• U.S.

Personalities: Innocent Abroad

4 minute read
TIME

“I’m happy to be in Nazareth, the cradle of Christianity,” he told his audience of Moslems and Jews. “If I had to buy a town, it would be Nazareth.” His manner was a winning confection of good will and grandeur—like a maharajah at a mahouts’ outing. His new friends in Israel and Japan called him “a nice gentle guest” and “a tough dandy.” Back home, his old friends were only left to wonder: Who is this prince of charity, this prophet of peace, this generous, sober, chaste diplomat, this new Frank Sinatra?

Peace & Welfare. Sinatra says he felt the first stirrings of philanthropy four years ago, decided on charity concert tours to raise money for orphanages. “As an overprivileged adult, I’d like to help underprivileged children,” he announced. Last week he was midway on a six-week tour that will swing through seven nations. First stop was Japan, where his three concerts drew members of the imperial family, U.S. Ambassador Reischauer, and scrambling crowds. Proceeds of his week’s work were $28,000, which he gave to Tokyo, asking that it be used to help 60 orphanages for Eurasian children.

With that he was off for Israel, where he had signed up for the longest stop of the tour. With the naive wit of an Ambassador from Coldwater Canyon, he cheerfully explained his presence: “As a fairly rebellious citizen of another country, I have watched Israel’s development with admiration. I have a lot of Jewish friends, and I grew up in a neighborhood of Negroes and Jews where the atmosphere was not so good.”

In a busy nine days, he chatted with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (“Why must girls serve in the Israeli army?”), secured the key to Nazareth and a silver-embossed Bible, broke ground for the Frank Sinatra International Friendship Youth House (“I never thought a school would be named for me”), held gracious receptions and swung through nine concerts. By week’s end, his voice was scratchy and tired, and he set off for a seven-day cruise to the Isle of Rhodes on a chartered yacht before his next round of appearances in Greece and Italy.

Everywhere he went, his tune was the same: “I want to try to change things, to use whatever influence I have for welfare, peace and the brotherhood of man.” Everywhere he was on his best behavior. In Japan, he ignored geisha comforts for the sake of solemn discussions of international politics. In Israel, he drank honeyed tea, spent evenings visiting kibbutz farmers, mornings sunning himself in the private glory of red pajamas.

Sinatra’s Hollywood detractors dismiss the charity tour as a stunt to camouflage his unappealing Rat Pack image. His last two films have been box office successes, but critically, they were far below Sinatra’s standard. Then, too, he has sailed rough weather lately. Juliet Prowse left him, mournfully considering his receding hairline. Worse, President Kennedy shattered Frank when, on his recent visit to California, he opted for Bing Crosby’s Palm Springs digs instead of the new “Presidential Wing” Sinatra had tacked onto his own Palm Springs home in great expectations.

Death of the Clan. At 46, Sinatra is more alone now than since the days before his From Here to Eternity success made him a late-blooming perennial. Of the Clan, only Dean Martin and Mike Romanoff remain; Peter Lawford (whom Sinatra now snubs) is in a dark sulk, Sammy Davis is a family man. In his new flair for long talks with newsmen, he has conceded that only a few years remain for him as a performer.

For all that, he is still close to the top of the Hollywood heap. His record company grossed $4,600,000 last year, and the range of movie roles that await him is broad and reassuring. His friends insist that there is no new Sinatra, that the new innocent abroad is only the old Sinatra with the old resentments stripped away. And overseas, the tour’s inspiration matters less than the good it does.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com