When Frank Sinatra was honored with the Will Rogers Memorial Award of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce three years ago, it was announced that in his career the entertainer had personally raised more than $ 1 billion for worldwide charities.
Amid all the legends that swirled about Sinatra, there have always been the tales of his generosity, often impetuous and unpublicized. He recently picked up the hospital bills of a dying and broke actor, one who had starred in one of his earliest films.
On occasion, Sinatra has been known to send money to total strangers, for instance an injured child read about in a newspaper.
His benefit concerts for humanitarian causes include the Red Cross, Variety Clubs International, the New York Police Athletic League, Cabrini Medical Center , the World Mercy Fund, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and San Francisco earthquake relief.
Closer to home in Palm Springs, he is one of the major supporters of the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center at the Eisenhower Medical Center, which treats sexually, physically and emotionally abused kids.
“He made Temple Isaiah a reality,” Rabbi Joseph Hurwitz said at the Palm Springs synagogue’s ceremony in Sinatra’s honor.
“He was instrumental in the creation of the temple from the very beginning.”
Back at the peak of his success as a teen-age idol, Sinatra made impromptu visits to high schools to preach little sermons on religious and racial tolerance.
The talks were the seed of RKO’s “The House I Live In,” a musical short Sinatra made in 1945 with director Mervyn Leroy, written by Albert Maltz.
Sinatra, who had donated his services, personally accepted the film’s Special Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
In 1971, the Academy presented him with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and the next year Israel honored his charities with the Medallion of Valor.
His continuing charity concerts included yearly sold-out events at New York’s Radio City Music Hall for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, making him one of its major contributors.
Sinatra picked up the salaries and traveling expenses of his musicians and Buddy Rich and his band in their free performances for a group of charities for handicapped Austrian children. Austria bestowed its highest honor, the Medal of Honor for Science & Art.
In 1987, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People honored Sinatra with its Life Achievement Award for his work spearheading integration.
As always with Sinatra, it was not without controversy. Sinatra was on a blacklist of entertainers who had violated the United Nations cultural boycott of South Africa, for his having performed in Bophuthatswana, the South African-created black homeland, six years earlier.
Since his boyhood in Hoboken, N.J., where his mother, Dolly, was a Democratic ward leader, Sinatra also has been active in political fund-raising.
Using his influence, the Chairman of the Board organized every nominal Democrat in show business behind John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign for the White House.
At $ 100-a-plate dinners and star-spangled rallies at which he was the headlined performer, he raised a reported $ 2 million.
He later switched to the Republicans, supporting President Richard Nixon. For President Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Gala in 1981, and again in ’85, Sinatra was the producer and director of entertainment. Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.