March 25, 1954
MARCH 25, 1954: Total silence envelops the star-studded audience inside the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California, as actress Mercedes McCambridge begins to read the names of the five nominees for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture at the 26th Annual Academy Awards ceremony: Eddie Albert--Roman Holiday, Brandon de Wilde--Shane, Jack Palance--Shane, Frank Sinatra--From Here to Eternity, Robert Strauss--Stalag 17. Pausing briefly and opening the envelope, McCambridge exclaims:
"And the winner is--Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity."
Upon hearing those long-coveted words, Frank Sinatra does what every Oscar winner has ever done--he exhales. As the applause turns into cheers, he kisses both of his dates for the glittering occasion--daughter Nancy, thirteen, and son Frank, ten--and bounds up the aisle to excitedly accept his award. Taking the stage and grasping the golden statue, Frank Sinatra pronounces himself "deeply thrilled and very moved." Briefly cracking wise--"And I'd just like to say, however, that they're doing a lot of songs here tonight, but nobody asked me"--Frank professes his love for the crowd, expresses his thanks, and strides offstage, where, Oscar clasped firmly in hand, he runs the gauntlet of photographers. Flashbulbs pop and hundreds of photos are snapped. Frank Sinatra is back on top of the show business world.
Never mind the two studios that had dropped Frank's contract, the back-to-back flops of Double Dynamite and Meet Danny Wilson, and the three years spent in the wilderness of turned backs and unreturned phone calls. Tonight's a new night--and in that marvelously phony "Hooray for Hollywood" fashion always at its white hottest on Oscar night, everyone wants to congratulate Frank. Everyone wants a piece of the comeback Variety almost instantly termed "the greatest comeback in theatre history." And after backs are slapped, hands shaken, and hugs exchanged, Frank Sinatra, Mr. "Center-of-the-Action," does something quintessentially Sinatra--he walks out. Leaves all the festivities, the glittery Governors Ball, where everyone in Hollywood could pay homage, and walks the streets of Beverly Hills. Alone. As if no one else could understand the true distance of his journey.
Reflecting on the night years later, Frank mused, "I couldn't even share it with another human being. I ducked the party, lost the crowds, and took a walk. Just me and Oscar. I think I relived my entire life as I walked up and down the streets of Beverly Hills." In an entire adult lifetime spent onstage and now onscreen, through all the cheering crowds and boozy camaraderie with friends, Frank Sinatra never could outrun the loneliness that had haunted him since his solitary childhood. Loving parents? Yes. Parents who were always there? Most decidedly not. And as Frank grew up, and the desire--no, need--to perform grew, the reverent attention of the crowds provided consolation for his lonely nature. The years rolled on, and stardom arrived, but records and public performances no longer sufficed; Frank Sinatra had made a willful decision that the worldwide fame and immortality afforded by Hollywood movies would be the ticket, and tonight, Oscar night, he had proved it to every last person in America.
Through sheer force of talent and willpower, Frank Sinatra had fulfilled his dream of movie stardom, won Hollywood's top honor, and reminded everyone in filmland--hell, everyone in the world--that he had officially arrived as a top-flight dramatic actor. This was no mere singing-and-dancing routine alongside Gene Kelly. This was powerful dramatic work--"a whole new kind of thing," as he said in his acceptance speech--and there'd be plenty more of it to follow if Frank had anything to say about it. And he did.
Rattling off no fewer than seventeen major motion pictures in the next sixyears alone, Frank Sinatra served notice over and over again that he was a very big and important film actor. A movie star. One of the immortals.
But nothing was ever simple with Frank Sinatra, especially when it came to Hollywood. In his own words: "I made some pretty good pictures ... and I tried a few things that turned out to be mistakes ... ."
Right on both counts.
SINATRA IN HOLLYWOOD. Copyright © 2008 by Tom Santopietro. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.