Oh, what MGM missed out on. It blows my mind to think about someone with the star power, charisma and talent of Frank Sinatra being utilized to the fullest of his abilities in a mechanism as refined as MGM’s star system, working constantly with the likes of Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Perhaps it was that charisma, that inability to resemble a yes-man, which proved Frank unsuited for life in such a system.
Can you imagine being treated to even more of the Sinatra/Garland combination that we were teased with in Till the Clouds Roll By?
Clearly Louis B. Mayer must have seen something golden when he purchased Sinatra’s contract and cast him with Kelly in Anchors Aweigh in 1945, a hit at both the box office and the Academy Awards. Mayer, who would purport that MGM had “more stars than there are in the heavens,” was a shrewd, relentless businessman and tireless worker who demanded a lot from his stars, but would fire Frank because of what would eventually become the key to The Chairman of the Board’s – and the Rat Pack’s as a whole – success: the lewd behavior that would make him such a favorite with the press and a bad-boy to the fans.
Mayer, of Russian descent and raised in Saint John, Canada, was a man who saw things in dollars and cents, not black and white, and this lack of discrimination was something he and Sinatra shared. Mayer would welcome stars because of their ability to earn MGM money, not because of color or religion, as told in a vignette about Lena Horne, who was welcomed to his private dining room after she had been refused entry elsewhere because of her race.
What may have been had the relationship between MGM and Sinatra worked out we will never know. Frank would initially suffer, before rising from the ashes to construct the career we now know and MGM would begin its decline as the star system Mayer constructed would begin to crumble. I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if the Sinatra/Mayer combination that wasn’t to be had changed these histories completely.