A series depicting legendary men past their prime, covered in fictional tattoos that detail pivotal people, places or things in their life. NOTE: You can scroll through a biography of each tattoo when you hover over the art.
- BILLIE - His wife's nickname. From the accounts I've read, he wasn't much of a father but he was a very loving and devoted husband. She stood by him through very difficult periods in his career and the various ailments leading up to his death.
- Bullet with angel wings - When he was making Angels with Dirty Faces, it was typical at the time to use live ammo when shooting a movie. A scene called for him to be standing in while a machine gun was fired around him. He insisted that the shot be superimposed later. As it turned out, when they filmed the gunfire, a bullet ricocheted right where his head would have been.
- Horseshoe - During his down time (which sometimes lasted for years at a time when he had had enough of Warner Bros. telling him what to do), he loved to work on his farm and tend to his horses.
- PA - Jack Warner nicknamed him the "Professional Againster," referring to the way he stood against the studio on many ocassions and behaved, in general, like a pain-in-the-ass. Putting it on his fist seemed fitting as James frequently got in street fights as a kid and, as an amateur boxer, was a runner-up for the New York lightweight title.
- KIM - Short for "Keep It Moving." Sammy was a world-class hoofer, a man who just loved to dance. It was devastating for him when his body began to break down, and that was part of the reason he always hated his hit song, "Mr. Bojangles." He never wanted to be the character in that song, the broken-down has-been. The very idea that he couldn't dance forever terrified him. During the last few years of his life, there was a televised tribute special for him. All the stars came out to pay their respects for this living legend. At the time, it was widely recognized that Gregory Hines was Sammy's heir to the dancing throne. Hines came out on stage and danced, and then walked down to Sammy in the front row, looking very frail and sickly. There's some sort of exchange and suddenly Sammy's putting on tap shoes to, what appears to be, the great surprise of his wife. Sammy stands up, walks on stage, and in a near death-defying burst of energy, he and Hines begin a sort of dancing duel and Sammy, pro that he is, lays out some nasty moves that literally drop Hines to his knees, kissing at Sammy's feet... Find this moment online if you can. Unbelievable.
- SHOW - FOLK (hands) - The term vaudeville performers used to describe themselves.
- Colt Revolver .25 - He was a master of showy, gun-spinning tricks and was said to be able to draw in .25 seconds.
- THE WILL MASTIN TRIO - Where he got his start, touring clubs and billed as "midget" (to avoid being put in school by child services) with his father Sammy Sr. and "Uncle" Will Mastin. He kept these two men in his corner and on stage well past their prime as an act of loyalty and respect.
- RHODES - In reference to George Rhodes, his longtime bandleader and close friend. George's wife Shirley also served as Sammy's assistant. Sammy was very close with her and she was one of the only people in his life who could tell him when he was acting like a fool.
- CIRO'S - The famous club where he got his big break. This was also the place where Sammy made his comeback after losing his eye, the same night he dropped the eyepatch after Sinatra and a bunch of other guys showed up wearing eye patches in support.
- Star of David - Sammy became interested in Judaism through his friend Eddie Cantor, who came and spoke with him while he was recovering in the hospital from his car accident. Cantor drew similarities between the struggles of the black and Jewish people. Sammy began studying Judaism from that point forward and converted years later.
- Frank Sinatra, MY BROTHER - The stories of their friendship are legendary, and they openly referred to one another as 'brother' (amongst many other not-so-politically-correct names). Sinatra was a huge champion for not only Sammy, but the entire civil rights movement. He refused to play at clubs that wouldn't let Sammy in through the front door and hotels that wouldn't allow him a room. Sinatra also went to bat for Sammy in the time leading up to his wedding with May Britt, a move that garnered extensive heat from the Kennedy campaign and Asshole Extraordinaire, Joe Kennedy.
- M - For May (pronounced "My") Britt, his second wife. I believe this was his greatest marriage and his truest love. There's absolutely no way to prove this, but I've read enough books on him to form my own opinion. This marriage drew death threats from blacks and whites alike, the ire of the entire Kennedy family, put his career at risk, and was illegal in 31 states at the time. I don't think anything BUT love can withstand that kind of heat. The marriage lasted nine years, produced three children, and ended in a whirlwind of performances on Broadway that kept him out of the home and into an affair. It's an unfortunate end, and inexcusable, but I feel like they both did the best they could under the cloud of hostility that plagued their marriage constantly, and one need only look at some of the stunning candid photos of the two online to see evidence of their unrivaled devotion.
- Orchid - After a successful performance in his junior year of high school, the drama class presented teacher Adeline Nall (sp?) with an orchid. Dean came up to her and asked for it back and told her she'd find out why later. The next day he presents her with a painting of the orchid, explaining that now she'd "have it forever." He signed it, 'her pride.'
- WHAT IS ESSENTIAL IS INVISIBLE TO THE EYE - Dean's favorite quote from The Little Prince. The quote is also inscribed at the sculpture erected near where he died.
- PIER - This is the actual signature of Pier Angeli, a beautiful young actress that he romanced before Pier's mother forbade it because Dean wasn't Roman Catholic. Dean used to wear a charm around his neck that contained a lock of her hair from the day they first met.
- BB - The initials stand for his closest friend and first biographer, Bill Bast. They met at UCLA and the two lived together during this time. They struggled for money much of the time, and Bill recounts a time when his mother came to visit and although they finally ate, she was reduced to tears a number of times because of how uncommunicative and surly Dean was. When they took her to the train station, Dean presented her with a box of chocolate and a photo signed, "to my second mother." She was confused, to say the least. But I digress - since Dean's death, Bill has suggested that the two of them were lovers, and that is the reason for this tattoo. Based on his candor in the documentary Forever James Dean, I am inclined to believe him. His is not the first rumor of Dean's sexuality, but it certainly seems the most sincere. Putting Bill's initials in a target helps to make it appear like some sort of BB Gun logo, and maybe protect his devotion to Bill in the process.
- 130 LITTLE BASTARD - It's no secret that this is the number and name painted on the Porsche he died in. What is a little less known is why. Dean had a terrible relationship with his father. His mother died when he was ninie years old, and from that point forward his father abandoned, neglected, and ignorned him. The movie James Dean, starring James Franco, suggests that in the time around his death, Dean's father confessed to him that on his mother's deathbed, she revealed she had had an affair and Dean was the product of that affair. The revelation shook Dean's father to the core and made it impossible for him to love Dean. The next scene in the movie is "Little Bastard" being painted on the back of the car.
- Steam engine - As a youth, Mitchum spent a lot of time traveling the country on railroad cars.
- Stripes - During one of his railroad adventures, Mitchum was arrested for vagrancy and put on a local chain gang. In 1948, Mitchum was framed for marijuana possession (a substance he aquired a taste for with other hobos along the railroads) and ended up spending 43 days in jail. It is also said that Mitchum preferred the company of criminals, it was a group he could relate to.
- OMNIA MORS AEQUAT- This loosely translates to "death makes all things equal" in Latin. This plays into two aspects of Mitchum's life. One being his rather guarded intellect. Mitchum wrote music, prose and poetry - 'Poet With an Axe" is a nickname conjured to shed light on the duality of his personality, and could speak very eloquently when he let his tough-guy guard down and wasn't completely inebriated. The other aspect at play here is his utter disgust to the banality and obligations of celebrity. He felt that no man was any better than the next, no matter what his income was. Although an incredible actor, he never thought acting a very respectable profession... I wish I could remember why I applied the lightning bolt. It's the same three-pointed bolt that Elvis and his goons used for their "TCB" logo (Taking Care of Business). Maybe that was translated into Mitchum hard-nosed work ethic, his drive to get it done. That being said, he could be a real pain-in-the-ass on movie sets.
- Fisticuffs boxer- Mitchum was a brute of a man and got in dozens of fights throughout his life, as both an unknown and as a famous actor. When he first came out to LA he trained as a boxer in Venice.
- D - For his wife, Dorothy. As disloyal as Mitchum was to her (and really he's had more flings and affairs than any celebrity I've ever read about), when it came time to jump ship or stay home, he always went back to her. She was his unexplainable rock.
- M (on his wrist) - One of his higher-profile affairs was with Shirley MacLaine. In my opinion, this was his most emotional one and the closest he ever came to leaving his wife. Shirley must have been some kind of woman - she was the only card-carrying female member of The Rat Pack.
- Eagle - Wayne was an outspoken American, and a very vocal Republican. He made plenty of offensive comments over the years regarding his stance on race and communism that did very little to earn the respect of his peers, but it appears he pissed off Joseph Stalin the most - he ordered Wayne's assassination, but died before it could be accomplished.
- MY BEAUTIFUL AMERICA - One of the last lines in America Why I Love Her, from his Grammy-nominated spoken word album... It's pretty terrible.
- FEO, FUERTE, Y FORMAL - Translates to, "ugly, strong, and dignified." He asked his children to put this on his tombstone. They declined.
- Partial skeleton - Wayne beat lung cancer in 1964, losing his left lung and four ribs in the battle.
- SCAVENGER - A direct quote from his autobiographical piece, "My diet is extraordinary perhaps only from the viewpoint of my close friends, who have named me "the scavenger" because, after finishing every morsel of my own meal, I look around to purloin whatever little delicacies they've left uneaten on their plates. Being a good leaver is practically a requisite for any friend who is invited to luncheon or to dine with me, I can tell you."
- JENNIFER - For his daughter and only child, Jennifer, of whom he made a point of telling anyone who would listen that "she was [his] greatest production."
- P - This is to represent Bob Pender's troupe, the group he trained with as a young man wherein he learned how to dance, tumble, and stilt walk as well as the ability "to convey a mood or meaning without words. How to establish communication silently with an audience, using the minimum of movement and expression; how best immediately and precisely to effect an emotional response — a laugh or, sometimes, a tear." All skills he obviously drew from in many of his performances. In Grant's autobiography (titled Archie Leach, by the way, and easily found online) he describes the moment he signed a contract with Bob Pender, earning ten shillings a week, like this: "Over the years I've signed many lengthy, involved typed contracts calling for me to earn great sums of money, but no employment contract since has ever matched the thrill of that one sheet of ordinary notepaper stating that I was to have the opportunity of learning a profession that appealed to me more than any other in the world."
- Swallow - Birds are often used to symbolize mothers or motherhood, and so too is this one. At the age of nine, Grant came home one day to find his mother, Elsie, gone; his father explained that she had gone away on a holiday. In reality, she was sent to aninstitution, something he did not find out until some twenty years later. As he puts it, he was a grown man at this time, living thousands of miles away and "[he] was known to most people of the world by sight and by name, yet not to [his] mother." He bought her a home and the two reacquainted after his discovery. He realized some time later that his mother's mental withdrawal was probably due to the fact that there had been another child born before him that only lived to be a few months old. His mother sat beside his crib night and day, loving and praying for him until a doctor ordered her to bed for a few hours. The child died that night. It is said that the swallow is also a symbol of hope and renewal of life, things that I'm sure both Grant and his mother sought in one another after their reunion.
- 25 - At the age of fifty three, Grant, "lacking the foundation of early spiritual training and suspecting that there was more happiness available than I seemed able to grasp," underwent a series of controlled experiments with Lysergic Acid, otherwise known as LSD 25. I don't include this tattoo as a piece of cheap trivia - Grant genuinely seems to believe in and have benefited from the experiments. He dismissed LSD as an addictive drug or opiate and proclaimed that "each revelation [brought] with it an anguish of sadness for what was not known before in the wasted years of ignorance and, at the same time, an ecstasy of joy at being freed from the shackles of such ignorance." You can read a more detailed account of his time with LSD in his autobiography.
- Skeleton key - In honor of his dear friend, actor Randolph Scott. There is a tremendous amount of back and forth in the history books about just how friendly these two were with one another. In my personal opinion, I believe they were lovers. Period. George Cukor, who was himself gay and had directed Grant in three films, said that while Grant wouldn't talk about it, Scott "would admit it - to a friend." There's a series of photographs featuring Grant and Scott at their home, dubbed "Bachelor Hall" by the studio, meant to showcase how virile and manly they were, but I see nothing but two men in love when I see those photos, and I don't see a damn thing wrong with that. As close as they were, something, likely the constant questioning and scrutiny, drove these two to the point that they stopped speaking later in life. I think this was an aspect of Grant's life that didn't require explanation, a secret moment that was his and his alone. As his motto dictated, "never complain, never explain."
- S - For his only son, Scott, who died in 1978 from an accidental drug overdose. His death inspired his father to create the Scott Newman Center for drug abuse prevention in his memory.
- Steak - When questioned about whether or not he had been unfaithful to his wife Joanne, Newman famously replied, "Why go out for hamburgers when you have steak at home?"
- N. B. W. S. (fingers) - Short for "Natural Born World-Shaker," a title bestowed upon his character in the film Cool Hand Luke, my favorite of all his movies. I think the label works just as well for Newman, who remained a humble and hard-working family man throughout his illustrious career, and was remarkably charitable with his wealth. His most famous outlet was through his food products, Newman's Own, a company who has given all proceeds, after taxes, to charity. They have given away over 280 million dollars since 1982.
- 19 - Because of his strong support of Eugene McCarthy and his opposition to the war in Vietnam, Newman made number 19 on Nixon's enemies list, a feat he considered his greatest accomplishment until the next tattoo.
- Porsche - Newman said that the only time he ever achieved grace was behind the wheel of a race car, a passion he acquired while making the film Winning. His biggest victory, and what he claimed to be an even bigger moment in his life than upsetting Nixon ("I got higher placing") was finishing 2nd place in the 1979 Le Mans race, missing out on first place only because his car, a Porsche, lost eighteen minutes to a seized wheel-nut. Newman was also a famous prankster. On the set of Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians, Newman and Altman got into a little competition that Newman warned would not end well. One day, Newman sent word to Altman that he was seriously injured on his horse. Altman, fearing the worst, ran to his golf cart and the second he started it up, the underside blew up and launched him in the air. Newman laughed about it decades later, surprised it didn't kill him. Another incident, also involving a Porsche, occurred between Paul and his dear friend Robert Redford (marked with the "RR" on the side of the Porsche). Newman used to grow tired of Newman always talking about racing, saying that it "bored him to tears." One year, on Newman's birthday, he delivered a Porsche to his house - a Porsche that had hit a telephone pole at 90mph. The following year, for Redford's birthday, he came home to find a large, heavy crate in the middle of his house. So heavy, in fact, that it created an imprint in the floor. The huge chunk of metal inside turned out to be the junked Porsche, compacted into a cube. Redford had the last laugh, hiring an artist friend to melt the metal down and turn it into an ugly garden sculpture that Redford had towed over to Newman's garden. Neither one ever said a word to each other about the prank, it was just the nature of their game.
- LOVE IS MY SIN, AND THY DEAR VIRTUE HATE - A line from one of Shakespeare's sonnets that seemed fitting for all the women that came and went in his life. Gable was well-read and well-spoken and would often quote Shakespeare's sonnets - this despite his father's disgust towards acting and the arts, always insisting Gable do manlier things.
- Crawfish - A tribute to perhaps his closest friend, Joan Crawford. Crawford was born Lucille LeSueur, but MGM hated it. The publicity head at MGM organized a contest with the magazine Movie Weekly to allow actors to select her new name (!). The winning name was Joan Arden, but another actress was discovered with the same name and so she was awarded the alternate name, Crawford. She hated it, remarking once that it sounded like "crawfish."
- X - There is an interesting rumor of Clark Gable driving home drunk one night in 1933 and striking and killing a pedestrian. The killing isn't interesting - obviously - it's terrible. It's what happened after. Supposedly, L.B. Mayer successfully arranged for a young executive to take the rap in exchange for being on the studio's payroll for life. A quick glance at Snopes.com says this rumor is "false," but I can't say that I agree 100%. There's a lot of conflicting explanations of what happened in '33, if anything. The "x" pays tribute to the rumored victim.
- CAROLE - Gable's third wife, and the source of the happiest period in his life. He adored her quick wit and youthful charm and despite their rather large differences, the two had a deep and profound love for one another. All this was cut short when Carole, on tour to sell war bonds in 1942, was flying in a plane that crashed into a mountain near Las Vegas, killing everyone on board. Gable, of course, was devastated. When he heard the news, he drove to the scene of the accident and had to be forcibly restrained in his attempt to run up the mountain and rescue her. Despite marrying twice more, he lived out the rest of his life in their house and was buried alongside her when he died.
- Eagle with bombs - The symbol for the 351st Operations Group, an inactive unit of the United States Air Force. Overcome with the grief of his wife's death, Gable enlisted and flew in five combat missions with this division as an observer gunner in B-17 Flying Fortresses. During one of the missions, Gable's aircraft was damaged by flak and attacked by interceptors, knocking out one of the engines and shooting up the stabilizer. In a raid on Germany, one crewman was killed and two others were wounded, and flak went through Gable's boot and narrowly missed his head. Supposedly, Hitler was a big fan of Gable and offered a reward for anyone who could capture and return him unscathed.
1. FRANCIS - despite my rather scattered resume, I believe in love. In that spirit, I believe the love between Sinatra and Gardner was amongst the most passionate, consuming, and volatile that ever existed between man and woman. She is quoted as having said that Frank was the "love of her life," and I found it fitting to place his name above her heart.
2. camera - Admittedly, this isn't the best rendering of a camera in the history of art - my own or otherwise. It is, however, historically accurate in that it was available in 1941 when Gardner's life was first thrust towards cinema. Gardner was in New York visiting her sister when her brother-in-law Larry Tarr, a professional photographer, asked to take a photo of her. Evidently it turned out alright because it ended up in a window display and caught the eye of a roving dirtbag who used to pretend he was a talent scout at MGM to get girls. His ploy failed, but as he left he muttered that someone at MGM should see her. The Tarr's took his advice and Gardner got herself a contract at MGM.
3. LOOT - During the latter part of her career, the quality of Gardner's work (generally the film itself) began to decline. When asked why she continued working on sub-par movies, she responded, "for the loot, honey, for the loot."
1. torch - Some of Sinatra's most famous songs, if not his most powerful, were his torch songs. Close friend and collaborator Nelson Riddle once said that she taught him how to sing them. My favorite torch song of his is "Fool to Want You." It's one of the only songs he sang that he actually had a hand in writing, and he recorded it twice in his career. The earlier version, following a recent breakup with Ava, was done in a single take. He left the studio upon completion, crying quietly to himself.
Essentially, Gardner was THE unrequited love his life. Despite all the women who came his way, it was Gardner who he considered both his greatest accomplishment and his most painful loss. In "Mr. S," his valet-aide of 15 years George Rhodes talks about how when he first began working for Sinatra, the house was a virtual shrine to Gardner with photos in every room (including the bathroom and oddly enough, the closet). He goes on to describe Gardner: "She was a cross between Miss Universe, a kick-ass girl-next-door, and a fairy godmother who could give you your dearest wish. The only problem was, once you met her, your dearest wish was her."
Sinatra publicly fell in love with her while he was still married to his first wife and lost his contract with MGM and nearly all of his assets as a result. A throat hemorrage that same year all but killed his voice and lost him his recording contract at Columbia. Gardner stuck by Sinatra during this period, when nearly everyone bailed, and almost single-handedly reviving his career when she used her friendship with Harry Cohn's wife (he the former head of Columbia) to land a worthless Sinatra his Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity. This role helped restore his rightful place as one of the world's greatest entertainers for the duration of his life (and certainly beyond).
2. cross - for his Catholicism. I don't think he was the most devout follower, but his religion was important to him and a direct tie to his Italian heritage. Sinatra's funeral was held at the Good Shephard Catholic Church in Beverly Hills.
3. III and II - The 'three' is for his children (Nancy, Frank Sinatra Jr., and Tina) whom he loved very much. Hewas, as much as a entertainer of his status could be, a very good father to his children. The 'two' is to recognize that he peaked TWICE in his career, a feat I don't think any other entertainer has accomplished. He was essentially the first superstar - ever - during WWII before his romance with Ava and a throat hemorrage sank his career into obscurity for aproximately five years in the late 40s, early 50s. His role in From Here to Eternity brought him back on top for the rest of his life.
4. Smokey the Bear - 'Smokey' was his nickname for Sammy Davis, Jr., a man he also referred to as his brother. He fell in love with Sammy and his talent the moment he saw him, fighting for him (and other black performers) well before the country found it acceptable. Their bond was so strong it withstood a questionable decision on Sammy's part to encourage Confidential magazine to take photos of him and Ava out on the town. A publicity stunt or no, this sort of behavior was the type of thing that would have made someone "Lawfordized" in an instant.
5. SKINNY - For Paul 'Skinny' D'Amato - Atlantic City impresario, owner of the famous 500 Club, and friend to Sinatra. Skinny ran illegal gamblng and rubbed elbows with mobsters, but he gave Sinatra his loyalty like no other person in his life. And that, I think, is one of Sinatra's best qualities. If you did right by him, it didn't matter where you came from or what you had done. Of course he could flip the switch just as soundly if you wronged him. Skinny helped launch Sinatra's career (as well as giving birth to Martin and Lewis) in the late 1930s and in doing-so, helped shape Sinatra as a person. Skinny once told him, "important men don't ask, they order." When Sinatra's career tanked a decade later, Skinny was the only one to offer him work. Skinny bought him a watch made of solid gold to remind him when he came back, he'd be bigger than ever - and so it was.
Mr. G - For the mob boss Sam 'Momo' Giancana. Sinatra was always fascinated by the type of power he could never posess, and Giancana certainly represented that. Giancana was a force in helping Sinatra get work during his lean years and pulled the strings necessary - along with D'Amato - to steal the primary in West Virginia for JFK and as a result, the presidency. This move was to place Sinatra beside the most powerful man in America, and in turn give his mobster friends a free pass to do their business, but the Kennedys eventually screwed all parties involved including, in the end, themselves.