Sinatra’s life makes an interesting way to look at 20th-century America. Just this famous mugshot shows things have changed a bit since 1938: The charge is seducing a single female of good repute.
He was born in 1915 and died in 1998. Crowds screamed for him two decades before the Beatles. The documentary “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All” grounds young Sinatra in an America where race hatred commonly extended to Italians, Irish and other groups and where the Depression meant not just working hard to survive but possibly literally not surviving. Once a singing waiter, he becomes famous in every medium from radio onward; gets credited for destroying American morality by adultering with Ava Gardner; from JFK to civil rights, mobsters, Vegas and Reagan, that’s a pretty good shuffle through the decades.
He became a cliche partly because of age (paunch, fading vocals, less self-reinventing) but also by the “Seinfeld is unfunny” principle — so successful in his groundbreaking that he became the status quo. (One of my favorite moments in “High Society” is when Bing says “You must be one of the newer fellas.” Turnover is always with us.)
Late-era Sinatra parodying himself is painful, but earlier in his career, when he’s still doing it straight and singing with sincerity, the power is clear. You can probably hear it even through the audio flaws in this film of him singing to a roomful of WAVES in 1943. Criminal seduction, you say? 🙂