The Frank Sinatra Timex Shows, Vols. 1 & 2

Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment

May 17, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


In 1959, Frank Sinatra was contracted by ABC to host four special one-hour performances, to be released at various times throughout the network season. It wasn’t his first foray into television; in 1950, he hosted The Frank Sinatra Show on CBS; it was a successful run that lasted two years but ended due to low ratings. In 1957, he returned to television again, and was the host of The Frank Sinatra Show on ABC. It was a hastily produced series that was so poorly received that he made the decision to leave television. But Sinatra still had obligations to the network, so he proposed four hour-long specials, produced by Sammy Cahn, orchestrated by Nelson Riddle, and sponsored by Timex, and these four specials have been compiled into a two-volume set as The Frank Sinatra Collection: The Timex Shows.

The first of the four specials, The Frank Sinatra Timex Show, found him joined by singing legends Dean Martin and Bing Crosby, and with dancer and stage personality Mitzi Gaynor. Though the show itself is delightful, it’s a pretty standard sort of variety hour, with the three singers performing together and making cracks at each other that reveal an underlying tension; Crosby, naturally sad-faced, comes across as a man performing out of obligation and not out of desire. The trio’s flirtatious comedy dance sketch with Gaynor is charming, and she outshines all three of them with her wisecracks and her witty facial reactions. As fun as the concept may be, the premise does run a bit thin; after all, one can only take so many three-part medleys in an hour’s time.

Better is the second show, An Afternoon With Frank Sinatra. Thematically, the show is built around the concept that a by-the-beach show has been rained out, so the crew is improvising the special.  It’s much more of a variety show than its predecessor; it features Peter Lawford as co-host, and with performances from such diverse talents as dancer Juliet Prowse, vocal quartet The Hi-Lo’s, comedienne and stage personality Hermione Gingold, and the legendary Ella Fitzgerald. The ladies steal the show; Gingold is hilarious and eccentric; Prowse’s dancing is impressive, while Fitzgerald is clearly the star of the show; her songs “There’s A Lull In My Life,” “Just You, Just Me” and her duet with Sinatra, “Can’t We Be Friends,” make this show a cut above your average star-studded variety hour. It’s also nice to see Sinatra fronting the Red Norvo Quintet, a small jazz band. The closing number, “Love Is Sweeping The Country,” brings all of the guests together, and is easily one of the finest performances of the collection.

Because the ladies stole the show in the previous episode—and because it was Valentine’s Day weekend—the third show, To The Ladies, was solely dedicated to talented female performers. For this episode, the casting was truly diverse; Juliet Prowse returns for more fancy dancing, and is joined by legendary jazz singer Lena Horne, Opera singer Mary Costa, comedienne Barbara Heller, and, most incongruously, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The music is fine; Heller is quite hilarious in her performance of “Afraid Of Love,” while the Sinatra/Lena Horne birthday tribute to Harold Arlen is another one of the top highlights of this set. Yet it’s the odd presence of Eleanor Roosevelt that made people talk about this episode; she’s gracious and sweet, and admits to having no talent, so when she “performs” the pop standard “High Hopes,” it is a most bizarre sight to behold.

Welcome Home Elvis, the fourth and final installment of the series, is surely the biggest selling point for the set. This broadcast was meant to reintroduce Presley to his American audience shortly after his return from his Army tour of duty in Germany. Presley and Colonel Tom Parker were reticent about it. Sinatra had made disparaging remarks about Presley’s talent, and the singer was surprisingly sensitive to criticism from his pop singer elder. Eventually he relented; the theme of the show is to “reintroduce” Elvis to what he has missed out in his year and a half away from home, by running through performances of some of the hits in the intervening years, invoked by a cheesy “time machine” involving Sinatra’s daughter Nancy. When Presley does appear, it’s clear that he does not really want to be there; he’s awkward and his performance of “Stuck On You” seems perfunctory. His duet medley with Sinatra is interesting—Presley sings “Witchcraft” and Sinatra sings “Love Me Tender”—and is a bit more enjoyable.

Yet this performance—which is perhaps the worst of the four episodes offered in the series—had a much more lasting impact; it showed Presley as a “respectable” musician, a pop star clearly in the lineage of Sinatra, and no longer the hoodlum rebel type who had made his name with shaking his hips and making the teenage girls swoon. Thus, this rather dull appearance was, basically, the public emasculating of Elvis Presley, who would soon enter into a downward spiral of bad movies and mediocre records, with his only career high spots being Gospel singles. Colonel Parker knew what he was doing, even if no one else at the time had the foresight at the time to understand why this appearance was seemingly of such importance.

The Frank Sinatra Collection: The Timex Shows might not have been peak Sinatra—he was certainly in transition; rock and roll was on the rise, he was getting older, and his style of music was on the wane—but these recordings are nothing if not enjoyable time machines of a simpler television and music era. 




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David Gibbs
May 18th 2017
7:28am

So the untold millions of record sales,money making movies,the 68 Comeback show,the world record Aloha show and an unprecedented run in Lac Vegas and endless sold out tours is a downward spiral for Elvis.What planet are you from.