Alan Livingston Interview
(Sinatra's Corner)

In May of 1998, one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, Frank Sinatra, passed away. In tribute to Frank Sinatra we thought it would be fitting to offer remembrances of the singer by some of the people who either knew or worked with him.

Alan Livingston is one such person. He signed Frank Sinatra to Capitol Records at a time when the singer's career was a nosedive.

Q. - Mr. Livingston, before you signed Frank Sinatra to Capitol Records were you a fan of his?
A - Always. I felt that Frank was the best popular singer in the business, and in the past and in the present always loved Frank. He was a very controversial character always getting himself in trouble, in flights. He was a very difficult human being. But, I was just a big fan of his singing.

Q - Since Sinatra was at a low point in his career when you signed him, what made you signed him?
A - Just my belief in him as a singer. I'll tell you, he was so low at that point that CBS records, Mitch Miller let him go. He couldn't get a record contract, and he couldn't get a date in a nightclub to sing. He couldn't get a personal appearance date. He was broke. In fact, Ava Gardner had left him. He had supposedly tried to commit suicide. He was really as far down as you could go. I was in my office and I got a call from a man named Sam Weisbord, who was President of the William Morris agency. He said, Alan we've just taken on management of Sinatra. I said really! He said would you consider signing him? I said yes. He said you would? ( Laughs). He brought Frank in to meet me. He was very quiet. A pussycat. We talked. I signed Frank to a one year contract with six additional options, for a total of seven years union scale advance and a 5 percent royalty. The contract was signed and I got Frank in. I said Frank and I'd like you to work with Nelson Riddle. He said Alan I've been with Axl Stordahl for so long, I can't leave him. Axl was a friend of mine and a very talented arranger, but, I just felt Nelson could do more for him I could not talk him into it. I finally said okay so he made the first record, and I can't remember the title, and the second record, and nothing happened. A publisher sent me a song “Young At Heart”.. I called Frank and I said this is something I think you should do. I've got to get it out fast and Axl is in New York, so we can do it quickly because he can't come home here fast enough. Just do this one with Nelson, and then after that you can go back with Axl. So, he did that one with Nelson and it was a huge hit. Of course he never left Nelson for many years after that. Then, with the success of its single record he began putting out available standard songs-Cole Porter, Gershwin, and all of big songs of the years and the albums took off like crazy. Frank was now singing great. When I first signed him he had been drinking. They said he lost his voice, but, the really made a comeback. We made a whole catalog of Sinatra albums which are still very big today.

Q - Was in routine for someone like Sammy Weisbord to call you when they signed a musician or singer?
A - Oh sure. They were the manager and represented them. It didn't happen often, but they were constantly trying to sell us acts. They’d usually do it through one of their producers. It was unusual for Sam to call me personally.

Q. - Some people consider Frank’s time at Capitol to be his most productive. If that's the case, why after seven years didn't he renew his contract with Capitol?
A- Alright, I'll explain it to you. It's interesting story. In the mid '50s when Sinatra was very big, I left Capitol and went to NBC as Vice- President in charge of television programming. They were after me. In fact RCA was constantly trying to get me to leave Capitol to call with RCA records. I kept turning them down. They were determined to get me out of Capitol. They came to me and said how would you like to be head of programming for NBC which they owned. I said that I've got to consider. I finally decided and went to the chairman of Capitol and said I was leaving a went to NBC. While I was there the first thing they wanted was an hour Western. So, I produced a pilot on a show called a Bonanza. I couldn't sell it. Interesting. I took it to New York. In those days you had to get an advertising agency to commit to sponsorship. Everybody turned down. I was in every agency in New York. I finally gave up. General Sarnoff whom I got to know, the chairman of RCA called me and said Alan you like this show don’t you? I said yes. He said I'll sponsor it for RCA. Partial sponsor. And that's how got on the air. In the meantime, Capitol called me. They were having trouble, and offered me the Presidency. I left as Executive President. I was having some problems with the President of NBC. I did not get along with him. I left NBC and went back to Capitol. When I came back I discovered that Capitol had not been putting out Sinatra records for 9 months, which I hadn't and aware of. I said that what's the problem? They said Sinatra wanted a whole new deal. He wanted his old company which we’ll share 50/50 and you'll distribute it. He was turned down, and told you’re disturbing the whole practice of the operation. What would Capitol tell Nat Cole and their other big artists? Sinatra said the hell with you, I won't record anymore if you don't do it for me. And, he walked out. When I came back, he had not made a record for 9 months. So, I picked up the phone and I called Frank and I said, Frank, I’m back at Capitol now. He said I know. I said why don't you and I sit down and see if we can figure out something to solve your problems. He said go F--- yourself. I’m gonna tear that round building down. I’m gonna do this and do that. (Laughs). I was the guy that brought him back. That’s Frank you see. I said Frank I'm sorry. I didn't know you felt that way, and I hung up. Then we got it in the hands of lawyers. His lawyer was Mickey Rudin, who used to be my lawyer, so I knew Mickey well. We finally made a deal if a Frank would make five more albums for Capitol we'd let him start his own company, which we would have nothing to do with. It was the only solution. I wanted to get those five albums. I already had a good catalog, and the rights to all the records he made for us. So, we agreed and Frank came in grudgingly and made five more albums. All good. And then he started Reprise Records. While he was starting Reprise, I would go through our catalog of unreleased masters and put together albums. I’d pick out all the Cole Porter songs and put out a Cole Porter album. I put an available out called the Best of Sinatra, two LPs. On the liner notes it said to this is the best Frank has ever been or will be. He screamed. Lawyers started to call, threatened to sue. People came to me and said Alan, look out you’re gonna get your knees broken. I paid no attention, and they were probably right. Anyway, Frank would talk to me. I remember going over to NBC one day with Judy Garland, and going to her dressing room. Frank was in there as well as Dean Martin and one of Dean’s henchmen, a man named Max something. Dean shook my hand. Judy gave me a kiss. Frank turned his back on me. His henchmen said Frank you know Alan. And he just turned his back. He would talk to me. I just said he doesn't want to know me. And that was his attitude towards me. He just wanted no part of me. He was so angry at what I had done because we put out so many Sinatra records and had ‘em on special price that the stores were loaded. When Reprise came in with their product, they would say we got all the Sinatra albums we can handle. They couldn't sell them. Reprise was really ready to go out of business, and in bankruptcy. Jack Warner stepped in and saved ‘em. He put up money and took a big piece of the company and distributed the product and saved Reprise Records. In the meantime, if I'd run into Frank occasionally at a restaurant, he’d turn his back. He wouldn't talk to me.

Q. - Is it true that Frank Sinatra from never recorded before 10 in the evening?
A - It was always at night. I guess it was 10:00. Most singers don't want to record in the morning or during the day. Frank was no different than anybody else. He was a late-night guy. It's a funny, after the first session, and it was laid at night Frank said let's go across the street to Lucy’s and have a drink. I said fine. We were sitting at the bar and there was only one other person in the bar, sitting at the other end. Frank and I were sitting in talking. I said Frank you’ve gotten into flights and this was before he can't. Your publicity is very bad. Why don't you take it easy? Get a better image. He said, Alan I don't do anything. There's a guy sitting across the bar and he couldn't hear us and he said what are you doing Frank? Buying a drink for your leech friend? Frank said knock it off. The guy said, knock it off.Knock it off. Frank turned to me and said, see I don't do anything. Frank's piano player who also was kind of a bodyguard went up and grabbed this guy. I thought he was gonna kill him. He bodily through him out of the restaurant. Frank looked at me and said you see I don't do a thing. People picked don't Frank. I don't know what it was. Men resented him, presented his appeal to young girls, women. Here was this skinny, Italian kid who was so popular with the girls. I guess men resented it. I never understood. Incidentally years later I was invited to dinner by a man named Artie Deutch , who was a friend of mine. He said Frank's coming. I said you sure you want me there? He said why not? I said well I don't know, you may be sorry. He said don't worry about it. Frank came in and I don't know what was gonna happen. It was a social evening with maybe 12 people. Frank came up to me shook my hand and was friendly. I said Frank I didn't think you’d talk to me anymore. He said oh Alan, that was a long time ago. So, after that we run into each other on occasion and he was okay.

Q - Your descriptions of Frank Sinatra's mood swings parallelswhat other people have told me about it.
A - You don't dare cross Frank. He had a hood mentality. He was close to the Mob. No question about it.

Q. - If you were a singer in the time period Frank Sinatra was, and you had to work the clubs that were owned by the underworld, naturally, you’d rub shoulders with those people. It doesn't mean that your Mob connected.
A - That's true, but Frank liked them, because they appealed to what he would like to be in his life-to do what he wanted to do, to live the way he wanted to live, and to him these guys ran their own show. That was his mentality. Don't bother me. Don't touch me. He just couldn't stand anybody to cross him in anyway. He wasn't going to look to the police to help them. He would rather do it on his own.

Q. - Can you sum up for me what kind of a man Frank Sinatra was?
A - He was the kind of guy would give big money to a hooker and maybe not take care of somebody who deserved it. He came out of a restaurant and tipped the parking lot attendant $100. He said to the attendant, what's the biggest bill you ever had before this? And the guy said $100. Frank said, really, who gave it to you? He said you did Mr. Sinatra last week. He loved to be a big tipper. Had great largesse when it served his purpose or he felt like being a big man, and yet he could be very cruel if he felt somebody was not on his side.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved