A Salute to Sinatra
14th May 2018
On the 20th anniversary of his death, Greg Bechtloff inspects the many intersections between America's great voice and Britain's great spy
By MI6 Staff
May 14th 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Frank Sinatra, arguably the greatest entertainer of the 20th century. To mark the occasion, MI6 contributor Greg Bechtloff details the numerous connections between Frank Sinatra and the world of James Bond. There is a lot more than you think beyond Frank being Nancy Sinatra’s father and his almost singing a Bond film theme.
An English Fan
We first see Frank Sinatra’s entry into the world of 007 with Ian Fleming himself. The man from Room 39 was a fan of the kid from Hoboken, New Jersey at an early stage of the singer’s career.
In his memoir “You Only Live Once”, Fleming’s lifelong friend Ivar Bryce writes: “Ian always liked to be ‘with it’ transatlantically speaking and used often to introduce us to features of New York life hitherto unknown to us. Frank Sinatra was an example of this”.
When staying in New York after the war, Fleming would often visit Bryce. Bryce writes: “One evening, hard on arriving at the house and with his bags not yet unpacked, he whisked us out to some downtown movie theatre, where, as he said, there was a young chap with an Italian name now performing… whose singing showed every promise of making him one of the really great stars.” The nascent author was able to spot an icon in the making.
When Ian Fleming did write that first novel we all know that he drew on his wartime experiences. He also drew upon other items in his subconscious for inspiration.
When we first meet CIA agent Felix Leiter in 'Casino Royale', Fleming describes Leiter’s attire: “his lightweight tan-coloured suit hung loosely from his shoulders like the clothes of Frank Sinatra”.
Fleming observers also know that one of the author’s trademarks was to take a familiar term and give it a Bondian twist, 'Live And Let Die' for example, and Fleming’s last novel 'The Man With The Golden Gun' was inspired by the 1955 Frank Sinatra film, ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’.
Incidentally, the novel ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ starts with the brainwashed James Bond returning to London to assassinate’ at the behest of the Soviets. This is reminiscent of one of Sinatra’s most enduring classics ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, an essential Cold War movie, to which we will return.
Whilst it is not known if Fleming ever met Frank Sinatra in person, Fleming’s neighbour and friend Noel Coward was on personal terms with ‘The Voice’. Coward wrote in ‘The Noel Coward Diaries’ that Sinatra was “a remarkable personality, tough, vulnerable and somehow touching”.
A Great Buddy
When Ian Fleming’s character, James Bond, reached the silver screen, it was co-produced by Italian-American producer Albert R. Broccoli.
A Hollywood veteran with a wide range of friends, Broccoli was on friendly terms with the most famous Italian-American of them all: Sinatra. Over the years, ideas about drawing Frank Sinatra into the James Bond orbit were broached.
Interviewed for Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury’s ‘Some Kind of Hero’, Lewis Gilbert relates how Frank Sinatra was approached to sing the theme to 1967’s 'You Only Live Twice'.
Having rejected the idea of rising soul diva Aretha Franklin, Cubby went to America to chat up Frank about the gig. The next thing Gilbert knew was that Frank’s daughter Nancy Sinatra was doing the song. Frank was fiercely loyal to his children (especially Nancy) and must have been very proud to see her sing a song that has gone on to become a Bond classic.
When the American themed 'Diamonds Are Forever' (1971) was in the planning stages, locations were scouted for Willard Whyte’s desert home. Ken Adam relates that Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs compound was looked at but lost out to the more futuristic Lautner home. Incidentally, in the late 1960s, Frank Sinatra dated Jill St. John, his costar from ‘Tony Rome’.
The idea of having Frank Sinatra sing a Bond theme returned when Sinatra finally agreed to do the theme song for Roger Moore’s fourth outing as James Bond, 1979’s 'Moonraker'.
Composer John Barry tasked lyricist Paul Williams to pen a song for Sinatra. Imagine having to live up to the James Bond legacy and also the Frank Sinatra legend! Sinatra did have history with John Barry; he covered John Barry and Don Black’s Oscar-winning ‘Born Free’ on his album ‘The World We Knew’.
Paul Williams was up to the job, though. As related in Jon Burlingame’s ‘The Music of James Bond’, Paul Williams took the song to Sinatra’s Los Angeles office and was blessed by the Chairman of the Board on the song’s worth.
Williams further relates to Burlingame that, at some point, things rapidly changed: “Frank was out… I was told at the time Cubby and Frank had a big fight and he was history”.
It is not clear to this day what actually happened. Some speculate that Frank Sinatra decided to focus on his upcoming three album ‘Trilogy’ opus rather than a movie theme. The legendary pairing failed to achieve liftoff.
Things could not have been all that bad between Broccoli and Sinatra; after all, Frank Sinatra did attend the ‘Moonraker’ premiere in New York on June 28, 1979.
While it's lamentable that Sinatra never did get to do a Bond theme, he was good friends with James Bond himself in the form of Roger Moore. In an affectionate article for The Times on April 24th 2008, Sir Roger detailed his long friendship with Sinatra.
Roger Moore first met Sinatra when he was a Warner Bros. contract player in 1950s Hollywood. Moore was invited to a charity function and witnessed an argument between Sinatra and cowboy icon John Wayne. Moore relates that he and Sinatra only exchanged pleasantries that night.
Fast forward to swinging ‘60s London, when Roger ran into Frank and his new wife Mia Farrow at a restaurant. Frank told Roger that ‘The Saint’ was the best thing on TV and that he and Mia “watch it in bed, in our hotel room”. Incidentally, Farrow was one of the first people to come out in praise of Sir Roger Moore when he passed in May 2017. Moore goes on to say that he dined with Frank and Mia the following night at Annabel’s. Their friendship renewed, Frank started calling Roger Moore “Kid”, a nickname that stuck every time they met thereafter.
When Roger Moore landed the role of James Bond in 1972, Moore said that Frank Sinatra “called to say how delighted he was for me”. Roger states that he and then-wife Luisa socialised with Frank and Barbara Sinatra at their fabled Palm Springs compound. Usually, at Thanksgiving and Easter, the other guests included the Gregory Pecks, the Cary Grants, Don Rickles and occasionally Swifty Lazar.
Whilst James Bond quaffs martinis (which Sinatra was a fan of as well), Roger Moore and Frank Sinatra really bonded over volumes of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. In fact, Jack Daniel’s did become Roger’s drink of choice in later years. Kristina Wayborn remembers Moore having a supply on hand while they filmed 'Octopussy' in India.
Roger laments that he and Sinatra never had the opportunity to work together on a project. As fate would have it, Roger passed on doing the sequel to ‘The Cannonball Run’ before he knew that Frank was going to appear in it. He does go on to say that he was fortunate to have called Frank a friend.
When Frank Sinatra was putting together a celebrity cookbook for charity in the 1990s he asked Roger for a recipe. Roger Moore sent over his recipe for Bachelor’s Egg Mess while he was working on what he called a “fillum called The Quest”. The recipe is below.
The passing of Frank Sinatra, the man, in 1998 did not stop his mythos from affecting the world of James Bond.
In his first continuation James Bond novel ‘Trigger Mortis’ (2015) Anthony Horowitz entitles a chapter ‘Travelling Time’ after the Sinatra song. James Bond cottons onto the tune as it plays while he boards a plane which brings us, full circle, back to Ian Fleming being a Sinatra fan.
The year 2015 also marked the centenary of Frank Sinatra’s birth. Tributes and testimonials were the order of the day and it seemed highly appropriate that Frank Sinatra got a shout out in that year’s 007 film 'SPECTRE'.
Fans will recall that during the Rome car chase, Daniel Craig fumbles around with the buttons on the Aston Martin which he has appropriated from another 00 agent. Programmed into the music is the iconic Sinatra song ‘New York, New York’. Technically it was not the actual Frank Sinatra version (likely a licensing money saver) but the song’s vamp recalls Sinatra in the viewer’s mind.
Icon To Icon
A funny thing happened as I started doing the research to write this article. Some of the articles about the phenomenon that was Frank Sinatra seemed very appropriate to the James Bond legend as well. A sense from some authors that I read, that the signposts of one icon can be applied to another.
In a 1974 article that compared the middle-aged Frank Sinatra with the young singer that she remembered, Martha Weinman Lear writes, “the blue eyes still burn, the cuffs are still incomparably shot, the style, the style is all still there.” Does that sound like what we are anticipating of the new James Bond film? It does to me.
British Frank Sinatra expert Derek Jewell wrote in 1985 that the Frank Sinatra of that time was “more mature, more dangerous, more scarred and infinitely more swinging and more affecting”. That too seems like a description of the current era of James Bond.
Jewell goes on to state how the Frank Sinatra canon were “songs for all seasons of my life”. Again, most readers will probably feel that James Bond, whether the novels or the films, have a timeless essence that circulate through all seasons of our lives.
Being both a James Bond fan and a Frank Sinatra fan, it took this academic exercise to help clarify my thinking on what makes James Bond resonate with me after all these years.
Roger Moore's Bachelor's Egg Mess from the Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan or sharp Cheddar cheese
- Salt & white pepper to taste
- 2 or 3 green onions, chopped
- 1 large tomato, sliced
- 3 eggs
- 2 slices toast
Melt cheese in skillet over very low heat. Season with salt and white pepper. Add green onion and tomato to cheese and stir for 1-2 minutes. Break eggs (1 at a time) into a cup. Carefully add to skillet to avoid breaking yolks. When egg white begins to set, stir through mixture until consistency is satisfactory to you. Slide egg mixture onto toast slices. Serves 1.
The Manchurian Candidate: A Movie Every Bond Fan Should See
Whilst Frank Sinatra was first and foremost a singer, he was also an accomplished actor. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the 1953 classic ‘From Here to Eternity’. While that film, and some of his musicals, such as ‘High Society’ and ‘Guys and Dolls’, are certifiable classics, one film of his has emerged as possibly his greatest ever: the 1962 film adaptation of, ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, based on the novel by Richard Condon (Prizzi’s Honor). It was directed by John Frankenheimer and starred Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury and Frank Sinatra.
During the Korean War, a platoon of American soldiers which include Harvey and Sinatra goes missing. It turns out that they have been abducted by the Chinese for a devious brainwashing scheme. Their plan is to turn Laurence Harvey into an unwilling agent of the communist powers and put him back into elite American society.
Harvey’s mother is played by Angela Lansbury in one of her classic roles. She is married to a red-baiting U.S. Senator. It’s an election year and that senator is on track to become the next Vice-President. If so, the communists will have an agent at the very top of the American political system.
Cracks appear in the plan when many of the men in the platoon start to have disturbing dreams about their brainwashing experience. This includes Frank Sinatra who slowly and doggedly unravels what the hell is going on.
Filmed in tense black and white at the height of the Cold War, the film premiered at the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1962.
Frank Sinatra has a hand in producing the film and at the time was famously allied with President John F. Kennedy. When JFK was assassinated, Sinatra withdrew the film from public viewing out of respect for his friend. It was not until the 1980s that it re-emerged and was hailed as an essential Cold War thriller and perhaps as Sinatra’s greatest film.
The rights were still controlled by the Sinatra estate and a 2004 remake/update was helmed by Jonathan Demme. The film starred Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Liev Schrieber and Felix Leiter actor, Jeffery Wright. While that film is enjoyable, the original still dazzles. All the same themes of communist conspiracy and danger that informed the Ian Fleming novels are present in the original film; it’s essential viewing for a Bond fan.