New Offensive on Eastern Front, First Battle of the Isonzo

June 29, 1915: New Offensive on Eastern Front, First Battle of the Isonzo 

The unraveling of the Russian armies that began with the breakthrough at Gorlice-Tarnow in May 1915 accelerated in the months that followed, as the German Eleventh Army under General August von Mackensen  (below) launched a series of major offensives supported by the Austro-Hungarian Second, Third, and Fourth Armies. The new attacks widened the gap in the Russian lines and forced the Russians to withdraw again and again in what became known as the Great Retreat. 

While hardly a blitzkrieg of the type unleashed on the Soviet Red Army in the Second World War, the Austro-German advance through Poland and Galicia in May-September 1915 was methodical and relentless, following a cyclical pattern with occasional pauses to consolidate and regroup. First punishing artillery bombardments blasted apart Russian defensive works (top, a German 30.5 centimeter gun on the Eastern Front), followed by massed infantry charges that captured huge numbers of prisoners (below, German uhlans escort Russian prisoners); then the Russians would withdraw to a new line of trenches further back, their pursuers would bring forward the heavy artillery, and it would start all over again. 

Mackensen’s success allowed German chief of the general staff Erich von Falkenhayn and his Austro-Hungarian counterpart Conrad von Hötzendorf to withdraw some troops for operations elsewhere, including the Western Front and the Balkans. After the fall of Przemyśl on June 3, on June 10 the Austro-Hungarian Third Army was dissolved and many of the troops were sent to the Italian front; a new Third Army would be formed in September for the fall campaign against Serbia. 

However Mackensen still had plenty of manpower to continue the offensive: on June 13 he launched an all-out assault along a 31-mile front, aided by the composite Austro-German Südarmee (South Army). By June 15 the Russian Third Army was reeling back, allowing Mackensen to turn on the Russian Eighth Army, which also beat a hasty retreat. After a six-day battle the Central Powers recaptured Galicia’s capital Lemberg (today Lviv in western Ukraine) on June 22, while the Russian Eleventh Army joined the general withdrawal. 

Meanwhile in Petrograd the blame game was heating up. On June 26 Minister of War Vladimir Sukhomlinov (below, left) resigned amid allegations of incompetence stemming from the string of defeats as well as the critical shortage of artillery shells, which he had totally failed to remedy; he was succeeded by Alexei Polivanov (below, right) who would himself be removed in March 1916 due to the animosity of the Tsarina, egged on by the sinister holy man Rasputin. 

Wikimedia Commons [1,2]

A New Direction 

There would be no respite for exhausted Russian soldiers. On June 29, 1915, Mackensen launched the biggest offensive yet, attacking in a surprising new direction that forced the Russians to accelerate the Great Retreat. 

After the fall of Lemberg, Falkenhayn and the overall commanders on the Eastern Front, Paul von Hindenburg and his brilliant chief of staff Erich Ludendorff, met to consider options for the next stage of the campaign. Thus far the Austro-German advance had followed a straightforward west-to-east direction, more or less dictated by the need to pursue the withdrawing Russian armies. However the liberation of most of Galicia opened up a new possibility: Mackensen’s chief of staff Hans von Seeckt pointed out that they could now exploit a gap between the Russian Third and Fourth Armies to attack north into Russian Poland, capturing the important rail hub at Brest-Litovsk and cutting off the Russian First and Second Armies defending Warsaw further to the west. To fill the gap left by the Eleventh Army they would also transfer the Austro-Hungarian First Army across the rear of the advancing Eleventh and Fourth Armies, while Army Detachment Woyrsch took over the First Army’s lines. 

At first advance units of the German Eleventh Army faced virtually no resistance as they crossed north into Russian Poland on June 29, 1915, supported by the Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army on its left flank. By July 2 however the Russian Third Army had rumbled into action, launching a fierce counterattack against the Eleventh Army’s advancing right flank along the Bug River, while Mackensen’s forces also encountered elements of the newly formed and short-lived Russian Thirteenth Army (above, Russian troops in a temporary defensive position). Dominik Richert, a German soldier from Alsace, described a nighttime battle along the Zlota Lipa river on July 1-2: 

When the sun had already dipped below the horizon, I thought that we would be spending the night behind the embankment and that the attack would not take place until the following morning. It turned out that I was wrong. Behind us artillery shots could be heard; the shells whizzed over us and exploded further up at the Russian position… “Advance!” called the Commander of our Regiment from the back of the embankment. How these words made me shudder! Each of us knew that it would be the death sentence for some of us. I was most afraid of being shot in the stomach, as the poor pitiful people would normally live on, suffering the most terrible pain, for between one and three days before breathing their last. “Fix bayonets! Forwards to attack! March! March!” Everyone ran up the hill. 

Richert was lucky enough to survive the charge on the Russian trenches, although the terror and confusion continued: 

Despite everything we made progress. Amidst the roar of the infantry fire you could hear the rattle of the Russian machine guns. Shrapnel shells exploded overhead. I was so nervous that I did not know what I was doing. Out of breath and panting we arrived in front of the Russian position. The Russians climbed out of the trench and ran uphill towards the wood nearby, but most of them were shot down before they got there. 

To deal with the threat to Mackensen’s right flank, on July 8, 1915 Falkenhayn formed a new composite Austro-German army, the Army of the Bug (named for the Bug River area where it would operate) commanded by Alexander von Linsingen, formerly of the Südarmee. He also gave Mackensen direct control over the Austro-Hungarian First and Fourth Armies, much to the chagrin of Conrad, who found himself and his officers increasingly sidelined by the imperious Prussians of the German general staff. Conrad’s position wasn’t helped by the embarrassing (but temporary) rebuff of the Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army by the Russian Fourth Army near Krasnik on July 6-7. 

The Central Powers commanders also faced growing logistical difficulties, as their advance took them further away from their rail supply lines and deeper into territory where the retreating Russians had destroyed the railroads as well as most – but not all – sources of food (above, a Russian wheat field burning). Richert recalled hungry German troops finding scraps of food in an abandoned Russian trench: “In their trench were still pieces of bread left lying around and we eagerly consumed them. Many soldiers pulled the grains from the green heads of wheat, blew away the chaff and ate them, in order to overcome their pangs of hunger.”

After pausing to move up supplies and reinforcements, the Central Powers returned to the attack on July 13-16, 1915, with advances by the Austro-Hungarian First and Fourth Armies and the Army of the Bug setting the stage for the main push by the Eleventh Army on July 16. Elsewhere Army Group Gallwitz attacked south from East Prussia, smashing the Russian First Army, while the Ninth Army and Army Detachment Woyrsch tied down the Russian Second and Fourth Armies near Warsaw. As usual, the new offensive opened with a huge artillery bombardment. Helmut Strassmann, a gung-ho junior officer, described the furious barrage unleashed by the German guns on July 13: 

From 8 to 8.30 there was rapid-fire and from 8.30 to 8.41 drum-fire – the quickest of all. During these twelve minutes there fell into the Russian trenches, on a breadth of about 200 yards, about 10 shells per second. The earth groaned. Our chaps were keen as mustard, and our blessed guns simply rushed them along… When our bayonets began to get to work the enemy surrendered or bolted. Very few got away, for we were so near that every bullet reached its mark… The Company shot down quite 50 men and took 86 prisoners. Our own casualties were 3 killed and 11 wounded. One of our best men fell close to me during the attack, in the very act of shouting “hurrah”. He was shot through the head, so had a lucky death, being killed instantly. 

After heavy fighting, by July 19 Mackensen’s main force had advanced up to seven miles along a front stretching 20 miles west and south of Lublin. A Russian soldier, Vasily Mishnin, described the chaotic evacuation of Makov, a village west of Lublin on July 16, 1915:

It is raining heavily. Shells are already exploding nearby. Refugees are walking and driving from all directions. We are ordered to pull out of Makov immediately…  The battle is raging, everything is shaking. In Makov there is a crush of people, an endless procession of carts, no way to get out of here fast. Screaming, noise and crying, everything is confused. We are supposed to be retreating, but in two hours we only make it down one street… Everyone is desperate to avoid being taken prisoner by the Germans.

Meanwhile to the east the Army of the Bug and the Austro-Hungarian First Army had established bridgeheads across the River Bug, clearing the way for further advances towards Chelm, another key transportation junction on the way to the main objective of Brest-Litovsk (below, a Russian hospital train). 

The Central Powers’ advance slowed somewhat in the face of fierce Russian resistance beginning July 20, but it still posed a clear threat to the rest of the Russian forces to the west, prompting the Russian commander on the northwestern front, Mikhail Alekseyev, to order the evacuation of Warsaw on July 22. This was the first step towards the final Russian withdrawal from all of Poland, leaving thousands of square miles of scorched earth in its wake. 

Indeed, the fighting inflicted a heavy toll on the region’s inhabitants, as hundreds of thousands of Polish peasants abandoned their homes to flee with the retreating Russian armies into what are today Ukraine and Belarus. Ironically the German advance also destroyed the livelihoods of German settlers who had lived throughout the region for centuries. Richert recalled the scene in one small settlement: 

We came to a village, half of which had been set on fire by the German artillery. The inhabitants were standing around bemoaning the loss of their burnt out homes, from which smoke was still rising. Most of the inhabitants of the village were German settlers. A woman who was standing by her burnt out house told us that her house had already been burnt out the previous autumn when the Russians advanced. They had rebuilt it in the spring, and now she was homeless again. 

Not everyone fled: some Polish peasants decided to stay behind and take their chances with the conquering Germans and Austrians, as Richert discovered when he wandered into a peasant hut he believed to be empty, only to find a terrified woman with her child. Luckily for her, he was a co-religionist – and happily for him, she had food to share: 

When she saw me, she fell to her knees from fear and held her child towards me. She said something in her language – probably that I should spare her for the sake of her child. In order to calm her down I gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder, stroked her child and made a sign of the cross to it, so that she should see that I too was a Catholic, like herself. Then I pointed at my gun and then at her and shook my head to show her that I would not do anything. How happy that made her! She told me a great deal, but I did not understand a word of it… She gave us boiled milk, butter and bread. 

However most interactions probably weren’t quite so friendly; for one thing the Germans and Austrians, while still hoping to woo the Poles to their side, couldn’t conceal their racist disdain for “backwards” Slavs. Helena Jablonska, a Polish woman living in Przemyśl, complained in her diary: 

It pains me to hear the Germans bad-mouth Galicia. Today I overheard two lieutenants asking “Why on earth should the sons of Germany spill blood to defend this swinish country?”… I had managed to keep quiet up till then, but this was really too much for me. I told them they were forgetting that it was to defend their Berlin from a Russian onslaught that we had been made to sacrifice Lwow [Lemberg] and devastate Galicia. I said that, in fact, we had deserved their help much sooner than it came. 

Although few Poles welcomed the occupiers with open arms, as Jablonska’s comment indicates they weren’t necessarily afraid of arbitrary acts of violence either, in marked contrast to the capricious barbarity of Nazi German troops in the Second World War. In fact most rank and file soldiers were probably too tired and hungry to expend much energy on oppressing the locals, beyond requisitioning any food they might have. By mid-July some German troops had marched over 200 miles in the previous two months, and the advance was set to continue unabated through the hot Eastern European summer. Richert remembered: 

We marched on. As a result of the intense heat, we suffered greatly from thirst. As a result of the dry weather, there was a great deal of dust on the poorly made-up roads and tracks; the marching columns of men stirred it up so much that we were advancing in a real cloud of dust. The dust landed on your uniform and pack, and worked its way into your nose, eyes, and ears. As most of us were unshaven, the dust gathered in our beards, and the sweat ran down continuously, forming streams in the dust-covered faces. On marches like this, the soldiers looked really disgusting. 

While many Polish peasants fled voluntarily, that wasn’t the case for hundreds of thousands of Jews, as the Russians – angered by the fact that the Jews obviously preferred German rule and collaborated with the German military – continued their policy of forcible mass deportations into the Russian interior (below, Polish Jewish deportees). Ruth Pierce, a young American woman living in Kiev, witnessed the arrival of Galician Jews who were confined to camps before being shipped onwards to Siberia: 

And down the hill was passing a stream of people, guarded on either side by soldiers with bayonets… They were Jews, waxen-faced, their thin bodies bent with fatigue. Some had taken their shoes off, and limped along barefooted over the cobble-stones. Others would have fallen if their comrades had not held them up. Once or twice a man lurched out of the procession as though he was drunk or had suddenly gone blind, and a soldier cuffed him back into line again. Some of the women carried babies wrapped in their shawls. There were older children dragging at the women's skirts. The men carried bundles knotted up in their clothes. “Where are they going?”--I whispered to Marie. “To the Detention Camp here. They come from Galicia, and Kiev is one of the stopping-places on their way to Siberia.” 

Italy Defeated at First Battle of the Isonzo 

As the Central Powers pushed deeper into Russian territory on the Eastern Front, to the south the Allies suffered another defeat on the Italian front, where chief of the general staff Luigi Cadorna flung his armies against well-entrenched Austrian defenders at the First Battle of the Isonzo, with predictable results. As its name indicates this was just the first of twelve battles along the Isonzo River, most employing massed infantry charges that produced huge casualties for minimal gains (below, the Isonzo River valley today). 

After Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary on May 23, 1915, the Austrians immediately withdrew to strong defensive positions built along foothills and mountainsides over the preceding months in expectation of an Italian attack, giving up a small amount of low-lying territory in return for a huge tactical advantage. Over the following weeks four Italian armies crept forward cautiously until they reached the Austrian defenses, in what became known – rather inaccurately – as the “Primo Sbalzo” or “first leap” (it was less of a leap and more of a crawl). The advance then halted until the disorganized Italians could complete their mobilization and bring up artillery and shells. Finally, by June 23, 1915, everything was ready, more or less, for the first major Italian offensive. 

The main Italian war aim was capturing the port city of Trieste, with its mostly Italian population, and the first attack was accordingly carried out by the Italian Second and Third Armies, under General Frugoni and the Duke of Aosta, respectively, against the Austro-Hungarian Fifth Army under Svetozar Boroević von Bojna, entrenched on the high ground above the Isonzo River. The attack would focus on the defensive positions above Tolmein (Tolmino in Italian, today Tolmin in Slovenia) and Gorizia, now part of Italy; as a result much of the fighting would take place in rough, craggy terrain at elevations over 2,000 feet.  

Cadorna doesn’t seem to have benefited much from the lessons learned by Allied generals at painful cost over almost a year of war on the Western Front, but he at least understood the value of prolonged artillery bombardments to soften up the enemy’s defenses. Thus the opening week of the First Battle of the Isonzo was devoted to heavy shelling, which however failed to break up the massive barbed wire entanglements in front of the Austro-Hungarian trenches, sometimes literally dozens of meters wide. Conditions were made worse be heavy rains that turned hillsides into slippery cascades of mud, which somehow had to be scaled beneath Habsburg machine gun and rifle fire. 

The big infantry charge sent 15 Italian divisions forward along a 21-mile front on June 30, but despite a numerical advantage of almost two-to-one the assault failed almost completely, gaining a single bridgehead across the Isonzo through a huge expenditure of blood and ammunition (above, crossing the Isonzo; below, Italian wounded). 

On July 2 the Italians launched another attack towards the Carso (Karst) Plateau, a strategic elevated plain riddled with pits and caves, and managed to capture Mount San Michele on the western edge of the plateau. A third attack against the Doberdò Plateau advanced less than a mile; elsewhere the Italians were pushed out of their hard-won positions in the hills above Gorizia. By July 7, 1915, it was all over; the Italians had suffered 15,000 casualties, compared to 10,000 for the Austro-Hungarians, for negligible gains. With every hour that passed the Habsburg defenders were receiving reinforcements and digging in deeper (below, Austrian troops in the Isonzo). 

However none of this deterred Cadorna from launching another offensive, again relying on overwhelming numerical superiority and using substantially similar tactics, in the Second Battle of the Isonzo from July 18-August 3, 1915. The Italians scored some modest successes in this battle, but as so often in the First World War it proved a Pyrrhic victory, costing 42,000 Italian casualties.

See the previous installment or all entries. 

10 Christmasy Movies That Might Not Be "Christmas Movies"

Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).
Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).
Miramax

While action addicts love to extol the Christmas themes of 1988’s Die Hard every time December rolls around, the Bruce Willis-led blockbuster has plenty of company in the no man’s land between “Definitely a Christmas movie” and “Definitely not a Christmas movie.” From romantic comedies to rip-roaring thrillers, here are some other Hollywood hits that you can definitely justify adding to an upcoming holiday movie marathon (whether your guests like it or not).

1. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

The only thing that screams “Christmas movie!” louder than an image of Colin Firth in a Rudolph-themed knit sweater (a.k.a. jumper) is a final scene where the two romantic leads kiss amidst a backdrop of falling snow and twinkling Christmas lights. Renée Zellweger’s classic rom-com Bridget Jones’s Diary has—you guessed it—both those things.

2. Trading Places (1983)

If your conception of Christmas includes a boozed-up, belligerent Dan Aykroyd stealing assorted meats from an upscale holiday party while dressed in full Santa garb, then this ’80s comedy is your quintessential Christmas flick. The plot revolves around a social experiment in which a well-to-do broker (Aykroyd) is unwittingly forced to swap lives with a petty criminal (Eddie Murphy), and the movie’s June release suggests that the filmmakers didn’t intend for its Christmas setting to factor into the public reception of the film in any significant way. In America, it might not have—but Trading Places is broadcast in Italy every Christmas Eve.

3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

It’s hard to see the snow-covered forests and fields of Narnia without thinking about Christmas, but the White Witch’s meteorological curse isn’t really why the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s universally beloved novel is on this list. (After all, if an unforgiving winter is all it takes to make something holiday-themed, then 1980’s The Shining is also technically a Christmas movie.) Instead, the qualifying factor here is the scene where Father Christmas appears to hand out highly personalized gifts to the Pevensie children. Scored by a carol-esque children’s chorus and complete with a jingly, reindeer-led sleigh, the scene is so magical it makes you forget that the plot of the film is centered around ending Narnia’s endless winter.

4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

There are so many Christmas trees in Stanley Kubrick’s erotic thriller that, if you ignore everything else in the film, it could pass for a really festive game of “I Spy.” In addition to the heavy-handed Christmas imagery, Kubrick opens the film with a ritzy holiday party and closes it with a feel-good (at least, relative to the other scenes) shopping trip to Manhattan’s FAO Schwarz. Interestingly enough, the characters in the source material, Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle, were Jewish.

5. Gremlins (1984)

The cackling, spawning, murderous demons make Gremlins a near-perfect contender for a Halloween horror classic—if it weren’t for the fact that all the chaos ensues over the holidays, and the original gremlin was purchased as a Christmas gift. Though Warner Bros. ultimately went with a summer release, the film was initially slated to premiere during the Christmas season, and Steven Spielberg actually considered Tim Burton—the man behind another confusing horror/holiday hybrid film, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)—to direct it.

6. Batman Returns (1992)

And, just a year before Burton dove head-first into the deep end of the “Kind of a Christmas movie” pool with The Nightmare Before Christmas (which he wrote and produced, but did not direct), he got his feet wet with this follow-up to 1989's Batman, starring Michael Keaton. It’s not exactly overflowing with holiday cheer, but it does contain enough evidence of Christmas to justify making your family watch it this December instead of a traditional old talkie (or more accurately, shout-ie) like It’s a Wonderful Life. In addition to the ill-fated tree-lighting ceremony during which masked troublemakers burst forth from an enormous Christmas gift and wreak havoc across Gotham’s plaza, there’s also a Christmas-themed beauty queen called the Ice Princess, penguins who waddle around with candy cane-like torpedos strapped to their backs, and a pretty unforgettable mention of mistletoe.

7. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Due to a comedy of errors, Sandra Bullock’s character ends up spending the holidays with a coma-ridden Peter Gallagher’s family—who believes her to be his fiancée—and falling in love with his brother (Bill Pullman). But even if this ’90s rom-com didn’t mention Christmas, the big sweaters, snow, and familial love give it a distinctly Christmasy vibe all the same.

8. Lethal Weapon (1987)

This classic buddy cop film, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, has heroin smugglers, hand grenades, prostitution, and plenty of other R-rated, non-holiday content. However, the film opens to “Jingle Bell Rock,” features a drug bust at a Christmas tree lot, and ends with a rather heartwarming exchange between the main characters that happens on Christmas Day. Also, it’s written by Shane Black, famed for setting many a movie during the Christmas season—others include The Last Boy Scout (1991), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Iron Man 3 (2013), and The Nice Guys (2016).

9. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis covers an entire year in the life of the Smith family, so there’s definitely no shortage of spring-, summer-, and autumn-based scenes and musical numbers throughout the film. But not even the sunny atmosphere and vibrantly-colored ensembles of the trolley passengers in “The Trolley Song” can compete with the extravagant Christmas Eve ball, after which Judy Garland’s character, Esther, warbles “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to her little sister. It was actually the very first version of the now-classic Christmas song, and it’s also probably the reason that some people consider the movie musical a Yuletide classic.

10. Die Hard (1988)

Lastly: This list would hardly be complete if we didn’t include Die Hard, the internet’s favorite so-called Christmas movie to argue about. Not only was the film released in July, its action-packed plot has nothing to do with Christmas, and Bruce Willis himself actually said it wasn’t a Christmas movie. However, Die Hard does take place between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, contains countless Christmas symbols (plus a few Christmas songs), and, at its simplest, is really about a father trying to reconcile with his family in the spirit of Christmas. Furthermore, Die Hard screenwriter Steven de Souza is a die-hard member of the “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” camp.

35 Fabulous Facts About Frank Sinatra

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

You know that Frank Sinatra was as talented a singer as he was an actor. That he had a collection of nicknames, from The Voice to Ol’ Blue Eyes. And that he liked to do things “My Way.” Here are 35 things you might not have known about the legendary crooner.

1. Frank Sinatra's birth was a traumatic one.

Born on December 12, 1915, in an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, Francis Albert Sinatra was blue and not breathing when he was yanked out of his mother with forceps. Thought to be dead, the infant was laid on the kitchen counter while the doctor attended to his mother. His grandmother picked up the newborn, stuck him under some cold water, and little Frank wailed out his first song.

2. Those forceps caused some damage.

Those forceps left their mark on the left side of Sinatra's face, in the shape of a scar that ran from the corner of his mouth to his jaw line and a cauliflower ear. As a teenager, he was nicknamed “Scarface.” He also suffered a bad case of adolescent acne, which left his cheeks pitted. Self-conscious about his looks as an adult, Sinatra often applied makeup to hide the scars. Even with that, he hated to be photographed on his left side. The physical insecurities didn't end there: Sinatra also wore elevator shoes to boost his five-foot-seven stature.

3. Frank Sinatra was a rather large baby.


By Family photo. - Sinatra.com, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The future crooner weighed a whopping 13.5 pounds.

4. Frank Sinatra carried his own P.A. system.

When Sinatra was just starting out as a singer, he came prepared: he carried his own P.A. system to the dives in which he typically performed.

5. Frank Sinatra’s bad boy image was real.

Sinatra's bad boy image began with his infamous 1938 mug shot. The charge? The most Frank reason possible: “seduction.” The charge was reduced to “adultery,” then later dropped.

6. Frank Sinatra was one of America’s first teen idols.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the 1940s, Frank—or Frankie, as he was then known—became one of America's first teen idols. “The sound that greeted me was absolutely deafening,” Sinatra later recalled of a series of shows he performed in 1942 at New York City’s Paramount Theater. “I was scared stiff. I couldn't move a muscle.”

7. Some of Frank Sinatra’s screaming fans were paid to be screaming fans.

Not to take anything away from his amazing voice and his ability to excite the female throngs, but the bobbysoxer craze Sinatra incited (so called because the coed fans wore Catholic school-style bobby socks, rolled down to their ankles) had a little help. George Evans, Sinatra’s publicist, auditioned girls for how loud they could scream, then paid them five bucks and placed them strategically in the audience to help whip up excitement.

8. A short film got Frank Sinatra tagged as a Communist sympathizer.

In 1945, Sinatra made a short film, The House I Live In, that spoke out against anti-Semitism and racial intolerance. Ironically, a decade later, its liberal slant got him tagged as a Communist sympathizer during the McCarthy trials. (Sinatra never testified.)

9. The FBI had a file on Frank Sinatra.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sinatra’s FBI file had been started by J. Edgar Hoover after a radio listener wrote to the Bureau, saying, "The other day I turned on a Frank Sinatra program and I thought how easy it would be for certain-minded manufacturers to create another Hitler here in America through the influence of mass hysteria." Sinatra had also been investigated by the FBI for reportedly paying doctors $40,000 to declare him unfit to serve in the armed services.

10. Frank Sinatra helped introduce the concept album and box set.

In 1946, Sinatra's debut release, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, helped introduce both the concept album and the box set. At a time when long-playing records were still novel, Sinatra issued a set of 78 rpm records with eight songs, all with a theme of lost love. It sold for a hefty $2.50 (the equivalent of about $30 today). But the price didn't prevent it from topping the charts for seven weeks. Two years later, it became one of the first-ever pop music vinyl 10" LPs.

11. Frank Sinatra attempted suicide several times.

Sinatra's star fell hard in the early 1950s. He was so low that he even attempted suicide. Walking through Times Square, he saw mobs of girls waiting to get into a concert by new singing sensation Eddie Fisher. Feeling washed up, Sinatra went back to his apartment, put his head on the stove, and turned on the gas. Luckily, his manager found him in time, lying on the floor, sobbing. Sinatra made three other suicide attempts, all of them in the throes of his volatile relationship with actress Ava Gardner.

12. The Rat Pack didn’t call themselves that.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With his pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford, Sinatra led the Vegas clique known as the Rat Pack. The name was coined by actress Lauren Bacall years earlier, to describe a Hollywood drinking circle that included her then-husband Humphrey Bogart and Sinatra. The guys in the Rat Pack actually referred to themselves by a different name—The Summit—playing on a 1960 summit meeting in Paris between top world leaders.

13. Frank Sinatra reunited Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

In 1976, Sinatra appeared on Jerry Lewis’ annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon and surprised the host when he brought out Dean Martin, Lewis’s former comedy partner, from whom he’d been estranged for 20 years.

14. In Hollywood, Frank Sinatra was known as “one-take Charlie.”

Sinatra’s preference for approaching film roles in a spontaneous, rather than over-rehearsed, way earned him the nickname of “One-Take Charlie” in Hollywood.

15. Frank Sinatra threatened to have Woody Allen’s legs broken.

Sinatra was married to Mia Farrow from 1966 to 1968, and the two remained close friends. In Farrow’s autobiography, What Falls Away, she shared that when Sinatra learned of Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, he offered to have the filmmaker’s legs broken.

16. A magazine claimed that Frank Sinatra got his stamina from Wheaties.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1956, Confidential magazine disclosed how Sinatra managed to satisfy so many Hollywood starlets—Wheaties! The article stated, "Where other Casanovas wilt under the pressure of a torrid romance, Frankie boy just pours himself a big bowl of crispy, crackly Wheaties and comes back rarin' to go.” General Mills kept quiet as the tabloids talked up Wheaties' power to fuel Sinatra's exploits, and it wasn't long before teenage boys were stampeding the cereal aisles.

17. Frank Sinatra had two hits called “New York, New York.”

Sinatra actually had two hits called "New York, New York." The first was in 1949, from the film On the Town, and was written by Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden. Thirty years later, Sinatra cut "(Theme From) New York, New York," by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Originally from Martin Scorsese's 1977 bomb New York, New York, Sinatra turned it into his signature song and onstage closer. He also angered the lyricist, Ebb, by customizing the words (Sinatra had done this to a few songwriters, most famously Cole Porter), adding the climactic phrase "A-number-one." In 1993, Sinatra recorded the song again, this time as a duet with Tony Bennett.

18. Frank Sinatra hated being called “Chairman Of The Board.”

It’s a nickname he acquired while president at Reprise Records. According to his fourth (and final) wife, Barbara, Sinatra hated it.

19. Frank Sinatra wasn’t a fan of “My Way” or “Strangers In The Night.”

Barbara also maintains “My Way,” one of Frank’s most loved songs, did absolutely nothing for him. But that was a kind assessment compared to “Strangers in the Night,” which Frank called “a piece of sh*t” and “the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard.”

20. “My Way” has been covered by more than 60 people.

Sinatra may not have loved it, but “My Way” has been covered by more than 60 artists, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Sid Vicious. It has also been recorded in various languages.

21. Several people have died after performing “My Way.”

Since 2000, at least half a dozen people have been murdered after (or while) performing the Sinatra classic. Dubbed the “‘My Way’ Killings,” the strange phenomenon has gotten so bad that some bar owners have removed it from the selection list entirely.

22. Frank Sinatra inadvertently helped name Scooby-Doo.

At least according to former CBS exec Fred Silverman, who found inspiration in Frank’s signature “Scoo-Be-Do-Be-Do.”

23. Frank Sinatra directed the first Japanese/American co-production.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1965, Sinatra stepped behind the camera to make his directorial debut with None But the Brave, which was produced with Toho Studios. It was the first Japanese/American co-production filmed in the United States.

24. Frank Sinatra has a special place in New York Yankees history.

“New York, New York” has closed out every one of the Yankees’ home games since 1980.

25. Frank Sinatra had his own pasta sauces.

The year 1990 was a post-Paul Newman, pre-Marky Ramone time in celebrity spaghetti sauce, and leave it to Frank to fill the zesty void. But despite being inspired by his mother’s very own recipe, the sauce flopped. Thankfully, you can now find Mama Sinatra’s recipe online.

26. Frank Sinatra got first dibs on playing John McClane in Die Hard.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. Because Sinatra had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, he had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

27. Frank Sinatra didn’t like Marlon Brando, and Marlon Brando didn’t like Frank Sinatra.


MGM

Sinatra was always known as one of Hollywood’s most likeable stars, but Marlon Brando apparently didn’t agree. The two didn’t hit it off when they starred in 1955’s Guys and Dolls. Sinatra, who allegedly wanted Brando’s role in the film, referred to his co-star as “Mr. Mumbles,” while Brando nicknamed Sinatra “Mr. Baldy.”

28. Frank Sinatra briefly retired in 19671.

In 1971. Thankfully for you “Send in the Clowns” fans, his self-imposed exile from the entertainment industry lasted less than two years, before he returned for good with his comeback “Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back.”

29. There's an asteroid named after Frank Sinatra.

The rock, called 7934 Sinatra, was discovered on September 26, 1989 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.

30. Frank Sinatra sang one half of the only father-daughter tune to ever top the charts.


By CBS Television, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sinatra has a unique distinction in Billboard history: He’s the “father” half of the only father-daughter duet to ever hit number one—thanks to “Something Stupid,” which he sang with Nancy.

31. Frank Sinatra was an honorary tribal chief.

Specifically, the “Order of the Leopard,” the highest honor in Bophuthatswana, a quasi-nation state in apartheid-era South Africa. The honor was a show of gratitude from president Lucas Mangope for Sinatra’s performances at the maligned—and later boycotted—Sun City casino.

32. The Beatles’s “Something” was one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite songs.

Frank may not have loved (okay, he hated) rock and roll, but he was a big fan of the George Harrison-penned “Something.” The song became a sample in Sinatra’s live set toward the end of his career.

33. The last song Frank Sinatra ever performed live is “The Best Is Yet To Come.”

On February 25, 1995, Sinatra sang the song for a group of 1200 people on the last night of a golf tournament named for him. The words "The Best is Yet to Come" are also on his tombstone.

34. Frank Sinatra reportedly took some Tootsie Rolls to the grave.

According to celebrity expert Alan Petrucelli, Ol’ Blue Eyes was buried with some Tootsie Rolls, along with a few other choice effects, including cigarettes, a lighter, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

35. A provision in Frank Sinatra’s will helped to ensure it wouldn’t be contested.

In order to ensure that his passing wouldn’t lead to any legal battles, Sinatra’s will included a “no-contest” clause, which essentially says that anyone who contested it would be disinherited completely.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER