Saturday, May 14, 2011

Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth & Hugh Griffith

On May 14, 1998, Frank Sinatra died. He was born on December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey and got his first major break in 1935 as part of The Hoboken Four on popular radio show Major Bowes Amateur Hour. In 1939 he signed with Harry James as lead singer of his big band before gaining the attention of Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra with whom he sang the first ever Number 1 song on Billboard, I'll Never Smile Again. That same year he married sweetheart Nancy Barbato with whom he had three children, Nancy, Tina and Frank, Jr. Sinatra's growing popularity led him to leave Dorsey in 1942 and starting in earnest a solo career, instantly finding fame as the number one singing star among teenage music fans of the era, especially the young women and girls known as The Bobbysoxers. Legendary appearances at the New York Paramount were sensational, namely the so-called Columbus Day Riot in 1944, when 35,000 blocked the streets outside the venue waiting to see their idol.

About this time Sinatra's acting career was beginning in earnest and he struck box-office gold with a lead role in the acclaimed Anchors Aweigh (1945) alongside Gene Kelly. The following year Sinatra was awarded a special Oscar for his part in a short film against intolerance called The House I Live In (1946). His career on a high, Sinatra went from strength-to-strength, recording his first album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, at Columbia and starring in several movies, peaking in 1949 with Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) and On the Town (1949, co-starring in both with Gene Kelly. A torrid public affair with screen siren Ava Gardner broke up Sinatra's marriage and although a second marriage - to Gardner - followed in 1951, record sales began to dwindle and live appearances were failing to sell out, Sinatra's vocal chords hemorrhaging at one point live on stage as years of playing several shows in a single night took their toll. Sinatra continued to act, however, garnering good notice if hardly strong box office in the musical drama Meet Danny Wilson (1951) before fighting for, and winning, the coveted role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity (1953). He won an Oscar for Best Supporting actor and followed this with a scintillating performance as the deranged assassin John Baron in Suddenly (1954) and arguably a career best performance, and Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, in the powerful drama The Man With the Golden Arm (1955). On record Sinatra was also back on a high having signed with Capitol records and riding high on the charts with the album In the Wee Small Hours (1953) and the single Young at Heart (1954), the latter becoming so popular that a recently made film with Doris Day had its name changed to Young at Heart. Known as "One-Take Charlie" for his approach to acting that strove for spontaneity and energy, rather than perfection, he was an instinctive actor who was best at playing parts that mirrored his own personality.

Throughout the 1950’s Sinatra not only recorded a slew of critically and commercially successful albums, his acting career remained on a high as he gave strong and memorable performances in such films as Guys and Dolls (1955), The Joker is Wild (1957), Kings Go Forth (1957) and Some Came Running (1958). He also dabbled with producing in the 1950s, first bringing the western Johnny Concho to the big screen and, along with Frank Capra, A Hole in the Head (1959), in which he co-starred with Edward G. Robinson. Continuing this trend into the 1960s Sinatra produced such lucrative offerings as Ocean's 11 (1960), Sergeants 3 (1963) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964) as well as starting his own record label, Reprise Records, in 1961. Many of Sinatra's movie projects of the era were lighter offerings alongside Rat Pack pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., but alternating such projects with more stern offerings resulted in the stellar The Manchurian Candidate (1962), arguably Sinatra's best film. Sinatra turned 50 in 1965 and, in many ways, his career once again peaked, recording the album September of My Years which won the Grammy for album of the year and making his directorial debut with the anti-war film None but the Brave (1965). Von Ryan's Express (1965) was released the same year and was a box office sensation helping secure vast earnings for the floundering 20th Century Fox. In 1967 Sinatra returned to familiar territory in Sidney J. Furie's The Naked Runner (1967), once again playing an assassin in his only film to be shot in the U.K. and one of the few films to be shot inside Centre Point and post-war Leipzig in Berlin. That same year he starred as private investigator Tony Rome (1967), a role he reprised in the sequel Lady in Cement (1968). He also starred with Lee Remick in The Detective (1968) a film daring for its time and a major box office success. After appearing in the comic western Dirty Dingus Magee (1970) Sinatra refrained from acting for a further seven years until producing the made-for-TV movie Contract on Cherry Street (1977), based on the novel by William J. Rosenberg. Sinatra returned to the big screen in The First Deadly Sin (1980) once again playing a New York detective with a moving, understated performance that was a fitting coda to his career as a leading man. He made only one more appearance on the big screen with a cameo in Cannonball Run II (1984).

His final acting performance in 1987 was as a retired detective seeking vengeance on the killers of his granddaughter in an episode of Magnum P.I. entitled Laura. On stage, Sinatra was as prolific as ever, playing both nationally and internationally to sold out crowds in stadiums and arenas. In 1993 Sinatra stepped back into Capitol studios to record his final albums, Duets and Duets II, both of which were highly successful, finding Sinatra an entirely new audience almost 60 years after he first tasted fame. Frank Sinatra passed away on May 14th 1998 from bladder cancer and other ailments. He is buried at Desert Memorial Park, Cathedral City, California.

On May 14, 1977, actress Rita Hayworth died. She was born Margarita Carmen Cansino in New York on October 17, 1918. Her father, Eduardo was a dancer who had emigrated from Spain in 1913. Rita was a trained dancer and joined her family on stage when she was 8 years old. Rita was seen dancing by a Fox executive and was impressed enough to offer her a contract. Rita's film debut was in Cruz Diablo (1934) at the age of 16. She continued to play small bit parts in several films under the name of "Rita Cansino" until she played the second female lead in Only Angels Have Wings (1939) when she played Judy McPherson. By this time, she was at Columbia, where she was getting top billing but it was Warner Bros. studios and the film The Strawberry Blonde (1941) that launched her career into super stardom.

Her natural, raw beauty was showcased later that year in Blood and Sand (1941) and You'll Never Get Rich (1941) with Fred Astaire. After filming her hit movie Gilda (1946) in which she became a bona fide sex symbol, her film career began to fade. Although she was still making movies, they never approached her earlier works. After a few forgettable films in the 1960s, her movie career was essentially over. Her final film appearance was in The Wrath of God (1972). In the early 1980’s she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and slowly faded from public view, she died on May 14, 1987 in New York City and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

On May 14, 1980, actor Hugh Griffith died. He was born in Anglesey, North Wales on May 30, 1912. He won a scholarship to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and graduated at the top of his class. When World War II broke out he enlisted in the Army, serving with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in India for six years. Following the war, he enjoyed a successful career on the stage, appearing in Shakespearean plays in Stratford-upon-Avon with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was particularly noteworthy as Falstaff and, his favorite role, King Lear, which he played both in English and in his native Welsh. On the other side of the Atlantic, he made his Broadway debut in 1951 and had a hit starring in 'Look Homeward Angel' (1957-59) with Anthony Perkins and Jo Van Fleet. The play earned Griffith a Tony Award nomination for the part W.O. Gant. He later jokingly remarked that, when the producers asked him to play a man from the Deep South, he (Griffith) had understood that to mean a man from the deep south of Wales.

Griffith started his motion picture film career in 1948 with films like “London Belongs to Me,” followed by “Kind Hearts and Coronets” in 1949. A portly, thickly bearded character with bushy eyebrows, ruddy complexion and a resonant bass voice, Griffith made a lasting impression for his many portrayals of eccentric, bucolic and, sometimes, raucous types. In 1959, he won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his Sheikh Ilderim, who supplies Charlton Heston with the chariot race-winning white stallions in “Ben Hur.” He was equally memorable as the lecherous Squire Western in “Tom Jones” (1963), a role for which he was nominated for both an Oscar and a BAFTA Award as Best British Actor. He later appeared in the critically acclaimed musical version of Oliver (1968), and as a hilarious King Louis in “Start the Revolution Without Me” (1970) and one of Vincent Price's many victims in “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” (1972). On television, he was a noteworthy rolling-eyed Long John Silver in a 1960 version of “Treasure Island” and roving-eyed funeral director Caradog Lloyd-Evans in the comedy “Grand Slam” (1978). He died on May 14, 1980 in London from a heart attack and his ashes are interred at the Golders Green Columbarium in Golders Green, England. author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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