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Why Frank Sinatra walked off ‘Carousel’ set

Frank Sinatra in 1968. Getty Images


Why Frank Sinatra walked off ‘Carousel’ set


According to actress Shirley Jones, Frank Sinatra stormed off the set of the film version of “Carousel” because his then-wife, Ava Gardner, threatened to have an affair with cinematic star Clark Gable.

Jones spoke about how enthusiastic she and Frank Sinatra, fresh off of The Man with the Golden Arm and Guys and Dolls, were during rehearsals for 1956’s Carousel at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood on Thursday night. “We rehearsed everything like a Broadway play and did all of the pre-recordings . . . the photographs, all of the costumes. . . . He told me, ‘Shirley, this is a dream come true for me.”

Jones stated how the cast was informed during pre-production that they would be filming in two formats, CinemaScope and CinemaScope 55, which was standard in Hollywood at the time because some cinemas did not have CinemaScope screens. Sinatra, on the other hand, had an issue with the conditions in which he would be filming when he arrived for his first scene.

Shirley Jones at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival opening night gala and world premiere of the restoration of “Oklahoma!” Thursday night in Hollywood.

During an interview with TCM presenter Robert Osborne, Jones said, “Frank was very enthusiastic about playing Billy Bigelow, which he called the greatest musical role for a man. And he had prerecorded all of the songs to be used in the picture. But when he arrived on location in a limousine and saw two cameras, he said, ‘I’m not being paid to make two movies,’ and got back in the limousine and left.’’

Jones was then directed to contact Gordon MacRae MacRae, who replied, “Give me three days. I have to lose 10 pounds.”


Despite the fact that Jones claims Sinatra never discussed his decision to leave “Carousel,” she did learn the cause for his departure during a press conference a few years back.

“His wife at the time, Ava Gardner, was shooting a film in Africa. She called Frank and said, ‘If you’re not on the next plane, I’m having an affair with [co-star] Clark Gable.’ ”

As the Q&A came to a close, she stated, “Apparently, that’s the reason he left the movie.”

A stunning new restoration of “Oklahoma!” premiered at the TCM Classic Film Festival on Thursday night and will be released on Blu-ray on May 6 as part of a “Rodgers and Hammerstein Collection” that also includes a restoration of “Carousel.”

Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, Alec Baldwin, Kim Novak, Maureen O’Hara, and Tippi Hedren were among the numerous celebrities who attended the festival’s opening night on Thursday.

The TCM Classic Film Festival will run till April 13th.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Peter Graham

    September 14, 2022 at 12:41 pm

    I love Shirley Jones, one of the great musical stars of Hollywood musicals but she made an error here. Gardner threatened to do the wild thing with Gable during the making of MOGAMBO which took place about 2-3 years BEFORE CAROUSEL began production. Sinatra’s reasons for packing up & leaving the CAROUSEL set, so I have read, was that he objected to filming 2 versions of CAROUSEL back to back, due to the fact that not all movie theaters then could adapt to the screen aspect ratios required for their presentation (CinemaScope as opposed to CinemaScope 55). Sinatra claimed he had been contracted for one film & not 2. So it goes. Gardner may have told Sinatra what she might do with Gable but CAROUSEL a had nothing to do with it.

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