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Hot For The Cool

Ol' Blue Eyes is staging a comeback: music, movies, ads, maybe Broadway and a casino. But not on a menu -- certainly not yet.

May 11, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer
  • Timeless: In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of his death, Sinatra is getting his own 42-cent stamp.
Timeless: In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of his death, Sinatra… (Bill Kostroun / Associated…)

Anew era is beginning in the career of Frank Sinatra even if the Chairman of the Board isn't here to participate.

The iconic singer died May 14, 1998, and the 10th anniversary is being marked with a flurry of activity, including a new U.S. postage stamp with his likeness, lavish new CD and DVD collections, a major revival of his films on television and high-profile media appearances by his children.

This surge in all things Sinatra is more than just a fleeting commemoration, however -- it's more like the beginning of a corporate brand roll-out.

Late last year, the Sinatra heirs signed a pact with Warner Music Group Corp. that will bring Ol' Blue Eyes back in a big way, not just as a digitally resurrected entertainer but also as an advertising pitchman and, potentially, the name on the marquee of a feature film, a Broadway show and a casino and resort.

"Those are some of the things that have been discussed. We will see," said Tina Sinatra, the singer's younger daughter and the heir most involved in the estate's day-to-day enterprises. "The amazing thing is how untapped all of it is. By design we have done very little, particularly once he died."

What Sinatra offers to any venture is that most elusive of auras: eternal cool. Like Elvis Presley, James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, Sinatra's image has compass-point clarity in pop culture despite the passage of time. For advertisers, he could be an especially potent signifier of sophisticated standards and rakish elegance, and Warner executives sound like gamblers with winning hands when they talk about it.

"There's a famous old saying that, 'It's Frank Sinatra's world, we just live in it,' and that's kind of how we feel around here now," said Jimmy Edwards, one of the executives at Warner's Rhino Records who will be leading the day-to-day operations of Frank Sinatra Enterprises LLC. "Frank opens the door to a very exclusive club. . . . He crosses so many zones too; he's working-class, but he also runs around with the country-club set."

The venture, funded and operated by Warner, has two major advertising deals in place and is close on two others. Dozens of other overtures have been turned down. Edwards and fellow executive Gregg Goldman declined to say what products will soon have Sinatra as an expensive salesman, but Goldman said the accounts speak to Sinatra's passions, "gaming, fine dining, the finest apparel and luxury."

The company's partnership in Frank Sinatra Enterprises is a departure from the traditional core business of the recording company but, with the gutting of CD sales in recent years, major labels and other players in the sector are looking for new business models.

In recent months, for instance, Live Nation signed deals of $100 million or more with Jay-Z, U2 and Madonna to bundle an assortment of their revenue streams and ventures, both on stage and off. Faced with a diffused marketplace, companies are trying to scoop up key superstars and bottle up all their moneymaking power.

Financial terms of the Sinatra deal have not been disclosed. Edwards said the plan is to be intensely selective. Next week, the company will relaunch and begin a methodical mining of "a Sinatra archive that is enormous." A major documentary project is also being pursued.

"The opportunities for this artist," he said, "are unparalleled."

But there's also a danger of saturation or, worse, making a crass misstep. Many devotees of Fred Astaire, for example, recoiled a decade ago when the late star was digitally made to dance with a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. When you have a singer who made "My Way" a musical life statement, you don't want to hit a sour note.

"There is a lot of interest, and the hard part is deciding what is right and what is wrong," Tina Sinatra said. "But people remain fascinated by Dad. The truth is that his image and his cachet has sustained and perpetuated him just as much as his incredible talent. He is handed from one generation to the next. Things that would suit him and his lifestyle make sense to me. But now I'm in a corporation, it's not just me."

Some apprehensions

Sitting in her sunny office on Olympic Boulevard, Tina Sinatra was plainly proud while discussing the grand plans that the Warner deal will set in motion, but there was also some apprehension in her voice. She was particularly enthusiastic about discussions of a Sinatra film directed by Martin Scorsese -- "He's really the only one to do it, isn't he?" -- but less certain about the proposals she's heard that would put her father's name on the front of a menu.

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