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This is your source for news, links and notes from our program celebrating the life and career of the Entertainer of the 20th Century.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rocky Fortune: Sinatra's 1950s Radio Drama

This week on The Frank Truth Sinatra Blog, we're focusing on our old pal Rocco Fortunato.

From October 6th, 1953 through March 30, 1954 Frank Sinatra starred on NBC Radio's Rocky Fortune. Described as a "footloose and fancy-free young gentleman" Rocky moved from one temporary job to the next, and he got into the middle of some dangerous situation or another every week with each new assignment from the Gridley Employment Agency.

So far on The Frank Truth, we've listened to 10 episodes of the program. There are currently 25 in the audio section of the Internet Archive, all of which are in the Public Domain.

It was typical during Radio's Golden Age that programming wasn't placed under copyright. It simply didn't occur to anyone that these shows would be of any value beyond their initial airing. We're lucky indeed that so much of the material from the early days of the medium survived - due, in large part, to the lack of quality high-speed real-time network capacity. Many of the episodic programs were "transcribed" for broadcast. They were recorded and pressed to disc and then shipped out to affiliate stations for playback on their turntables. These transcriptions eventually found their way to collectors. Hence the wonderful treasure trove of old radio programs that still entertain us today.

I thoroughly enjoy listening to Old Blue Eyes' portrayal of Rocky. He somehow makes the character believable. This is no small feat, considering the range of jobs the character performed during the series' run. He is at various times an oyster shucker, a cabbie, a museum tour guide, a chauffeur, a truck driver, a carny, a bodyguard, a babysitter (for a chimpanzee no less), a social director in the Catskills, a process server and bass player in a jazz combo.

In addition to the intrigue and adventure, there's usually a beautiful (and often treacherous) woman around who typically falls for Rocky despite her best efforts.

If you listen to an episode or two, you won't need to be told that Rocky Fortune isn't high art, but it is great entertainment and a chance to examine Frank Sinatra's excellent thespian timing and inflection. Audio drama requires a commitment of attention on behalf of the audience beyond that necessary for other media. Sinatra holds us heedful throughout this series despite the rather pedestrian and sometimes predictable scripts.

It is interesting to compare Sinatra's performances in Rocky Fortune to his persona on To Be Perfectly Frank, the NBC music program which aired around the same time. We'll do just that in the weeks ahead on The Frank Truth Sinatra Podcast.


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