Frank Sinatra Centennial Exhibitions

Two new exhibits have come to “the city that never sleeps” in celebration of the life and times of Frank Sinatra to commemorate his centennial birth year. I visited both “Sinatra: An American Icon” at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and “The Sinatra Experience” at Morrison Hotel Gallery in Soho. If you want to see just one I strongly recommend the former; a multimedia exhibit on view here until September 4 after which it will travel to the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles. Both exhibits were curated by Sinatra’s granddaughter Amanda Erlinger.

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The Morrison Hotel Gallery is a collection of 25 rare and never seen before black & white photos from the Sinatra Family Archive, the Capitol Records and Warner Bros. Records archives as well as images from legendary British photographer Terry O’Neill who worked closely with “Ol’ Blue Eyes” for over 30 years.


It is a nice collection including an early Frank Sinatra “selfie” but it is only photographs whereas the Lincoln Center exhibit is much more comprehensive and compelling. A few of the same photos are on view at both venues including a great shot of FS walking past the pool cabanas with an entourage at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. The Gallery is located at 116 Prince Street and the exhibit runs until March 26 (See website) .

Album covers

When I stepped into the building at 40 Lincoln Center to see the more hyped and larger exhibit , I had somehow forgotten about many of Sinatra’s talents besides his famous voice. Obviously he was a great stylistic crooner, as evidenced by the soundtrack playing his various hits which have become classics. Discovered by mentor Bing Crosby, (“Frank Sinatra is a singer who comes along once in a lifetime, but why did he have to come in mine?” is his entrance wall quote) Sinatra soon began appearing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, later recording with Capitol and Warner Bros, and finally culminating with his own label on Reprise Records where he became known as “The Chairman of The Board.”

Oscar for “Best Supporting Actor” in the movie
From Here to Eternity

This exhibit follows his career from the early days at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. where he would sing, tell jokes and emcee; then his big band appearances, and next to concert stages complete with swooning Bobby Soxers (be sure to check out the hand drawn diagram of his stage set-up, as well as a Bobby Soxer “uniform”). His many awards are on display including Grammys for his multi-platinum albums; posters and clips from his appearances in several Hollywood films (his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in “From Here To Eternity” is on display), examples of his humanitarianism (he fought for inclusion for all races and religions and helped to break down some of the prevalent stereotypes of the day such as distrust for foreigners and immigrants).

“Orange is the happiest color” quote is emblazoned above
display of his artwork

He is also credited as a director and producer and even a respected artist who painted some very interesting abstract geometrics (also on view). Of course Sinatra was not alive to see “Orange is the New Black” but his quote “Orange is the happiest color” is emblazoned on the wall near an appropriately orange colored painting. All of this is not to mention his four marriages, three children, and hobbies of golfing, photography and a love for imbibing Jack Daniels (the company produced a special edition whiskey just for him with an orange label).

Bobby Soxer “uniform”

Along with the movie and concert posters, ticket stubs and other memorabilia, video clips from movies and interviews spanning the years, personal items and clothing of Sinatra’s, there are “props” such as a “subway car” which you can stand in (it “moves” a bit) and experience riding through Hoboken of yore, as it can be glimpsed through the windows. Overhead in the subway car there are vintage ads that make reference to various noteworthy people and places in Sinatra’s life. Another highlight is a recreated recording booth complete with a vintage mic and stand, something like the ones that Sinatra would spend long hours in.

Video of Frank with Ella Fitzgerald
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Another way to experience the music is with listening stations where you can put on earphones and “remix” some of his classics, or at the very least fantasize on what life was like to be a singer of his caliber in that bygone era. Sinatra had always wanted to make an album with Ella Fitzgerald who was one of his favorite singers, hence there is a video of them performing together. One of her costumes, a green sparkly gown is on display. A tuxedo that he performed in and one of his famous fedoras are in nearby cases.

The exhibit opens with a view of a living room with a huge floor-standing radio console as a focal point, much the way a television later became. Facing it is a chair, an in-progress game of checkers on the floor and a glass of what we can only assume is whiskey on the rocks. On the wall is a photo of then President FDR; all serving to recreate a scene that would likely be familiar to anyone of the WWII generation.

Al Hirschfeld caricature

There is a section of Al Hirschfeld drawings, one representing Sinatra as a youth and two others showing him as more mature however I forgot to look for the “Ninas.” Although there is one placard mentioning the Rat Pack named thusly by Lauren Bacall (referring to the group’s penchant for carousing and running around) which included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin,Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford. I would have liked a bit more about the group but perhaps their antics are better off kept under wraps. The Rat Pack made three movies together, all interestingly enough with a number in the title (“Ocean’s 11,” “Sergeants 3,” and “Robin and the 7 Hoods”) Also of note near the middle section of the exhibit is a ukulele that Sinatra used to serenade his wife Nancy and a violin that he never really played but kept all his life.

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The last section features his paintings, golf clubs, an old suitcase, passport, driver’s license, pair of pajamas and items of apparel that he gave to his grandchildren are all there rounding out the commonplace with the iconic. I found it to be a historically informative tribute and retrospective to the man and the legend that was Frank Sinatra. You might think the exhibit is geared to AARP qualifiers however even my 19-year-old son enjoyed it. Sinatra’s granddaughter definitely did the “My Way” singer proud. The exhibit is free and open every day except Sunday: (See website)

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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