“You know I could be mayor of this town!” said Ol’ Blue Eyes, when he made his first appearance in the resort back on 16th July, 1950. And such was the charisma of Frank Sinatra, he was probably right, judging by the welcome he received.
The Blackpool Gazette scored a fantastic scoop by capturing the moment the world-famous singer left the Clifton Hotel in a chauffeur-driven Buick for the Opera House, mobbed by ecstatic fans.
An interview with the driver, Frank Lucas, reported him as saying: ““Frank Sinatra was a big hit in Blackpool. When he came here in 1950 his career was on a bit of a wane in the States. But when he got to Blackpool, and saw the crowds cheering, clapping, jumping up and down and banging on the windows he said ‘they love me this town don’t they?’ ‘Yes they do, sir,’ I said “‘I could become mayor,’ he said and I replied ‘yes you could!’”
No wonder he received a £2,000 pay cheque for his 1950 show, with Ken Lane on piano, making him Blackpool’s highest paid performer at the time. Frank Sinatra made a big impression on the UK in 1950, also appearing at the London Palladium the same July, in a variety bill that included comedian Max Wall.
Frank returned to Blackpool on 26th July 1953 for Live at Blackpool Opera House, with a set which was broadcasted at the Winter Gardens Access All Areas Open Day earlier this year.
You can listen to the playlist here.
In An Extraordinary Life, Spencer Leigh wrote: “Frank played two houses a night at the Blackpool Opera House. The three main theatres in Blackpool had the same management and their output was piped into an underground room where a technician would listen for faults and go to the appropriate theatre to correct them. A doctor from Leeds asked if he could lace a reel-to-reel tape recorder next to the speaker for Sinatra’s show and against all odds, he got a near perfect recording…So, unknown to Frank Sinatra, a concert at Opera House, Blackpool, was recorded, surfacing on CD much later. As well as performing 13 songs during his 50 minute appearance, Sinatra joked about the English weather (‘I got a parka made in Alaska and had it sent down here”), our passion for tea (‘Don’t you put anything in it?”) and the decline in his career (They didn’t put the hole in the middle of this record.’).
Spencer Leigh added: “Sinatra was playful throughout the whole performance, announcing that his next record would be called ‘I’m Gonna Put a Bar in the Back of my Car and Drive Myself to Drink”…
Of course he didn’t need to, because his career took a sensational upward turn following the release of the Academy award-winning movie, From Here to Eternity, just a month later in August 1953. Starring alongside Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and Montgomery Clift, Frank won an Oscar for his role of a US army soldier stationed in Hawaii.
Then his first album for Capitol Records, which included the legendary songs I Get a Kick Out of You and They Can't Take That Away From Me was released in January 1954, whilst his famous duet with Doris Day – Young at Heart - won Song of the Year.
Perhaps it was his visit to Blackpool and the Winter Gardens that brought him luck.