Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sinatra on Love Letters

The Postal Service unveiled a Frank Sinatra stamp this week on what would have been his 92nd birthday. It was, of course, first-class.

For better and occasionally for worse, Sinatra provided the sound track for our romantic lives as the Greatest Generation went to war, morphing from a scrawny crooner mobbed by teen-age girls to middle-aged sophisticate specializing in wised-up ballads of wounded rue to mellow old lover recalling the joys of yesteryear with swinging optimism ("The Best Is Yet to Come" is inscribed on his tombstone).

My own tastes ran more to Ella, Billie and Louis, but Frank Sinatra was a mesmerizing figure who held the 20th century stage with what Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic recently called "the most spectacular second act in American cultural history."

Washed up before 40, he came back to win an Academy Award by playing Maggio in "From Here to Eternity," an event celebrated by Mario Puzo in the "Godfather" scene of a Hollywood producer waking up with his horse's head under the covers to persuade him to cast Don Corleone's crooner.

Fictionalized as that may have been, Sinatra's mob ties were real, culminating in introducing a Mafia boss' girl friend to JFK during his White House years.

Sinatra was politically liberal back then but ended up by giving $4 million to the election campaign of his fellow actor Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Husband and lover of the most beautiful women of his time, from Ava Gardner to the widowed Lauren Bacall, he was at heart a guy's guy as shown in the Rat Pack goof-off movie, "Ocean's Eleven," a wretched thing that Steven Soderbergh remade in fine 21st century style.

We met once. At Truman Capote's Black-and-White Ball in 1966, a glum Sinatra, who left early for his friend Jilly's saloon, was watching his 21-year-old bride, Mia Farrow energetically lighting up the dance floor with one partner after another. When a beautiful woman suggested joining them, Sinatra said, "I don't dance."

Like much else about him, that may or may not have been true, but when millions all over the world did their dancing and love-making in the last century, Sinatra was with them.

Now he will be staring back at a new generation as they stamp their love letters, if there are still any who don't communicate with their partners entirely by e-mail and cell phone.

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