Frank Sintra Has a Cold

First of all, purely coincidental, Monday was Frank Sinatra’s birthday, a fact I encountered over Old Man Drinks at the Mudlounge (a Manhattan for me, an Old Fashioned for my companion).

That’s kind of perfect.

See, I acquired a stack of vintage magazines this semester, and they are prized possessions. I remembered tonight that a few of them are Christmassy. (The December 1961 Esquire is so very Mad Men, it’s dumb. You guys. I just want to have a party and invite you all over to look at the ads. SO good.)

I flipped through the whole stack looking for holiday issues, and saw that the April 1966 Esquire has Frank Sinatra on the front. “Oh, that’s cool,” I shrugged to myself, as I flipped to page 50 to discover:

“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese

At that, I took in my breath in a sharp, cartoonish gasp: “I have an original copy of one of the most famous pieces of creative nonfiction ever written IN MY HOUSE!”

And I had no idea.

My former boss once told me, during one of his advice-giving chats about the good old days, that he’d interviewed Gay Talese about writing interviews (a bit like saying you talked to Lady Ga Ga about meat dresses—going to the source). I didn’t realize how impressive that was at the time, which is sometimes the best way to learn.

As the story goes, Talese was assigned a profile of Sinatra—who refused to give an interview. Not one. But the writer was determined to get his story, and he spent three months building the piece by talking to every other person in Sinatra’s world. Ultimately he wrote one of the best celebrity profiles ever…without ever interviewing the celebrity himself. It’s the kind of writing we’re used to reading now in good magazine journalism, but Gay Talese kind of did it first.

Because he refused to give up on the task at hand. And he knew that sometimes the best way to draw an accurate picture of a thing is to draw its negative space.

(And it’s in my house. This makes me so very happy.)

You can read the whole article on esquire.com, though there’s nothing like the oversized pages of a real, live 45+ year-old magazine…

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