During World War II, American media consistently portrayed the typical young female Frank Sinatra fan as a disinterested citizen who failed to devote adequate attention to the war effort and harbored an inappropriate obsession with the pop idol. What contemporaneous critics and current scholars have generally not acknowledged, however, was how Sinatra fandom allowed thousands of American teenage girls to navigate their stressful, confusing, and often contradictory wartime realities with purpose and enthusiasm. This article examines wartime Frank Sinatra fan clubs through the lens of fan club newsletters and correspondences, which were authored, printed, and distributed entirely by the primarily teenage female members of these clubs. In contrast to professionally published press coverage and criticism, these fan-made texts provide unprecedented insight into how this specific fan community used their adoration of Sinatra as a base to explore international relationships, develop professional skills, and engage in personal expression amidst heightened feelings of nationalism and conflicting expectations regarding American gender roles.

In the years surrounding World War II, American media created and fueled stereotypes that portrayed the typical teenage female Frank Sinatra fan as hysterical, immature, and unacceptably distracted from reality. Much of adult society accused these teens of prioritizing Sinatra over the expected focus of all American citizens: aiding the war effort in order to preserve traditional American values and family life. For example, a 1945 article in the Daily Boston Globe recounted the reaction of Sinatra's fans when they were told he was unable to attend a performance they had purchased tickets for:

According to their temperament, they howled with sheer anger, gasped with disbelief or melted into a flood of tears … The Sinatra personal appearance was the highlight and big drawing card of the World Youth Festival, but from last night's reaction to the nonappearance of the scheduled “Voice,” young Boston was far more concerned with “just one look at Frankie” than what the future of the Soviet youth movement might produce.1 

A 1944 article in the New York Herald Tribune described teenage Sinatra fans as demonstrating “a peculiar, clannish hysteria incomprehensible to the adult world,” and provided the following evidence from a New York psychologist:

Henry E. Garrett, professor of psychology and executive officer of the psychology department at Columbia University, gave the opinion yesterday that Mr. Sinatra's fans were victims of “mass hysteria,” complicated by the war, and uniforms, the contagion of a fad, and the fact that “this little fellow represents some kind of idealized hero, much like the story of ‘Prince Charming.’”

Mr. Garrett said that he had heard better singers.2 

Condemning press coverage such as this was common during the 1940s, and even those articles that attempted to show Sinatra fans in a more positive light were generally still condescending, dismissing teenage girls' adoration of Sinatra as nothing more than a childish infatuation they would surely grow out of. What contemporaneous critics and current scholars have generally not acknowledged, however, was how Sinatra fandom enabled many teenage girls to connect with one another and attempt to cope with and navigate their stressful and confusing wartime realities.

The goal of this study is to use the World War II output and celebrity persona of Frank Sinatra as a case study to examine how popular music fandom provided American teenage girls with a multitude of benefits, including a safe space to discuss ideas with people of the same ages and interests, opportunities for career preparation, a way to express their creativity and explore their sexuality, and a chance to interact with an international fan community in the midst of worldwide conflict, all fueled by adoration of Frank Sinatra. My analysis draws from Sinatra fan club newsletters and correspondences from the archives of the Hoboken Historical Museum, the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University, and the Margaret Herrick Library.3 

By consulting texts produced by teenage girls themselves rather than professionally published press coverage and criticism created by “cultural intermediaries,”4 the fields of musicology and fan studies can gain insight into how the creative objects produced by this fan community served its members as teenagers living in an era of widespread fear and uncertainty. These particular fan creations reveal how American teenage girls used fandom not only in creative ways, but also to develop productive and professional skills, and how they responded to specific aspects of Frank Sinatra's voice, performance style, and appearance.

Historically, as the above newspaper articles demonstrate, perceptions of female fandom have been connected with images of unrestrained sexuality and hysteria. Fan studies scholar Henry Jenkins describes this perception:

Significantly, if the comic fan and psychotic fan are usually portrayed as masculine, although frequently as de-gendered, asexual, or impotent, the eroticized fan is almost always female; the feminine side of fandom is manifested in the images of screaming teenage girls who try to tear the clothes off the Beatles or who faint at the touch of one of Elvis's sweat-drenched scarfs … Not only are these women unable to maintain critical distance from the image, they want to take it inside themselves, to obtain ‘total intimacy’ with it. Yet, these representations push this process one step further: the female spectator herself becomes an erotic spectacle for mundane male spectators while her abandonment of any distance from the image becomes an invitation for the viewer's own erotic fantasies.5 

Although critics continued to condemn Sinatra's fans for what they believed to be unrestrained displays of hysteria and inappropriate levels of sexual expression, they did not tend to question why girls would act in such a way, or why Sinatra specifically was the target of their affection.

Feminist scholars Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacob's foundational article on female Beatles fandom from 1992 provides a framework through which to think about female hysteria and fandom. This article has acted as an important base for thinking about female fandom, not only in terms of responses to a particular idol, but also in response to fans' cultural and societal surroundings. In the context of Beatlemania during the 1960s, Ehrenreich, et al., describe fan hysteria as a reaction to an oppressive society:

In a highly sexualized society … teen and preteen girls were expected to be not only ‘good’ and ‘pure’ but to be the enforcers of purity within their teen society—drawing the line for overeager boys and ostracizing girls who failed in this responsibility. To abandon control—to scream, faint, dash about in mobs—was, in form if not in conscious intent, to protest the sexual repressiveness, the rigid double standard of female teen culture. It was the first and most dramatic uprising of women's sexual revolution.6 

Barbara Jane Brickman has taken this discussion of female fandom and expressions of sexuality further, creating space to discuss the relationships between female fans and male pop stars in the context of queer identification and desire. Using examples of male pop stars who exhibit androgynous qualities, such as the Beatles, Morrissey, and Justin Bieber, Brickman argues that “it is not just the boy but also the girl in the pop star who attracts the fan's desires,” suggesting that girl fan culture leaves room for same-sex desire both towards a pop idol and other fans.7 

Although they examine different pop idol audiences, all of these authors emphasize the importance of fandom as a way to build inclusive communities for the female audiences in question, which is certainly a central aspect of Sinatra fandom as well. And while these studies provide an excellent foundation for discussions of female fandom, sexuality, and community, they emphasize fandom from the 1950s on, leaving a gap, or perhaps more optimistically an opportunity to explore female fandom during the 1940s. This decade deserves significantly more attention than it has received in this regard, not only because we see images of adolescent hysteria and adoration in response to a male idol long before Beatlemania, which occurred even as early as the 1920s and 1930s as in the case of Rudolph Valentino and Rudy Vallee's fans,8 but because this hysteria occurred in the midst of one the most significant international conflicts in world history.

American teenage girls faced a unique set of challenges during World War II, characterized by uncertainty about their current and future roles as war-era women and expectations of female sexuality. As Jon Savage writes,

Life was hard for females under the conscription age of twenty: as one complained, “Being sixteen or seventeen, we're considered too young for the armed forces and too young for work in war factories.” With no immediate part to play, and with the disappearance of many male contemporaries, the result was “a continual sense of frustration.”9 

The frustration American teenage girls felt during and immediately after the war was caused not only by a lack of clear purpose, but also by increasingly contradictory messages regarding female sexuality from the government and mass media. In her study of World War II sexuality, Marilyn E. Hegarty explains how American women were expected to remain chaste and faithful to husbands and boyfriends serving overseas, while the government simultaneously supported the notion that servicemen were in need of sex in order to maintain morale, which American women should provide. Women were left to figure out how to adhere to both standards in the midst of accusations that females were the primary spreaders of venereal diseases yet subject to an increase in advertisements geared towards female beauty and hygiene. In Hegarty's words, “Prostitution was illegal, promiscuity was immoral, female sexuality was dangerous, but sexual labor was essential to the war effort—a veritable catch-22.”10 Navigating this environment was challenging enough for adult women, but for teenage girls, who were still working to develop and understand their individual identities and how those identities fit in with an ever-changing American society, the challenge was even more pronounced.

But while teenage girls were pushed and pulled in different directions by the government and mass media, as Hegarty describes, this does not mean they were helpless. On the contrary, participation in popular culture, and fan club activity specifically, proved to be one method in which teenage American girls could direct their energy and sense of frustration into something that felt pleasurable, purposeful, and communal that was entirely their own. Although many adults fixated on what they deemed to be inappropriate expressions of sexuality and immaturity in teenage Sinatra fans—one 21-year-old woman described them as “young schoolgirls with foolish ideas” in a letter to gossip columnist Hedda Hopper11—these teenage girls persevered in their desires, and the texts created by them reveal how they were able to explore their varied interests and concerns as a community through participation in Sinatra fan clubs.

FAN CLUB STRUCTURES AND MANAGEMENT

Wartime Frank Sinatra fan clubs were largely composed of girls between the ages of thirteen and eighteen and serve as a revealing example of how teenage girls were able to engage with and adapt popular culture in ways that were expressive, creative, and perhaps more surprisingly, highly organized. Table 1 provides an overview of the handful of Sinatra fan clubs featured in this study, though various sources suggest that Sinatra fan clubs during the war may have easily existed in the hundreds or even thousands.12 Most Sinatra fan clubs were organized in a similar way. They generally had a president, vice president, secretary or editor, and treasurer. In order to maintain a club and publication, members divided up multiple responsibilities, including collecting dues, budgeting, devising processes for accepting new members, organizing events and contests, and publishing and distributing newsletters. Producing newsletters was undoubtedly the main priority in most fan clubs. While the newsletters examined here are from different clubs, they all follow a similar format. Most included the following: (1) An introductory letter from the club president or other administrative person; (2) announcements about club dues, events, or other club business matters; (3) member profiles that provided information, such as the ages and interests of club members; (4) space for news coverage and/or interesting facts about Frank Sinatra, and (5) space for creative member contributions, such as poems, essays, and music reviews.

TABLE 1.
Frank Sinatra fan clubs featured in this study
ClubNewsletterNewsletter Publication Start DatePresident(s)Member LocationsDues
The Society for Souls Suffering from Sinatritis BowTie Bugle c. Autumn 1944 Irene Yourgas, Mildred Schultz Local chapters throughout U.S. Unknown 
Slaves of Sinatra The Voice c. June 1944 Barbara Burns Throughout U.S. Unknown 
Frank Sinatra Music Club Sinatra Scope c. June 1946 Jeanne Kennedy, Frances Bergstrom Throughout U.S. 20 cents per month 
Semper Sinatra Fan Club Sinatra-ly Yours c. January 1944 Marion Tead Local chapters throughout U.S. 15 cents per quarterly journal 
Our Guy Frankie Club The Voices Echo c. May 1945 Ann (last name unknown) Throughout U.S. Unknown 
Frankie's United Swooners The Sinatra Sender c. January 1945 Elsie Ellovich, Elaine Marocco Throughout U.S. Unknown 
Sing with the Sinatras Club T-Jacket Journal c. November 1944 Juanita Stephens Throughout U.S. 75 cents per year, later increased to $1.40 per year 
ClubNewsletterNewsletter Publication Start DatePresident(s)Member LocationsDues
The Society for Souls Suffering from Sinatritis BowTie Bugle c. Autumn 1944 Irene Yourgas, Mildred Schultz Local chapters throughout U.S. Unknown 
Slaves of Sinatra The Voice c. June 1944 Barbara Burns Throughout U.S. Unknown 
Frank Sinatra Music Club Sinatra Scope c. June 1946 Jeanne Kennedy, Frances Bergstrom Throughout U.S. 20 cents per month 
Semper Sinatra Fan Club Sinatra-ly Yours c. January 1944 Marion Tead Local chapters throughout U.S. 15 cents per quarterly journal 
Our Guy Frankie Club The Voices Echo c. May 1945 Ann (last name unknown) Throughout U.S. Unknown 
Frankie's United Swooners The Sinatra Sender c. January 1945 Elsie Ellovich, Elaine Marocco Throughout U.S. Unknown 
Sing with the Sinatras Club T-Jacket Journal c. November 1944 Juanita Stephens Throughout U.S. 75 cents per year, later increased to $1.40 per year 

In the May 1945 issue of Modern Screen magazine (1930–1985), gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wrote, “Fan clubs are really a business,”13 which is apparent when examining Sinatra fan club newsletters. The skills teenage girls could develop from fan club participation— particularly money management and writing and editing—could prove most useful for those who hoped to pursue work in the future. For example, it was not unusual for newsletters to remind members of the importance of sending in their club dues on time and to the right person. The co-presidents of the Society for Souls Suffering from Sinatritis firmly explained in one issue of the BowTie Bugle, “We cannot stress enough how important it is to send your dues in promptly. In order to have a paper published we need money, and the sooner the money comes in the sooner the paper comes out, so please send in your dues as soon as possible. If you belong in a Chapter please send in your dues to your Chapter President immediately so she can send it on to us promptly.”14 Another club, The Semper Sinatra Fan Club, was apparently so successful in managing its financial growth that other smaller clubs were using its name to scam potential members out of money. President Marion Tead warns members in the Summer 1945 issue of Sinatra-ly Yours:

Our club is not in any way connected with any other club. When and if it is, you and each club member will be notified. If you have donated for gifts or paid dues—believing you were joining this club to any other person other than myself and at my own address, I am indeed sorry but I cannot do anything about it except report it to Frank. Many clubs are trying to cash in on this club because of its huge success. Watch for these people.15 

Many clubs, such as the Semper Sinatra Fan Club, had hundreds of members, and those in administrative positions kept records of each individual who sent in a letter or card of application. Keeping exact records was important primarily for collecting dues and ensuring that all members received a copy of the newsletter. And although Sinatra fan clubs were generally open and inviting to anyone who was enthusiastic about Frank Sinatra, accepting and applying for membership was taken seriously. Many clubs accepted new members based on personal letters of application. L. Madelynn Kelly of Philadelphia wrote the following letter to Frances Bergstrom, president of the Frank Sinatra Music Club:

Dear Frances,

I would like to become a member of your Frank Sinatra Fan Club. I am an 18 year old girl. I have just graduated from high school. Please let me know the ages of some of my fellow club members. Please write to me soon and give me full details. Yours till Frankie sings opera, L. M. Kelly16 

Most fan clubs also sent out invitations to celebrities to become honorary members of their clubs. One such letter from the Society for Souls Suffering from Sinatritis is addressed to Hedda Hopper at her Modern Screen office:

Dear Miss Hopper,

As representative of the above mentioned club for Frank Sinatra, we, the club members would like to extend our wish that you become an honorary member of the club.

We have all read the many nice things you have said about “OUR” Frank, and some of the less nice things, and Frank admires you so, he will be pleased [to] no end if you accept this honorary [position] in one of his many clubs.

I'm a writer myself (beginner) and I write for every journal of every club I belong to, and I get such nice letters from the kids, saying how much they like my columns, it is a help for the future of my career.17 

One notable aspect of this particular letter is how the author acknowledges her fan work as a form of career preparation. Many fans dreamed of taking their fan club skills to the professional level, hoping for jobs at fan magazines like Modern Screen. Magazines in turn recognized this desire, and some even went as far as to offer career advice to aspiring popular culture writers. Modern Screen Executive Director Al Delacorte contributed an article to the September 1945 issue of the magazine that emphasized the connection between participating in fan clubs and having a successful career as an entertainment writer:

Join. Pay that nickel [for dues]. Relax. And your life starts looking up. Fan clubs are fun—if fun's what you want.

But if your sights are set on the future, that nickel pays even greater dividends. No high school business or journalism course can teach you the practical knowledge you pick up working for a club. You'll learn to write. You'll learn publicity. You'll learn to handle money. And I'm talking from experience. Most of our staff are former fan-clubbers. We've come to insist on it. Modern Screen is duck soup for kids like that. They speak the language. Modern Screen's just another club journal to them—only bigger.

As for publicity, just ask Frankie [Sinatra] Boy's manager, George Evans. Ask him what proportion of his staff has had fan club experience. You'll die when he tells you!

So you see, fan clubs are fun—nothing but fun, if that's the way you want it. But for kids with ambition, they are Route One to success in the fields of journalism and publicity. And all for a nickel!18 

Overall, the respectful language in Sinatra fan club correspondences, careful attention in maintaining club finances and processes, and encouragement from the entertainment industry demonstrate how members of these clubs felt their activity was not only fun, but serious, productive, and worthy of structured and professional treatment.

CLUB MEMBER DEMOGRAPHICS AND VALUES

Newsletters reveal the dominant age demographic of Sinatra fan club members in member profiles. For example, the June 1946 issue of Sinatra Scope featured one of the Frank Sinatra Music Club's co-presidents, Jeanne Kennedy. The feature reads, “Jeanne … is sixteen. She likes singing, dancing, collecting Frank's records, pictures of him, news, and ‘anything pertaining to Frank.’”19 The first issue of The Voices Echo further reveals dominant age demographics in descriptions of Our Guy Frankie Club members who were interested in writing to new pen pals. Member Estelle Drope of Akron, Ohio, “would like pen-pals between the ages of 14–16.” Ruth Schwoger of Newark, New Jersey, is interested in pen pals between “14–15 years of age,” and Rose Giordano from the Bronx, New York, “would like her pen-pals between the ages of 13–14.”20 

Determining the economic classes and racial demographics of club members is more difficult than determining age because race and class were not specified in club newsletter member profiles. In Frank Sinatra fan clubs specifically, however, members often wrote in support of civil rights and racial and religious tolerance, largely influenced by Sinatra's public pleas for such tolerance. This suggests that many members held similar liberal beliefs to Sinatra's, who was an outspoken Democrat during the war and publicly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt. One example of club members expressing this social mindset can be found in the Sing With the Sinatras Club newsletter, The T-Jacket Journal, which tried to include a “Tolerance” page in every issue. This feature encouraged members to discuss the topic of tolerance in their own creative ways. President Juanita Stephens, who members knew enjoyed algebra based on her member profile in another issue of the newsletter, created a math equation to express her views on tolerance. Stephens writes:

How do you like algebra? I think it's fun. You can think of an algebra problem in so many ways. In view of one of America's greatest problems, let's think of;

  • x = Races, religions

  • z = Peace and happiness

  • y = fighting and hate

  • a = Americans

Which shall it be? x and a = z

   or x and a = y

You see, Americans and all people of all races must work and live together, and help each other if the algebra is to equal “z.”21 

Sinatra's public views about racial and religious tolerance stemmed from his experience as an Italian American, which, in addition to his physical appearance, negatively distinguished him in the eyes of many Americans from other popular singers of the era. The son of Italian immigrants, Sinatra and his parents were subjected to what Pete Hamill describes as a “peculiarly American rite of passage: they had to endure and then confront the ferocious bigotry of those who had come before them.”22 From the beginnings of their mass migration to the United States in the late nineteenth century, Italian Americans consistently faced suspicion and prejudice fueled by American perceptions of Italian religion, criminal culture, and geography.23 Southern Italians especially were perceived as racially inferior in America's hierarchy of whiteness, which was most clearly expressed in the Dillingham Commission's Report on Immigration.24 Frank Sinatra's father was from Sicily, and as a child, Sinatra grew up highly aware of how dominant American society viewed his family and Italians in general. As a result, he endured insults and suspicions surrounding his ethnicity throughout his life.

Sinatra was attractive to many teenage girls not only because of his performance style and appearance, but also because he provided an example of a successful and powerful public figure that fans could take pride in and identify with if they themselves were part of marginalized groups in America. For Italian American youth who could relate to the prejudice Sinatra faced, one can imagine the effect it must have had when not only Sinatra, but other Italian Americans such as Joe DiMaggio and Fiorello La Guardia rose to fame in positive ways. As Hamill explains, these figures “changed forever the way Americans saw Italian Americans. For the first time, Americans with other ethnic origins wanted to be like these children of the Italian migration. And their accomplishments changed the way Italian Americans saw themselves.”25 For those girls who may have been victims of prejudice in addition to struggling through the uncertainty and difficulties of being a wartime teenage girl in general, Sinatra fan clubs provided a space where any fan could communicate safely with others of the same age and interests, as long as they expressed devotion to Sinatra.26 As Janice L. Booker suggests:

The combination of his blue-collar undercoating and his sophisticated manner appealed across class lines. Being a Sinatra fan as a bobby soxer offered the chance to affiliate with girls unlike themselves, crossing social lines, economic classes, ethnic differences, and school cliques. Whoever was a Sinatra fan was a friend, at least for the length of a concert or the time it took to share a new song.27 

Fan writings and collaboration in club newsletters make clear that friendships and communication between members extended far past individual concerts and listening sessions. Moreover, these newsletters allowed opportunities for girls who were geographically distant from one another to connect with fellow fans they likely would not have met otherwise, leading to an extended network of culturally like-minded teenage girls who relished in the chance to express their ideas and desires in a safe, communal way.

CLUB NEWSLETTERS

Sinatra fan club members used their club newsletters in a way that was far more sophisticated than the juvenile stereotypes generally assigned to them. While these fans certainly did demonstrate enthusiastic adoration towards Sinatra, this space of adoration allowed teenage girls to act as popular music critics, poets, and artists, and even devote significant effort to expanding their social interactions outside of the United States in the midst of international conflict.

In terms of content that addressed the music of Frank Sinatra, fan club members provided commentary and judgments on both his vocal and visual performance style. In Sinatra fan club newsletters, this commentary was almost always positive (these were devoted fans after all), yet members still demonstrated skills in critical listening and competency in writing about music. In part because of their age and gender, these fan critics were not seen as comparable to professional and largely male popular music critics during the 1940s, despite their extensive writing about Sinatra and his music. Even today, while fan criticism has become more prominent and widely circulated thanks to online fan forums and communication, fan criticism is still largely thought of as a masculine fan activity. Mary Celeste Kearney explains how in fan practices, females are primarily seen as consumers of culture rather than active producers of it, a notion that reaches back to the beginning of the twentieth century when American consumerist culture began targeting women who were enjoying increasing amounts of wealth on a large scale. But as Kearney suggests, seeking out and studying cultural products that girls create themselves can lead to a better understanding of American girls' culture and their “levels of critical engagement with cultural texts” and “willingness to accept, resist, or subvert the dominant discourses and representational strategies of female adolescence.”28 Female fans of Sinatra not only used their music criticism as a way to analyze the performances of their favorite star, but also to express their personal feelings and reactions towards Sinatra. By producing writing that was both critical and emotional, these fans created unique texts that revealed the important and intimate relationships they shared with popular music.

Fans did not always use the most technical terminology when describing what they liked about Sinatra's voice, but there are certain stylistic traits that distinguished Sinatra from other singers of the era that come across in his fans' colorful language about him. These traits include his long phrasing and breath control, pitch bending, sliding between pitches, and lagging behind the beat more so than other singers of the era. Sinatra historian Will Friedwald writes, “That use of long notes, which established Sinatra from ‘All or Nothing at All’ onward as the first major pop voice to build something new on [Bing] Crosby's foundation, was also what turned the bobby soxers on so strongly. As [Sinatra] put it, ‘If I did what they call bending a note, if I just kind of looped the note, well, they would wail.”29 Fans often included descriptions of the personal reactions they had to Sinatra's vocal characteristics in their newsletters, which illustrates that club members felt safe within their club communities and had confidence that their fellow members would not ridicule them.

In the first issue of The Voices Echo, published by the Our Guy Frankie Fan Club, member Wanda Karoblis provided a review of three recently released Sinatra records. In her review of “I Dream of You”30 and “Saturday Night,”31 Karoblis contributed such notes as, “Franks [sic] phrasing is especially good on this disc. The orchestrations done by Axel Stordahl are superb.” Although Karoblis uses language that a professional music critic might use by mentioning such musical aspects as phrasing and orchestration, she also writes more emotional reviews, such as that in reference to Sinatra's recordings of “If You Are But a Dream”32 and “White Christmas,”33 which reads, “He gives out with his true style of singing, you know; easy and heavenly on the ears.”34 While most newsletters included a short overview and/or analysis of Sinatra's new recordings, or what we may call “encyclopedic media” as described by Derek Kompare,35 descriptions of his musical style appeared more frequently in more emotional areas of newsletters, such as the poetry sections and dramatizations of encounters with Sinatra. In these sections, one notable way club members described Sinatra's voice was to write out lyrics he sang in a way that reflected his phrasing. For example, in the fall 1944 issue of Sinatra-ly Yours, Semper Sinatra Fan Club member Lois Brundage describes her experience of being in the audience for one of Sinatra's radio shows. Brundage illustrates Sinatra's performance of “She's Funny That Way”36 with this method, writing, “The same old Frank that made them swoon from coast to coast, had us all gasping for breath as he murmured softly, ‘I'm not much to look at—nothing to see—glad that I'm living and sooo lucky to be-e-e I got a woman who's crazy for me—she's funny that-t-t wa-ay’!”37 In the winter 1945 issue of the same newsletter, a similar description of an encounter by Peggy McShane replicates Sinatra's performances of “Hot Time in the Town of Berlin”38 and “I Walk Alone”39: “He walked masterfully across the stage, smiled a-la-Sinatra and promptly sang ‘There'll be a hot time in the town of Berliiiinnn’… The songs were ‘I Walk Alone.’ ‘Puhleeeeeese, walk alooooooone’ (don't worry I will Frankie, we screamed) ‘Till you're walking beside meeeeeeee, puhleeeeese walk aloooooooone.’”40 

Club members also described Sinatra's vocal style using poetry and rewritten lyrics. Betts Sexton of the Slaves of Sinatra Club composed a poem based on one of Sinatra's hit songs, “How About You”41:

I like Frank's diamond ring … How About You?
I think his songs top Bing's … How About You?
I like the clothes he wears and his wavy hair,
And when he sighs a note, soooo softly bends a note,
I swoon and stare.42 

In both the poetic and exaggerated prose portrayals of Sinatra's voice, emphasis is usually placed on the length of Sinatra's phrases and the way he bends and slides between pitches. Sinatra's long phrases have often been attributed to his time in Tommy Dorsey's band in the early 1940s, where he supposedly learned breath control and circular breathing by emulating Dorsey's technique on the trombone. And when listening to recordings of Sinatra from the 1940s, the long stretches of time he can go without breathing really are noticeable, especially when comparing his recordings to those of other singers of the same songs. Notable examples include Sinatra's performances of “All or Nothing at All”43 and “Night and Day,”44 two songs for which he was known. In his famous 1939 recording of “All or Nothing at All,” Sinatra sings the first four measures in one continuous breath, while in another recording of the song later in the 1950s, Jimmy Scott breathes after the first word, “All,” which lasts one and a half measures at a similar tempo. In Sinatra's 1943 recording of “Night and Day,” he sings another four-measure phrase (“Day and night, night and day”) at a fairly slow tempo (4/4 time signature, about 83 BPM) in one breath.

“Night and Day” also serves as an example of Sinatra's signature pitch bending and sliding. In the same 1943 recording, Sinatra notably slides from a concert A (“You are the …”) up nearly an octave to a G (“one”) and bends the pitch downwards at “longin' for you” on both the words “longin'” and “for.” Although a simple musical gesture, it affected Sinatra's devoted listeners. Author Martha Weinman Lear, a self-proclaimed former bobby soxer, describes the effect of Sinatra's voice in an article about her experience as a Sinatra fan for The New York Times:

The voice had that trick, you know, that funny little sliding, skimming slur that it would do coming off the end of a note. It drove us bonkers. My friend Harold Schonberg, The Times' music critic, says that it must have been what is called portamento, although he can't swear to it, because he's never heard Sinatra sing. Elitist. Anyway, whatever it's called, it was an invitation to hysteria. He'd give us that little slur—“All … or nothing at aallll …” — and we'd start swooning all over the place, in the aisles, on each other's shoulders, in the arms of cops, poor bewildered men in blue. It was like pressing a button. It was pressing a button.45 

This article demonstrates how as late as 1974, when Martha Weinman Lear wrote it, current and former fans continued to use the exaggerated lyric technique as a way to portray Sinatra's musical style in prose, illustrating how strongly it affected his listeners.

Sinatra's physical appearance also proved to be a significant factor in his fans' adoration of him. When looking through member submissions in fan club newsletters, it becomes clear that Sinatra's deviations from mainstream expectations of masculine bodies—namely that he was considered scrawny and had an unruly haircut when compared to other clean-cut stars as well as soldiers—was extremely attractive to his young fans. Fan club members often created illustrations of Sinatra for the covers of their newsletters (fig. 1) and descriptions of Sinatra's appearance can be found throughout, especially in sections devoted to member poems. Semper Sinatra Fan Club member, Helen Branan, writes:

Who is this guy with the hollow cheeks,
With the laughing, twinkling eyes?
The fellow who makes swooners,
Of all us girls and guys.
He's got curly hair, his face is fair,
His eyes are shining blue.
He's not too short he's not too tall,
His cheeks have a rosy hue.46 

An excerpt from a poem written by Frankie's United Swooners member, Bonnie Hammons, reads,

We love your height, your weight and smile
We love your tousled hair,
We love your eyes, and those bow-ties
And the sport clothes that you wear.47 

The poems and essays in fan club newsletters demonstrate that among other things, Sinatra's hair, eyes, trademark oversized suits, and notably his weight were attractive to female fans. Outside of his fan community, these same traits were used to ridicule Sinatra and distinguish him from more conventionally masculine stars. One journalist from the New York Herald Times described Sinatra as having an “ugly, bony face.”48 Another from The Atlanta Constitution writes, “… if this undersized, pleasantly homely kid is the reincarnation of Rudolph Valentino, Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby and Charles Boyer, then I am Lana Turner in a bathing suit! What Frankie has got that the rest of you boys haven't got is beyond me!”49 The fact that thousands of American teenage girls were attracted to a male star who displayed vulnerability in his performances, was noticeably small, and was assigned 4-F status for a punctured eardrum was deeply troubling and frankly annoying to much of American society. In dialogue with Ehrenreich et al.'s argument that female behavior during Beatlemania was in fact a response to sexual expectations and oppression, fans' desire of Sinatra's unconventional male body during World War II was an indicator of female resistance against the contradictory messages and expectations regarding women's sexual roles and duties that teenage girls received.

FIGURE 1.

Front cover of The Voice (1944) drawn by Betsy Wenninger. Hoboken Historical Museum.

FIGURE 1.

Front cover of The Voice (1944) drawn by Betsy Wenninger. Hoboken Historical Museum.

In addition to writing about Sinatra's appearance, fan club members coveted visual memorabilia of Sinatra, and often traded “snaps” (snapshots) of Sinatra in exchange for other Sinatra-themed objects, such as recordings, newspaper clippings, or, most commonly, other photographs. Sinatra's image was a valuable commodity in fan clubs and allowed club members to claim and adapt aspects of Sinatra's appearance (such as incorporating elements of his style, such as floppy bowties, into their own wardrobes) to suit their own desires and attempts to distinguish themselves from societal expectations of gender roles. As Richard Dyer notes, “Pin-ups of white men are awkward things … they exemplify a set of dichotomies—they are pictures to be looked at, but it is not the male role to be looked at; they are passive objects of gaze, but men are supposed to be the active subjects of gaze, and so on.”50 This suggests that possessing and admiring visual representations of Sinatra's face and body in a way armed teenage girls with a certain amount of power; power to freely adore Sinatra and speak openly about his body within the safety of their clubs, while society expected them to maintain sexual innocence and mainstream characteristics of femininity.

It is notable that the feelings of safe expression and community teenage girls could experience in their Sinatra fan clubs were not limited to American teenage girls. Cultivating friendships with international Sinatra fans was also a goal of many clubs, and in the context of wartime national fear, suspicion, and patriotism, Sinatra fan club members proved to be particularly open minded in their quest to socialize with other Sinatra fans. Perhaps even more notable was the fact that Sinatra's own publicity team encouraged and aided in this international communication amongst fans, likely because of Sinatra's dedication to preaching tolerance and understanding among people from different backgrounds.

INTERNATIONALISM AND THE ADOPT A FOREIGN FAN ASSOCIATION

Key to the international relationships between Sinatra fans was Marjorie Diven, Sinatra's official fan club coordinator and liaison. Diven's role was paramount in providing clubs with the sense that they were somehow in direct contact with Sinatra even if they were not, and she often contributed letters and information to the largest clubs which were then included in their circulated newsletters. Diven encouraged communication with international fan clubs by founding the Adopt a Foreign Fan Association (AAFFA), a group Sinatra fans could participate in by receiving names of foreign fans from Diven and writing to them about Sinatra and anything else they were interested in. A letter from Diven in the June 1946 issue of Sinatra Scope, published by the Frank Sinatra Music Club, explains the goal and structure of the AAFFA:

I'll tell you about my plan for bringing the foreign fans and the US fans together. I formed what is called The Adopt A Foreign Fan Association and it is composed of the Fan Club presidents in this country. The presidents need not correspond with one another unless they want to, but I send out a bulletin to the members each month as an easy way to write them all regularly. The point is not so much linking the clubs together, as giving them a chance to get acquainted with Sinatra fans in other countries.

I give to each club president as many foreign names as she has members in the club, then she gives just one name to each of her members. The member then takes care of the person whose name she drew, writes, asks her to be a pen pal and now and then sends clippings or snaps. They all love it and I have given out several thousand foreign names.51 

Although Diven did not pressure club members into contacting foreign fans if they did not want to, most clubs responded favorably in part because it was well known that Diven was an official member of Sinatra's professional team and that she was more than willing to communicate with and respond to club members in kind and encouraging ways.

Evidence of the enthusiasm American Sinatra fans showed for the AAFFA can be found in fan club newsletters and personal fan letters. The fifth issue of the T-Jacket Journal included a front cover illustration in tribute to the AAFFA (fig. 2). The seventh issue of the BowTie Bugle, published by The Society for Souls Suffering from Sinatritis, includes an article about the AAFFA and provides members with tips on what to include in their first letters to their foreign pen pals. The article reads:

What is the AAFFA? The Adopt-a-Foreign Fan Association is a group of Frank's fan club president's [sic] who are banded together for the purpose of making friends with Frank's fans in other countries.

You should make your first letter very interesting. Tell her where you live and ask about her home. Tell her about Frank's appearance at the Paramount and the Waldorf if you've been there. The overseas fans do not always express themselves quite as ardently as the girls do over here, so until you find out what your new friends are like, don't be too “Swoonful” and avoid such words as “drool” and “swoon.”

When you get replies tell your club president, who in turn will tell Marjorie Diven, Frank's secretary. Frank receives a lot of foreign mail—a letter from Ceylon recently marks the 34th country. There even is a large fan club in Australia. There is plenty of fun in store for you, so let's go. For names ask Irene Yourgas.52 

FIGURE 2.

Front cover of The T-Jacket Journal (1946). Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. Emory University.

FIGURE 2.

Front cover of The T-Jacket Journal (1946). Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. Emory University.

This advice reveals that while the war was likely often at the forefront of club members' minds, their interest in other foreign fans was based not in discussing the international conflict at hand, but creating connections rooted in understanding, sensitivity, and friendship. Club members felt great pride in their international connections and took care to credit and display their international counterparts when they could, as shown in a letter written by the Semper Sinatra Club president, Irene Di Mattia, to Hedda Hopper:

A little while back you mentioned that there were Sinatra fans in England but they didn't get much of a chance to see his movies. However, I have had letters from English fans who have seen Anchors Aweigh as much as 25 times. I thought you might be interested in the fact that our fan club has members in Hawaii, Canada, England, Ireland, Palestine, Sweden and South Africa.53 

These correspondences make clear that participation in a Frank Sinatra fan club was an effective way for American teenage girls to pursue international understanding and openness, an opportunity that was often unavailable or discouraged during World War II, especially for civilians. While much of the American population embraced heightened feelings of nationalism and American individuality, many teenaged youths were expanding their social connections to areas all over the world,54 a practice that was arguably quite mature and broadminded for their era and position in American society.55 Influenced by Sinatra's own liberal politics, this mindset among Sinatra club members proved to be in direct contrast to the stereotypes usually assigned to them, namely that Sinatra fans were distracted and isolated from the realities of the war because of their devotion to Sinatra.

Overall, the previously marginalized texts produced by members of Frank Sinatra fan clubs ultimately discredit the idea that they acted on shallow and mindless adoration towards a pop idol. Rather, these texts demonstrate creative resistance against certain expectations that were thrust upon American teenage girls during World War II, while simultaneously allowing them an outlet to express their personal desires. By devoting themselves to a star that demonstrated an alternate and therefore condemned form of masculinity, building their own age and interest-specific communities, and embracing internationalism and inclusivity within those communities during the war, these fans carved an independent space that, despite living in a society defined by contradictions, censorship, and fear, allowed them to use their adoration of Sinatra to channel extraordinary levels of creativity, professionalism, and passion.

Works Cited

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Notes

Notes
1.
Leonora Ross, “The Voice Fails Boston Fans, but They're Still His,” Daily Boston Globe 24 March 1945: 1.
2.
“30,000 Sinatra Fans Lay Siege To Theater With 3,500 Seats,” New York Herald Tribune 13 October 1944: 21.
3.
I thank Rand Hoppe at the Hoboken Historical Museum, the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University, and Kristine Krueger at the Margaret Herrick Library for assisting me in acquiring these materials from the museum and library collections. The Hoboken Historical Museum's recent efforts to digitize its archival holdings have allowed these fan materials to be more easily available to the public and provided my first glimpse into this Sinatra fan community.
4.
Kathryn Fuller-Seeley suggests most evidence of early fan practices come from “cultural intermediaries.” Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, “Archaeologies of Fandom: Using Historical Methods to Explore Fan Cultures of the Past,” in The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, ed. Melissa A. Click and Suzanne Scott (New York: Routledge, 2018), 31.
5.
Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (New York: Routledge, 2013), 15.
6.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs, “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” in The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa A. Lewis (London: Routledge, 1992), 85.
7.
Barbara Jane Brickman, “This Charming Butch: The Male Pop Idol, Girl Fans, and Lesbian (in)Visibility,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 28 (2016): 453.
8.
For more on film and popular music fandom in the first half of the twentieth century, see Miriam Hansen, Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), Allison McCracken, Real Men Don't Sing: Crooning in American Culture (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2015), and Gaylyn Studlar, This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
9.
Jon Savage, Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture: 1875–1945 (London: Penguin Books, 2007), 404.
10.
Marilyn E. Hegarty, Victory Girls, Khaki-Wackies, and Patriotutes: The Regulation of Female Sexuality during World War II (New York & London: New York University Press, 2008), 85.
11.
Mrs. J. Rita Harrell to Hedda Hopper, 16 October 1946, Hedda Hopper papers, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA (hereafter cited as Hedda Hopper papers).
12.
In addition to fan magazines that often featured lists and articles about various celebrity fan clubs, as well as lists of other fan clubs in fan club newsletters, journalist E.J. Kahn Jr. suggested that there were two thousand fan clubs in Sinatra's honor. It is hard to know if this number is accurate, but it is clear that Sinatra fan clubs existed in large numbers. E.J. Kahn Jr., The Voice: The Story of an American Phenomenon (New York & London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1946), 43.
13.
Hedda Hopper, “Join a Fan Club!,” Modern Screen May 1945: 108, Media History Digital Library.
14.
Mildred Schulz and Irene Yourgas, BowTie Bugle 7 (Spring 1945): 1, Sinatra-ana Collection, Hoboken Historical Museum, Hoboken, NJ (hereafter cited as Sinatra-ana).
15.
Marion Tead, Sinatra-ly Yours (Summer 1945): 3, Sinatra-ana.
16.
L. Madelynn Kelly to Frances Bergstrom, Sinatra-ana.
17.
Virginia Martin to Hedda Hopper, 1 July 1945, Hedda Hopper papers.
18.
Al Delacorte, “Join a Fan Club!” Modern Screen September 1945: 113, Media History Digital Library.
19.
“Meet Co-President Jeanne Kennedy,” Frank Sinatra Music Club, Sinatra Scope 1, no. 1 (June 1946): 3–4, Sinatra-ana.
20.
Ruthie Hilf, “Pen-Pals Inc.,” The Voices Echo 1, no. 1 (May 1945): 3–4, Sinatra-ana.
21.
Juanita Stephens, “Algebra,” The T-Jacket Journal, no. 5 (February-March 1946): 11, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.
22.
Pete Hamill, Why Sinatra Matters (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998), 41.
23.
Richard N. Juliani explains how in terms of their religious experiences in America, Catholic Italian Americans not only had to navigate new language and economic barriers, but also the fact that America was largely a Protestant nation. Catholic Americans were already underrepresented, and the arrival of Italian immigrants exacerbated the precarious position of Catholicism by adding to its ethnically diverse population, which was viewed as a problem rather than something to celebrate. Richard N. Juliani, “Italian Americans and Their Religious Experience,” in The Routledge History of Italian Americans, ed. William J. Connell and Stanislao G. Pugliese (New York & London: Routledge, 2018), 193−94.
24.
Published in 1911, the Dillingham Commission's Report on Immigration contained forty-one volumes regarding various topics on United States immigration and reveals the strong connection Americans created between physical characteristics and moral and intellectual characteristics, noting a significant difference between northern and western Europeans from eastern and southern Europeans. The report concluded that southern and eastern Europeans would have a more difficult time assimilating in America, occupied an uncertain “in-between” place in the spectrum of American whiteness, and were more criminally inclined. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 78−82, and Peter G. Vellon, “Italian Americans and Race During the Era of Mass Immigration,” in The Routledge History of Italian Americans, 214.
25.
Hamill, 119.
26.
Although outside the scope of this particular article, there is evidence in fan club newsletters of at least a small number of male fans that expressed admiration towards Sinatra as well. While this does not necessarily indicate anything specific about these fans' sexual identity, a future study of war-era fandom—both in terms of Sinatra fandom and other stars—and queerness would certainly prove fruitful, especially in dialogue with the work of such authors as Barbara Jane Brickman.
27.
Janice L. Booker, “Why the Bobby Soxers?” in Frank Sinatra: History, Identity, and Italian American Culture, ed. Stanislao G. Pugliese (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 77.
28.
Mary Celeste Kearney, “Producing Girls: Rethinking the Study of Female Youth Culture,” in Delinquents & Debutantes: Twentieth-Century American Girls' Cultures, ed. Sherrie A. Inness (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 286.
29.
Will Friedwald, Sinatra! The Song is You: A Singer's Art (New York: Scribner, 1995), 126.
30.
Marjorie Goetschius and Edna Osser, 1944.
31.
Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, 1944.
32.
Moe Jaffe, Jack Fulton and Nat Bonx, 1942.
33.
Irving Berlin, 1942.
34.
Wanda Karoblis, “Record Review,” The Voices Echo 1, no. 1 (May 1945): 3, Sinatra-ana.
35.
Derek Kompare defines “encyclopedic media” as “curated descriptions of a fandom's objects,” in “Fan Curators and the Gateways into Fandom,” in The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, ed. Melissa A. Click and Suzanne Scott (New York: Routledge, 2018.), 109.
36.
Neil Moret and Richard Whiting, 1929.
37.
Lois Brundage, “A Visit to Frank's Wednesday Night Show,” Sinatra-ly Yours 1, no. 3 (Fall 1944): 6, Sinatra-ana.
38.
Joe Bushkin and John De Vries, 1943.
39.
Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, 1944.
40.
Peggy McShane, “I, A Bobby-Soxer – Or the Confessions of the Bobby-Sox Brigade,” Sinatra-ly Yours 1, no. 4 (Winter 1945): 5, Sinatra-ana.
41.
Burton Lane and Ralph Freed, 1941.
42.
Betts Sexton, “How About You,” The Voice 1, no. 3 (September 1944): 2, Sinatra-ana.
43.
Arthur Altman and Jack Lawrence, 1939.
44.
Cole Porter, 1932.
45.
Martha Weinman Lear, “The Bobby Sox Have Wilted, But the Memory Remains Fresh,” The New York Times 13 October 1974: 1.
46.
Helen Branan, “Frankie,” Sinatra-ly Yours 1, no. 3 (Fall 1944): 4, Sinatra-ana.
47.
Bonnie Hammons, “Ode to Frank Sinatra,” The Sinatra Sender 1, no. 3 (June 1945): 2, Sinatra-ana.
48.
Howard Barnes, “Higher and Higher,” New York Herald Tribune 22 January 1944: 6.
49.
Inez Robb, “Inez Robb Wonders What Frank Sinatra Has That Other Crooners Don't Have,” The Atlanta Constitution 11 July 1943: 2.
50.
Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society (New York: St. Marten's Press, 1986), 117.
51.
Marjorie Diven to the Frank Sinatra Music Club, Sinatra Scope 1, no. 1 (June 1946): 2, Sinatra-ana.
52.
“AAFFA,” BowTie Bugle, no. 7 (Spring 1945): 6, Sinatra-ana.
53.
Irene Di Mattia to Hedda Hopper, 2 April 1947, Hedda Hopper papers.
54.
It is notable that international communication between teenage fans went unnoticed by the U.S. government at a time when Americans, especially women, were frequently told that gossip could find its way to the ears of enemy spies and reveal important information. This is just another example of how the activities of wartime teenage girls were generally deemed insignificant by the U.S. government, when in fact their activity could have been risky for military security even if they were not directly writing to soldiers or other military personnel.
55.
For more on American nationalism during World War II both in government and military settings and among civilians, see John Fousek, To Lead the Free World: American Nationalism & the Cultural Roots of the Cold War (Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000).