In Frankie's shadow.
Frank Sinatra was one music fan who didn't think of Dick Haymes as the poor man's Frank Sinatra. Though Haymes did appear to follow too close for comfort in Sinatra's footsteps, he was no cheap imitator. To Sinatra, he was the competition.
Haymes's big break as a singer came the first time he walked through a door that Sinatra had left open behind him. This Argentinian-born son of a vocal instructor dropped in on band leader Harry James one afternoon to pitch some songs he had written. "I don't like the tunes too much," James concluded, "but I sure like the way the kid sings." It turned out that James liked the way the kid sang enough to hire him-after Frank Sinatra quit on bad terms in late 1939 to join the more popular Tommy Dorsey band.
As America joined the world war, the baby-faced baritone keptperforming, escaping the military draft initially because he remained a citizen of neutral Argentina and later because of high blood pressure. He left James and sang for a few months with clarinetist Benny Goodman, filling in with Dorsey one day when laryngitis silenced Sinatra. In 1942 Sinatra decided it was time to move on again, and Dorsey eventually called Haymes and signed him up.
Early on, the 24-year-old politely put the kibosh on any inklings of him being a shadow Sinatra. "I appreciate what you're telling me about how you want me to sing," he told Dorsey. "But I don't want to sound like Frank."
Sinatra had gone solo, and a few months later Haymes decided it was time to make the same gutsy move himself. So he left Dorsey. Thanks to his label striking a deal with the musicians union to end a recording ban before Sinatra's label did, he managed to release solo singles first. The consummate crooning balladeer registered his biggest hit ever with "You'll Never Know," a boy-misses-girl ballad that reached number one on the charts in July 1943.
The forties proved to be good years for Haymes. Besides recording and singing live, he appeared in a dozen movies. The efforts didn't pay off with Hollywood superstardom, but they did net him a bunch of hits from the songs he sang on screen, including the 1945 Oscar-winning "It Might as Well Be Spring" from State Fair. At his peak, Haymes was reportedly pulling in $25,000 a week.
As the forties turned into the fifties, Haymes, like Sinatra, plummeted in popularity. Heading toward bankruptcy, he drowned his troubles in alcohol. He turned his life around the following decade with help from his sixth wife, Wendy Jones. But at that point Dick Haymes stopped following Frank Sinatra: he never regained his former glory
editor of America in WWII