2/24/12 - how to be a great publicist

In today's encore excerpt - a very young Frank Sinatra already had the teenage girls screaming and swooning at his concerts when, in 1943, he hired the best publicist in show business—George Evans. Evans saw that the crowds were hysterical, but not choreographed to his liking—so he took it upon himself to take Sinatra's crowds to a new level:

"[After watching his new client perform in four consecutive shows at the Paramount Theater, George Evans] noticed—because each audience, after all, is a different animal—that not every show was successfully hysterical. Sometimes there were odd lulls in the tumult; sometimes the crowd got in its own way (and the singer's), just screaming, creating a massive wall of sound, preventing Sinatra from doing what he did best: singing. Pandemonium was all well and good if it served the purpose at hand—namely, making this boy a star like no other before him. ...

"George would have to be ... skillful in working his new client. [He] had read how farmers would pay a pilot to go up and scatter certain chemicals on clouds to end a drought—seeding the clouds, they called it. Well, if clouds could be seeded, why not crowds? Rumor had it that [Sinatra's former publicist] Milt Rubin had handed out half-dollars in the Paramount lobby to girls who promised to make a racket during Sinatra's shows. It was the right idea, Evans felt, but unscientific in approach. ...

" 'George was a genius,' said Jerry Lewis, who, along with his partner, Dean Martin, was represented by Evans in the late 1940s. 'He would audition girls for how loud they could scream! Then he would give each of them a five-dollar bill—no dirty money, just clean new bills; I learned that from him. The agreement was that they had to stay at least five shows. Then he spread them through the Paramount—seven sections. Evans would read the scores of the songs to see where the screaming should come in—the girls could only scream on the high, loud parts, never when it was low and sexy.'

"The publicist would even take groups of girls to the basement to rehearse them, giving them precise cues when to yell 'Oh, Frankie! Oh, Frankie!'—not just during the loud parts, but whenever Sinatra let his voice catch. Evans also coached the singer. Picking up on Sinatra's intimate relationship with the microphone, Evans told him: Imagine that mike on its stand is a beautiful broad. Caress it. Make love to it. Hold on to it for dear life.

"Sinatra looked impressed: the guy was good. ...

"The publicist even trained both the singer and his claques in the art of call-and-response. When Sinatra sang '(I Got a Woman Crazy for Me) She's Funny That Way,' with the lyric 'I'm not much to look at, nothin' to see,' Evans coached one of the girls to yell 'Oh, Frankie, yes, you are!' On 'Embraceable You,' Evans told Frank to spread his arms beckoningly on the words 'Come to papa, come to papa, do.' The girls could then scream, 'Oh, Daddy!' After which, Frank would murmur into the mike, 'Gee, that's a lot of kids for one fellow.' Evans trained some of the girls to faint in the aisles, others to moan loudly in unison. He hired an ambulance to park outside the theater and issued the ushers bottles of ammonia 'in case a patron feels like swooning.' "


James Kaplan


Frank: The Voice


Anchor Books a division of Random House, Inc.


Copyright 2010 by James Kaplan


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