Sinatra At 105: Talking Time With Tina Sinatra
The legendary crooner's daughter sat down with Watchonista to discuss her father's legacy, his music, the watches that made him on time, and how to live life to the fullest.
One hundred and five years ago today, Frank Sinatra was born on December 12th, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey. As time inexorably marched on, Frank Sinatra has transcended his generation, his genre, and remains just as relevant today as he did in the 1960s. His music is timeless, his style impeccable, and his lifestyle often duplicated by wannabe crooners and Rat Packers.
Thanks to our friends at Bulova, we were given the opportunity to sit down with Sinatra's youngest daughter, Tina Sinatra. From her home in Beverly Hills, California, Ms. Sinatra regaled us with stories of Palm Springs, drinking Jack Daniels in far-flung bars, and her father's appreciation and respect for time.
Sinatra x Bulova
Released earlier this year, Bulova's Frank Sinatra collection is a wide-ranging lineup of Sinatra inspired timepieces befitting the Chairman of the Board. Watchonista went in-depth with the collection at the time of launch, and now, a few months removed from its release, we had some lingering questions about how this collection came to be.
Sinatra's relationship with Bulova actually started in the 1950s when Bulova sponsored his television series The Frank Sinatra Show on CBS. Tina Sinatra explained that Frank's love of Bulova never stopped, "I remember Dad in his senior years, Nancy or I would find maybe a Bulova or similar watch that was white-faced, plain, with a comfortable band, and with the 1 through 12 [indices]. He loved simplicity and readability. It was everything. He was a practical guy, and time mattered."
But does Tina Sinatra have a favorite Bulova x Sinatra timepiece? "I like Young At Heart. And I think Dad would've picked it too. The watches swagger like Frank Sinatra did. They're clean and mid-century, which I think was a pretty glorious time."
"Bulova believed in him, and he wore Bulova. We all wore Bulova."
What Was Frank Sinatra's Relationship With Time?
"Dad lived by time. He lived by being on time. And I think that was part of the professionalism. You know, if you were late you were costing a lot of money. He had a strong commitment to his audiences, never keep them waiting. He would run like a train. He would be as on time as humanly possible," Tina explained.
"His adage was: If you're not early, you're late."
Having previously covered a Cartier watch that Sinatra gifted to Sammy Davis Jr., it is unsurprising that Sinatra had such a close relationship with time. So close, in fact, he was even giving the gift of time to his friends as well. Tina confirmed this, saying, "He loved giving watches. And he got watches as gifts. There have been many I have found over the years that probably date back to the '40s."
This revelation lead me down a rabbit hole, I had to know where some of Frank's watches ended up, and as it turns out, the family still has most of Frank's collection intact, except for a few pieces gifted to Frank's contemporaries. Tina provided an anecdote about one exceptional timepiece, "Dad had one [watch] engraved to "The Voice." Which I gave to Harry Connick Jr. I'm pleased he has it, but there are times when I'd like to say, ‘Could I borrow that back?’"
Cherishing Every Moment
With a look at songs like My Way, The Best Is Yet To Come, and That's Life, Sinatra seemed to be hyper-aware of cherishing every moment, and as Tina explained, that was simply a part of Frank's DNA, "That's what he was born to do, so he was going to do that. And it was his life to do that. He was a bit of a rogue and a rascal, but he knew his business on a serious note."
"I think living his life to the fullest through his career and knowing so much about himself was best for him. He was going to move in the world and travel the world and appear across the globe. And he had the freedom to do that, and therefore, he had the opportunity to live high and live well and go and do. And that's who he was. It was part and parcel.
Everything about Dad stems from, I believe, his determination to do well and have a big career, and all the rest followed."
Palm Springs And Art Deco
One of Sinatra's greatest inspirations was the city of Palm Springs. A haven for mid-century and art deco design, much like Bulova's Frank Sinatra collection. I asked Tina what would a typical day in Palm Springs be like for the Sinatra family?
'Well, we'd be home. I mean, for Dad, when I wasn't there, he'd be home. That was the point. His respite, his Valhalla, was where he could be private and quiet and have guests in for dinner and have an at-home lifestyle that he didn't have to dress-up, and he didn't have to leave the house.
He could be comfortable. He'd have friends in. He ran movies. We had a projection room. And he'd isolate himself to a degree, very often because he was going to hit the road again, he'd need to rest. I'm talking of him in that era, in the mid-'50s, his career was coming back, around the time of the second Bulova sponsored show on ABC."
Tina further explained that Sinatra, for all his bravado, loved the simple life when he was not performing, "When he was not on the show, he was resting. He'd give up smoking and drinking. He would use his home as a spa. Everything was there, and he didn't have to go anywhere. And he cared for himself and enjoyed his friends and his life."
Of course, the question on most people's minds might be, "What was it like being Frank Sinatra's daughter?" To which Tina provided a small example from their time together in Palm Springs, "A typical day as we grew into our teens was relaxed. We'd get up, and we'd go to the pool and stay there all day and play tennis. We'd get him [Sinatra] on the court occasionally, and that didn't usually go well. Everything was perfect. Meet in the bar at 7 o'clock, dinner at 8, casual, always casual, and then onto a movie. Then back to the house and living room to talk for a while and eventually go to bed."
Young At Heart
Of all the Bulova Frank Sinatra models, Tina's favorite is the Young At Heart. It's a timepiece she says is befitting of her father. "The Young At Heart with the brown face. It felt like him. And it felt like he could have worn it with a tuxedo. I wanted what he'd wear. Essentially, and most importantly, because he could have read it. He liked numbers, and that's the truth. He didn't even like Roman numerals. He liked 1 through 12 [laughs]."
So many associate Sinatra with the Rat Pack, his now-iconic song catalog, and of course, Jack Daniels, this association with the Tennessee whiskey is probably his most visible relationship to this day. I asked Tina how Sinatra's name became so synonymous with Jack Daniels.
"Because he drank it throughout his life. We have photograph after photograph of him, beginning with the Las Vegas era. He was appearing [in Vegas] for years, but the ambiance and the social side of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, New York, anywhere, even in L.A. and various places that had their own little bars. At that time, going into bars felt like being part of the global society."
"I would go to bars with Dad all over the world. And at times, the bartender would recognize him, having never met him before, and bring out the bottle [of Jack Daniels] and put it in front of him on the bar top. So, he became synonymous with it, very much during his own life."
What Would Frank Do?
Managing the legacy of a renowned artist and cultural icon like Frank Sinatra is no easy feat. As the head of FSE (Frank Sinatra Enterprises), this responsibility is not lost on Tina, "It can be a lot to do, but it's a pleasure. And the man is amazing because his legacy is now streaming to people 17 years of age and older, but it used to be 35 and older. Every generation discovers him, and it makes what we do very easy. It's amazing."
Unlike, say, Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, the Sinatra family is very selective with their partnerships. The family is notoriously guarded when it comes to attaching the Sinatra name to a brand or product. As Tina explained, "We tend to do things like Bulova and Jack Daniels that we know organically relate to him. And I'm not likely to be as comfortable with a product I know he would not have used."
Tina says she relies on a straightforward principle for managing her father's legacy, "I rely on "What would Frank do?" Not necessarily as a mantra, but it's something I ask myself, and he answers me. If it's something I feel intuitively or hear from him, I think sometimes I do [laughs], I won't do it. That's why we do so little. But Jack Daniels and Bulova was a perfect fit. There was no doubt about it."
Throughout his career, Sinatra was spotted with a variety of timepieces on his wrist. A Rolex Day Date President, Cartier Pasha, and even the occasional Vacheron Constantin. But as it turns out, the watches were just a part of his performance. Tina says, "Yeah. He had those too, but he would take them off as soon as he got home like I kick off my running shoes. He'd wear them because that was what you did."
Once home, Sinatra would often switch out to a Bulova, as Tina explained, "he'd sometimes feel like [with the Rolexes and Cartiers] he had too much on one wrist. And it sounds like claustrophobia coming from him. I know it was for me."
"A watch has to feel like it belongs on you. It's like a pair of shoes."
(Images by Bulova, Photography by Liam O'Donnell)