Home Culture Sinatra: All or Nothing at All, The Hoboken-Centric Netflix Mini Series

Sinatra: All or Nothing at All, The Hoboken-Centric Netflix Mini Series

by Victoria Marie Moyeno
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When you think of Hoboken, a few things come to mind: the birthplace of baseball, the iconic On the Waterfront film, and most importantly, Frank Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes was born and raised in the Mile Square, bought bread from Dom’s Bakery, and met his first wife at the Jersey Shore. The legend passed away in 1998, but Sinatra’s contribution to the world through his music, humanitarian work, and iconic films will forever be sewn into the fabric of America and beyond.

Sinatra: All or Nothing at All is a mini-series from 2015 that is now streaming on Netflix. It offers an up-close look into Frank Sinatra’s personal life and career. Narrated in his own words from archived interviews, as well as the voices of his children, ex-wives, and close friends, viewers get a first-hand account of his triumphs and failures. The documentary is centered around Sinatra’s rarely seen {yet very famous} 1971 “Retirement Concert,” in which he chose 11 of his biggest hits to perform that best reflected his life. Read on to learn more about the mini-series honoring the life of this Hoboken local and arguably the greatest entertainer of the 20th century.

nancy sinatra hoboken

From Hoboken to Hollywood

Part one of the documentary walks the viewers through Sinatra’s life starting from the very beginning when he was just a poor, skinny kid from Hoboken. His mother, “Dolly,” immigrated from Geneva, Italy as an infant. Dolly was an influential figure in the neighborhood. She worked as a midwife, operated a tavern during Prohibition {Marty O’Brien’s}, and got involved in politics. “She was innately bright,” says Sinatra in an interview. Marty, Sinatra’s father,  immigrated from Lercara, Italy, and had a brief career as a boxer, and later served as a firefighter. Dolly and Marty met in Hoboken and had Frank, an only child, born on December 12th, 1915, in an upstairs tenement at 415 Monroe Street.

Sinatra was fascinated with music, particularly big band jazz. He would look across the river at the view of Manhattan and see his dreams. He began singing as a young boy, sitting on top of the piano inside his parents’ tavern. “I had a horrendous voice, terrible, I mean it was like a siren. It’s a wonder I ever got anywhere starting that way,” says Sinatra. Throughout his early teenage years, he was determined to develop his voice and pursue a career as a singer. He was inspired by entertainers like Bing Crosby, who he would later work with on several projects. 

After graduating from David E. Rue Junior High, he enrolled at A. J. Demarest High School in 1931, where he arranged bands for school dances. He was expelled for rowdiness before graduating. Dolly, refusing to let him throw his life away, got him a job as a delivery boy for the Jersey Observer newspaper, and later at the Union Club.

Read more: The Sinatra Walking Tour: Hoboken Through Ol’ Blue Eyes Himself 

Determined, Sinatra began performing in social clubs around town and on local radio stations like WAAT in Jersey City for free. It wasn’t until he began taking vocal lessons at The Brass Rail, taught by John Quinlan, that he started to book decent singing gigs. Quinlan {an ex-Metropolitan Opera singer} said to Sinatra, “who are you and why do you want to be a singer?” Sinatra responded, “Well I’d like to be a singer because I feel that I have an idea about singing.” He began taking three lessons a week for $3 a week. He even co-authored with Quinlan a pamphlet called “Tips On Popular Singing.” An appearance on the Major Bowes’ Radio Amateurs show leads Sinatra’s early group, the Hoboken Four, to a hit with their song “S-H-I-N-E.” Inevitably, he decides to go solo.

Sinatra began hanging out in publishing houses in New York, where he befriended Sammy Cahn {legendary songwriter and musician}and Jimmy Van Heusen {famous composer}. Tommy Dorsey{renowned jazz trombonist}, decided to recruit Frank for his orchestra. Dorsey resented the fact that the screaming girls at their concerts were there to see Sinatra. Soon into that project, he wanted to go solo again. Dorsey didn’t want to let Sinatra out of his contract, but agreed after making him sign a contract that would grant Dorsey one third of his future earnings for life. Sinatra managed to get out of it, thanks to higher-ups in the industry. From there, he became a solo star and the rest is history.

The Cost of Being a Star

In part two of the documentary, viewers get an intimate look into Sinatra’s four marriages, his children’s lives, and his struggle to hold on to fame. It’s evident that life wasn’t always smooth-sailing for him. In fact, his entire life from the moment he was born in a very difficult birth that would affect him his entire life, to growing up during the Depression, to relentlessly proving himself to be a great actor, to facing stereotypes about Italians, to flying to Washington D.C to clear his name and defend himself against vast political figures, Frank was always fighting. He was constantly and successfully reinventing himself to keep up with the times.

The documentary simultaneously walks us through how he met his first wife Nancy during a summer at  the Jersey shore and had three children with her. Years later, while Sinatra was away working on his music and upcoming films, he met movie star Ava Gardner. He fell in love with Ava and divorced Nancy in what would be a very public separation. Sinatra and Ava got married the day after the divorce papers were finalized. Things didn’t pan out the way he expected with Ava and divorced soon after marriage. However, Ava managed to use her influence to get Sinatra cast in From Here To Eternity, for which he won the Academy Award for best supporting actor.

As his career evolved, Sinatra parted ways with Columbia Records and landed at Capitol Records where he worked with the likes of Nelson Riddle {acclaimed composer}and together, they became known as one of the most fruitful collaborations in music history. Sinatra and Riddle composed the hit song I’ve Got the World on a String. That song is considered the most symbolic of Sinatra’s musical rebirth. Finally, he had a little creative control of the music and invented the concept of his next album, Songs for Swinging Lovers.

Viewers are then taken through the journey of his relationship with the infamous Kennedy family and democratic party. Here, we see clips of Sinatra using his platform to speak up for or against political figures, typically presidents. He was never one to shy away from controversial topics.

Sinatra was a liberal and progressive democrat that often publicly spoke out against racism. “I think it’s vile and the most indecent thing,” he said in an interview. He was very immersed in the African American music scene and worked with many Black artists like Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Quincy Jones. He supported the Civil Rights Movement and was devastated by MLK’s passing. Sinatra called himself “an over-privileged adult” and said it was time to “give back.” He launched a world tour and raised millions for impoverished children. He continued to do humanitarian work throughout his life. 

See more: The History of Leo’s Grandevous + the Frank Sinatra Collection

In the 1960s, Sinatra reinvented himself as the leader of the Rat Pack. He starred in movies with his close friends Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. Frustrated with how music labels operated, he established his own label, Reprise Records. He pivoted his approach to the industry again in the 1970s to keep up with the ever-changing industry. From there, the mini-series briefly explores his life post-retirement.

A genuine artist, Frank Sinatra sang with the confidence and rawness that artists could only hope for. He told stories through his songs, stories everyone could relate to. He was a spontaneous, free spirit. The small-town grit and larger-than-life mentality kept him going through his 60-year career as one of America’s most-loved entertainers.



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