In July 1974 Frank Sinatra was in Australia to play five concerts, two in Melbourne and three in Sydney at the Stadium. It was to be the fourth tour by Sinatra since 1955, the fifth if he hadn’t cancelled out on a 1957 agreement. Some say his 1961 tour was the best he ever sounded anywhere. He was a big entertainer and a big crowd pleaser the world over.
By 1974 however, Ole Blue Eyes was on the wane a bit. While he was still a popular figure, his glory days with the Rat Pack were almost behind him and his music style had been overtaken by rock and roll. By then he had a second nickname on the road, Cranky Frankie.
But in July when he arrived in Sydney from America he was happy enough; he had lots of fans here. His five shows had sold out with around 24,000 tickets. However the afternoon he was to fly to Melbourne the Sydney papers printed allegations of his mafia links and made references to the number of famous women he had been linked to over the years, referring to them as Franks Molls. Further, it appears from the memoir Lady Blue Eyes, written by his last wife Barbara, that at least one female journo snuck into his hotel room, at the Boulevard on William Street hoping for an exclusive only to be confronted by Sinatra in his room. Now he was not happy.
But the show goes on. He flew to Melbourne, where in front of a big crowd he played the hits, but also made his thoughts on Australian journalists well known. To a laughing crowd he called them parasites and said the female ones were hookers who he wouldn’t pay more than a buck and half for. The laughing now was more nervous than from hilarity.
Immediately trouble broke out. The Australian Journalists Association demanded an apology, with the Professional Musicians Association and Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees association saying his tour would be black banned unless he did so. Sinatra in turn said if he didn’t get an apology from the journos, he would cancel his tour.
With no one budging, Sinatra and his crew boarded their private jet to return to Sydney and prepare to leave the country. However by now the airport workers had joined in and refused to refuel the plane, meaning it had only enough fuel to make it to Sydney. In Sydney the Transport Workers Union had joined in and refused to carry Sinatra on buses, taxis wouldn’t pick them up and then the hotel employees union refused to carry bags, stock the bar, bring room service or service the rooms.
Cranky Frankie was shut down and locked in his room. The only hope was negotiation.
After a few days standoff in Sydney, the ACTU got involved with the then President Bob Hawke coming in to help. Hawke spent hours locked in talks with Sinatra’s manager and lawyers (Sinatra wouldn’t come out of his room), but made it clear that unless he apologised he would need to walk on water to leave Australia.
And so it was. Although he never apologised, Sinatra did agree to a statement that said he did not intend any general reflections on the moral character of Australia’s working media and agreed that the journos were just doing their job. Hawke also conceded that Frank was protective of his privacy and rightly so.
Problem solved. He played the three Sydney shows, with one broadcast live to Melbourne on Channel 9 to cover the one he missed. I wonder whatever happened to that broadcast?