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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George Carlin and Richard Pryor

They had a miserable childhood, and somehow became superstar comedians…….interesting.

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The Delanceyplace End-of-Year Comedy Week
In today’s encore excerpt – the lives of superstar comedians George Carlin and Richard Pryor bear witness to the pain beneath much of our humor:

“George Carlin’s father, an ad salesman, was a drinker prone to violent outbursts, and when George was only two his mother grabbed him and his older brother fled down the fire escape and left for good. Mary Carlin and her boys spent two years shuttling among friends and relatives before finally getting an apartment of their own – with George’s father stalking them all the way. ‘He hounded her’ says Carlin. ‘And he frightened her. When we lived on One Hundred Fortieth Street, we would come back from downtown, get off the subway, and the procedure was my mother would go to the call box get the local precinct and say ‘Hi it’s Mary and the kids. I’m at One Hundred and Forty-fifth Street. Come and get us.’ And they would drive us home and see us into the house. Sometimes he’d be across the street just looking.’ Even when they finally moved into an apartment that his father didn’t know the whereabouts of, his mother was still on edge. If they got an unexpected knock she’d tell George to peek under the door. If he saw a lady’s shoes, he could open it. A man’s shoes and they would stay quiet until the visitor went away. This family drama ended only when his father died. George was eight. …

“He was born Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor on December 1, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois. His mother, who appears to have been a prostitute, and his father married when Richard was three and split up when he was ten. He then went to live with his grandmother, who ran a chain of whorehouses in town. In his autobiography, Pryor Convictions, Pryor describes learning about sex by peeking through keyholes to watch the prostitutes at work, and soaking up neighborhood lore at a bar called the Famous Door where ‘people came in to exchange news, blow steam, or have their say.’ He was kicked out of Catholic school when they found out about the family business and he moved into an integrated elementary school. There he got an early taste of racism when he gave a scratch pad as a gift to a little white girl he had a crush on. The next day, as Pryor tells it, the girl’s angry father came to school and berated him in front of the class: ‘Nigger don’t you ever give my daughter anything.’ “

Author: Richard Zoglin

Title: Comedy at the Edge 
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date: Copyright 2008 by Richard Zoglin
Pages: 19-20, 44

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Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came. 

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Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 11:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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