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Movies: King of the Birds

4 minute read

The waves that day on the beach on Kauai had muscle behind them, and the woman went under almost instantly. The man fought the current to get to her, but wound up 50 yards farther out and some 100 yards from shore. Friends heard the couple cry for help, but could not buck the waves. In the end it took four men, one surfboard, one rope and the local fire department to bring them in. The woman was in pretty good shape, but the man was unconscious and needed artificial respiration, was carted home on a stretcher and put to bed. Friends were astonished when he got up at 7 o’clock sharp the following morning and started on his day’s work. But then, Frank Sinatra was not in Hawaii to drown. He was there to establish that he is not only a bang-up movie star and the top vocalist in all the world, but also to launch a new career as a film director.

Sinatra is 48 years old, and it is his first time out on a job to which he brings no technical experience. But he has always had what it takes to come out on top—wherever the game, whatever the odds.

Everyone’s Freddy. “My desire to direct,” he says, “became acute about five years ago.” It took almost that long to find and prepare a suitable script, and None but the Brave seems worth the delay. A sort of World War II in miniature, the story tells of two groups of Japanese and American soldiers on a Pacific island who bicker internally and battle externally until they are driven to declare a truce. But the hard-won armistice ends in mutual and inevitable annihilation. Defined by the director as “an integrated picture,” its stars are 17 Japanese actors who cannot speak English,* 18 Americans who insist that they can, and Sinatra’s singing son-in-law, Tommy Sands (married to Sinatra’s daughter Nancy). The old man himself steps in front of the camera to play a small part as a boozing, brawling Navy pharmacist, runs back behind it crying “Perfect! Cut!” after completing a scene.

But on the job, Sinatra is a fulltime professional who personally supervises every phase of production from the ordering of ten gallons of concentrated “blood” (needed to provide 50 gallons of gore when mixed with water) to learning the script so thoroughly that he never has to look at the screenplay. He knows every cast and crew member by name, though he calls most of the Japanese “Freddy,” thinks privately “they should all be called Kim.” The cast and crew are impressed. A prop man claims “He really listens to you.” Actor Tatsuya Mihashi, “the Japanese Robert Taylor,” calls him a director “who knows what secrets an actor should have.” U.S. Actor Brad Dexter credits him with “tremendous radar.”Uniformly, they are agreed that only the movie is an unknown quantity. Director Sinatra is visibly a pro.

No More Clyde. It seems an odd role for a fellow who was supposed to end his days as a careless carouser and muscular seducer. But then times have changed. The celebrated Rat Pack has dispersed and left its leader not much the worse for wear, and maybe just a little bit better. Even the widely publicized vocabulary that once catered to the smallest lingual group on the globe has changed; gone with the wind are “Dullsville,” “Spooksville,” and “Clyde.” Sinatra’s new lingo consists largely of a single all-purpose noun—”bird”—that has a thousand meanings. Sinatra loves them all, last week inquired of a friend, “Did you grow any orchids in your bird over the weekend?” and said of a bumbling Hollywood producer, “He does have a way of stepping on his bird.”

He has a rented $2,000-a-month beach-front house, which the owner had decorated (for $20,000) in orange. The draperies, ashtrays, towels and dishes are orange. And so are the silk pajamas Sinatra sits around in, drinking Jack Daniels whisky, which is reddish-brown, but which goes well with what the new pack calls the “national color.”

* In the film, English subtitles will do it for them.

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