Frank Sinatra’s traumatic birth

Here’s some biographical information about Frank Sinatra that few people are aware of. It was a surprise to me.

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In today’s excerpt – Frank Sinatra carried the scars of his traumatic birth for the rest of his life:

“A raw December Sunday afternoon in 1915, a day more like the old century than the new among the wood-frame tenements and horse-shit-flecked cobblestones of Hoboken’s Little Italy, a.k.a. Guinea Town. The air smells of coal smoke and imminent snow. The kitchen of the cold-water flat on Monroe Street is full of women, all gathered around a table, all shouting at once. On the table lies a copper-haired girl, just nineteen, hugely pregnant. She moans hoarsely: the labor has stalled. The midwife wipes the poor girl’s brow and motions with her other hand. A doctor is sent for. Ten long minutes later he arrives, removes his overcoat, and with a stern look around the room – he is the lone male present – opens his black bag. From the shining metallic array inside he removes his dreaded obstetric forceps, a medieval-looking instrument, and grips the baby with it, pulling hard from the mother’s womb, in the violent process fearfully tearing the left side of the child’s face and neck, as well as its left ear.

“The doctor cuts the cord and lays the infant – a boy, huge and blue and bleeding from his wounds, and apparently dead – by the kitchen sink, quickly shifting his efforts to saving the nearly unconscious mother’s life. The women lean in, mopping the mother’s pallid face, shouting advice in Italian. One at the back of the scrum – perhaps the mother’s mother, perhaps someone else – looks at the inert baby and takes pity. She picks it up, runs some ice-cold water from the sink over it, and slaps its back. It starts, snuffles, and begins to howl.

“Mother and child both survived, but neither ever forgot the brutality of that December day. Frank Sinatra bore the scars of his birth, both physical and psychological, to the end of his years. A bear-rug-cherubic baby picture shot a few weeks after he was born was purposely taken from his right side, since the wounds on the left side of his face and neck were still angry-looking. Throughout Sinatra’s vastly documented life, he would rarely – especially if he had anything to do with it – be photographed from his left. One scar, hard to disguise (though frequently airbrushed), ran diagonally from the lower-left corner of his mouth to his jawline. His ear on that side had a bifurcated lobe – the classic cauliflower – but that was the least of it: the delicate ridges and planes of his left outer ear were mashed, giving the appearance, in early pictures, of an apricot run over by a steamroller. The only connection between the sonic world and the external auditory meatus – the ear hole – was a vertical slit. Later plastic surgery would correct the problem to some extent.

“That wasn’t all. In childhood, a mastoid operation would leave a thick ridge of scar tissue on his neck behind the ear’s base. A severe case of cystic acne in adolescence compounded his sense of disfigurement: as an adult, he would apply Max Factor pancake makeup to his face and neck every morning and again after each of the several showers he took daily.

“Sinatra later told his daughter Nancy that when he was eleven, after some playmates began to call him ‘Scarface,’ he went to the house of the physician who had delivered him, determined to give the good doctor a good beating. Fortunately, the doctor wasn’t home. Even when he was in his early forties, on top of the world and in the midst of an artistic outpouring unparalleled in the history of popular music, the birth trauma – and his mother – were very much on Sinatra’s mind. Once, in a moment of extraordinary emotional nakedness, the singer opened up very briefly to a lover. ‘They weren’t thinking about me,’ he said bitterly. ‘They were just thinking about my mother. They just kind
of ripped me out and tossed me aside.’ “

Author: James Kaplan  
Title: Frank
Publisher: Doubleday
Date: Copyright 2010 by James Kaplan
Pages: 3-5

Frank: The Voice

by James Kaplan by Doubleday
Hardcover ~ Release Date: 2010-11-02

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Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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