Highly descriptive with beautifully written, rolling sentences, Gay Talese created a powerful profile of Frank Sinatra through his feature Frank Sinatra Has a Cold. The focus of capturing the essence of the singer who became a “national phenomenon” coming through clearly.
Written in third person, Talese incorporated the news value of novelty into his impressive feature story, drawing the reader in through his originality. This was achieved not through the content specifically, but rather the style of the piece, being made up of personal observations and recollections of those close to Sinatra- without the guidance of a direct interview. Further, the vivid descriptions and overt emphasis on the setting of each scene presented this piece as almost fiction, preparing the reader for the next climax. From the beginning, the feature reads as the beginning of a story, introducing the protagonist, Mr Sinatra, and developing an undertone of glamour and mystique to cultivate anticipation for events yet to unfold.
A strength of this piece lies in Talese’s clever development of Sinatra’s character, originally building him up as more than just a singer, but rather a champion of “[comebacks]s”; a master. The use of subtle dehumanising language, describing Sinatra as a “pre-war product”, combined with dramatic similes like the comparison of “Sinatra with a cold” as being the same as a “Ferrari without fuel-only worse” work together powerfully to emphasise the common idolisation of the singer as “the boss…Il Padrone.”
However, Talese was not ignorant to Sinatra’s flaws and openly describes his easily flared temper and the unpredictability of his reactions, necessary concessions to maintain balance in his reporting. This juxtaposition is poetically captured in a simple observation of Sinatra’s eyes- as quick to “go cold with anger” as to “glow with affection.” This dichotomy acts to remind the reader that Sinatra is human, more than his stage persona.
The gentle tempo of this piece, seeming to almost match the tone of the smooth jazz music for which Sinatra made his name, makes this article an engaging read. While my journalistic learnings make me crave a direct interview with Sinatra, the level of depth Talese achieves, fleshing-out Frank’s nature, is truly admirable. Unable to secure an interview, Gay went beyond typical journalism practices to overcome this hurdle, forging an unexpected level of intimacy between reader and subject through his subsequent days of observation and perceptive recount of body language, interactions, and character as informed by those Sinatra surrounded himself with.
However, a weakness of this article is its length. Although vividly written with great detail and a collection of characters, the profile loses its spark as it continues on and on. The imagery demands relief through direct interaction with the subject. The description of his charisma, for example, feels less significant without Sinatra’s own demonstration of this attribute. Admittedly, this experience could be influenced by the article not translating to modern technology. Originally being printed in a magazine, the considerable length of this article is not conducive to being read in one sitting, online.
Ultimately, despite its weaknesses, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold is an inspired profile, engaging through its originality and the silky writing of Gay Talese.
Written by Megan Whitfield