Singer Bob Anthony is a man shrouded in legend, most of it untrue. Raised in Hoboken, New Jersey, boyhood home of Frank Sinatra, with whom he claimed to be a lifelong friend, Anthony wanted very much to be Sinatra and spent much of his later career trying to emulate him. Pulling out fact from fiction when it comes to Anthony’s life, though, reveals a career far from the myth that later developed.
Part of Anthony’s legend, declared in every obituary of the singer, is that he replaced Sinatra in Tommy Dorsey’s band. This was simply not true. Dick Haymes took Sinatra’s place. Anthony was, in fact, in the service when Sinatra departed in September 1942. According to contemporary reports, Anthony was singing with Bunny Berigan’s band when he was called up. Berigan died in June 1942, so Anthony would have been wearing a uniform long before Dorsey had an open position. According to Down Beat, Anthony enlisted in the navy right after Pearl Harbor. As well as singing with Berigan prior to the war, he also sang with Ina Ray Hutton.
Anthony’s service history is confusing, even to reporters at the time. According to one source, he served in the Navy, seeing action in Italy and Africa, before receiving a medical discharge in late 1943. Down Beat elaborates further on the story, reporting that Anthony had been aboard one of the landing craft in the invasion of Africa when he was knocked out and received shrapnel wounds after a shell partly destroyed his boat. Another report states that he received an honorable discharge for service on Guadalcanal, in the Pacific. What’s for certain though is that upon his discharge he signed with Glen Gray’s Casa Loma Orchestra, where he sang until mid-1944. He very briefly appeared with Randy Brooks’ orchestra in June 1945, and in September he was with Bob Chester. At some time or other after the war, likely in 1947, he reportedly sang with Harry James as well. In mid-1948, he was with Stan Black’s orchestra on KLAC in Hollywood.
Anthony received very little press until the 1950s. In 1950, he formed his own orchestra, with Bettie Barbour as female vocalist. It went nowhere. He’s next heard from in 1952, when he signed with Derby Records, where he cut two sides, one with the Laurie Sisters. In 1954, he recorded for the Eagle label. He worked with Eddie Duchin at some point also, perhaps in this time period.
Anthony’s emulation of Sinatra seemed to have taken off in full force in the 1950s. In 1954, he was reported to have earned a part in the upcoming film version of Pal Joey, in which Sinatra starred, though he’s not part of the cast list. His obituary, however, states that he was in the Broadway musical version, not the film, but his name is not on the cast list there either. If he had a part in either, it was a small part. His obituary also states that he appeared in the Sinatra film Johnny Concho, for which he also isn’t listed in the cast.
After Sinatra and Ava Gardner divorced, Anthony developed an obsession with the actress, taking singing engagements around Europe, in 1957-58, and the Caribbean, in 1959, to be near her. He stated publicly that he’d marry her if she’d have him. They reportedly exchanged correspondence, though one gossip columnist wondered, perhaps jokingly, perhaps not, whether she even knew who he was.
Aside from his Gardner-inspired travels, Anthony also toured U.S. Navy bases in Alaska, Canada and Greenland in 1955. He purportedly traveled with Bob Hope’s USO shows during World War II and the Korean War, though this is unverified. Upon his return from Europe, he signed with Tender Records in Hollywood. In 1958, Anthony announced he would form his own indie label.
Anthony disappeared from the press after 1959. He resurfaced again in 1981, which found him co-owner and manager of the Melody Theater on Times Square. An apparent fan of Ronald Reagan, he sent the new president an LP of his own recordings as a gift, for which he received a thank you card with the presidential seal. He worked as a columnist for Sporting News sometime thereafter before his death in 1986 following a long battle with cancer.
Obituaries put Anthony at age 71 when he passed away. If so, that would place his birth no earlier than November 1914, which would make him 16 or 17 at the time of Pearl Harbor and his work with Berigan, too young to have entered the service. It’s likely he was a few years older. ↩︎