I really enjoyed DAVID LEAN, a biography by Kevin Brownlow and SHOWMAN, The life of David O. Selznick by David Thomson. If you have the slightest interest in Sinatra, Big Bands, the 1940 and 1950s, and/or dysfunctional hedonist behavior I'm sure you will enjoy Kaplan's splendid book.
on November 24, 2010
Stayed up until 1 a.m. to finish "Frank: The Voice," James Kaplan's swinging, zinging new biography of Frank Sinatra.
If you've read anything else on the Chairman of the Board -- and there's plenty out there -- forget it. This is it, king of the hill, A-No. 1, top of the heap.
Kaplan writes in a fluid, fun style, irreverent, sweet, sometimes vulgar -- much like its subject. Yes, you get all those naughty details about dalliances and "dames" (as Sinatra would have called them), but Kaplan doesn't forget that Sinatra was a singer, an artist, and the music is why he matters.
It stops in 1954, right after the "From Here to Eternity" triumph and Frankie's split with the stunning Ava Gardner. Here's hoping that means that part two isn't far behind.
Peter Guralnick gave Elvis his due in "Last Train to Memphis" and "Careless Love." Kaplan has done so here for Ol' Blue Eyes. This is the biography he deserves, a ring-a-ding-ding kind of gasser, as alive and kickin' as one of Sinatra's best singles.
If you love The Voice, don't miss this book.
on November 11, 2010
Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan is an outstanding biogaphy of Frank Sinatra (1915-98) the Hoboken Italian lad who became a national icon and is, arguably, the greatest singer of the American Songbook!
Frank Sinatra was born to poor first generation Italian parents in December, 1915. His father Mannie was illiterate and worked as a city fireman. His mother Dolly was a brilliant woman who spoke several languages. Dolly was also a midwife, abortionist and dabbled in local politics. She was a tough mother of whom her only child Francis Albert was frightened.
Frank began singing in local clubs in New Jersey and New York marrying the lovely Nancy Barbato. Nancy would have one abortion. The family were Roman Catholic. Nancy was a charming, intelligent woman who was a faithful wife and mother to the children: Nancy, Frank and Tina.
Sinatra hit the jackpot when he moved from being a band singer with Harry James to the prestigious Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Dorsey was tough on Sinatra who soared to fame with several hits in the late 30s and early 40s. Sinatra was 4-F during the
war as the result of a perforated eardrum and emotional instability. Sinatra was called a draft dodger by G.I's and others but was loved by the female bobby soxers who attended his concerts in great numbers.
Kaplan has done his research and is quite adept at analyzing Sinatra's style and song choices. The book is detailed in its account of Sinatra's business dealings with his record companies most notably Columbia and Capitol. Sinatra was a genius as a singer hiring great arrangers such as Nelson Riddle to get the sound the singer most desired. Sinatra's early idol was Bing Crosby.
Sinatra was a complex man who was moody and mecurial. Among the traits evident in this over 700 pages tome:
a. Sinatra was an egomaniac who used people to further his career dropping them when they know longer could further his cause.
b. Sinatra was a libertine who enjoyed liquor in massive quantities of consumption.
c. The singer slept with hundreds of women. He was a serial adulterer andabsentee father to his children.
d. Sinatra was poorly educated dropping out of high school for singing gigs though he did enjoy reading and was an intelligent man.
e. The singer had a reputation as a tough guy beating up reporters and hating unfavorable press coverage. He was friendly and may have been helped by organized criminals.
f. Sinatra could be generous and loyal though he could turn on someone quickly.
Sinatra had such Hollywood babes as Lana Turner and Marilyn Maxwell as lovers. His greatest passion was for Ava Gardner whom he married. The couple were man and wife from 1951-52. Ava was sexually ravenous, a noted adulterer and egocentric. The couple were mismatched as both were spoiled and unfaithful engaging in horrendous fights and feuds with one another and others in show business. Ava was the love of Sinatra's life. She is portrayed as being much like Sinatra's tough talking and acting mother Dolly. Ava had two abortions during their marriage not wanting children and fearful of ruining her figure. She was not a good woman!
The book ends with Sinatra's Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his great role as Maggio in 1953's "From Here to Eternity" based on the James Jones' classic novel.
One hopes that James Kaplan will produce a second volume on Sinatra completing the singer's life story. My assessment of old blue eyes: a great singer but not a very nice man! This is one of the finest show business biographies I have ever read!
Highly recommended for students of Sinatra's career; changing trends in popular music and historians of America in the first half of the 20th century.
on June 1, 2014
I found the book interesting to read, although unnecessarily long. The writer repeats superfluous details and has an annoying habit of adding tangential asides attempting to be clever or an insider, I guess. He presents his read on history as fact.
The first requirement of any book is that be so well written that you can't put it down. It compels you to keep reading until you're finished and The Voice satisfies this requirement. This is the first volume of a two volume set; the author is currently working on volume II. The book takes you from birth of the 20th century's greatest entertainer in 1915, up until 1954, the filming of From Here to Eternity, and Sinatra's Academy Award.
Some readers will not appreciate or like the literary license that author Kaplan has taken in this book. Some authors have the Sergeant Friday in Dragnet approach, just the facts lady. Other authors put you right in the action but in order to do so they have to create words in the subject's mind that are not provable, and that is what Kaplan has done throughout this book. He is basically psychoanalyzing Sinatra from birth until the end of this volume.
IT WORKS and it works wonderfully in The Voice because it draws you in. You feel as though you are living Sinatra's life, and in a sense you are. At birth the future singer weighed 13.5 pounds. The delivery was so difficult that the midwife had to call for a doctor to intercede and use instruments. The scars according to Kaplan haunted Sinatra the rest of his life.
One of the secondary benefits of this book is that you get to truly understand the period in which the subject lived, and again Kaplan does an excellent job of making this come alive as well. Allow me to illustrate the fabulous read you are going to find in The Voice by going through just a few of the highpoints of the Volume I:
* It is the author's belief that the disfigurements that Sinatra suffered from the trauma of birth left him with an intense anger towards his mother Dolly who was abusive and overwhelming, and caused the singer to trust no one for the duration of his life.
* Kaplan's contention is that Dolly Sinatra was a female version of a mafia godfather. He saw in his mother what he would see in the eyes of the powerful men he would know in the future. He would be drawn to them as he was to his mother, the dominant influence in his life, and they would be drawn to him as well.
* Sinatra for the rest of his life would resent authority in all its forms and whoever possessed it.
* He was never taller than 5 foot 7 ½ inches. He would wear elevator lifts to boost his height to 5 foot 9 inches, and lie that he was 5 foot 11 inches.
* Skinny for most of his life, many women have affirmed that he was over endowed sexually. Future lover Ava Gardiner would make jokes about it saying there was only 10 pounds of Frank, but 110 pounds of _ _ _ _.
* When he performed, every woman in the audience believed that he was singing to her, and only to her, and this was the secret of his singing success.
* His mother Dolly engineered Frank's marriage to Nancy a Neighborhood gal, because the mother could control her.
* In the 1930's, he was the equivalent of today's rock star. He would fill whole theatres with young women swooning to be in the same place as him.
* In the early years he knew the biggest stars in the business, the big band business that is. Hired first by bandleader Harry James, Sinatra always knew when it was time to pivot and leave, and move to the next level. There were no permanent loyalties. One of the best lines in the book is when Harry James wanted Sinatra to change his name to Frankie Satin. Sinatra tells him you want the singer, take the name.
* He leaves James and moves to the biggest bandleader of them all, Tommy Dorsey. The singer becomes a bigger star than Dorsey and Dorsey knew it. Sinatra wants out, and Dorsey takes him to the cleaners. In a deal that would never stand up in court, Dorsey's manager would get 10% of Sinatra's gross earnings. Dorsey himself would get 33 1/3rd percent of the singer's earnings, and Sinatra's new manager would get 10%. This means Sinatra would be giving away more than 50% of everything he earned to get out from under Dorsey's thumb. There is a debate as to whether the terms went for ten years or forever. Sinatra turns to his agent and says it doesn't matter, Dorsey will never collect a penny.
THE VOICE is captivating from bandleader Benny Goodman introducing Sinatra to 5000 screaming women at the Brooklyn Paramount and wondering, who is this guy, all the way to Sinatra's career collapsing and then coming back from the dead to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for From Here to Eternity.
In between there's Ava Gardiner on again, off again romance, married, divorce, potential suicide, what a life, and it's all here. It's readable, it's fascinating, and once you pick it up, you won't put it down. This is a five star story, and thank you for reading this review.
Richard C. Stoyeck
on November 20, 2010
Sinatra was a larger-than-life. My mother couldn't get enough of his voice; I am blessed her passion for him filled our house. Now I understand. This biography provided me with an in-depth look into not only his singing, but the character of Sinatra. I have a deeper understanding of him as an individual. As I've been listening to his music, I can more clearly hear the differences in his intonations, his diction, and his spirit in the songs. I probably wouldn't want to have been his accountant, but I would have been one of those bobby-soxers for life.
Kaplan has done a wonderful job gathering information on this icon. He writes in an intelligent manner that treats the reader with respect, as he does his topic.
The one suggestion I would make: this book should be packaged with Sinatra CD's that demonstrate what it is that the author writes.
What happens the next day of 1954? I most definitely want to read more about Sinatra. Other books I've read tell us some information, and biographies of other celebrities tell us their views of Sinatra (e.g. Winters, Monroe), but I would like to read more by Kaplan.
on March 13, 2011
This is just a bit of a "heads up",if you are thinking of buying this book.I found it very, very, readable. AND THEN IT ENDED.In 1954!! Personally, I think Sinatra's life was at least as interesting in his later years,if not more so, and I had no idea that the book was not a full biography.I think this should have been called "Volume One".
on December 5, 2010
I loved this book. Even if, like me, you are a long time fan who has read dozens of books about Sinatra, this book is a must read. Mr. Kaplan obviously did meticulous research and, I promise, you will find out some things about FS you didn't know before. Of course, the story is not always flattering to him but, after reading it, you will better understand him and the factors that made him the way he was.
on March 15, 2011
Without a doubt one of the better biographies of Sinatra written to date. Once I started reading it I found it quite hard to put down, and yet I was enjoying it so much I wanted to prolong finishing it. Mr. Kaplan's coverage of his subject's life is insightful, entertaining, and, most of all, I believe the way things actually happened. You feel you are there during Sinatra's tender private moments with his first wife, Nancy, and during his very public shouting matches with second wife Ava Gardner during their volcanic relationship. The Chairman's early recording career, the truth behind the circumstances of his leaving the Dorsey band, his affairs with Lana Turner and innumerable others, his nights out with the boys, his rivalry with Buddy Rich, and his esteem for professional musicians and arrangers, are all revealed in this brilliant account of the entertainer's life. The book, comprised of over 700 pages, ends with Sinatra's having won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in "From Here to Eternity" in 1954, so that should give you some idea of how detailed this story is. But it is never dull or repetitious. In summation, a very well-written narrative of a legendary icon in the entertainment business, sure to be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates a good read, whether you're a Sinatra fan or not.