Sinatra Was a Heathen Of Sorts

Those who know me know I’m a huge Frank Sinatra fan. Being an icon among Italian Catholics in particular, one might assume that he was at least nominally a Christian, but it appears that’s not the case. Here’s a portion of an interview he did with Playboy in 1963 where he strongly criticizes religion, and does so intelligently.

Playboy: Are you a religious man? Do you believe in God?

Sinatra: Well, that’ll do for openers. I think I can sum up my religious feelings in a couple of paragraphs. First: I believe in you and me. I’m like Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in that I have a respect for life — in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don’t believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I’m not unmindful of man’s seeming need for faith; I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. But to me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. The witch doctor tries to convince us that we have to ask God for help, to spell out to him what we need, even to bribe him with prayer or cash on the line. Well, I believe that God knows what each of us wants and needs. It’s not necessary for us to make it to church on Sunday to reach Him. You can find Him anyplace. And if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: Matthew, Five to Seven, The Sermon on the Mount.

Playboy: You haven’t found any answers for yourself in organized religion?

Sinatra: There are things about organized religion which I resent. Christ is revered as the Prince of Peace, but more blood has been shed in His name than any other figure in history. You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I’ll show you a hundred retrogressions. Remember, they were men of God who destroyed the educational treasures at Alexandria, who perpetrated the Inquisition in Spain, who burned the witches at Salem. Over 25,000 organized religions flourish on this planet, but the followers of each think all the others are miserably misguided and probably evil as well. In India they worship white cows, monkeys and a dip in the Ganges. The Moslems accept slavery and prepare for Allah, who promises wine and revirginated women. And witch doctors aren’t just in Africa. If you look in the L.A. papers of a Sunday morning, you’ll see the local variety advertising their wares like suits with two pairs of pants.

Playboy: Hasn’t religious faith just as often served as a civilizing influence?

Sinatra: Remember that leering, cursing lynch mob in Little Rock reviling a meek, innocent little 12-year-old Negro girl as she tried to enroll in public school? Weren’t they — or most of them — devout churchgoers?…

I’ve got no quarrel with men of decency at any level. But I can’t believe that decency stems only from religion. And I can’t help wondering how many public figures make avowals of religious faith to maintain an aura of respectability. Our civilization, such as it is, was shaped by religion, and the men who aspire to public office anyplace in the free world must make obeisance to God or risk immediate opprobrium…

Playboy: Are you saying that . . .

Sinatra: No, wait, let me finish. Have you thought of the chance I’m taking by speaking out this way? Can you imagine the deluge of crank letters, curses, threats and obscenities I’ll receive after these remarks gain general circulation? Worse, the boycott of my records, my films, maybe a picket line at my opening at the Sands. Why? Because I’ve dared to say that love and decency are not necessarily concomitants of religious fervor.

Now make it one for my baby, and another one for the road.

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  • Larry

    What with his carousing, multiple marriages, and unsavory stable of friends, I guess I’m not too surprised he wasn’t, ummm, devout. Plus, letting the Don put that horse’s head into that big shot producer’s bed in order to get him that part in the war movie should have been a big clue.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=597316935 ashleybell

    Like all people he was a mixed bag… He also refused to perform at any venue that restricted clientelle by race, or made black performers enter through the back (a common practice back in the day)

  • Artor

    Huh. When I read the headline with “heathen” in it, I thought this was going to be a revelation that Sinatra was a Pagan, maybe giving offerings to the ancient Sicilian deities Diana & Lucifer? I never think of “heathen” as synonymous with atheist, but rather it makes me thing of “pagan.”

  • colnago80

    Ole Frank was, IMHO, greatly underrated as a dramatic actor. IMHO, his best such performance was in the movie Suddenly, where he played a psychotic professional contract killer who had a contract to waste the President of the United States. His performance was so realistic that he refused to take on any future roles as a heavy, thinking that he might be typecast in heavy roles and also because he thought such roles would hurt his singing career.

  • Cuttlefish

    “One more for the road”

    Ed, you are killing me.

  • D. C. Sessions

    One thing about Sinatra: what you saw was what you got. However, all offers temporary and no guarantees regarding what you might get next week [1].

    [1] He was also bipolar before we had a good handle on it. Whether controlling those mood swings would have made him more or less of a performer is pure speculation.

  • favog

    @4 — Thanks for that info, I’ll have to check out that movie. Never cared much for his music, but I think Sinatra’s a hugely underrated actor, based on what I’ve seen. I know it’s cliche to say so, but he was great in The Manchurian Candidate.

  • philipelliott

    Colnago,

    Saw that movie many years ago on the recommendation of a friend. def. recommend for Sinatra’s performance, but not much else stands out.

    Love the delivery on his line, “I got a lotta choppin’ to do!”

  • dingojack

    “But I don’t believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I’m not unmindful of man’s seeming need for faith; I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. But to me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. ”

    How quintessentially Sinatra.

    Ed – for your delectation and enjoyment.

    Dingo

  • dingojack

    Meanwhile, Peggy Lee waits at home, while Cranky Frankie gets enough ‘dutch courage’ to flee his responsibilities.

    :) Dingo

  • http://www.facebook.com/teve.tory Teve Tory

    “Our civilization, such as it is, was shaped by religion, and the men who aspire to public office anyplace in the free world must make obeisance to God or risk immediate opprobrium”

    that sounds like something that was written by a writer, not spoken by a singer. I’m a little skeptical.

  • D. C. Sessions

    that sounds like something that was written by a writer, not spoken by a singer. I’m a little skeptical.

    Live long enough and pay attention, and you can make up a lot of ground you lost by dropping out of high school.

  • colnago80

    Re #8

    Actually, I thought that Sterling Hayden may have given the best performance of his career also.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000263140906 Donovan

    Now we know that Catholics, at least, don’t read the articles.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    I haven’t played any of my Sinatra in awhile…

    That’s a great interview.

  • Synfandel

    I had no idea that Blue Eyes wielded such a formidable vocabulary. I particularly like “opprobrium”, “concomitants”, and especially “revirginated women”.

  • iangould

    “All life is saved except for some rat bastard who snitches on LA Famiglia.”

  • Michael Heath

    I’m very skeptical this interview is legit. Mr. Sinatra was not this smart or eloquent; few are in a verbal dialogue.

  • lorn

    For the longest time I thought of Frank Santatra as just a singer and nightclub performer. Only later did I see his films. The man, as this interview shows, clearly has a mind well above what passes for average with current stars. Not every film Sinatra made was good but, IMHO, the failures were largely a matter of poor scripts and stories because Sinatra had range and could act.

    The good news is that many of his films are easy to find if you know the name.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Sinatra_filmography

  • mildlymagnificent

    The other thing about Sinatra that a lot of people take for granted. He was a singer. He was a real singer. I got the shock of my life when my singing teacher (an opera singer) told me to listen carefully to his singing.

    He was the kind of skillful singer that doesn’t come from raw talent alone, nor from coldly applied technique. He warmed up – properly – for half an hour before live performances. When you listen to recordings, you can sometimes hear the immaculate breath control that allowed him to keep a line sustained, apparently effortlessly, right into and through the next line. Most of the time it’s just there in the background of the performance.

    I’ve enjoyed his stuff even more ever since.

  • Sastrei

    The interview sounds too good to be true. The oldest online reference I can find goes back to 2006. Don’t suppose anyone has a 1963 copy of Playboy they can scan? :p

  • Michael Heath

    Sastrei writes, The interview sounds too good to be true. The oldest online reference I can find goes back to 2006. Don’t suppose anyone has a 1963 copy of Playboy they can scan? :p

    I’ve read elsewhere that this passage is from the article. However the assertion I’ve seen was that the interviewer was a friend/associate of Sinatra’s and ghost-wrote Mr. Sinatra’s responses.

    I’m not claiming the above isn’t representative of what Sinatra thought, but instead expressing skepticism this is a verbatim response to these questions. The man doesn’t demonstrate the level of intelligence and eloquence needed to respond per the blogged about passage relative to the video interviews I’ve seen of him.