British photographer Terry O’Neill’s work is internationally known, from his early shots of The Beatles and Rolling Stones in the ’60s to Hollywood stars, models, monarchs and presidents. But it was an assignment for Life magazine in 1968 that proved to be a milestone in his life.
That’s when he met Frank Sinatra, the subject of O’Neill’s photo memoir, "Sinatra: Frank & Friendly," which launched in the U.S. October 17th. About 100 previously unpublished photos chronicle a relationship of more than 30 years between photographer and subject and includes unguarded moments rarely captured of the multi-talented performer.
"Sinatra: Frank & Friendly" shows the entertainer at rest, play, on a movie set, rehearsing and in concert, where O’Neill’s work captures Sinatra’s passion for performing and his intimate relationship with his audience. According to the photographer, Frank’s audience never knew the passion Sinatra put into his performances, including listening backstage to the sounds coming from the house so he could gauge the audience’s mood before he went on.
O’Neill, now semi-retired, and Sunday Times Magazine Editor Robin Morgan shared the daunting task of selecting the photos from many decades’ worth of work. But there was a time when the book was nearly scrapped.
"I had promised [Sinatra] I would do the book but when he died, I didn’t see the point any more. Then Robin stirred my interest again," the photographer told Pollstar. "Frank used to ask me, ‘How’s the book coming?’"
Morgan’s passion for the project was obvious when discussing his interest in making the book a reality.
"Terry told me ‘The Chairman of the Board’ wasn’t a big enough name for him," Morgan told Pollstar. "He was such a natural performer and what a work ethic! So much effort went into every show. It was great to be able to do this book."
O’Neill met Sinatra on the set of "Lady in Cement" that was being filmed in Miami, thanks to a mutual friend named Ava Gardner. He’d been assigned to do a feature titled "Night and Day with Frank Sinatra."
"[Gardner] was living in London at that time and she wrote a letter [of introduction] for me. I didn’t read what it said," O’Neill explained. "He read the letter and said, ‘Right, you’re with me.’ He ignored me for a month and I could go anywhere I liked."
From there, O’Neill was allowed full access to photograph Sinatra, who guarded his privacy. The performer’s painstaking professionalism and charisma made quite an impression.
"It was his personality and the people’s love for him. When he was around, everything came to life," O’Neill said. "Once he saw my work, that cemented it. It was unspoken [that] he expected me to be there."
Despite his decades-long affiliation with Sinatra, O’Neill said the relationship remained professional by design, which contributed to O’Neill’s objective body of work.
"I could have developed a friendship with him but I respected him too much to draw past that line," he said. "He wasn’t a casual person like Dean Martin. His life was orderly.
"But I was never bored. He was always up to something new and he really cared about [performing]. There will never be another Sinatra."