Sinatra at 100 at Lincoln Center
December 15th of this year,
will mark the centennial anniversary of the birth of Francis
Albert Sinatra in Hoboken New Jersey. And the Lincoln
Center Library for the Performing Arts is jumping the
gun in the parade of tributes and retrospectives sure to roll
in as the year rolls on,
how we used to dress, but the angle at which he wore it, will
tell you more not only about his swagger, but prototypically
that of America in the last mid-century. And pictures and
movie clips of him with his Rat Pack—cigarette and glass
of hard liquor in hand (Jack Daniels being Frank’s preferred
liquor as we see displayed)—speak volumes of what we
used to think was the personification of cool masculinity.
All of which Mad Men seemingly works so hard to recreate
in its bid for authenticity (An Ad Man on “Mad Men”
and a Final Season APRIL,
Even Frank’s hobnobbing with presidents, and in switching
his allegiance as a Kennedy Democrat to a Reagan Republican,
reflected the decided mood swing in the country’s politics
at the time.
Just one more of the many surprises of this exhibit, is realizing
the scope of his humantarian efforts for many causes. In acknowledgment
of such benevolence, he did receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian
Oscar in 1971 (in the course of which, he gave one of the
more gracious acceptance speeches you will ever hear. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_dGbyb7p0o).
And his contributions in raising awareness of social injustice
for example, have included a ten-minute film in which he starred
in 1945, “The House I live In.” It was developed
to oppose anti-semitism and racial prejudice at the end of
WWII. It won an honorary Academy Award.
in that year, he would appear in his first full length Hollywood
film “Anchors Aweigh,” in which he would hold
his own in dance numbers with Gene Kelly no less. They would
team once again four years later in “On the Town.”
And of course, that is the thrust of the exhibit— Frank,
the consummate performer.
As a singer, an interpreter of a lyric, the “seller”
of a song, he is arguably the best pop vocal artist there
ever was. And so there aren’t many revelations on that
score here, other then learning how and when he got his
first gigs. And there’s lots of fabulous video showing
him at work. But one is reminded through various photos and
posters and an Oscar, that perhaps surprisingly, he was also
a very good actor.
His “comeback” effort in “From Here to Eternity”
earned him a Best Supporting Actor win, and is the stuff of
show biz legend. But he was also excellent as I remembered,
in “Suddenly,” a 1954 film in which he played
a potential presidential assassin. (Ironic given what would
follow in less than a decade). And the following year, he
was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for “Man With the
He would go on to appear in over 50 films, showing both his
comedic and dramatic chops in the likes of “Guys and
Dolls,” “Pal Joey,” “The Joker is
Wild,” “Ocean’s Eleven” (the quintessential
“Rat Pack film”), “Come Blow Your Horn,”
“The Manchurian Candidate” and “Von Ryan’s
Some may be aware that he was also a self-taught painter on
the side. But that his artistic sensabilities were good enough
to win him a Grammy
Award as Art Director for the Best Album Cover of the year
in 1958, the year of the inception of the Grammys, will be
news to most.
Not yet having my fill of Sinatra I suppose, I would find
myself soon after at Patsy’s, said to be his
favorite restaurant. It was at this place recently, with Nancy
Sinatra as Patsy’s special guest, that three
new paintings by pop artist Peter Max in honor of Frank were
In this old world Italian eatery, Frank’s
presence is still strong if not boardering on omnipotent,
what with the many photos and even statuary of him about the
place. One such bronzed sculpture of Frank and the guys is
unmajestically positioned on a small table outside the rest
rooms. He would have laughed, and perhaps did—who knows
how long it’s been here— at such a place of honor.
When speaking of Frank, an American Icon, the Chairman of
the Board, the leader of the pack, the humanitarian, the renaissance
man, the loyal restaurant customer, what more can you say
To They Who Leap of Faith
for my children
I saw you go over the top
and down into the abyss —
the soles of your feet
left me behind.
Deeper you plunged
to where dragons still breathe fire;
sea lions in prismatic waters,
you come up not for air
but for a charge of pure white light
then continue—flex in a void
within echo of the rigid ground
in which I pitch my iron staff.
I would have followed you
in the eternal summers;
a lemming with flaxen hair
cropped close to my thoughts
on hero and heaven—
I would have followed you who are both.
And you would have known me,
and seen me, and I—you,
in places we cannot meet now
but perhaps will one day
when I tire of my vigil.
Leave the Circus
A story broke last month, that thankfully for a change, had
nothing to do with terrorist atrocities. I guess you would
call it a human interest story, though it had more to do in
the interests of animals— “Ringling Bros.
Says No More Circus Elephants By 2018” (CNN.com).
It’s about time. But why the need to
wait three more years for them to leave? (Elephants walk slowly?).
As kids, we tend to be brought up with a belief
that animals are here for our amusement; to perform tricks
for our delight. For years, Letterman has satirized this notion
with a regular feature on his show called “Stupid Pet
Tricks.” Those of us of a certain age, might recall
our first exposure to such tricks via the Ed Sullivan Show,
in which old stone face would introduce acts such as bears
from Moscow riding bikes.
I guess it never occurred to me as a kid,
that bicycle riding was not indigenous to the ursine species.
Or that there was a good chance that a bear would rather shit
in the woods than ride a bike on TV. Though I must admit even
now, that Chimpanzees did seem to like putting on clothes
and mimicking human behavior. But Elephants? There they were
under the big top, being forced to stand on hind legs while
forming conga lines, as we squealed and parents beamed.
We marveled at the incongruity of animals
of such heft showing such synchronized grace and balance,
while an overly costumed woman rode atop them as if in some
sort of triumph.
This of course occurring in between the acts of say, horses
being forced into a repeated gallop at 30 MPH within a small
circle, or lions getting their chops busted by a whip and
chair toting “tamer.” Wild animals by the way
love such taming, as was demonstrated when a tiger nearly
tore Roy Horn— of Siegfried & Roy of Las Vegas fame—to
pieces in 2003.
Yes, we did cry at the story of an elephant
cruelly nicknamed Dumbo, being separated from his mother.
But all’s well that ends well in that “Disneyfied”
tale, told to sooth our blessed little hearts about life’s
cruelties. Yet in the real world, many new-born elephants
continue to be orphaned as their mothers and family have often
been killed to support a brutal ivory trade. Though there
are organizations that have stepped in to keep these babies—
denied mother’s milk— alive by “bottle”
feeding and nurturing them. One such place being the pioneering
Elephant Nursery at the Nairobi National Park in Kenya, where
I was fortunate to visit a few years ago.
While we have not been guilty of any such
atrocities in this country regarding pachyderms— with
the exception of the filmed and well publicized (at the time)
electrocution of Topsy, a female Asian elephant at Coney Island
in 1903—one would be hard pressed to make a case that
circuses have had the animal’s best interests at heart.
And so it was fun to see the elephant get some measure of
revenge in the 2006 best-selling novel and later movie, Like
Water for Elephants.
And now in the real world, the Ringling people
are finally owning up to some misgivings in the matter, albeit
"It was a decision 145 years in the
making," said Juliette Feld (spokesperson for Ringling),
referring to P.T. Barnum's introduction of animals to
his "traveling menagerie" in 1870. Elephants
have symbolized this circus since Barnum brought an Asian
elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.”
145 years in the making? While such admission
is admirable, why then wait still three more years to rectify
a wrong of such duration?
"We're not reacting to our critics;
we're creating the greatest resource for the preservation
of the Asian elephant," Kenneth Feld (Ringling CEO)
told The Associated Press as he broke the news…
but acknowledged that because so many cities and counties
have passed "anti-circus" and "anti-elephant"
ordinances, it's difficult to organize tours of three
traveling circuses to 115 cities each year.”
What now of the other animals still performing
under Mr. Feld’s tent? Is there a creation of a preserve
for their retirement on the horizon as well? As the song suggests
…send in the clowns.
Quote of the Month
“A descent into madness
follows closely the loss
of a sense of irony.”
April: When the Stars Come Out for
As it has been so designated
now going into its 20th year, April is National Poetry Month.
A poster has been designed for the occasion by noted artist
and illustrator for The New Yorker, Roz Chast—
based on a poem by the late Mark Strand—of which 120,000
copies will be distributed for free in schools, libraries,
bookstores and community centers to promote a month long celebration.
And why not? If you can have National Honey
Month to promote the beekeeping industry (September), is poetry
not as sweet? Or conversely, as stinging? Probably not for
the many for whom it flies under the radar… to mix metaphors.
Though ironically, the whole rap genre has provided a form
of poetry for a whole new generation of ears. Though that
too falls on many older deaf ears. So you won’t hear
rap or anything resembling a so called poetry slam at Alice
Tully Hall at Lincoln Center this April 15th, when the stars
come out to read poetry.
The 13th annual Poetry & the Creative
Mind, conceived by the Academy of American Poets
for this venue, celebrates poetry by featuring well-known
actors, artists, musicians, dancers and public figures on
one stage, sharing their favorite poems.
It is particularly interesting, and yes fun,
to see these celebrities in such a different context, if drawing
a packed house of over 1,000 people each year is any indication.
Which is rather amazing given that I have attended, and participated
in poetry readings where you could fit the audience into a
phone booth. If you could find a phone booth; a subject upon
which I once waxed poetic and philosophic (Once There
Were Phone Booths JUNE,
Last year Kevin Klein “brought the house
down”—a relative idiom when speaking of this sort
of performance art—with his reading of Billy Collins’
rather wry poem on parental chiding of a teenaged daughter,
“To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl.”
“But did you know that at your
Judy Garland was pulling down 150,000 dollars a picture,
Joan of Arc was leading the French army to victory
Of course, there will be time for
all that later in your life,
after you come out of your room and begin to blossom,
or at least pick up all your socks.
Frankly, who cares if Annie Oakley
was a crack shot at 15
or if Maria Callas debuted as Tosca at 17?
We think you’re special just being you —
playing with your food and staring into space…”
I have personally enjoyed past readings by
Tina Fey, Meryl Streep, Patrick Stewart, Dan Rather, Gore
Vidal, Liam Neeson, Tony Kushner, Rosie Perez, Esperanza Spalding
and Sam Waterston. Other readers over the years have included
Caroline Kennedy, Sting, Alec Baldwin, Tom Brokaw, Brooke
Shields, Patti Smith, Katie Couric, Wynton Marsalis and Jake
year’s lineup will include:
Of course poetry must ultimately stand on
its own words and not the names reading them. And it has become
more of an acquired taste in our culture, what with it no
longer being part of any general school curriculum in which
one was once forced to memorize and recite poetry in the classroom.
Which is another reason for events such as these. But once
acquired, one tends to cling to it, as I tried to attest to
in a short poem that I wrote that was once published in a
small literary magazine. (An oxymoron, for is there such thing
as a large literary magazine).