Conservatives had a field day when FDR enlisted the Hoboken crooner who made girls faint. That was just the beginning for Sinatra. Here, an excerpt from David Lehman's Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World, in book stores now.
The “Swoonatra” phenomenon reached its apex in the fall of 1944. When Sinatra performed at the Paramount Theater in New York that October, the throng of frenzied teenage girls—the so-called bobbysoxers—made mayhem in the streets. After a Sinatra performance—and Sinatra gave nine of them a day, starting at 8 in the morning—the girls refused to vacate their seats. Sometimes as few as 250 left theaters crowded with more than a dozen times that number. Police had to be called in. In what came to be known as the Columbus Day Riot, the bobbysoxers set in motion the pattern of behavior that marked the arrivals of Elvis Presley in 1956 and the Beatles eight years later. Having practiced their fainting techniques in advance, girls shrieked and swooned in bliss when the skinny vocalist bent a note in his patented way.
When Sinatra met Humphrey Bogart, the star of Casablanca andThe Maltese Falcon said that he’d heard Sinatra knew how to make women faint. “Make me faint,” Bogart said. Sinatra’s faint-inducing ability was also on the agenda when he met Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Fainting, which once was so prevalent, has become a lost art among the ladies,” the president told Sinatra in the White House on September 28. “I’m glad you have revived it.” Then the commander in chief asked Sinatra how he did it. “I wish to hell I knew,” Sinatra said.
The singer had wrangled the White House invitation when the Democratic Committee chairman asked his pal, the restaurateur Toots Shor, to a reception. FDR was glad to host Sinatra; it would counteract Bing Crosby’s endorsement of his opponent, Republican Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York, Roosevelt’s old job before he went to the White House. “Look who’s here,” Roosevelt exclaimed and asked the singer to confide the title of the song that would be No. 1 on the hit parade next week. “I won’t tell,” FDR grinned. “Amapola,” Sinatra said. (The title may have sounded Italian to the president—and Italy was an uncomfortable subject in wartime—so he switched the subject.) The meeting went well, though the president was said afterward to scratch his head in wonderment at the idea that the skinny crooner had revived what he called “the charming art of fainting.” “He would never have made them swoon in our day,” he told an aide after the party broke up.