An Icon and Superstar

There were few twentieth-century celebrities more legendary than Frank Sinatra. He was one of the most accomplished and revered American entertainers to make a lasting impact on the country’s history. The public welcomed his start as a crooner of the 1940s and 50s, in a post-war America. Sinatra captivated the crowds with his romantic, witty charisma, and his incomparable voice. His natural talent, graceful touch of class, and style ultimately led to his stardom and meteoric rise. With a prosperous show business career spanning over 50 years, Sinatra became an icon and superstar in music as a vocalist, an unforgettable actor, and a natural entertainer who dazzled crowds wherever he performed. In 1968, the celebrated photographer, Terry O’Neill, who took one-of-a-kind photographs of the biggest names in Hollywood and rock n’ roll, captured Sinatra walking in a boardwalk at the Fontainebleau in Miami with his bodyguards beside him.

A Music and Entertainment Scene Legend

Terry O’Neill (1938-2019) is one of the most notable entertainment and music scene photographers of his time. In the 1960s, O’Neill directed his lens towards the rising youth culture that eventually gained notoriety as the “Swinging Sixties.” Renowned for capturing candid, backstage photographs of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and famed actresses like Bridget Bardot and Faye Dunaway (who he would later marry), Terry O’Neill’s photography is recognized as an invaluable record of popular culture. His collective work is a seminal archive of fashion, style, and celebrities at some of their most telling moments.

Terry O'Neill, Frank Sinatra, Miami Boardwalk, 1977
Terry O’Neill, Frank Sinatra, Miami Boardwalk (Fontainebleau), 1977

Below, the photographer describes his experience shooting one of the most famous people in the world at the time:

“I met Ava Gardner in the mid-1960s, and she was a really wonderful person. We’d go out from time to time; she loved going to Ronnie Scott’s to listen to jazz, so we had a lot in common. When I got the assignment to go down to Miami to visit the set of “The Lady in Cement” starring Frank Sinatra, I turned to Ava for advice. Sinatra’s reputation preceded him. I knew if I was going to get great photos of Frank Sinatra, I would have to get him to trust me – and allow me access. It was widely known Sinatra traveled in a pack and was surrounded by friends, bodyguards, assistants, name it. Ava understood my dilemma. 

The next time I saw her, she handed me a sealed letter and said, ‘give this to Frank when you meet him. When I arrived to the set, I nervously waited for Frank Sinatra to appear. Then, almost out of nowhere, he started walking towards me – down the boardwalk – surrounded by guards, body-doubles, all sorts of very intimidating guys. Every single one had turned when he walked by. I took a picture. He noticed straight-away what I was doing so he came right up to me. I put my camera down, reached in my pocket and handed him Ava’s letter. I’ll never forget that look on his face – eyeing me up. He opened the letter, read it, and looked back at me. Then he smiled. He turned to his pack and said ‘Boys, he’s alright. This guy is with me now. 

And with that one simple letter, I was allowed incredible access to Frank Sinatra. On-set, on-stage, backstage – name it. He was very kind to me and from that moment, always called me up when he was in London so I could come and take photos. But the letter? I never did find out what Ava wrote.”