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Still Doing It His Way, Frank Sinatra Turns 75-and Clears His Throat for the Future

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Two facts best mark the passage of time for Francis Albert Sinatra, acknowledged as the most enduringly charismatic crooner in the world. First, it will be 75 years ago this Wednesday (Dec. 12) that little Frankie was born to Dolly and Marty Sinatra in Hoboken, N.J. Second, at an age when most performers are too superannuated even for oldies stations, Sinatra has been discovered by an unprecedented fourth generation of fans. One aficionado is New Kid on the Block Joe McIntyre, 17, who says with a perfectly straight face, “I notice a lot of people love his music, no matter how old they are.” The admiration is mutual: The New Kids and the Old Kid are plotting a single together next year.

But Ol’ Blue Eyes will have to get through the birthday festivities first. Last week Sinatra accepted the Ella award, named for and presented by his friend Ella Fitzgerald, at a gala concert for the benefit of the Society of Singers. On Tuesday he kicks off a yearlong, 75-stop Diamond Jubilee World Tour, and on Wednesday he’ll celebrate at a postshow fling for a few hundred close friends in New York City. Then on Sunday, Dec. 16, CBS will air a Sinatra special, including Frank at home.

“At first he didn’t want to do anything special,” says his daughter Tina, 42. “But then he began to enjoy the idea of making a fuss. Besides his children and grandchildren, I think he’s most proud of himself.”

In the autumn of his years, Sinatra is still working a springlike schedule. During his 90 concerts in 1990, every performance “was like the seventh game of the World Series,” says his manager, Eliot Weisman. Sinatra is booked with casino dates through 1993, with the Soviet Union and possibly the Great Wall of China on the list of locales yet to be conquered.

Has the Chairman of the Board slowed down at all? “We still go out to dinner after the show,” says old buddy Don Rickles, “but we don’t stay out all night anymore.”

Sinatra and his fourth wife, Barbara Marx, 60, own a Beverly Hills house and a Malibu beach retreat (reportedly worth $7 million and $3 million, respectively), but the singer recoups mainly at their Rancho Mirage desert hideaway, where Frank whips up his favorite veal Milanese on a commercial-size stove. In excellent health despite intestinal surgery four years ago, Frank plays with his roomful of model trains (“He has an engineer’s hat and a whistle and everything,” says Barbara), docs the New York Times crossword puzzle every day and romps on the floor with his seven Cavalier King Charles spaniels. A news junkie, and Kennedy Democrat turned Reagan Republican, he maintains “very strong opinions on world and national politics,” says a friend. “He acts like a 40-year-old,” says Barbara. “I don’t think age means anything to him.”

His pal Milton Berle, though, sees a mellowing in Sinatra’s legendary temper. “There aren’t the explosions so often,” notes Berle. Explains Barbara: “The death of many old friends has taken its toll.” Tina adds that the passing last May of Sammy Davis Jr. “broke Frank in little pieces. There was no resilience.”

Sinatra recently has taken new comfort in his children. Nancy Jr., 50, found Frank “a tower of strength,” says Tina, when Nancy Jr.’s husband, choreographer Hugh Lambert, died of cancer at 55 five years ago. Frank talks to her daughters Amanda, 14, and Angela Jane, 16, nearly every day. Frank Jr., 46, now serves as Sinatra’s music director on the road. “I only see my father onstage,” he says, but in fact does occasionally dine with Dad. Tina has been working on a five-hour miniscries on the singer’s life for CBS, which is expected to air next year.

There’s little chance that Sinatra will end up retired and Chairman of the Bored—not with the applause spurring him on. After one tumultuous concert in Glasgow, Scotland, this year, he turned to manager Weisman, and said, “I don’t know why I deserve such adulation.” Now there’s yet another generation to tell him.

—Louise Lague, Doris Bacon in Los Angeles