Frank Sinatra’s Rudeness Helped Shirley MacLaine Score Her First Oscar Nomination

Though Frank Sinatra appeared in many movies, even winning an Academy Award, he was not the easiest presence on set. The artist worked on his own schedule and expected others to adapt. His longtime friend Shirley MacLaine reflected on a time when Sinatra made dramatic changes to a script because he wanted a martini. She believes that this helped her pick up her first-ever Oscar nomination.

Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine pose together against a yellow background.
Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Shirley MacLaine said Frank Sinatra was ‘ruthless’ with movie scripts

In the 1950s, MacLaine and Sinatra were filming Some Came Running. The two were good friends, and Sinatra invited her for a drink in his trailer. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any time in the schedule for this.

“During an afternoon shoot, he invited me for a drink in his trailer,” she wrote in her memoir My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir, per Vanity Fair. “The assistant director came to the trailer to call us to the set. ‘We’re having a drink,’ said Frank, ‘because it’s ‘tini time.’”

When the assistant director protested that the film was already two weeks behind schedule, Sinatra asked for the script. MacLaine noted that he could be “ruthless” when going through screenplays. 

“The assistant director handed him his script,” she wrote. “Frank counted off about 20 pages and then ripped them out. ‘There, pal,’ he said. ‘Now we’re on schedule.’”

This quality helped her nab an Oscar nomination

According to MacLaine, Sinatra’s haphazard edit was permanent. He’d removed one of her most important scenes, however.

“The pages never went back in. It was just like Frank,” she explained. “When he went on record that something was over, it was over. The writers had to piece the story together somehow. Frank realized later he had cut one of my big scenes, so he threw the end of the picture to me.”

Sinatra suggested another change to the film to give MacLaine’s character a stronger ending.

“‘Let the kid get in the way of the bullet,’ he said to Sol Siegel. ‘That’ll make the audience feel sorry for her, because she tried to save my life. Might get her a nomination out of it.’”

Luckily, there was truth to this.

“He was right,” she explained. “I got my first Academy Award nomination for Some Came Running. I wondered what would have happened had he wanted two or three martinis that day.”

Shirley MacLaine saw Frank Sinatra as an ‘artist of life’

MacLaine and Sinatra remained friends for decades. She reflected fondly on the singer and his talent.

“Since Frank was an artist of music, I saw him as an artist of life, a tortured artistic searcher,” she wrote, adding, “He often spoke to me of the musical sounds he had heard in his head since his childhood. He trusted these sounds, which he speculated were perhaps from another dimension. He felt the music was a power from a source he didn’t understand.”

MacLaine wondered if some of Sinatra’s coarser qualities stemmed from this artistic search.

“I always felt that behind his shrewd, sometimes manic eyes was the deep recognition that the truth was more than he had yet seen, and his sometime abuse of power was an important struggle to find and understand it.”

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