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How A Martin Scorcese Movie Birthed Frank Sinatra's Iconic New York, New York

Entertainment | December 15, 2021

For a man with a million hits, New York, New York become one of Sinatra's greatest. amazon

The 1977’s “New York, New York,” became the swan song smash hit for the incomparable Frank Sinatra but it actually wasn’t his song at all. Even though everyone thinks of The Rat Pack alpha dog when they hear, “If I can make it there I'll make it anywhere,” it all began with a Martin Scorcese movie of the same name.

The quintessentially New York song also required a Robert De Niro dismissal of two heavyweight songwriters, John Kander and Fred Ebb, to spark their creative juices. Liza Minnelli belted out what would become the city’s unofficial anthem but her connection to the song disappeared when the Chairman of the Board gave the world his rendition.

Liza Minnelli did a great rendition of New York, New York but Ole Blue Eyes couldn't be topped. programminginsider

Martin Scorcese’s New York, New York

Today Scorcese stands as a titan of film but back then, he was still establishing himself as a headlining filmmaker. Coming off of his legendary “Taxi Driver”, Scorsese ran it back with De Niro, hoping to capitalize on their successful relationship. “New York, New York,” also featured Minnelli as two musicians trying to make it in the big city.

Unfortunately, the film flopped. On a budget of $14 million, it only brought in $16.4. Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader said, "Scorsese created a very handsome and dynamic film, but the spectacular set pieces don't add up to much." The disappointment drove the Hall of Fame filmmaker into a deep drug-fueled depression.

Credit De Niro with an ear for greatness. filmlinc

Real Recognizes Real

Despite the poor reviews of the film, Minnelli’s musical performances were lauded, especially the title song, “New York, New York.” Ironically, the song that will go down in history, wasn’t even included in the initial run down.

As the story goes, the songwriting duo of Kander and Ebb presented their songs to the power that be. The pair had already established themselves as top talents with songs like “Chicago” and “Cabaret” to their names. Scorcese and Minelli felt great about their work. De Niro, on the other hand, wasn’t impressed.

The songwriters weren't happy about an actor telling them their work was "lightweight."MUBI

Back To The Drawing Board

According to the songwriters, “We were just about to leave, and Bobby (De Niro), over on the couch, waved his arm, and Scorsese said, ‘Excuse me just a minute,’ and he went over and talked to him. It was a very animated conversation in terms of arms, but we couldn’t hear what they were saying.” The filmmaker came back embarrassed and told them that the iconic actor called the title number “lightweight” and asked them to try again.

Understandably, the writers were annoyed. “Some actor’s going to tell us what’s a good song and what’s not?” Still, De Niro gets what De Niro wants. The pair went back and wrote what became the all-time New York song “In about 45 minutes.” Upon hearing it, “they seemed to like it a lot,” as it turned out, “De Niro was completely right,” said Kander years later.

New York, New York served as a fitting send of for one of the all timers. NPR

Ole Blue Eyes Steps In

As Biographer James Kaplan wrote, “Frank was straining for relevance. He had fought an ambivalent battle against the new music, sometimes trying to make it his own, almost always with heart-sinking results.” His wife, Barbara, suggested he cover “New York, New York,” which turned out to be the ultimate send-off song for perhaps the most iconic singer in American history.

He almost didn’t do it, demurring, “‘Naw, that’s Liza’s song.’” However, with pushes from his wife and daughter, he laid down a song for the ages. As Tina Sinatra said, “I think he could thoroughly identify with the song, growing up in Hoboken and looking across the river at the skyline. He wanted to be there. He wanted to be on the other side.”

Tags: Frank Sinatra | Martin Scorsese | New York

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!