Gay Talese succeeds in finding a balance between superb hyperbole and realism in his colourful and microscopic 36-page profile on the musical legend, Frank Sinatra, for Esquire magazine.
In 1965, Sinatra was struck with a cold. Singing was his livelihood and the ailment was enough to ‘plunge him into a state of anguish’. Unable to interview his subject, Talese kept a close proximity to his subject and interviewed ‘his countless hangers-on’.
Talese breaks down one of the ‘most guarded figures’, as he vividly recounts the intricate details of scenes he witnessed and conversations shared by those in Sinatra’s circle. The Beverly Hills bar acts as a microcosm of the world of the rich and famous. Those depicted in Sinatra’s circle are caricature-like and live flamboyantly. Sinatra’s press agent is revealed to be a ‘chunky man’ who wears ‘expensive continental suits’. Sinatra’s own personal pride is epitomised in his own appearance, as his shoes ‘seemed to be shined even on the bottom of the soles’.
Talese speaks highly of Sinatra, likening him to ‘a President of the United States’ who, ‘suddenly sick, can shake the entire economy’. His effect on the world is profound, as he is coined what men ‘in traditional Sicily’ have been called – ‘uomini rispettati’ – a man ‘of respect’. The most powerful element of this piece is Talese’s ability to dissect Sinatra’s personality, as he is projected dually as a powerful figure and as merely a human. He wants to be ‘like everyone else,’ and is ‘sentimental and sensitive.’ By providing this stark contrast, Talese humanises him, evoking respect from readers.
Talese explores the ‘man of many moods’, providing a holistic view of Sinatra’s tendency to swing from easy-going to a pedantic perfectionist. Several Italian references are evident, as he is referred to as ‘Il Padrone’ – ‘the boss’– a man who ‘personally picks’ presents for those closest to him, yet one who can ‘explode in a towering rage of intolerance’ should something be performed incorrectly ‘by one of his paisanos’. ‘Paisanos’ – meaning ‘peasant’, indicates Sinatra’s dominating power. He is depicted as a rebel, as he once ‘threw a punch at a musician who said something anti-Semitic’ and ‘espoused the Negro cause two decades before it became fashionable’. Talese digs deep into the root of Sinatra’s essence in order to garner a feeling of respect and admiration.
To an extent, Talese toys with the chronology of Sinatra’s life, at times disrupting the flow of his own writing. The piece begins with Sinatra, sick at the bar, when suddenly the reader is brought back to his childhood. This manipulation of time provides an insight as to why Sinatra thinks and acts the way he does. It evokes pathos as the reader becomes privy to the hard times experienced prior to fame. The profile is accompanied by pictures of Sinatra’s life, ranging from pictures of him as a child, to enjoying life at a café with Ava Gardner. This makes up for the chronological confusion, as the visuals enhance the readers understanding and complement Talese’s recounts.
The concept of Sinatra ‘dwelling simultaneously in two worlds’ – that of the human and the ‘Il Padrone’ that he was, is befitting in this piece, as Talese presents a multi-faceted man, proud of his achievements and who wants nothing more than the best for himself and for those dear to him.
Talese’s full profile, ‘Frank Sinatra has a Cold’ can be found here: