Tuesday 9 June 2015

Gay Talese's "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold"

"Sinatra with a cold is like Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel -- only worse." (Gay Talese)

It is one of the most famous pieces of magazine journalism ever.  Gay Talese, who had worked for the New York Times, wanted to try his hand at magazines.  His task?  To write six stories in the space of one year for Esquire magazine, the Vanity Fair of the 1960's.  With suitcase in hand, he flew to Los Angeles to interview the music legend, Frank Sinatra.  The problem was, the 50-year-old Sinatra was bound and determined not to speak to reporters:  he was tired of the relentless questions about his current love, a 20-year-old named Mia Farrow; he was tired of the endless queries about his Mafia connections; he was tired of the movie he was shooting; and to top it all off, he had a cold.  

But Gay Talese was up for a challenge.  For the next three months, he followed Sinatra to every corner of Hollywood and Las Vegas.  He pursued the singer's entourage of 75, gaining glimpses into the private man.  He did what needed to be done to get the scoop.  The result was a brilliant essay written in the "New Journalism" style.  Esquire called it "a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction".  Blogger Maria Henson explained:  "The 15,000 word story is as finely crafted as Sinatra's (and Talese's) custom-tailored suits."  Here is an excerpt from the article that everyone was talking about in April of 1966:

"Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel -- only worse.  For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability.  A Sinatra with a cold, can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy."  

Esquire magazine cover for April of 1966 courtesy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Sinatra_Has_a_Cold.

Note:  For more about this style of essay writing, read Tom Wolfe's The New Journalism (http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Journalism-Tom-Wolfe/dp/0060471832).

No comments:

Post a Comment