Sinatra returned to the concert stage on January 12, 1950, in Hartford, Connecticut. His voice suffered and he experienced hemorrhaging of his vocal cords on stage at the Copacabana on April 26, 1950. Sinatra’s career and appeal to new teen audiences declined as he moved into his mid-30s.
This was a period of serious self-doubt about the trajectory of his career. In February 1951, he was walking through Times Square, past the Paramount Theatre, keystone venue of his earlier phenomenal success. The Paramount marquee glowed in announcement of Eddie Fisher in concert. Swarms of teen-age girls had gathered in frenzy, swooning over the current singing idol. For Sinatra this public display of enthusiasm for Fisher validated a fear he had harbored in his own mind for a long time. The Sinatra star had fallen; the shouts of “Frankieee” were echoes of the past. Agitated and disconsolate he rushed home, closed his kitchen door, turned on the gas and laid his head on top of the stove. A friend returned to the apartment not long after to find Sinatra lying on the floor sobbing out the melodrama of his life, proclaiming his failure was so complete he could not even commit suicide.
In September 1951, Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut at the Desert Inn, and he became a prominent figure on the Las Vegas scene throughout the 1950s and 1960s. A month later, the second season of The Frank Sinatra Show began on CBS Television. Ultimately, Sinatra did not find the success on television for which he had hoped. The persona he presented to the TV audience was not that of a performer easily welcomed into homes. He projected an arrogance not compatible with the type of cozy congeniality that played well on the small screen.
His last studio recording for Columbia was made in New York in September 1952, “Why Try To Change Me Now”, with orchestra arranged and conducted by Percy Faith. Columbia and MCA dropped him later in 1952.
The rebirth of Sinatra’s career began with the eve-of-Pearl Harbor drama From Here to Eternity (1953), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. This role and performance marked a turnaround in Sinatra’s career: after several years of critical and commercial decline, becoming an Oscar-winning actor helped him regain his position as the top recording artist in the world.
In 1953, Sinatra starred in the NBC radio program Rocky Fortune. His character, Rocco Fortunato (aka Rocky Fortune) was a temp worker for the Gridley Employment Agency who stumbled into crime-solving by way of the odd jobs to which he was dispatched. The series aired on NBC radio Tuesday nights from October 1953 to March 1954, following the network’s crime drama hit Dragnet. During the final months of the show, just before the 1954 Oscars, it became a running gag that Sinatra would manage to work the phrase “from here to eternity” into each episode, a reference to his Oscar-nominated performance.
Also in 1953, Sinatra signed with Capitol Records, where he worked with many of the finest musical arrangers of the era, most notably Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, and Billy May. With a series of albums featuring darker emotional material, Sinatra reinvented himself, including In the Wee Small Hours (1955)—Sinatra’s first 12″ LP and his second collaboration with Nelson Riddle—Where Are You? (1957) his first album in stereo, with Gordon Jenkins, and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely (1958). He also incorporated a hipper, “swinging” persona into some of his music, as heard on Swing Easy! (1954), Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! (1956), and Come Fly With Me (1957).
By the end of the year, Billboard had named “Young at Heart” Song of the Year; Swing Easy!, with Nelson Riddle at the helm (his second album for Capitol), was named Album of the Year; and Sinatra was named “Top Male Vocalist” by Billboard, Down Beat and Metronome.
A third collaboration with Nelson Riddle, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!, was both a critical and financial success, featuring a recording of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”.
Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, a stark collection of introspective saloon songs and blues-tinged ballads, was a mammoth commercial success, spending 120 weeks on Billboards album chart and peaking at No. 1. Cuts from this LP, such as “Angel Eyes” and “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)”, would remain staples of Sinatra’s concerts throughout his life.
Through the late fifties, Sinatra frequently criticized rock and roll music, much of it being his reaction to rhythms and attitudes he found alien. In 1958 he lambasted it as “sung, played, and written for the most part by cretinous goons. It manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.”
Sinatra’s 1959 hit “High Hopes” lasted on the Hot 100 for 17 weeks, more than any other Sinatra hit did on that chart, and was a recurring favorite for years on Captain Kangaroo.
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