The Frank Sinatra


The Frank Sinatra Timex Show

By Jim Davidson
Posted 10/15/2006

In perhaps the most momentous summit meeting in pop music history, Frank and Elvis sing each other's hits.

Other big stars showed up on Frank's Timex Show.

Bing Crosby and Dean Martin

Ella Fitzgerald

Lena Horne

The TV Sinatra

Duet performances from Sinatra's 1957-1960 TV shows were collected in a 2002 PBS special (featuring commentary by Nancy, Frank Jr., and Tina Sinatra) that's now available on both DVD (left) and CD (right). (These are paid links.)  Another PBS special, called Vintage Sinatra, airing in 2003 and featuring the singer's solo performances, has yet to be released.


When Sinatra's 1957-58 series was cancelled, he still had two years to go on his exclusive contract with ABC. He sat out the next season but came back the following year with a more leisurely series of four almost bi-monthly specials, this time sponsored by Timex. Many of the guests - Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Sinatra - had appeared on his previous show. And the ever-present Nelson Riddle was back again as musical director. There were a few new and notable guests - Lena Horne, Mitzi Gaynor, Peter Lawford, Hermione Gingold, and Frank's then-girlfriend Juliet Prowse (in two separate appearances). Even Eleanor Roosevelt showed up. But The Frank Sinatra Timex Show will always be remembered as the vehicle for the triumphant return of one of show business's brightest stars - Mr. Elvis Presley himself.

The so-called King of Rock 'n' Roll had just returned from a stint in the Army, and Sinatra agreed to host a televised homecoming party for him. Of course, Frank was no fan of Elvis's brand of music and had had a few choice words to say about it in the past (see sidebar). But whatever the reason - ratings ploy or simply to placate his teenage daughter - Sinatra was feeling gracious enough to invite Presley to join him on his show.

It's too bad the result wasn't more satisfying. Frank and Elvis both shine when performing individually. But when they team up for a duet at show's end, it's a bit of a dud. Someone had come up with the bright idea that they should sing each other's hits, but neither is comfortable in the other's genre.

According to Nancy Sinatra, who appeared on the same bill, both show biz legends were nervous. It's obvious from the very beginning, when Elvis comes out, still dressed in his Army uniform, snapping his fingers on the first and third beat of each bar - a remarkably unhip mannerism, even for a rock 'n' roller unfamiliar with Sinatra's music. (He corrects himself when he returns at the end of the show.)

But whatever the program's musical merits, it was an important event in pop music history, the only public pairing of two different generations' biggest teen idols. The other specials have their highlights - duets with Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Bing Crosby, and Dean Martin, and Frank soloing on some of his greatest 1950s hits, to name only a few. The Timex shows still hold up today as solid entertainment.

Sinatra vs. Rock 'n' Roll

In an oft-quoted remark to a Paris magazine in 1957, Frank Sinatra declared, "Rock 'n' roll smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiteration, and sly, lewd, in plain fact, dirty manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth."

While there's no reason to doubt that the statement reflected Sinatra's true feelings, one wonders if, as a show biz professional, he meant to be so blunt. (Knowing Sinatra, he probably did.)

It was statements like this that forever branded Sinatra an old fart in the eyes of many rock fans. And it didn't help his stock with them when he declared Pat Boone the best of the new generation of singers.

Rock 'n' roll deejay and promoter Alan Freed expressed shock when he heard Sinatra's comments. "He has no business knocking show business," he said. "It's been good to him."

Always the polite southern boy, Elvis Presley was remarkably forgiving. "I admire the man," he said. "He's a great success and a fine actor, but I think he shouldn't have said it. He's mistaken about this. This is a trend, just the same as he faced when he started years ago. I consider it the greatest in music."

According to Sinatra valet George Jacobs, "Mr. S hated Elvis so much that he'd sit in the den all by himself at the music console and listen to every new track over and over, 'Don't Be Cruel,' 'All Shook Up,' 'Teddy Bear.' He was trying to figure out just what this new stuff was, both artistically (though he'd never concede it was art) and culturally (though he'd never concede it was culture). Why was the public digging this stuff? What did it have? What was the hook?"

Sinatra never did figure it out and never came to love the new music. Rock, on the other hand, came to love him - or at least respect him.

U2's Bono understood that "Frank never did like rock 'n' roll. And he's not crazy about guys wearing earrings either, but hey, he doesn't hold it against me and anyway, the feeling's not mutual."

Bruce Springsteen found in Sinatra "a voice filled with bad attitude, life, beauty, excitement, a nasty sense of freedom, (love making) and a sad knowledge of the ways of the world."

Sinatra never apologized for his remarks. But in following the old "My Way" and refusing to compromise, Frank managed, through the sheer quality of his work, to make peace with rock by making rock come to him.

The Episodes

Sources: TV Guide (Northern California Edition) and the episodes themselves.

ABC-TV, Sponsor: Timex
Timex spokesman: John Cameron Swayze

9:30 pm

Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Mitzi Gaynor, Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra; cameo by Jimmy Durante
Note: Frank sings "Day In, Day Out," "Talk To Me," "High Hopes" (with a bunch of kids), "Just One of Those Things," "Angel Eyes," and "The Lady Is a Tramp" (the latter three with a combo including Bill Miller on piano). Dean sings "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams." Frank, Bing, Dean, and Mitzi do a tongue-in-cheek "Cheek to Cheek." Frank, Bing, and Dean sing "Together;" a medley of "old" songs: "Down by the Old Mill Stream," "The Old Gray Mare," "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree," "That Old Feeling," "The Old Ox Road," "Rockin' Chair," "Old Devil Moon," "You're an Old Smoothie," "My Old Flame," and "Old Man River;" and a medley of Jimmy Durante songs: "Start Out Each Day With a Song," "Inka Dinka Doo," and "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" (joined on the latter by Mitzi and Durante himself). In the show's opening, Bing, Mitzi, and Dean sing "High Hopes" with revised lyrics. This episode has no particular title but has come to be known as "High Hopes."
Buy this episode (paid link)

8:30 pm

Ella Fitzgerald, Peter Lawford, Hermione Gingold, Juliet Prowse, The Hi-Lo's, Red Norvo, Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra
Note: The premise of this special is that it was supposed to be taped outdoors in Palm Springs, but because it rained, it had be performed, for the most part, indoors. Frank sings "Spend the Afternoon With Me," "I've Got the World on a String," and "It's All Right With Me" (to Juliet). With vibraphonist Red Norvo and his combo, Frank does "Too Marvelous For Words" and "Here Is That Rainy Day." The Hi-Lo's sing "The Desert Song," and with the addition of Frank, "I'll Never Smile Again." Peter and Hermione do "Comes Love." Ella sings "There's a Lull in My Life," "Just You, Just Me," and Frank joins her for "Can't We Be Friends?" Juliet dances to a medley of Cole Porter songs. Peter, Hermione, and Juliet do a very proper version of "Puttin' On the Ritz." The whole cast performs a lip-synched medley of Gershwin "love" songs: "He Loves and She Loves" (Ella), "Love Walked Right In" (The Hi-Lo's), "Love Is Here to Stay" (Frank), and "Love Is Sweeping the Country" (Ella/Peter and Hermione/Juliet/Frank). This episode has no particular title but has come to be known as "An Afternoon With Frank Sinatra."
Buy this episode (paid link)

9:30 pm
"To the Ladies"
Lena Horne, Mary Costa, Juliet Prowse, Barbara Heller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra
Note: This show pays tribute to distinguished women. Frank sings "To the Ladies," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Lonely Town," and "My Heart Stood Still." Mary sings "Ouvre ton coeur" from Bizet's Vasco de Gama and Yours Is My Heart Alone. Barbara performs Gershwin's "By Strauss" and "Afraid of Love." Lena sings "Ring the Bell," "But Beautiful," "From This Moment On," and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." To commemorate Harold Arlen's birthday, Frank and Lena do a medley of the composer's songs: "As Long As I Live" (Lena), "It's Only a Paper Moon" (Frank), "One For My Baby" (Lena), "Ac Cent Tchu Ate the Positive" (Frank), "Stormy Weather" (Lena), "Get Happy" (Frank), "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" (Lena and Frank). Juliet sings and dances to a variation on Frank's "Come Dance With Me," retitled "Come Cha Cha Cha With Me" and does a ballet to "My Funny Valentine." Eleanor Roosevelt recites the lyrics to "High Hopes."
9:30 pm
"It's Nice to Go Traveling" or "Welcome Home Elvis"
Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, Nancy Sinatra, Leona Irwin and The Tom Hansen Dancers, Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra, Elvis's band: Scotty Moore (guitar), Floyd Cramer (piano), Bob Moore (bass), D.J. Fontana, Buddy Harman (drums), The Jordanaires (vocals); cameo by Peter Lawford
Note: The entire cast opens the show with "It's Nice To Go Trav'ling," with Elvis dressed in his Army uniform. Frank sings "Witchcraft" and "Gone With the Wind." Elvis sings "Fame and Fortune" and "Stuck on You" before teaming up with Frank for "Love Me Tender" (sung by Frank) and "Witchcraft" (sung by Elvis). Frank and Nancy get together for "You Make Me Feel So Young (Old)." Sammy does "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon For New York" from Porgy and Bess and follows it up with a spoof of The Academy Awards (with some interference from Frank and Joey - and a surprise guest). Leona Irwin and The Tom Hansen Dancers perform a pseudo-Japanese number and then The Hansen group dances to a record of "Uh! Oh!" by The Nutty Squirrels. Nancy and the dancers do a "Young at Heart" number. Frank closes the show with a reprise of "It's Nice To Go Trav'ling." This show was taped March 26, 1960 at the Hotel Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, Florida. Years later,
Nancy Sinatra remembered this show fondly. "I was 18 years old and in love with Elvis," she gushed, "totally in love with Elvis. (It) melted my heart to meet him in person."
Buy this episode (paid link)

The Frank Sinatra


Copyright 2006 by Jim Davidson. All Rights Reserved.