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11 Free Documentaries Available on YouTube

YouTube isn't just for copyright infringement -- here are 11 documentary films legally available on YouTube in their entirety. They're funded with ads, and are shown in roughly DVD (480p) quality. Be aware that some films move in and out of the free category, so if you're reading this in 2012 or beyond, some films may no longer be available. Check YouTube's Documentaries page and click "Free" for a list of current offerings.

1. Buena Vista Social Club

Wim Wenders follows Ry Cooder in Cuba, in the now-famous documentary that spawned a soundtrack everybody bought in 1997. Here's a snippet from the description:

The album won a Grammy, and in this refreshing documentary, Wim Wenders shows these exceptional musicians in their hometown, following them into their usual hang-outs -- the cafes, clubs and even living rooms -- as well as to concerts in Amsterdam and New York's Carnegie Hall, capturing their incredible vitality. "In Cuba, music flows like a river," according to Ry Cooder, who adds "Music is like a treasure hunt; you dig and dig and sometimes find something." Pursuing this metaphor, Wenders wanted to make a film that would "just float on this river ... not interfering with it, just drifting along." The result is a film full of vitality and positive energy, which is also an absolute delight to musical ears.

Watch it on YouTube (embedding is disabled). Here's the trailer:

2. The Eyes of Tammy Faye

With narration by RuPaul, this documentary follows Tammy Faye Bakker, who is well-known for her remarkable eyelash extensions and her televangelism with husband Jim Bakker. From the film's description:

Riding a tide of religious fundamentalism, the Bakkers reached their gaudy heights with the PTL Network and the spinoff Christian theme park Heritage USA. Then the roof caved in. Jim was forced to pay hush money to future Playboy centerfold model Jessica Hahn and then was submitted to rival Jerry Falwell's hostile take-over of the network. Soon Jim was in jail for fraud, and Tammy was at Betty Ford for addiction to prescription drugs. This film was screened at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival.

Watch it on YouTube (embedding is disabled). Here's the trailer:

3. OT: Our Town

Compton high school students put on a production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, with remarkable results. From the film's description:

When it became obvious that the financially strapped school (which had recently canceled its football program) couldn't provide a budget for sets or costumes, the students did what money-conscious high-school theater departments have been doing for decades -- they staged Thornton Wilder's Our Town, a drama commonly performed without the use of sets or large props. But what would Wilder's allegorical story of life in a small turn-of-the-century Midwestern hamlet mean to kids in Compton? And would the inexperienced students and faculty be able to bring it off? OT: Our Town is a documentary which looks at Dominguez High's brave experiment and the people who struggled to make it happen.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

4. Koyaanisqatsi

Godfrey Reggio, Ron Fricke, and Philip Glass collaborated to make a stunning film that defies description. The film has no narration, almost no language (except brief titles at the beginning and end, plus credits), and no plot. And it's literally my favorite film of all time -- it changed the way I look at film, and every time I watch it I'm devastated. The only sad thing about this film being available on YouTube is that it's interrupted with ads -- perhaps the most ridiculous thing you could imagine for this kind of work. Oh well, it's free. From the film's description:

An art-house circuit sensation, this feature-length documentary is visually arresting and possesses a clear, pro-environmental political agenda. Without a story, dialogue, or characters, Koyaanisqatsi (1983) (the film's title is a Hopi word roughly translated into English as "life out of balance") is composed of nature imagery, manipulated in slow motion, double exposure or time lapse, juxtaposed with footage of humans' devastating environmental impact on the planet.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

5. Down from the Mountain

Remember O Brother, Where Art Thou? This is a documentary and concert film featuring the music from the film. Allison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and many more make this a concert film worth watching. From the film's description:

For their film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, set in the American South during the 1930s, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen collaborated with musician, songwriter, and producer T-Bone Burnett to compile a score that reflected the rich variety of musical influences of the rural South during the Depression. Burnett brought together a veritable who's who of American roots music for the project, and while the film was a moderate success, the soundtrack album to O Brother, Where Art Thou? was a surprise hit, topping the country charts for several weeks and helping to open the ears of a new audience to the beauty and rough-hewn poetry of bluegrass, traditional country, rural blues, and gospel music. Shortly before the film's release, Burnett assembled many of the artists who appeared on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack for a special concert at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium (the original home of the Grand Ole Opry) to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum; the evening was filmed, and Down From the Mountain documents this very special night of music that celebrates America's musical past as it points to the future.

Watch it on YouTube (embedding is disabled). I couldn't find a reliable trailer, so you'll have to settle for this clip from O Brother (the real singers here are Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen, and Pat Enright):

6. Man with a Movie Camera

This 1929 Russian silent film is sometimes seen as a precursor to Koyaanisqatsi, because it has no plot, actors, and so on -- it's purely visual, and it uses stylistic techniques (like fast edits and slow motion) that have become part of modern filmmaking. From the film's description:

Soviet director Dziga Vertov's experimental film grew out of his belief, shared by his editor, Elizaveta Svilova (who was also his wife), and his cinematographer, Mikhail Kaufman (also his brother), that the true goal of cinema should be to present life as it is lived. To that end, the filmmakers offer a day-in-the-life portrait of a city from dawn until dusk, though they actually shot their footage in several cities, including Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa. After an opening statement, there are no words in the film (neither voice-over nor titles), just dazzling imagery, kinetically edited - as a celebration of the modern city with a marked emphasis on its buildings and machinery.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

7. The Times of Harvey Milk

This 1983 documentary, we see the history of "The Mayor of Castro Street." If you've seen the biopic Milk, you'll recognize lots of this material. It's a rare film that has a
100% fresh rotating on Rotten Tomatoes.

On November 27, 1978, Dan White, a former city supervisor who was desperate to regain his post, entered City Hall with a gun and murdered both San Francisco's mayor, George Moscone, and Milk. At the trial, White's lawyer skillfully turned the jury's attention away from his client's public anti-gay statements to focus on White's spotless record and his extremely agitated mental state on the day of the murders. White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to a relatively brief jail term, sparking a demonstration and riot by gay supporters of the murdered men. The film considers Milk's accomplishments and his exceptional popularity; this is not an objective look at a man, but a celebration of a martyr. Winner of an Academy award for Best Documentary Feature, The Times of Harvey Milk was released while White was serving his sentence; he was paroled in 1984 and committed suicide the next year.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

8. The Atomic Cafe

Combining footage of Cold War "educational" films like Duck and Cover with narration, this documentary is grim, sometimes funny, and often bizarre. When I saw this on PBS while I was in high school, it blew my mind -- how could these propaganda films be so stupid? How had I never seen the devastation in Japan after the bombings? It's impressive and horrifying. From the film's description:

The Atomic Cafe is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes sobering collection of film clips taken from American propaganda films of the 1950s. The thrust of the production is to expose the misinformation (and downright lies) dispensed by the government concerning the atomic bomb. We are shown vignettes from such classic instructional films as Duck and Cover, wherein school children are assured that they will survive a nuclear attack simply by huddling together next to the schoolhouse wall. In another sequence, a pack of pigs are dressed in Army uniforms and left to die at "Ground Zero" during a nuclear test to see if human beings (who purportedly have the same skin consistency as pigs) could endure such an ordeal.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

9. Nanook Of The North

This 1922 proto-documentary is required viewing for students of film -- it's the first time we saw a real feature film that wasn't fiction. It's a bit slow by today's standards, but a landmark documentary nonetheless. From the film's description:

Filmmaker Robert Flaherty had lived among the Eskimos in Canada for many years as a prospector and explorer, and he had shot some footage of them on an informal basis before he decided to make a more formal record of their daily lives. Financing was provided by Revillion Freres, a French fur company with an outpost on the shores of Hudson Bay. Filming took place between August 1920, and August 1921, mostly on the Ungava Peninsula of Hudson Bay. Flaherty employed two recently developed Akeley gyroscope cameras which required minimum lubrication; this allowed him to tilt and pan for certain shots even in cold weather. He also set up equipment to develop and print his footage on location and show it in a makeshift theater to his subjects. Rather than simply record events as they happened, Flaherty staged scenes -- fishing, hunting, building an igloo -- to carry along his narrative. The film's tremendous success confirmed Flaherty's status as a first-rate storyteller and keen observer of man's fragile relationship with the harshest environmental conditions. (In a sadly appropriate footnote, Nanook, the subject of the film, died of starvation not long after the film's release.)

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

10. Life In A Day

This YouTube-sponsored documentary shows what happens when you ask people around the world to show you their lives. While it's not the most meaningful documentary around, it's touching at times, and often surprisingly well-photographed. From the fim's description:

Director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) and producer Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator) team up to offer this candid snapshot of a single day on planet Earth. Compiled from over 80,000 YouTube submissions by contributors in 192 countries, Life in a Day presents a microcosmic view of our daily experiences as a global society. From the mundane to the profound, everything has its place as we spend 90 minutes gaining greater insight into the lives of people who may be more like us than we ever suspected, despite the fact that we're separated by incredible distances.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

11. The Day the Wave Came

This 30-minute documentary recounts the 2004 Tsunami, including graphic footage of the wave and interviews with survivors. From the film's description:

The magnitude and destruction of a Tsunami is hard to comprehend. This minute-by-minute account reveals the human face of the 2004 tragedy. A torrent of water sweeps through a street, destroying everything in its path. In the background, women are screaming. "I remember yelling 'we're all going to die, we're all going to die'", recalls one survivor. Hours earlier, meteorologist Smith Dharmasroja had desperately tried to get a warning out. When the wave struck Sri Lanka, Sulochana Perera attempted to rescue many drowning children, only to see her efforts dashed as the second bigger wave hit. This report reveals how events unfolded around the Indian Ocean: why no warnings were issued, survivors' stories and what the impact has been on their shattered lives. Includes remarkable pictures of the Tsunami.

Watch it on YouTube or watch the whole thing below (embedding is enabled for this one):

For 11-11-11, we'll be posting twenty-four '11 lists' throughout the day. Check back 11 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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14 Fascinating Facts About Saturday Night Fever
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

We can tell by the way you use your walk that you're a fan of Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 blockbuster that made John Travolta a mega-star and brought disco into the mainstream. (Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.) To enhance your appreciation of what was the highest-grossing dance movie of all time until Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) beat it, here's a groovy list of facts to celebrate the film's 40th birthday. Put on your boogie shoes and read! 

1. THERE WAS A PG-RATED VERSION OF IT, TOO.

Saturday Night Fever was an instant hit when it was released in December 1977, quickly becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. What's especially impressive is that it did this despite being rated R and thus (theoretically) inaccessible to teenagers, the very audience that a disco movie would (theoretically) appeal to. And so in March 1979, the film was re-released in a PG version, with all the profanity, sex, and violence either deleted or downplayed. This version took in another $8.9 million (about $30 million at 2016 ticket prices), bringing the film's U.S. total to $94.2 million. Both versions were released on VHS and laserdisc, though the R-rated cut didn't become widely available on home video until the DVD upgrade. 

2. IT WAS BASED ON A MAGAZINE ARTICLE THAT TURNED OUT TO BE SEMI-FICTIONAL.

"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," a detailed look at the new generation of urban teenagers by British journalist Nik Cohn, was published in New York Magazine in June 1976. The central figure in the article was Vincent, "the very best dancer in Bay Ridge," whose name was changed to Tony Manero for the movie. But years later, Cohn confessed: "[Vincent] is completely made-up, a total fabrication." The styles and attitudes Cohn had described were real, but not the main character. Cohn said he'd only recently arrived in Brooklyn, didn't know the scene well, and based Vincent on a Mod he'd known in London in the '60s.

3. THE BEE GEES HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

Most of the film had already been shot when music producer-turned-movie producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to write songs for it. The brothers, only modestly successful at that point and hard at work on their next album, didn't know what the movie was about but cranked out a few tunes in a weekend. They also repurposed several songs they'd been working on, including "Stayin' Alive," a demo version of which was prepared in time to be used in filming the opening "strut" sequence. (You'll notice Travolta struts in sync with the music.) So if the movie's signature songs didn't come until later, what were the cast members listening to when they shot the dance scenes? According to Travolta, it was Boz Scaggs and Stevie Wonder. 

4. THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM BROKE ALL KINDS OF RECORDS.

With 15 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, Saturday Night Fever was the top-selling soundtrack album of all time before being supplanted by The Bodyguard some 15 years later. It's also the only disco record (so far) to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and one of only three soundtracks (besides The Bodyguard and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to win that category. It was the number one album on the Billboard charts for the entire first half of 1978, and stayed on the charts until March 1980, long after the supposed death of disco.

5. THE MOVIE EXTENDED DISCO'S LIFESPAN BY A FEW YEARS.

Disco had been popular enough in the mid-1970s to land multiple disco tunes on the Billboard charts, but by the end of 1977, when Saturday Night Fever came out, the backlash had started and the trend was on its way out. But thanks to the movie (and its soundtrack), not only did disco not die out, it achieved more widespread, mainstream, middle-America success than it ever had before.

6. IT HAS SOME ROCKY CONNECTIONS.


Paramount Pictures

First connection: It was supposed to be directed by John G. Avildsen, whose previous film was Rocky. Ultimately, that didn’t work out and Avildsen was replaced with John Badham a few weeks before shooting began. Second connection: Tony has a Rocky poster on his bedroom wall. Third connection: Saturday Night Fever’s 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was directed by ... Sylvester Stallone.

7. TRAVOLTA WAS ALREADY SO FAMOUS THAT MAKING THE MOVIE WAS A HASSLE.

Saturday Night Fever made Travolta a movie star, but he was already a teen heartthrob because of the popular sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, where he played a delinquent teenager with the hilarious and timeless catchphrase "Up your nose with a rubber hose." Still, nobody was prepared for how Travolta's fame would affect the movie, which was to be shot on the streets of Brooklyn. As soon as the neighborhood found out Travolta was there, the sidewalks were swarmed by thousands of onlookers, many of them squealing teenage girls. (Badham said there were also a lot of teenage boys holding signs expressing their hatred for Travolta for being more desirable than themselves.)

Co-star Donna Pescow said, "The fans—oh, my God, they were all over him. It was scary to watch." Badham said, "By noon of the first day, we had to shut down and go home." Since it was nearly impossible to keep the crowds away (or quiet), Badham and the crew resorted to filming in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn. 

8. THE WHITE CASTLE EMPLOYEES WEREN'T ACTING WHEN THEY LOOKED SHOCKED. 


Paramount Pictures

In the brief scene where Tony, his boys, and Stephanie are loudly eating at White Castle, those were the real burger-flippers, not actors. Badham told them to just go about their business. He also told his actors to cut loose and surprise the White Castlers in whatever way they saw fit. The shot that's in the movie appears to be a reaction to Joey standing on the table and barking, but Badham said it was actually in response to something else: "Double J (actor Paul Pape) pulling his pants down and mooning the entire staff of the White Castle."

9. THE FEMALE LEAD GOT THE PART THANKS TO A SERENDIPITOUS CAB RIDE.

Casting the role of Tony's dance partner, Stephanie, proved difficult. Hundreds of women auditioned, but nobody seemed right. Meanwhile, 32-year-old Karen Lynn Gorney was looking for her big break into show business. As fate would have it, she shared a cab with a stranger who turned out to be producer Robert Stigwood's nephew. He mentioned that his uncle was working on a movie, and Gorney replied, "Oh, am I in it?"— her standard joke whenever she heard about a film being made. The nephew wound up submitting Gorney as a candidate, and the rest is history. 

10. TRAVOLTA’S GIRLFRIEND DIED DURING FILMING.

John Travolta stars in Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Paramount Pictures

Travolta met Diana Hyland on the set of the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, in which she played his mother. (She was 18 years older than him.) They had been dating for six months when Hyland succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 41, after filming just four episodes of her new gig on Eight Is Enough. Travolta was able to leave Saturday Night Fever and fly to L.A. in time to be with her before she died, then had to return to work. 

11. THE COMPOSER HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO REPLACE A NIXED SONG.

For Tony and Stephanie's rehearsal scene about 30 minutes into the movie, Badham had used the song "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs, going so far as to shoot the scene, including the dialogue, with the song actually playing in the background. (That's usually a no-no, for exactly the reasons you're about to read about.) According to Badham, no sooner had they wrapped the scene than Scaggs' people reached out to say they couldn't use the song after all, as Scaggs was thinking of pursuing a disco project of his own. Badham now had to have the actors re-dub the dialogue (since the version he'd recorded was tainted by "Lowdown"); what's more, he had to find a new song that would fit the choreography and tempo of the dancing. Composer David Shire rose to the occasion, writing a piece of instrumental music that met the specifications, and that’s what we hear in the movie. 

12. THEY MADE UP A DANCE BECAUSE THE CHOREOGRAPHER DIDN'T SHOW UP.

In another rehearsal scene 55 minutes into the movie, Tony and Stephanie do the "tango hustle," which looks like a combination of both of those dances. This was something Travolta and Gorney invented as a matter of necessity: the film's choreographer didn't realize he was supposed to be on the set that day, and the actors didn't have any steps prepared. The tango hustle, alas, never quite caught on.  

13. TONY’S ICONIC WHITE SUIT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BLACK.

Travolta and Badham both assumed Tony's disco outfit would be black, as men's suits tended to be at the time. Costume designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein convinced them it should be white, partly to symbolize the character's journey to enlightenment but also for practical reasons: a dark suit doesn't photograph very well in a dark discotheque. 

14. TONY’S SUIT WAS LATER SOLD FOR $2000—THEN FOR $145,500.

Von Brandenstein took Travolta to a cheap men's clothing store in Brooklyn (swamped by teenage fans, of course) and bought the suit off the rack—three identical suits, actually, so they wouldn't have to stop filming when one became soaked with Travolta's sweat. Two of the suits disappeared after the movie was finished; the remaining one, inscribed by Travolta, was bought at a charity auction in 1979 by film critic Gene Siskel, who cited Saturday Night Fever as one of his favorite movies. He paid about $2000 for it. In 1995, he sold it for $145,500 to an anonymous bidder through Christie's auction house.

In 2012, after a lengthy search, curators at London's Victoria and Albert Museum found the owner (who still preferred to remain anonymous) and persuaded him to lend it for an exhibit of Hollywood costumes. It is now presumably back in that man's care, whoever he may be. (P.S. Badham says on the 2002 DVD commentary that the suit is on display at the Smithsonian, a tidbit repeated by NPR in 2006 and Vanity Fair in 2007. But they must be mistaken. The suit’s sale in 1995 and rediscovery for the 2012 museum exhibit are verified facts; the suit isn't in the Smithsonian's online catalogue; and finally, a 2007 Washington Post story about the Smithsonian lists the suit as one of the items the museum director wanted to get.)

Additional sources:
John Badham DVD commentary
DVD featurettes

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35 Fabulous Facts About Frank Sinatra
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You know that Frank Sinatra was as talented a singer as he was an actor. That he had a collection of nicknames, from The Voice to Ol’ Blue Eyes. And that he liked to do things “My Way.” In honor of what would have been the legendary crooner’s 102nd birthday, here are 35 things you might not have known about Frank Sinatra.

1. HIS BIRTH WAS A TRAUMATIC ONE.

Born on December 12, 1915, in an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, Francis Albert Sinatra was blue and not breathing when he was yanked out of his mother with forceps. Thought to be dead, the infant was laid on the kitchen counter while the doctor attended to his mother. His grandmother picked up the newborn, stuck him under some cold water, and little Frank wailed out his first song.

2. THOSE FORCEPS CAUSED SOME DAMAGE.

Those forceps left their mark on the left side of Sinatra's face, in the shape of a scar that ran from the corner of his mouth to his jaw line and a cauliflower ear. As a teenager, he was nicknamed “Scarface.” He also suffered a bad case of adolescent acne, which left his cheeks pitted. Self-conscious about his looks as an adult, Sinatra often applied makeup to hide the scars. Even with that, he hated to be photographed on his left side. The physical insecurities didn't end there: Sinatra also wore elevator shoes to boost his five-foot-seven stature.

3. HE WAS A BIG BABY.


By Family photo. - Sinatra.com, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The future crooner weighed a whopping 13.5 pounds.

4. HE CARRIED HIS OWN P.A. SYSTEM.

When Sinatra was just starting out as a singer, he came prepared: he carried his own P.A. system to the dives in which he typically performed.

5. HIS BAD BOY IMAGE WAS REAL.

Sinatra's bad boy image began with his infamous 1938 mug shot. The charge? The most Frank reason possible: “seduction.” The charge was reduced to “adultery,” then later dropped.

6. HE WAS ONE OF AMERICA’S FIRST TEEN IDOLS.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the 1940s, Frank—or Frankie, as he was then known—became one of America's first teen idols. “The sound that greeted me was absolutely deafening,” Sinatra later recalled of a series of shows he performed in 1942 at New York City’s Paramount Theater. “I was scared stiff. I couldn't move a muscle.”

7. SOME OF THOSE SCREAMING FANS WERE PAID TO BE SCREAMING FANS.

Not to take anything away from his amazing voice and his ability to excite the female throngs, but the bobbysoxer craze Sinatra incited (so called because the coed fans wore Catholic school-style bobby socks, rolled down to their ankles) had a little help. George Evans, Sinatra’s publicist, auditioned girls for how loud they could scream, then paid them five bucks and placed them strategically in the audience to help whip up excitement.

8. A SHORT FILM GOT HIM TAGGED AS A COMMUNIST SYMPATHIZER.

In 1945, Sinatra made a short film, The House I Live In, that spoke out against anti-Semitism and racial intolerance. Ironically, a decade later, its liberal slant got him tagged as a Communist sympathizer during the McCarthy trials. (Sinatra never testified.)

9. THE FBI HAD A FILE ON HIM.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sinatra’s FBI file had been started by J. Edgar Hoover after a radio listener wrote to the Bureau, saying, "The other day I turned on a Frank Sinatra program and I thought how easy it would be for certain-minded manufacturers to create another Hitler here in America through the influence of mass hysteria." Sinatra had also been investigated by the FBI for reportedly paying doctors $40,000 to declare him unfit to serve in the armed services.

10. HE HELPED INTRODUCE THE CONCEPT ALBUM AND BOX SET.

In 1946, Sinatra's debut release, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, helped introduce both the concept album and the box set. At a time when long-playing records were still novel, Sinatra issued a set of 78 rpm records with eight songs, all with a theme of lost love. It sold for a hefty $2.50 (the equivalent of about $30 today). But the price didn't prevent it from topping the charts for seven weeks. Two years later, it became one of the first-ever pop music vinyl 10" LPs.

11. HE ATTEMPTED SUICIDE SEVERAL TIMES.

Sinatra's star fell hard in the early 1950s. He was so low that he even attempted suicide. Walking through Times Square, he saw mobs of girls waiting to get into a concert by new singing sensation Eddie Fisher. Feeling washed up, Sinatra went back to his apartment, put his head on the stove, and turned on the gas. Luckily, his manager found him in time, lying on the floor, sobbing. Sinatra made three other suicide attempts, all of them in the throes of his volatile relationship with actress Ava Gardner.

12. THE RAT PACK DIDN’T CALL THEMSELVES THAT.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With his pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford, Sinatra led the Vegas clique known as the Rat Pack. The name was coined by actress Lauren Bacall years earlier, to describe a Hollywood drinking circle that included her then-husband Humphrey Bogart and Sinatra. The guys in the Rat Pack actually referred to themselves by a different name—The Summit—playing on a 1960 summit meeting in Paris between top world leaders.

13. HE REUNITED JERRY LEWIS AND DEAN MARTIN.

In 1976, Sinatra appeared on Jerry Lewis’ annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon and surprised the host when he brought out Dean Martin, Lewis’s former comedy partner, from whom he’d been estranged for 20 years.

14. IN HOLLYWOOD, HE WAS KNOWN AS “ONE-TAKE CHARLIE.”

Sinatra’s preference for approaching film roles in a spontaneous, rather than over-rehearsed, way earned him the nickname of “One-Take Charlie” in Hollywood.

15. HE THREATENED TO HAVE WOODY ALLEN’S LEGS BROKEN.

Sinatra was married to Mia Farrow from 1966 to 1968, and the two remained close friends. In Farrow’s autobiography, What Falls Away, she shared that when Sinatra learned of Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, he offered to have the filmmaker’s legs broken.

16. A MAGAZINE CLAIMED THAT HE GOT HIS STAMINA FROM WHEATIES.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1956, Confidential magazine disclosed how Sinatra managed to satisfy so many Hollywood starlets—Wheaties! The article stated, "Where other Casanovas wilt under the pressure of a torrid romance, Frankie boy just pours himself a big bowl of crispy, crackly Wheaties and comes back rarin' to go.” General Mills kept quiet as the tabloids talked up Wheaties' power to fuel Sinatra's exploits, and it wasn't long before teenage boys were stampeding the cereal aisles.

17. HE HAD TWO HITS CALLED “NEW YORK, NEW YORK.”

Sinatra actually had two hits called "New York, New York." The first was in 1949, from the film On the Town, and was written by Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden. Thirty years later, Sinatra cut "(Theme From) New York, New York," by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Originally from Martin Scorsese's 1977 bomb New York, New York, Sinatra turned it into his signature song and onstage closer. He also angered the lyricist, Ebb, by customizing the words (Sinatra had done this to a few songwriters, most famously Cole Porter), adding the climactic phrase "A-number-one." In 1993, Sinatra recorded the song again, this time as a duet with Tony Bennett.

18. HE HATED BEING CALLED “CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD.”

It’s a nickname he acquired while president at Reprise Records. According to his fourth (and final) wife, Barbara, Sinatra hated it. 

19. HE WASN’T A FAN OF “MY WAY” OR “STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT.”

Barbara also maintains “My Way,” one of Frank’s most loved songs, did absolutely nothing for him. But that was a kind assessment compared to “Strangers in the Night,” which Frank called “a piece of sh*t” and “the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard.”

20. “MY WAY” HAS BEEN COVERED BY MORE THAN 60 PEOPLE.

Sinatra may not have loved it, but “My Way” has been covered by more than 60 artists, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Sid Vicious. It has also been recorded in various languages.

21. SEVERAL PEOPLE HAVE DIED AFTER PERFORMING “MY WAY.”

Since 2000, at least half a dozen people have been murdered after (or while) performing the Sinatra classic. Dubbed the “‘My Way’ Killings,” the strange phenomenon has gotten so bad that some bar owners have removed it from the selection list entirely.

22. HE INADVERTENTLY HELPED NAME SCOOBY-DOO.

At least according to former CBS exec Fred Silverman, who found inspiration in Frank’s signature “Scoo-Be-Do-Be-Do.”

23. HE DIRECTED THE FIRST JAPANESE/AMERICAN CO-PRODUCTION.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1965, Sinatra stepped behind the camera to make his directorial debut with None But the Brave, which was produced with Toho Studios. It was the first Japanese/American co-production filmed in the United States.

24. HE HAS A SPECIAL PLACE IN NEW YORK YANKEES HISTORY.

“New York, New York” has closed out every one of the Yankees’ home games since 1980.

25. HE HAD HIS OWN PASTA SAUCES.

The year 1990 was a post-Paul Newman, pre-Marky Ramone time in celebrity spaghetti sauce, and leave it to Frank to fill the zesty void. But despite being inspired by his mother’s very own recipe, the sauce flopped. Thankfully, you can now find Mama Sinatra’s recipe online.

26. HE GOT FIRST DIBS ON PLAYING JOHN MCCLANE IN DIE HARD.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. Because Sinatra had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, he had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

27. SINATRA DIDN’T LIKE MARLON BRANDO, AND BRANDO DIDN’T LIKE SINATRA.


MGM

Sinatra was always known as one of Hollywood’s most likeable stars, but Marlon Brando apparently didn’t agree. The two didn’t hit it off when they starred in 1955’s Guys and Dolls. Sinatra, who allegedly wanted Brando’s role in the film, referred to his co-star as “Mr. Mumbles,” while Brando nicknamed Sinatra “Mr. Baldy.”

28. HE BRIEFLY RETIRED.

In 1971. Thankfully for you “Send in the Clowns” fans, his self-imposed exile from the entertainment industry lasted less than two years, before he returned for good with his comeback “Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back.”

29. THERE'S AN ASTEROID NAMED AFTER HIM.

The rock, called 7934 Sinatra, was discovered on September 26, 1989 by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory. 

30. HE SANG ONE HALF OF THE ONLY FATHER-DAUGHTER TUNE TO EVER TOP THE CHARTS.


By CBS Television, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sinatra has a unique distinction in Billboard history: He’s the “father” half of the only father-daughter duet to ever hit number one—thanks to “Something Stupid,” which he sang with Nancy. 

31. HE WAS AN HONORARY TRIBAL CHIEF.

Specifically, the “Order of the Leopard,” the highest honor in Bophuthatswana, a quasi-nation state in apartheid-era South Africa. The honor was a show of gratitude from president Lucas Mangope for Sinatra’s performances at the maligned—and later boycotted—Sun City casino.

32.  THE BEATLES’S “SOMETHING” WAS ONE OF SINATRA’S FAVORITE SONGS.

Frank may not have loved (okay, he hated) rock and roll, but he was a big fan of the George Harrison-penned “Something.” The song became a sample in Sinatra’s live set toward the end of his career.

33. THE LAST SONG FRANK EVER PERFORMED LIVE IS “THE BEST IS YET TO COME.”

On February 25, 1995, Sinatra sang the song for a group of 1200 people on the last night of a golf tournament named for him. The words "The Best is Yet to Come" are also on his tombstone.

34. HE WAS A TOOTSIE ROLL FAN.

According to dead-celebrity expert Alan Petrucelli, Ol’ Blue Eyes was buried with some Tootsie Rolls, along with a few other choice effects, including cigarettes, a lighter, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

35. A PROVISION IN HIS WILL HELPED TO ENSURE IT WOULDN’T BE CONTESTED.

In order to ensure that his passing wouldn’t lead to any legal battles, Sinatra’s will included a “no-contest” clause, which essentially says that anyone who contested it would be disinherited completely.

This article originally ran in 2015.

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