The Frank Sinatra
Show

1950-1952

The Frank Sinatra Show
(1950-1952)

By Jim Davidson
Posted 10/15/2006
Updated 11/11/2007


New York Times ad for Sinatra's first TV show


Sinatra's Ratings - The Real Story

While it's true that The Frank Sinatra Show wasn't able to best Your Shows of Shows and Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater in the ratings race, its showing - at least according to CBS - wasn't that bad. For October 23, 1951, Berle had a 41.6 Trendex rating, while Sinatra scored a 16.3. In its pitch to potential sponsors the week of November 7 that year, CBS pointed out that their man did better than 64 other apparently successful shows - like Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour, Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life, and Martin Kane, Private Eye. The sponsors were unconvinced. But perhaps most telling is that Sinatra managed to chip away enough of Berle's rating to knock him down from first place in the 1950-51 season to second the following year. It was the beginning of the end of Berle's dominance of television.

 

 

It was a low point in the singer's career. His record sales declining, dumped by his movie studio, his radio series cancelled, and perhaps most frighteningly, sidelined for over a month with a ruptured vocal cord, Frank Sinatra was in the depths of despair. He was dogged by bad press, due to an affair with movie star Ava Gardner while still married to first wife Nancy. It didn't help that his thin skin and ill temper (not to mention an overindulgence in alchohol) sometimes fueled violent confrontations with reporters and photographers he felt had wronged him.

So it was that, in 1950, Sinatra found himself casting about for a vehicle that could help him resusitate his career. Television was the new thing and had helped a number of has-been entertainers, so why not give it a try? Following a well-received appearance on Bob Hope's TV show on May 27th, the struggling singer signed with CBS for dual television and radio shows to begin in the fall. The radio show, Meet Frank Sinatra (later retitled Here's Frank Sinatra) aired on Sunday afternoons. The TV program, entitled The Frank Sinatra Show, featured longtime musical director Axel Stordahl, singer June Hutton (Stordahl's wife), comedian Ben Blue, and a succession of vocal groups.

The show was plagued with problems right off the bat, suffering from disappointing ratings, a high turnover in personnel, and a shortage of sponsor support. Scheduled on Saturday nights opposite the formidable Your Shows of Shows, Sinatra had trouble drawing viewers. In an effort to shore up the ratings, CBS kept replacing the producer and director, but it didn't help. (In one comedy sketch, Sinatra quipped that sidekick Ben Blue "changes costumes faster than I change producers.")

There was also turnover in the cast. Reportedly unhappy with the way his talents were being used, Blue left in January 1951. Sinatra wanted to replace him with Jackie Gleason, but the comic was then busy hosting Cavalcade of Stars on the Dumont network and that show's sponsor wouldn't let him go. (Gleason did manage to get clearance, though, to make a series of guest appearances.)

The Sinatra show ran on a sustaining basis (meaning it had no sponsor) until November 1950, when the Bulova watch company signed on - but only for the first half-hour. Bulova pulled out at the end of the season, and it began to look as if the show wouldn't return in the fall. But at the last minute, CBS managed to convince Ekco Products (a housewares company) to sponsor one-quarter of the show. Unfortunately for Sinatra, the network moved the program to Tuesdays at 8:00 pm - opposite Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater, an even bigger ratings powerhouse than Your Show of Shows. "The Voice" was no match for Uncle Miltie, and in January 1952, Ekco dropped out. With the exception of a single episode, the program remained sponsorless for the rest of the season. At a cost of $41,500 an episode - an estimated total loss to CBS of a million dollars - the show was just too expensive to continue, and the network cancelled it.

Things would get worse for the singer before they got better. Sinatra's radio show had been cancelled in July 1951, and he now not only didn't have a TV show but would soon lose his contract with Columbia Records. He had managed to convince his wife to give him a divorce so he could marry Ava Gardner in November 1951. But life with Ava was stormy, and the bad press continued. With little work available, Frank's financial situation became so desperate that he was reduced to borrowing money from his new bride.

Despite the disappointing ratings, Sinatra's first foray into television wasn't bad. The star was, of course, a fine singer at the peak of his powers. The comedy material wasn't always the best, but even when a joke was a dud, Sinatra usually had enough comic flair to pull it off. Perhaps most fascinating is that, even with all the turmoil in his personal life and career, Frank copes surprisingly well. His greatest period was just around the corner, and though not yet fully realized, the seeds of that greatness are very much in evidence.

The Episodes

Sources: The New York Times TV listings and reviews, Variety reviews and articles, and the episodes themselves. I'm also grateful to David Schwartz, TV Historian for Game Show Network and co-author of the Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows, for providing announcer and studio information.

Season 1 (1950-1951)
Saturday, 9:00-10:00 pm, CBS-TV, Sponsor: Bulova

Series
#
Season
#
Airdate
Cast
001
1-01
10/7/1950

J. Carrol Naish, Ben Blue, Mary Mayo, tap dancers Harrison and Kaye, The Moon Mists, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
Note: Frank sings "When You're Smiling" and "Ol' Man River." In a pantomime sketch, Ben appears as Charlie Chaplin, with Frank as The Kid. J. Carrol Naish was the star of the popular Life With Luigi on radio, and plays the title character here in a sketch that provides viewers with a preview of what the show might look like in the new medium. (Life With Luigi didn't actually make it to TV until 1952.) Variety believed that Sinatra had potential as a TV host but that CBS had saddled him with "bad pacing, bad scripting, bad tempo, poor camera work and an overall jerky presentation." Jack Gould of The New York Times declared, "Frank Sinatra walked off the television high dive on Saturday night, but unfortunately fell into the shallow end of the pool." The show begins on a sustaining (no sponsor) basis. According to David Schwartz, the announcer was Ken Roberts.

002
1-02
10/14/1950

Brian Aherne, Ben Blue, Mary Mayo, Sid Fields, dancers Condos and Brandow, The Whipoorwills
Note: Following a disastrous premiere, producer Paul Dudley is replaced by Irving Mansfield, and John Peyser succeeds Hal Gerson as director. Apparently, the changes helped because Variety reported, "The second program had purposes, design, movement and carried good entertainment values." The New York Times lists The Moon Mists as this week's vocal group, but Variety reports that it was The Whipoorwills.

003
1-03
10/21/1950
Mary McCarty, Lou Wills Jr., Roberta Lee, Ben Blue and Family, Mary Mayo, The Whipoorwills
Note: With this episode, the show seemed to have finally gotten on track. Variety found it "a fine blend of song, dance and comedy, all neatly produced, scripted and staged." Frank sings "Soliloquy" from Carousel, and Mary does a 42nd Street routine. The show runs 90 seconds short, so the star has to ad lib.
004
1-04
10/28/1950
Ben Blue, The Moon Mists, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
005
1-05
11/4/1950
Nancy Walker, Teddy Hale, Ben Blue, the Club Savannah revue, The Whipoorwills
Note: Frank and Nancy sing "Let's Go To My Place" from On the Town. Variety complained that the show had lost its groove and the cast "couldn't overcome the basically non-inventive material." But it did like a sketch in which Frank plays the star of a private detective radio show, with Ben as the incompetent sound effects man.
006
1-06
11/11/1950
Ben Blue and Family, Roberta Lee, Bob Sweeney and Hal March, acrobats The Asia Boys, The Whipoorwills, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
Note: Marlo Lewis and John Wray take over as producer and director, respectively, for this one episode. Frank does a takeoff on the song "Everything Happens to Me," with lyrics describing TV's pitfalls. Also included is a re-creation of the star's 1945 anti-discrimination short The House I Live In.
007
1-07
11/18/1950
Patricia Morison, Jan Murray, Ben Blue and Family, The Whipoorwills, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
Note: Jack Donahue takes over as producer-director. Bulova begins its sponsorship of half the show, intially for five weeks.
008
1-08
11/25/1950
Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Coy, Ben Blue and Family, The Whipoorwills, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
009
1-09
12/2/1950
Milton Berle, Toni Arden, Ben Blue and Family, The Whipoorwills, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
010
1-10
12/9/1950
Jackie Gleason, June Hutton, Joe Bushkin and his Trio, Ben Blue and Family, The Whipoorwills, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
011
1-11
12/16/1950
Phil Silvers, Ben Blue and Family, Sid Fields, Roberta Lee, The Whipoorwills, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
Note: Variety called this "one of the best programs to date," crediting "a greater awareness of tele values by Sinatra and his production staff and the guesting of Phil Silvers" for the improvement. Frank was a busy boy this night, as he guest starred on The Jack Carter Show (on NBC-TV) from 8:00 to 9:00 pm.
012
1-12
12/23/1950
Walter Slezak, Toni Harper, Ben Blue and Family (Roberta Lee, Sid Fields, Leslie Lyons, Pat Gaye, Joey Walsh), The Whipoorwills, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
Note: Frank sings "Jingle Bells," "Try a Little Tenderness," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Winter Wonderland," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." A bunch of kids join him for "Silent Night." 13-year-old Toni sings "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and duets with Frank on "Button Up Your Overcoat." The Whipoorwills perform a medley of Gay 90s songs. Susquehanna Waist Company sponsors fifteen minutes of this single episode. Bulova extends its half-hour sponsorship for the remainder of the season.
Buy this episode - Starring Frank Sinatra: The TV Years (1951/1959) [VHS] VHS
013
1-13
12/30/1950
Garry Moore, Ben Blue and Family, The Whipoorwills, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
014
1-14
1/6/1951
June Hutton, Buster West, Ben Blue and Family, The Heathertones, The Whipoorwills, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
015
1-15
1/13/1951

Jackie Gleason, June Hutton, Buster West, dancers Tato and Julia, The Heathertones
Note: Variety praised Gleason's contribution, noting that it was "sufficiently integrated to push the pace up a few notches and at the same time doesn't detract from Sinatra's star status."

016
1-16
1/20/1951
Laraine Day, Leo Durocher, Phil Foster
Note: According to the Los Angeles Times, in place of a live appearance by Bing Crosby, Frank talks to a cardboard cutout of "the groaner," while a recording of Crosby's voice is heard. Baseball great Durocher was Laraine Day's husband.
017
1-17
1/27/1951
Phil Silvers, June Hutton, Jack Goode, Ollie Frank, Harold Stone, Muriel Landers
Note: This same night The Jack Carter Show featured former Sinatra cast members Ben Blue and The Whipoorwills. Jack Donahue hands over the producer's job to Marlo Lewis but remains as director.
018
1-18
2/3/1951
Jackie Gleason, June Hutton, The Heathertones, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
Note: Jackie sells Frank his newly-inherited "hunting lodge" in the mountains, sight unseen, and the two invite June and the Heathertones to join them there for the weekend. Frank sings "It Had To Be You," "Take My Love," "Everything Happens to Me," "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow," "My Heart Stood Still," and "I Am Loved." June joins him for "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" and then solos on "I Feel a Song Comin' On." June and The Heathertones sing "Zip-a-dee Doo Dah" and The Heathertones do "They Couldn't Catch Me" on their own. An unbilled actress (who plays the heavyset woman) sings "I Wanna Be Loved." A Valentine-themed Bulova commercial places this episode close to February 14th, but while the New York Times TV listing for the 3rd lists Jackie Gleason, it also includes Jack Goode and Ollie Frank, who don't appear. Jack Donahue is both producer and director.
Buy this episode - The Frank Sinatra Show, Vol. 7 [VHS] VHS
019
1-19
2/10/1951
Barbara Britton, June Hutton, Jack Goode, Ollie Frank, The Heathertones
020
1-20
2/17/1951
Faye Emerson, Skitch Henderson, Arthur Blake, Irving Kupcinet
021
1-21
2/24/1951
Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jean Carroll, Teddy Hale, June Hutton, The Heathertones
022
1-22
3/3/1951
Perry Como, Frankie Laine, Betty and Jane Kean, June Hutton, ballroom dancers The Digatanos, The Heathertones, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra; cameo by The Andrews Sisters
Note: Crooners Sinatra, Como, and Laine join forces to provide a generous helping of first rate fun. "Trio didn't need brilliant lines," explained Variety, "because of the general aura of easy entertainment they provided. They did some well-written parodies of themselves which had a line of nice and easy humor running throughout." Frank sings "I Get a Kick Out Of You," Perry does "If," and Frankie performs "That Lucky Old Sun." Following a satire by the singers on The Andrews Sisters, the sisters themselves appear to belt them with their handbags.
023
1-23
3/10/1951
Joan Blondell, Don Ameche, June Hutton, The Heathertones
024
1-24
3/17/1951
Jackie Gleason, Mary McCarty, June Hutton, The Heathertones
025
1-25
3/24/1951
Denise Darcel, Basil Rathbone
026
1-26
3/31/1951
Peggy Lee, Conrad Nagel, Jack Gilford, dancers Mary Raye and Naldi
Note: Peggy sings "Mañana" and Frank does a reprise of The House I Live In. As reported by Variety, someone in the audience familiar with Frank's act yells out the punchline of a joke before he can deliver it.
027
1-27
4/7/1951
Dagmar, Frank Fontaine, Harry Slate, June Hutton, The Heathertones
028
1-28
4/14/1951
Rudy Vallee, The Pied Pipers
029
1-29
4/21/1951
Smith and Dale, Al Bernie
030
1-30
4/28/1951
Dagmar, Frank Fontaine, Henry Slate
031
1-31
5/5/1951

Dagmar, Tim Herbert and Don Saxon, Eileen Barton, Joe Bushkin, June Hutton, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
Note: Frank sings "When You're Smiling," "Hello Young Lovers," and "If," and he and June duet on "My Romance." Joe performs "I Love a Piano," and Eileen joins him for "I Wanna Hang My Hat On a Tree That Grows in Brooklyn."
Eileen sings "What Do You Think I Am?," followed by Frank doing "Oh Look At Me Now" (with modified lyrics and a slight assist from Eileen). Dagmar sings "Ballin' the Jack," while Tim and Don do "Carolina in the Morning" and "Liza." At the time, Frank was appearing with his guest stars at the Paramount Theatre in New York City.
Buy this episode - The Frank Sinatra Show, Vol. 1 [VHS] VHS

032
1-32
5/12/1951
Jackie Gleason
033
1-33
5/19/1951
Phil Silvers
034
1-34
5/26/1951
J. Carrol Naish, Phil Foster
035
1-35
6/2/1951
Phil Silvers, June Hutton
036
1-36
6/9/1951
June Hutton
   Replaced for the summer by Faye Emerson's Wonderful Town

Season 2 (1951-1952)
Tuesday, 8:00-9:00 pm, CBS-TV, Sponsor: Ekco Products

Series
#
Season
#
Airdate
Cast
037
2-01
10/9/1951
Perry Como, Frankie Laine, The Andrews Sisters, Broderick Crawford, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
Note: Max Gordon is the new producer, while Marlo Lewis continues as executive producer. Ekco Products takes over sponsorship of the first quarter hour of the show. The rest is sustaining. Variety found this show "spotty, taking full advantage of its all-star talent lineup to sparkle in some spots and settling down to a slow walk in others." Jack Gould of The New York Times credited the star with "a very real degree of stage presence and a certain likeable charm" but felt "the evening's honors were captured effortlessly and smoothly by another gentleman, Perry Como."
038
2-02
10/16/1951
Jackie Gleason, Anne Jeffreys, dancers Stanton and Luster
039
2-03
10/23/1951
Dagmar, Mary McCarty, Jack E. Leonard
040
2-04
10/30/1951
Georgia Gibbs, Jules Munshin, Eddie Mayehoff
Note: Jules Munshin co-starred with Frank and Gene Kelly in On the Town (1949).
041
2-05
11/6/1951
Jackie Gleason, June Hutton, Grady Sutton, Pert Kelton, Roberta Lee, dancers Stanton and Luster
Note: In a change of pace, this episode features a "book" musical about two private detectives looking to recover a stolen $100,000. "Sinatra did evidence again, though, how far he's come as a straight man and comedian," noted Variety. "He traded gags on even terms with Gleason and, when some props failed to function properly, he was right in there with what sounded like ad libs, too." The day following this episode, Frank married movie star Ava Gardner. (His divorce from first wife Nancy Barbato had become final on October 29th.)
042
2-06
11/13/1951
Jack Benny, June Hutton, 10-year-old violinist Charles Castleman, Larry Griswold, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra
Note: In New York for a Friars Club Dinner, Jack Benny guest starred on several CBS TV shows, including this one. His appearance was meant to reciprocate for Frank guesting on his show January 28, 1951. Variety found that Frank and his guest, "kidding each other's known idiosyncracies for laughs, sparked the show into one of the better ones he's done this season." Frank sings "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "My Concerto," "For You," and a reprise of "The House I Live In." June sings "You Do Something To Me."
Buy this episode - The Frank Sinatra Show, Vol. 6 [VHS] VHS
043
2-07
11/20/1951
Laraine Day, Leo Durocher, June Hutton, Jimmy Boyd
Note: This was Sinatra's first show to originate from Hollywood. According to David Schwartz, it broadcast from Studio A at CBS's Columbia Square facility, and Bob Lemond (who had previously worked on Ed Wynn's show) was the new announcer. Danny Dare takes over as producer.
044
2-08
11/27/1951
Arlene Dahl, George Tobias, Mike Mazurki, Jimmy Boyd, Mari Blanchard, Lenny Kent
045
2-09
12/4/1951
Marie Wilson
046
2-10
12/11/1951
The Andrews Sisters, Roger Price, Joan Holloway, Henry Slate
047
2-11
12/18/1951
Eddie Anderson, Eric Blore, Alan Mowbray, June Hutton, Lenny Kent
048
2-12
12/25/1951
Edmund Gwenn, Marilyn Maxwell, Jimmy Boyd, The Dunhills
049
2-13
1/1/1952
Yvonne De Carlo, Louis Armstrong, The Three Stooges, George DeWitt, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra; cameo by Alan Young
Note: Frank throws a New Year's party, with The Three Stooges as his butlers. Frank sings "A Great Day" and "Oh! Look At Me Now" (with new "morning after" lyrics that include the line, "You're in trouble, friends, when Ava starts to look like Marjorie Main."). Louis sings and plays "I'm Confessin'," while Yvonne performs "Babalu" (in Spanish). Frank and Yvonne get together for "Getting To Know You," and Frank and Louis duet on "Lonesome Man Blues." George does impressions of singers Perry Como, Mel Tormé, Vaughn Monroe, Billy Eckstine, and Billy Daniels. Frank plays Alladin in a magic lamp sketch.
050
2-14
1/8/1952
Alan Young, Tennessee Ernie, Jimmy Boyd
Note: Ekco Products drops its sponsorship, and except for February 12th, the show is sustaining for the rest of its run.
051
2-15
1/15/1952
Denise Darcel
052
2-16
1/22/1952
George McManus, Beatrice Kay, Buster Keaton, Joe Laurie Jr., The Bell Sisters
Note: The Bell Sisters were seen frequently on early 1950s variety shows. In this, their first network TV appearance, they perform their hit song "Bermuda." Cartoonist George McManus was the creator of Maggie and Jiggs in the comic strip Bringing Up Father.
053
2-17
1/29/1952
Dick Haymes, Tom D'Andrea, Larry Blake, Patti Moore, Ben Lessy
054
2-18
2/5/1952
Diana Lynn, Frank Fontaine, Ann Triole
055
2-19
2/12/1952
Buster Keaton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, The Delta Rhythm Boys, June Hutton
Note: Elgin-American sponsors fifteen minutes of this single episode, as part of its pre-Valentine's Day sales effort.
056
2-20
2/19/1952
James Mason, Pamela Kellino, Jackie Coogan
057
2-21
2/26/1952
Zsa Zsa Gabor, Yma Sumac, Frank Fontaine, Leon Belasco, The Mandarines
058
2-22
3/4/1952

Cass Daley, Liberace

059
2-23
3/11/1952
The Andrews Sisters, Jimmy Boyd, Larry Griswold
060
2-24
3/18/1952

Victor Borge, Borah Minevitch's Rascals, June Hutton

061
2-25
3/25/1952
Nancy Walker, Frank Fontaine, June Hutton
062
2-26
4/1/1952
Frank Fontaine, June Hutton, The Diagoras
   Replaced by The Sam Levenson Show and Draw to Win

The Frank Sinatra
Show

1950-1952

Copyright 2006 by Jim Davidson. All Rights Reserved.