In the winter of 1942, something remarkable happened in America. As World War II raged across Europe and set the South Pacific ablaze, a phenomenon called “teenagers” made its noisy debut at the Paramount Theater in New York City. In scenes reminiscent of the hysteria generated by Elvis Presley in the 1950s and the Beatles in the 1960s, adolescent girls scrambled and screamed, fawned and fainted, and generally made fools of themselves every time a lanky young singer from Hoboken tenderly gripped a mic stand. His name was Frank Sinatra, and he would have been 101 years old today.
The Sinatra Riots
On December 30, 1942, Frank Sinatra stepped onstage for the first time as a solo artist. The crowd, as they say, went wild. Zealous pubescent girls shrieked, cried and tossed personal objects on stage. Sinatra was already popular as a featured vocalist in the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey big bands, but his debut as the star of his own show with the Benny Goodman band to back him up was something else altogether.
“The sound that greeted me was absolutely deafening. It was a tremendous roar. Five thousand kids, stamping, yelling, screaming, applauding. I was scared stiff. I couldn’t move a muscle. Benny Goodman [Sinatra’s band leader at the time] froze, too. He was so scared he turned around, looked at the audience and said, ‘What the hell is that?’ I burst out laughing.”
After Sinatra’s Paramount performance, teenage “Bobby Soxers” assembled eagerly at the back stage door in a throng that spread all the way to Times Square and disrupted traffic. Newsweek noted the adolescent girls who participated in the “Sinatra riots” evinced a sort of mass sexual delirium, reports Pop History Dig. Whatever it was, the skinny singer of songs caught the attention of a war-weary nation and turned the music business on its ear.
Until Frank Sinatra came on the scene, the nascent recording industry focused on mostly adult record buyers. Columbia Records envisioned a future that featured a youth market and signed Sinatra to their roster in the summer of 1943.
In the 1940s, The Guardian called Sinatra “an amiable young singer of popular songs” and said that the angular twenty-something crooner inspired fan devotion the likes of which had not been seen since the silent movie days of Rudolf Valentino. Not even aviator Charles Lindbergh elicited the raucous female fanatics that followed the blue-eyed troubadour for a lifetime.
Did Frank Sinatra dodge military service?
Sinatra’s success started as countless numbers of his peers marched off to war. Why didn’t Frank enlist? At the time, there was no small amount of speculation as to why and how the skinny albeit seemingly fit songster managed to avoid military service. Fact is, Frank tried to join the army but was declared medically unfit for service due to a birth injury that left him with a punctured eardrum. Whispered rumors had it that the scrawny singer damaged his own hearing or had it damaged for him in a street fight. This may have been the reason that angry young males in the audience occasionally threw rotten vegetables at Sinatra as he crooned to an overwhelmingly female audience, says The Straight Dope.
The Rat Pack years
Often wrongly credited with creating the Vegas-centric ‘Rat Pack,’ Sinatra’s singing career was in the doldrums when he hooked up with Humphrey Bogart et al in Sin City in the 1950s. Tradition holds that Bogart’s wife, film actress Lauren Bacall, came up with the moniker that described the social group that originally included Wizard of Oz star Judy Garland, Cary Grant, English actor David Niven, and Hollywood power couple, Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. After Bogart’s demise in 1957, the Rat Pack became a snazzy, snappy, drink-in-hand good old Las Vegas boys club comprising Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
In addition to recording chart-topping hits such as”My Way,” “Strangers in the Night” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” Sinatra garnered critical acclaim (and an Academy Award) for film appearances in From Here to Eternity, The Man With the Golden Arm, and The Manchurian Candidate.
[Featured Image by TV-Radio Mirror | Macfadden Publications | Public domain | Wikimedia Commons]