BIG MOUTHED BLUE-EYES: FRANK SINATRA IN AUSTRALIA

November 28, 2018 – 7:09 am

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When Frank Sinatra ventured Down Under in 1974, he stepped onto a hornet’s nest buzzing with tabloid journalists stalking him for any kind of story. An inebriated Bob Hawke, then a trade union leader, even warned Sinatra, ‘You won’t be allowed to leave Australia unless you can walk on water.’ By Binoy Kampmark.

“A funny thing happened in Australia. I made one mistake. I got off the plane.”
- Frank Sinatra on his 1974 visit to Australia

The demigods are rarely tempered, and Frank Sinatra, who considered himself one, along with a horde of adulating fans, was one who rarely faced the sharp tongue or chastising hand. Accusations about mob connections, thuggery and darker impulses were usually pillowed by an aura. When he visited an Australia coming out of social sclerosis in the 1970s (for one, the first progressive government in almost a generation was in power), he encountered the attention of scavengers desperate for the man and his story.

This was not always so. Sinatra had shown affection for Australia on previous visits, showing a fondness for both audiences and the orchestras. In Sydney, feeling in an ingratiating mood, he once claimed that, “There are three best places for musicians: Los Angeles, London and Sydney, Australia.”

The year was 1974, and the Australian Women’s Weekly wondered, without a trace of prophetic irony, if Sinatra would “keep smiling in Australia”. In the second week of July, Sinatra and his motley crew arrived in Sydney on a 12-seat Gulfstream private jet, courtesy of Harrah’s Casino, Nevada. The schedule involved two concerts in Melbourne and three in Sydney. On getting to Sydney, Sinatra was given digs at the Boulevard. (Drab and unspectacular, Australia’s hospitality could not boast formidable hotel sets, though the Boulevard was considered better than most.) John Pond, the hotel’s public relations manager, was informed about Sinatra’s desire to have kitchen facilities and did his level best to please.

During the trip, it became clear that the press vultures down under were distinctly untutored on matters of a private realm. There was no sense of a cordon sanitaire, nor even a mild acceptance of a celebrity’s privacy. The press crew, scum crusted and emboldened, were not briefed of the Sinatra demi-god status, nor of his desire for solitude. Nor did they have an inkling of his desire to stay on Olympus. He was flesh, quarry and show.

The tension duly bit. At Festival Hall, Melbourne, Sinatra was unimpressed about the journalist pack. A crotchety diatribe followed. “They keep chasing us.  We have to run all day long. They’re parasites who take everything and give nothing.” The dagger was dug in deeper.  “And as for the broads who work for the press, they’re the hookers of the press. I might offer them a buck and a half, I’m not sure.” For good measure, Sinatra also described reporters as “pimps’, perennial “bums”, “crazy” and all in need of pox.

Tabloid allure proved irresistible, and journalists such as Gail Jarvis of Channel Nine are reminiscent of assassins who recount the tale of stalking then slaying their victims. This was, according to Jarvis, a country “starved of personalities”. (No larrikins? No characters worthwhile mentioning?) It made Sinatra necessary dynamite.

There was chase from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport on the freeway; there were moments of vulnerability for Sinatra in his car at specific points when he might be ambushed. The Australian public were none too impressed either. They were paying to see a performer expected to perform and make room to be accessible. They could not understand why a figure of such stature would issue injunctions on media appearances, or even see the fans.

The tension duly bit. At Festival Hall, Melbourne, Sinatra was unimpressed about the journalist pack. A crotchety diatribe followed. “They keep chasing us. We have to run all day long. They’re parasites who take everything and give nothing.” The dagger was dug in deeper. “And as for the broads who work for the press, they’re the hookers of the press. I might offer them a buck and a half, I’m not sure.” For good measure, Sinatra also described reporters as “pimps’, perennial “bums”, “crazy” and all in need of pox.

Such splenetic views were typical of Sinatra. His first appearance at Carnegie Hall in nine years on April 8, 1974 was not merely a show of mellow tones and performance. It featured salvos of dripping hostility at various members of the press. Barbara Walters and Rona Barrett starred as the targets, the latter deserving special mention: “What can you say about her that hasn’t already been said about… leprosy?” The comments barely registered on the US talk scene; all that mattered was whether the voice remained intact after a brief retirement.

The Australian reaction, in waspish contrast, was venomous. Former ABC journalist Margot Marshall, with white washing hindsight, suggested that all female journalists in Australia at the time were feminists. “Our backs got up and we thought ‘we’re not going to put up with this!’”

[The then president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Bob] Hawke had a sinister warning during the long imbibing session with Sinatra: “If you don’t apologise your stay in this country could be indefinite. You won’t be allowed to leave Australia unless you can walk on water.”

Sinatra had to be taught a lesson. The second Melbourne concert was duly cancelled; his private jet at Tullamarine was grounded; and, in joining the plebeian classes in a commercial flight to Sydney, Sinatra found himself besieged in his Sydney hotel. Australia’s unwashed reporters wanted an apology, and three unions obliged in taking the matter up. The Professional Musicians Union and the Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees Association took the position that no apology meant, effectively, no tour. An additional personal apology was also sought for Sinatra’s alleged manhandling, along with his bodyguards, of a cameraman and photographers.

Then, Australia had unions with more than a mild bark. They could frustrate sporting tours by denying services (the use of grounds; ticketing; cleaning; hospitality); they could restrict the movement of undesirables. They could, as it turned out, also ground celebrity singers and performers whose transport they refused to refuel.

The then president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Bob Hawke, was very keen to reach some understanding with Sinatra, though the entire episode seemed to never rise above the puerile and adolescent. “His attack on journalists was bad enough,” expressed a wounded Victorian secretary of the Australian Journalists Association, Graham Walsh, “but what made it worse was the way he used an audience to do it”.

Hawke had a sinister warning during the long imbibing session with Sinatra: “If you don’t apologise your stay in this country could be indefinite. You won’t be allowed to leave Australia unless you can walk on water.” Sinatra was expected to sign some statement, approved by the parties, that he had been in the wrong. Sinatra, in turn, wanted his own set of apologies from the press. A modest compromise was reached. He conceded to having “regrets”, in the process getting Hawke, a future Australian prime minister, suitably inebriated.

The subject of Sinatra’s media siege and rocky tour made it into celluloid format, at least in a fashion. The Night We Called It A Day came out in 2003, with a curiously cast Dennis Hopper playing the harassed Sinatra. (Tom Burlinson more than held up the vocal side of things.) But the wounds healed fairly quickly, and Sinatra found his legs again back home in freedom’s land. At Madison Square Garden that same year, he told his audience that, “Ol’ Blue Eyes is back. Or, as they say in Australia, ‘Ol’ Big Mouth is back!”

Note: Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email him here. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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  1. 11 Responses to “BIG MOUTHED BLUE-EYES: FRANK SINATRA IN AUSTRALIA”

  2. The Big Dic returns.

    By D Martin on Nov 28, 2018

  3. His mouth wasn’t his biggest asset if you get my drift . ( Laugh )

    By Charles on Nov 28, 2018

  4. Frank is more famous for his huge manhood than for his music . Apparently.

    By Charles on Nov 28, 2018

  5. too bad they [remaining family ]won`t let Marty Scorsese tell the real Sinatra story.

    By sluggo on Nov 29, 2018

  6. If they did the biopic ‘ Frank would have to share top billing with his Coc .

    By C Tony on Nov 29, 2018

  7. I think the families don’t want anyone to know where the bodies are buried . Frank was friends with many mobsters / mob bosses etc . He knew a lot about their operations. Some people to this day believe Frank was a mob boss himself. The family is probably worried about some type of retaliation if too much info gets out . The Mafia dosent play around .

    By George on Nov 29, 2018

  8. Frank also had affairs with many celebrities. Jackie Kennedy was supposedly one of them . The Kennedy family I’m sure wouldn’t want a lot of focus on that . Personally I’d love to see a biopic ‘ but a true gritty realistic one ‘ not some watered down sugar coated one that only touches on the positives. Also Who would play Frank ? The thought of Leo DiCaprio in the role makes me cringe .

    By George on Nov 29, 2018

  9. When you have a giant scholong like Sinatra’ of course the chicks will flock to you like a magnet. Frank and Milty ( Uncle ) had more gash thrown their ways than you can imagine.

    By C Tony on Nov 29, 2018

  10. In Australia anyone over 16 is entitled to apply for learner license. If you are over the age of 17 and have had that learner license 6 months you can apply for a provisional license. I’m not sure if it’s the official designation but those individuals are known as P-platers for the red P that goes on their license plates, are confined to a ZERO alcohol tolerance and are subject to immediate arrest. It takes 3 years with a P before you can APPLY for permanent license. I don’t know what you would have to prove but I imagine it requires a record check as well.

    AUS dwi limit is 0% for all new, restricted, or commercial drivers like tractor trailers, taxis, ambulance etc and .05 for the remaining non professional drivers. So even a .005 will get you arrested if you are a provisional driver. You lose your driving privilege for 3-6 months and fined a minimum of $300.

    All road laws are state or territory based, but all states and territories have set similar rules. Australian law allows police officers, without reason, to stop any driver and perform a random breath test. Roadblocks are usually set up on dates with high risk such as roads going into and out of concerts, sporting events, holiday weekends, or just your average Friday and Saturday night football/soccer games, when every driver is breath-tested. If you refuse to blow, you risk hefty fines and jail time.

    BUT, not only do they do random mandatory DWI checks, you may be also be required to do a tongue saliva scraping. If the tongue scrape comes back for THC, meth, or MDMA/ecstasy/molly you have problems. It doesn’t indicate that you ARE high, but it is in your system and since it is illegal, you have already broken the law. If your roadside tongue scrape comes back dirty you are removed to a mobile lab where you are required to take a 3-8 minute tongue scrape. This is the least invasive, compared to blood or urine and will show results of drug use for the past 24-48 hours. Regardless of the results you’re not allowed to drive away because you can’t prove you aren’t too high to drive. Even though you had a positive tongue sample for THC/meth it seems that the saliva tests can sometimes come back negative but the tongue sample still goes to a lab and you get a sentence/fine/notice in the mail weeks later.

    The last segment of the show had the cops saying “we’ve dealt with this one before” and they then pulled the guy over with no other apparent reason. He was pissed because he was on his way to enter a detox program. He passed the initial test when the saliva came back negative but they weren’t satisfied so he was not allowed to drive away. Before the credits rolled it was revealed that weeks later he was fined $440 and a 6 months license suspension because the saliva he provided showed he had illicit drugs in his system after being sent to a lab. PERIOD! They don’t need probable suspicion.

    So listen to old uncle “Blue Eyes”, and cross Australia off your list of fun places to visit.

    They remind me of another American rock band I hate called The Cars. History seems to be repeating itself.

    GW, as much as I like KISS, and I had both ears pierced before they did, I have to admit that Paul Stanley has one of the worst voices in rock. Hearing him scream makes me want to scream. They knew how to put on a great stage show. I lived in Queens NY and would hang out with Eric Carr frequently when he popped into the local joint L’Amours. He was a classy guy who loved his fans and would rarely let you buy him a drink.

    Like Dee Snider said it best about his own band Twisted Sister on their status, KISS has been on a novelty reunion tour longer than they were a successful active band.

    By Whundh Umfuqh on Nov 29, 2018

  11. I was married to Frank for several years . While we had many problems like booze ‘ Depression ‘ jealousy ‘ money problems ‘ Franks many affaires etc . The bedroom was our sanctuary. Frank only weighed 120 lbs but 100 of it was Dic

    By Ava Gardnr on Nov 30, 2018

  12. I was also married to Artie Shaw ‘ a pathetic little man with a Dic the size of my pinky . What a loser .

    By Ava Gardnr on Nov 30, 2018

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