The sudden death of Frank Sinatra Jr., only son of The Voice, at the age of 72 reminds me that there’s a long tradition of showbiz kids capitalizing on their famous parents’ accomplishments. Sometimes the younger generation actually has the chops to burnish the old legend and create a new one. The obvious example is Natalie Cole, who was an outstanding singer in her own right, and even re-introduced her father’s legacy to a new generation, via the beyond-the-grave father/daughter duet on “Unforgettable.”
Among actors, there have been some serious acting dynasties. Take Lloyd Bridges, who spawned the gifted Beau and Jeff. And, of course, there are the Fondas: Henry, Peter, and Jane. Jane, who had long had a strained relationship with her cantankerous dad, purchased the rights to the play On Golden Pond so that they could play father and daughter in a story that closely mirrored their own interpersonal struggles. The film version won Henry Fonda a long-awaited Oscar for what would turn out to be his very last role. Jane (herself a two-time Oscar recipient) had given him, clearly, a very special gift.
Then there are those other sons, daughters, and assorted kinfolk who get gigs based on family connections or on a physical resemblance to a blood relation who happens to be a celebrity. Such was the lot of Frank Sinatra Jr. Though his older sister Nancy carved out her own identity as a pop singer (“These Boots are Made for Walkin’”), Frank Jr. was mostly known as a would-be Old Blue Eyes clone, trying hard to emulate his father’s inimitable way with a tender ballad or an up-tempo tune. He spent his life touring, bringing nostalgia to nightclubs nationwide. The only time he himself ever made headlines was when, as part of a bizarre plot, he was kidnapped and held for ransom. That happened in 1963, when Frank Jr. was nineteen; the mastermind turned out to be his sister’s high school chum, who seemed to think he’d done nothing wrong, and that the caper would bring the two Franks closer together. (The incident later became the basis for a 2003 TV movie, Stealing Sinatra.)
In the Gershwin family, talent seemed to be spread around. George Gershwin was a pianist and composer, juggling classical compositions like An American in Paris with popular scores for the Broadway stage. His Porgy and Bess, once derided, is now considered a major American opera. Many of his tunes showed up in Hollywood musicals, and in later years he made Southern California his home. It was here that he fell mysteriously ill, dying of a brain tumor in 1937, at the tragically early age of 38. (A much fictionalized biopic, Rhapsody in Blue, appeared in 1945, with Robert Alda in the leading role.) Older brother Ira, though sometimes seen as living in George’s shadow, made his own huge contribution to stage and screen. He provided the lyrics for George’s songs, and after George’s death joined with such composers as Harold Arlen, notably for the 1954 Judy Garland version of A Star is Born. Ira lived to be 86.
I didn’t realize until recently that there was also a Gershwin sister, Frances. She was a talented dancer, and she married a classical violinist, Leopold Godowsky. Their daughter, who bills herself as Alexis Gershwin, is a gifted singer who’ll be bringing her uncles’ compositions to a cabaret setting at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22. The place is the Catalina Bar & Grill at 6725 West Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. “Gershwin Sings Gershwin” is the show’s title – it should be unforgettable!