Sinatra’s Cannonball Run II Cameo

To kick off this year’s summer #CarWeek series (and on #SinatraSaturday, no less), today’s post explores the Chairman and his car as he joins a star-studded cast for a cross-country race in one of the most famous “car movie” series this side of Fast and the Furious.

Frank Sinatra, joined by Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Shirley MacLaine on the set of Cannonball Run II (1984)

Frank Sinatra, joined by Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Shirley MacLaine on the set of Cannonball Run II (1984)

Vitals

Frank Sinatra as himself, entertainment legend

Las Vegas, Summer 1983

Film: Cannonball Run II
Release Date: June 29, 1984
Director: Hal Needham
Costume Design: Kathy O’Rear, Norman Salling, and Don Vargas

Background

Look, we’re all aware that Cannonball Run II isn’t Frank Sinatra’s best movie. (And, let’s face it, even if it was his only movie, it still wouldn’t be his best!) But, after observing the fun that his Rat Pack pallies Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., had in the first installment, FS arranged for a short cameo that would yield him second billing in the cast and a $30,000 payday, which he donated to charity.

According to Hal Needham, three versions of the script were written to accommodate the Chairman of the Board: one that would require one week of work, a second that would require two days, and a third version where Frank would only be needed on the set for one day. Perhaps aware that this wasn’t exactly The Manchurian Candidate, Frank wisely chose the latter option, showing up for his day on screen behind the wheel of his own red Dodge Daytona Turbo Z.

In addition to being the last on-screen reunion of the core Rat Packers—Frank, Dean, and Sammy, as well as Shirley MacLaine—Cannonball Run II also marked the final feature film appearance for Sinatra when it was released 37 years ago this week. The singer’s swan song takes up less than three minutes of screen-time, saving a little more of Frank’s cinematic dignity than Dino and Sammy by the end.

“He’s not the only king… we’ve got royalty in this country too!” Dino’s character exclaims, before we cut to a shot of real-life Sinatra confidante and restauranteur Jilly Rizzo opening a set of double doors to the tune of “Hail to the Chief”, escorting to the cast to greet Sinatra, seated behind an executive desk in a gray suit and tie. Unlike his friends, who continue their characters from the first Cannonball Run, Frank plays himself, riffing on his image as a man whose power has transcended the entertainment industry as he lampoons his revered reputation in conversation with racer J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds).

J.J.: Mr. Sinatra?
Frank: You may call me Frank.
J.J.: (to the others) I can call him Frank.
Frank: Not yet. I’ll let you know when you can. Not exactly now, but I’ll let you know.
J.J.: What can I call you?
Frank: Call me Sir.

What’d He Wear?

Once Frank joins the rest of the cast in the cross-country race, he’s abandoned his suit and dressed for the road in a lilac Members Only jacket and “scrambled eggs”-embroidered baseball cap.

Constructed of a polyester shell, the traditional Members Only zip-up jacket blends elements of racer jackets with the nylon MA-1 bomber blousons developed in mid-century for military flight crews. The ribbed-knit cuffs and hem in particular evoke the latter.

The short standing collar has a narrow strap “belted” around the neck through a series of loops with a snap closure in the front, should the wearer want to cover his throat. The shoulders are detailed with similar epaulette-style straps, equally narrow and belted through a loop at the shoulder seam, through which the strap folds back and snaps to itself midway between neck and shoulder. The slanted hand pockets and set-in breast pocket have narrowly ribbed-knit welting to match the jacket’s color. A small black rectangular patch with “MEMBERS ONLY” embroidered in white is sewn just below the breast pocket ribbing, indicating to the rest of the world that its wearer has indeed joined the special club of “members” who spent $55 on a polyester jacket.

Frank Sinatra in Cannonball Run II (1984)

From the cockpit of his Dodge, a Members Only-clad Frank Sinatra consults with the King of the Road… before hitting the road himself.

Indeed, Members Only was one of the reigning clothing brands of the ’80s, having originated in 1975 before it was introduced to the United States five years later by Craft Imports. “When you put it on, something happens,” the brand advertised… though in the case of famous wearers like “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez, it may have been better if such things didn’t happen. Available in a range of colors, Members Only jackets dominated the ’80s… and then became almost immediately passé once the decade ended. Once in demand, the Members Only jacket soon became a mocking shorthand in pop culture to establish a character so tacky or out of touch—think Jason Alexander in Shallow Hal or Richie Aprile on The Sopranos—that they’re still clinging to the adventurous promise of a Members Only jacket.

Of course, for better or worse, fashion is cyclical. The enduring ’80s nostalgia craze—fueled in part by Netflix’s Stranger Things, in which Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) wore a gray Members Only jacket—revived the Members Only in public consciousness, perhaps first as “ironic” fashion before going mainstream among the wares of retailers like Urban Outfitters. The Members Only brand was licensed in 2016 and, five years later, continues to expand. You can read more of the history—and possible future—of Members Only in Jake Rossen’s comprehensive 2016 article for Mental Floss.

Frank zips his Members Only racer partially over his lavender button-up shirt, tonally similar to the jacket with the only visible detail being the point collar that he wears open at the neck. His dark navy flat front trousers have side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms, worn with black leather plain-toe ankle boots.

Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra on the set of Cannonball Run II (1984)

Burt, Dean, Shirley, Sammy, and Frank dress the hood of the Chairman’s Dodge for his single day on the set of Cannonball Run II.

Rather than one of his signature Cavanagh fedoras or trilbies—tilted at just the right angle—Sinatra wears a black baseball cap, personalized with a field of five gold stars arced above a gold “FAS” monogram. The brim is detailed with two gold-embroidered oak leaf sprigs in the tradition of “scrambled eggs” military headgear.

Sinatra wears a pair of rings, a gold wedding band on his left hand and a gold signet ring on his right pinky. His wristwatch appears to be a gold tank watch on a black leather strap, perhaps one of the Cartier timepieces often associated with the singer.

Frank Sinatra in Cannonball Run II (1984)

As mentioned, Frank’s dressed more professionally when he’s introduced in his Las Vegas office, holding court in a dark gray wool suit. The single-breasted, two-button jacket has notch lapels, four-button cuffs, and a welted breast pocket where he wears a rakishly puffed red printed silk pocket square. His plain white cotton shirt has double (French) cuffs, secured with a set of flat mother-of-pearl links, and a spread collar with plenty of tie space to accommodate the Windsor knot of his navy tie, which is detailed with thin pale-gray “uphill” stripes that are widely spaced apart to make room for a series of gray crown-like shapes.

Frank Sinatra in Cannonball Run II (1984)

Frank commands respect not just through his tailored suit… but by also actually asking his office guests to call him “sir”.

Who else wore Members Only?

Though the distinctive black branded tag appears to have been removed, Burt Reynolds’ light pink polyester jacket is detailed consistently with the classic Members Only racer, right down to the narrow double-snap throat latch and equally narrow shoulder straps.

Burt Reynolds in Cannonball Run II (1984)

Did the Chairman’s contract stipulate that only he could be a member?

For the race itself, Burt would discard the Members Only-style jacket in favor of a, um… Army general’s uniform and white cravat.

What to Imbibe

Though Frank’s actual screen time would hardly be enough to even pour one of his signature glasses of Jack Daniel’s, several other cast members partake in this venerated Tennessee whiskey. We first see Richard Kiel ordering a “black Jack and water” for his teammate, played by Jackie Chan. The order is not dissimilar to the Chairman’s preferred preparation, which was “always three or four ice cubes, two fingers of Jack Daniel’s, the rest water, in a traditional rocks glass,” according to Bill Zehme in the well-researched volume The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’.

Considerably later, his pal Dino dips into the Jack as well, bracing himself with a series of shots straight from the bottle to handle the horror of Dom DeLuise, Burt Reynolds, and Sammy Davis Jr. dressed as harem and dancing provocatively to the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love”.

Dean Martin in Cannonball Run II (1984)

Drink as much as you want, Dino, but there’s not enough booze in the world to unsee the sight you’re trying to forget.

The Car

Frank shows up for the race not in a sleek Italian sports car, but instead a red 1984 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z. I’ve read conflicting information about whether or not this Dodge belonged to Sinatra himself, though I wouldn’t be surprised as the Chairman was confirmed to have another car from the Chrysler K platform: a wood-sided Town & Country station wagon powered by the same 2.2-liter inline-4 engine as the Dodge Daytona series.

Cannonball Run II (1984)

The race is on!

1984 was the first year that Dodge produced this Daytona model, borrowing a name that had previously been used to differentiate a limited series of performance-oriented B-body Chargers famous for their elongated nose cones and tall rear stabilizer wings and named to indicate its dominance in the famous Daytona 500. The 2.2-liter inline-4 that produced just over 140 horsepower was a far cry from these Hemi-powered beasts of the ’69 and ’70 Daytona, but such was the nature of Detroit nearly a generation out from the height of the muscle car era.

Cannonball Run II (1984)

A continuity error debuts Frank’s Daytona long before he appears on screen, swapped in for the red Corvette that Dean and Sammy drive for the race.

1984 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z

Body Style: 2-door hatchback

Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)

Engine: 135 cu. in. (2.2 L) Chrysler “Turbo I” inline-4 with Garrett T03 turbocharger

Power: 142 hp (106 kW; 144 PS) @ 5600 RPM

Torque: 160 lb·ft (217 N·m) @ 3600 RPM

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Wheelbase: 97 inches (2464 mm)

Length: 175 inches (4445 mm)

Width: 69.3 inches (1760 mm)

Height: 50.3 inches (1278 mm)

The Daytona series would be redesigned twice over the rest of its production timeline, once in 1987 and again in 1992 before the model was discontinued after 1993, replaced by the Dodge Avenger.

Though inline-four engines were always available on the Daytona, these latter models could also be had with a 3.0-liter Mitsubishi V6… the very same 141-horsepower engine that powered my first car, a red 1992 Plymouth Acclaim.

How to Get the Look

Frank Sinatra reunites with frequent co-stars Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Shirley MacLaine on the set of Cannonball Run II (1984)

Frank Sinatra reunites with frequent co-stars Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Shirley MacLaine on the set of Cannonball Run II (1984)

Behind the wheel of a clunky Detroit-made sports car, clad in a Members Only jacket and personalized trucker cap, this is as ’80s as Frank Sinatra could ever get.

  • Lilac polyester Members Only racer jacket with narrow double-snap collar strap, narrow shoulder straps (epaulettes), ribbed-welt set-in breast pocket, ribbed-welt hand pockets, ribbed cuffs, and ribbed hem
  • Lavender button-up shirt with point collar
  • Dark navy flat front trousers with side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Black leather plain-toe ankle boots
  • Black baseball cap with gold-embroidered five star design, “FAS” monogram, and “scrambled eggs” leaf motif on the brim
  • Gold signet pinky ring, right hand
  • Gold wedding band, left hand
  • Gold tank watch on black leather strap

Thanks to the revived appeal of ’80s fashions, the Members Only brand has been resuscitated and you too can nab a new light pink Members Only racer like Frank wore from Amazon or straight from Members Only, among other places.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie… or maybe don’t. You may find a little more value in reading this recap of the Chairman’s cameo for the blog Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoches.

The Quote

You may call me “Frank”… not yet, I’ll let you know when you can.

3 comments

  1. Eric J Tidd

    Oh Members Only… I couldn’t win in the 80s… I was picked on for not having a Members Only jacket (which we couldn’t afford) so I got a knock-off… and was then ridiculed even more for not having a REAL Members Only jacket.

  2. Robert Sterling

    Mr. Sinatra was a pitchman for Chrysler Corp. in the early 80’s. They even had a Sinatra Edition Imperial in ’82. I’d like to imagine he just walked on to a Las Vegas Dodge dealer’s lot, got in the car, and said, “Tell Iacocca I’m taking this one.”

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