With age and accomplishment, celebrities often take pleasure in seeing their life histories in print. But not Francis Albert Sinatra. During an unguarded moment, Sinatra once said that he would not allow the story of his life to be told: “Never. That will never happen as long as I have control over the project…there’s too much about my life I’m not proud of.” Inevitably, when Washington journalist Kitty Kelley began researching a biography of the singer in 1982, Sinatra refused to be interviewed. Then, in 1983, he filed a $2 million suit against Kelley for presuming to write without his authorization. Undaunted, Kelley proceeded to seek out Sinatra family members, colleagues, cronies and Mafia experts, among others. (She interviewed more than 800 people.) In the first of two excerpts, she chronicles the early years of the fiesty public figure.
The neighbors in Hoboken’s Little Italy were accustomed to seeing the Sinatra name in print. The family had been in trouble with the law. Frank Sinatra’s uncle Dominick, a boxer known as Champ Sieger, had been charged with malicious mischief; Frank’s uncle Gus had been arrested several times for running numbers; another uncle, Babe, had been charged with participating in a murder and had been sent to prison. His fireman father, Marty, was once charged with receiving stolen goods, and his mother, Dolly, was regularly in and out of courthouses for performing illegal abortions. In those Prohibition years, she also owned and operated a saloon called Marty O’Brien’s.
Dolly dominated the family. Fortunately, Marty Sinatra seemed perfectly content to let his wife be the boss. “He’s a quiet man,” said his brother-in-law Frank Monaco. “Dolly was always the brains of the family. She was the go-getter.”
“I still remember Dolly yelling at me from the saloon when I was on my way home from school one day,” recalled Nick Sevano, who knew Dolly from the time he was a little boy, because, as he said, “Everybody in Hoboken knew Dolly Sinatra.
“Anytime we were in trouble or needed something, we always went to her. We looked to her for confidence and leadership. She was so powerful that she could march into City Hall and demand jobs for us. One summer she stomped in with a bunch of us kids and said, ‘Give these little bastards a job,’ and, by God, we were put to work. Our own fathers couldn’t do that, but Dolly Sinatra could. She was tougher than most men.”
As the local midwife, she was called upon to perform abortions. “If an Italian girl got pregnant, her family would disown her,” said Tony Macagnano, a childhood friend of Frank’s. “Dolly saved a girl’s family embarrassment by doing an abortion. By doing her operations, she saw to it that many of these young girls could go on with their lives.” Dolly would perform an abortion for $25 to $50, and she soon found herself with a steady business. Doctors referred patients to her, and she traveled regularly to Jersey City, Lodi, Weehawken, Union City and Paterson with her little black bag.
“She even set up a table in her house,” said Anna Spatolla Sinatra, who married Frank’s first cousin. “I had to go to her three times. She had me come to the house and lie down on that table in the basement. Then she brought out a long wire—not a coat hanger—with special medication on the end of it. Afterward she told me to take Lysol douches three times a day and quinine pills.”
In 1937 Dolly’s abortion business became public knowledge. Said Marian Brush Schrieber, Frank’s pretty neighbor who became his girlfriend: “Dolly did an abortion in her basement on a girl who almost died. The girl had to be rushed to the hospital and was in critical condition when she arrived. She barely survived. Dolly was arrested and had to stand trial. She was put on probation for five years and had to go down to the probation office every week to sign in. I remember how mad she’d get every time she had to go. She’d say it was a ‘goddamn inconvenience’ and that she had better things to do. She wasn’t a bit embarrassed about it, but it was awful hard on Frank.”
Tony Macagnano agreed: “He never talked about it, but he heard people calling his mother a rabbit catcher and a baby killer. I think that’s the reason that, once he got out of Hoboken, he never came back.”
In 1934, in Long Branch, N.J., where he had gone to stay for the summer with an aunt, Sinatra, then 18, met Nancy Barbato, 16. “When Frank came home at the end of that summer, he brought Nancy to Hoboken and introduced her to me,” recalled Marian Brush Schrieber. “She was a nice little Italian girl, but the way Dolly was carrying on, you’d have thought she was a duchess or something. Her dad was a plasterer, and her five sisters were married to accountants and lawyers, which Dolly just lapped up. Marrying up like that was so important to her. Nancy certainly was not rich, but she was well-off in comparison to Frank.” Not only had Nancy Barbato’s sisters married well, but her family lived in a free-standing wooden house with a porch. That porch signified a comfortable life-style to Dolly, certainly one far removed from Hoboken’s Little Italy.
Nancy understood how much singing meant to Frank. He had told her that he didn’t want any woman getting in the way of his ambition. “I’m going to the top,” he said, “and I don’t want anyone dragging on my neck.”
Nancy promised never to get in his way, and the marriage took place on Feb. 4, 1939.
After a four-day honeymoon that was spent mostly driving to and from North Carolina, Frank and Nancy moved into a three-room Jersey City apartment, which they rented for $42 a month. Their combined monthly income at the time was $200: Nancy earned $25 a week as a secretary, and Frank was making $25 a week as a singing waiter. Together they earned more than Marty Sinatra brought home as a fireman.
After food and rent, most of their money supported Frank’s mania for clothes so he would always be well-dressed when he performed. He needed to dress rich to feel important, and admitted that new clothes bolstered his ego. Nancy, who was frugal, sewed her own dresses and suits and bought only an occasional blouse for $3.50. Everything else she put toward Frank’s wardrobe.
“She used to sew a lot for Frank so he’d look nice when he went on auditions and jobs,” said her friend Andrea Gizza. “She’d make him things like scarves and socks. Once when he needed a new tie to match an outfit he was wearing on a job, she even cut up a dress of hers and made him a tie out of the material. Another time—it was his birthday—she didn’t have much to give him so she took an old glove of his and stuffed a quarter into each of the fingers. She said he cried when he opened the gift and said, ‘Honey, someday we’re going to be rich, you’ll see.’ ”
In January 1940 Frank began rehearsing with the Tommy Dorsey band, and within a few months of starting with Dorsey he recorded I’ll Never Smile Again. The song launched him and became No. 1 on the Hit Parade for seven weeks. Dorsey knew that he had a spectacular singer in Sinatra, whose soft ballads carried intimate messages of love and made women swoon. Frank in turn idolized Tommy, making him the godfather of his daughter, Nancy Sandra, born June 8, 1940. He imitated the flashy way the bandleader dressed. He threw the same kind of temper tantrums. He copied his mannerisms. Tommy was demanding, a perfectionist, and so Frank became one too. He spent money as openly as Tommy and took women as easily. The bandleader had a passion for toy trains, so Frank adopted the same hobby. Soon he even began to sound like Tommy Dorsey.
Tommy was a fan of Dolly Sinatra. “He adored Frank’s mom and her cooking, so we were always dragging the band to Hoboken for one of Dolly’s Italian dinners,” recalled Nick Sevano, who soon became the conduit between the overbearing mother and her elusive son.
“Dolly would get mad at me if I didn’t call her every day to keep her informed of what was going on,” said Nick. “I even had to call her when we were on the road because Frank didn’t have the time.”
Sevano also ran interference between Frank and his wife: “Nancy was always interrogating me. She’d corner me and say, ‘Where were you last night? Who were you with? Why were you out so late? I called the hotel all night and there was no answer in your room. Why not? Was Frank with another woman?’ God, I’d have to think fast at times. I’d always lie and cover for Frank, saying that we were with another band member in his room, rehearsing or something. Then Frank would take me aside and ask me what Nancy had said. ‘Does she know? What did you tell her?’ ”
“Sometimes Nancy would come right out and confront him about other women, crying and carrying on, but Frank would just ignore her. When she really started sobbing, he’d walk out of the room. ‘Let’s go, Nick,’ he’d say, and we’d leave Nancy in tears and head for New York.”
The first major rupture in the marriage occurred in October 1940, when Frank went to Los Angeles with the Dorsey band to open the Hollywood Palladium, a lavish new dance palace. On the second or third day Frank met Alora Gooding, a blond starlet. Within a week they were staying together.
A procession of women followed, including a 16-year-old named Rita Maritt, who said she was fresh from a convent school when the 25-year-old singer first seduced her. “I remember when he took me to bed and told me stories about his childhood—how he would have to steal milk bottles to get the money to feed his family,” she said. “He said that when he was a little boy, he would stand on the street corners in Hoboken singing songs to people who threw coins at him.”
Frank decided to leave Dorsey and go out on his own in 1942. He hired George Evans, a 40-year-old press agent who represented the best in the business: Duke Ellington, Lena Home and Kitty Kallen. After seeing Frank sing at the Paramount in New York City, the astute press agent worked to turn his new client, whose popularity was growing steadily, into the most sensational performer in the country. “I thought if I could fill the theater with a bunch of girls moaning, ‘Oh, Frankie,’ I’ve got something there,” Evans said. He hired 12 long-haired, round-faced girls in bobby socks and paid them $5 apiece to jump and scream and yell, “Oh, Frankie,” as Sinatra started to sing one of his slow, soft ballads. Evans drilled them in the basement of the Paramount, directing them to holler when Frank bent and dipped certain notes. “They shouldn’t only squeal, they should fall apart,” Evans said. He showed Frank how to hold the microphone, clutching it as if he were going to fall down, and when to open his arms to his audience. He even coached two of the girls to fall in a faint in the aisle. To pack the theater to capacity, Evans distributed free tickets to hundreds of youngsters on school vacation. He hired an ambulance to sit outside and gave the ushers bottles of ammonia “in case a patron feels like swooning.”
By the end of a week the ticket lines stretched around the block, and reporters were writing about the thrilling new crooner who cocked his head, hunched his shoulders and caressed the microphone, all of which made the female audience hysterical.
He had the swooners, but now he needed the sophisticates. So his agents accepted an April 1943 booking at the Riobamba, a sleek New York City nightclub that catered to socialites. But his agents were worried. They knew how important it was for Frank to capture this audience.
Frank was convinced that he was going to pack them in, and he did. By the end of the week it was standing room only. His three-week engagement was extended, and his price upped to $1500 a week.
Composer Jule Styne sat in the opening night audience and partied with Frank until dawn. A few hours later a messenger delivered to Styne a gold bracelet from Cartier inscribed: “To Jule Who Knew Me When. Frankie.”
Frank had not been present for the birth of his first child, Nancy. Nor was he with his wife when their son was born on Jan. 10, 1944, in the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital in Jersey City. He was in Hollywood filming Step Lively and starring in a weekly radio show. But the ever-faithful George Evans was there to take care of everything.
Evans called Frank to give him the news and told reporters that the singer was very happy. “He wanted a boy very much,” said the press agent. Then he headed for the florist and had three dozen red roses sent to Nancy from her husband with a card that read, “Congratulations to you, darling, and to the little guy for picking himself such a wonderful mom. All my love.”
Frank was in no hurry to return home. The radio show on which he appeared featured a lineup of beautiful female stars like Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Ann Sheridan, Joan Blondell and Joan Bennett. Despite his wife and newborn son, he stayed on the West Coast for two and a half months basking in the glow of being a movie star.
Eventually Nancy moved with the children to California and took her five married sisters with her. Frank’s mother was furious about all the Barbato girls going to California, but Nancy no longer cared what Dolly thought. Nancy was delighted to be putting 2,500 miles between herself and her mother-in-law.
“Nancy never liked Hoboken people,” said Marian Brush Schrieber, “and when she came back from California for a visit, she acted real hoity-toity, saying, ‘Oh, we’re very close to Lana’ and ‘We see Lana all the time.’ That kind of thing. It made Dolly want to kill her. You’d write a letter to Frank, and one of Nancy’s sisters, Julie or Tina, would send you a reply. A nice letter, but it wasn’t from Frank. That drove all of us crazy.”
Frank and his cronies often used a Wilshire Towers apartment that songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen and orchestral arranger Axel Stordahl shared. “This was where the men went during the week for their bachelor orgies,” explained Phil Silvers’ wife, Jo Carroll. “Call girls were in and out of there all the time. One day Frank brought in Marlene Dietrich. Call girls were one thing, but Dietrich was something else. It was a joke to invite her, but she came because she had heard about Frank.”
Songwriter Sammy Cahn was one of the men sitting around the apartment playing cards when Frank announced Miss Dietrich’s arrival. Cahn described what happened: “The lady walked in, smiled demurely, allowed Sinatra to take her hand and lead her into the bedroom.”
This was not Frank’s first public display of sexual prowess, nor would it be his last. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Nancy to close her eyes to the items that had been appearing in movie magazines about Frank and Lana Turner and Frank and Marilyn Maxwell. But she followed Evans’ advice, saying: “Everyone else may love Frank, but he loves me, and I’m the one he comes home to.”
Nancy enjoyed having New Year’s Eve parties, because they were in her home where she felt most comfortable. Most of her guests were friends with whom she felt secure. But the 1945 party did not bode well. As she was passing the hors d’oeuvres, she noticed a show girl wearing a ring exactly like the one Frank had given to her. And then she remembered. She had given the ring to Frank weeks before to take to the jeweler to be repaired. “I felt so humiliated,” she said later. “I thought I would kill myself.”
In 1946 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was producing one full-length film every week. This fantasy factory boasted as its motto More Stars Than There Are in the Heavens. Frank was signed to a five-year contract at $260,000 a year. Feeling as though he were in the most beautiful harem on earth, he tacked a sheet of paper to his dressing room door. On it were the names of the MGM actresses he most desired; over a period of time he systematically checked off each one.
Nancy was clinging fiercely to her marriage. She and Frank had tried for a new start by buying a $250,000 house—with a cobbled courtyard, swimming pool and gardens—on North Carolwood Dr. in Holmby Hills. They also designed a $150,000 air-conditioned house in Palm Springs with a swimming pool shaped like a grand piano. On June 20, 1948, they had their third child, Christina, who was a present for Father’s Day. But, ever restless, Frank continued seeking company away from home, and not always with discretion.
One night in 1948 he called his West Coast press agent Jack Keller at 3 o’clock in the morning. Frank told Jack that he and actress Ava Gardner, whom he had met at MGM, were in Indio, Calif, and had just “shot up the town.”
“With what?” screamed Keller.
“Oh, you know them two 38s I got the permits for? I keep them in the Cadillac now because I might get held up, traveling with all this jewelry on me and all. Well, tonight me and the kid here, we got a little loaded, see, and we drove down here from Palm Springs, and we thought we’d have a little fun, and we shot up a few streetlights and store windows with the .38s. That’s all.”
“Oh, my God,” said Jack. “Did you hit anybody?”
“Well, there was this one guy, we creased him a little bit across the stomach. Just a scratch.”
“Have you been booked at the police station? Do the newspapers know anything about it?”
“No, the chief here is a good guy. He knows who I am and all, and he ain’t doing nothing until you get down here. You better make it fast, Jack.”
Keller hung up and arranged to charter a plane in Burbank. He woke up a friend who was the resident manager of the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel and asked how much money he had in the safe. The man said he had $30,000.
“I can’t tell you why, but I need it all,” said Keller. “I’ll give it back to you first thing in the morning.”
By 10 a.m. Keller had paid off anyone who might talk. He put Ava and Frank into the chartered plane and took off with them for Los Angeles. He dropped Ava at her apartment and delivered Frank, sober, to his wife and children.
With her full lips and alluring eyes, Ava Gardner radiated accessibility. “She was sexually uninhibited, wild, all kinds of goodies and quick,” said Jo Carroll Silvers. “She was gone and with somebody else before you knew where you were. She was cruel that way, but so was Frank.”
Nick Sevano remembers when Gardner made the cover of a magazine. “Frank looked at it and said: ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’ It was during his days with Dorsey.”
The similarities between Ava and Frank were astounding. Both were insecure about their lack of education; Frank had had only 47 days of high school before he was expelled, and Ava, although a high school graduate with one year of business school, still felt intellectually inadequate. Both Ava and Frank smoked, drank hard liquor, cursed, and worshiped FDR. Both loved blood sports; his was boxing, hers bullfighting. Both of them seemed to crave action, excitement and adventure.
“I’m possessive and so is Frank,” said Ava. “He has a temper that bursts into flames, while my temper burns inside for hours. He never finished an argument. He’d just get up and walk away, leaving me frustrated and furious.”
One night at a club opening, Ava thought that Frank was singing to his old girlfriend, actress Marilyn Maxwell. Gardner stormed out. Then Frank discovered that Howard Hughes, one of Ava’s previous lovers, was having him followed.
“We had one of our worst fights over that,” said Ava. “I had a rather valuable gold bracelet that Howard had given me. I got so mad during the argument that in order to prove to Frank that Howard meant nothing to me, I grabbed this bracelet and hurled it out of the window of the Hampshire House [a New York hotel]. I never got it back. I hope some lucky girl picked it up and sold it for what it was worth, which was quite a lot.”
Despite his married status, Frank, became so smitten with Ava that he didn’t want her to see anyone else. But Ava, angry that he was taking so long to get a divorce, taunted him with other men, especially wiry Italian men.
While “the Ava business,” as Frank’s friends referred to his furtive romance, was hidden from the public for 18 months, it was known to their friends, who helped them meet on a regular basis during 1948 and 1949.
“Bobby and I had a house on the beach, and Frank and Ava would be there all the time,” said Betty Burns, the wife of the man who became Frank’s manager after George Evans’ death. “We would be sitting in the living room and hear them quarreling upstairs in the bedroom. Ava would scream at Frank, and he would slam the door and storm downstairs. Minutes later we’d smell a very sweet fragrance coming from the stairs. Ava had decided she wasn’t mad anymore, so she sprayed the stairwell with her perfume. Frank would smell it and race back up to the bedroom. Then it would be hours before he’d come back down.”
In January 1950 the lovers were spotted by a photographer dining in a Houston restaurant. Ava screamed and hid her face in the folds of her mink coat. The story appeared in the next day’s paper and was picked up by the wire services.
Nancy was so humiliated reading about her husband and Gardner that when Frank admitted everything, she hired a lawyer and locked him out of the house. On Valentine’s Day, 1950, she announced their separation.
The fights with Ava continued, and one of the most bitter was over her former husband, bandleader Artie Shaw. One night in 1950 Frank asked Ava not to go to a party at Shaw’s apartment. She went anyway.
An hour after she arrived at Shaw’s, Frank called her. “Well, I just called to say goodbye,” he said.
“Where are you going, Frank? Why can’t I come too?”
“Not where I’m going, baby,” he said.
Then came the sound of a pistol shot, a pause, and then another shot.
Ava dropped the phone and went screaming from the party in a panic. Artie and his friends accompanied her as she rushed to the Hampshire House and to Frank’s suite on the eighth floor.
Columbia Records chief Manie Sachs, who had a permanent suite down the hall, had been startled by the shots. He ran into Frank’s suite with David Selznick and saw that Frank had simply shot his pistol into the mattress twice. Knowing that the police would be there quickly, he and Selznick grabbed the mattress with the two holes and carried it to Manie’s suite, then rushed Manie’s mattress back to Frank’s bed. By the time the police arrived to search Frank’s suite, there was no trace of bullets or bullet holes.
Breathlessly, Ava recounted her story to the police, but Frank, sitting up in bed in his pajamas, denied firing any shots.
“You’re dreaming,” he said. “You’re crazy.”
Meanwhile, encouraged by the public support she received from the Catholic Church as well as from the Hollywood press, Nancy Sinatra contirtued to refuse Frank a divorce, convinced that he would eventually return home. She saw how physically drained he was by his tempestuous relationship with Ava, following her back and forth to New York, to Europe, to California. She knew of their ugly fights. Nancy also knew how much Frank missed the comforts of home. She saw how guilty he felt about leaving the children, especially little Nancy, his favorite child. Besides, although Frank had walked out of the house in January 1950, he kept coming back, thereby prompting Nancy to drag out the legal proceedings as long as she could in hopes of outlasting Ava Gardner.
Over the Labor Day weekend of 1951, Frank and Ava went to Lake Tahoe. Late in the evening of Aug. 31, after a few hours of drinking and gambling at the Christmas Tree restaurant, they had another one of their terrible fights. It ended with Ava hurrying back to Hollywood while Frank, despondent, returned to his chalet at the Cal-Neva Lodge and took an overdose of sleeping pills.
His valet, George Jacobs, found him in a stupor. A doctor was summoned to pump out Frank’s stomach. He examined Frank’s heart and pulse, which were normal but slow, and prescribed salts to induce vomiting and a stimulant to counteract the sleeping pills. Then, as required by law, he reported the incident to the sheriff, who sent a deputy to investigate. Three days later the incident became national news, but by the time reporters showed up to ask questions, Frank and Ava were reunited and sitting together holding hands.
“I did not try and commit suicide,” said Frank. “I just had a bellyache. Suicide is the farthest thought from my mind. What will you guys think of next to write about me?”
Years later George Jacobs confirmed that Frank had indeed tried to commit suicide that night over Gardner. “Thank God, I was there to save him,” he said. “Miss G was the one great love of his life, and if he couldn’t have her, he didn’t want to live no more.”
On Oct. 31, 1951, Nancy was granted a divorce. The next day Frank and Ava took out a marriage license.
On Nov. 7, at a friend’s home in Philadelphia, they exchanged thin platinum rings. Turning to the 20 assembled guests, Frank broke into a big smile. “Well,” he said. “We finally made it. We finally made it.”
On their first wedding anniversary the Sinatras flew to Nairobi, where Ava would begin filming Mogambo. “We felt kinda sorry for ourselves,” Frank later wrote in a letter, “but we exchanged our gifts and opened a not-too-chilled bottle of champagne to toast our milestone.” He gave Ava a huge globe-shape ring studded with diamonds, which he charged to her, and she gave him a thin platinum watch.
After Frank had flown back to the U.S. for a screen test for From Here to Eternity, Ava flew from Nairobi to London with her publicist and the wife of cameraman Robert Surtees. She stayed at the Savoy Hotel and then was taken to a private nursing home one evening. Her publicist told the press that she had a tropical infection and was suffering from a severe case of anemia. Years later Ava came closer to the truth when she told writer Joe Hyams that she had a “miscarriage.”
Surtees recalled it differently. “That isn’t the way it was at all,” he said . “Ava hated Frank so intensely by this stage, she couldn’t stand the idea of having his baby. She went to London to have an abortion. I know, because my wife went to London to be at her side at all times through the operation and afterward, and to bring her back on the plane. She told my wife, ‘I hate Frankie so much. I wanted that baby to go unborn.’ ”
On Oct. 29, 1953, MGM announced that Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner would seek a divorce. Twenty days later Frank was found on the floor of a friend’s Manhattan apartment with his wrists slashed.
Sinatra remained in Mt. Sinai Hospital while his representatives fielded questions from the press. The slashed wrists were dismissed as “an accident with a broken glass,” and Frank signed himself out two days later saying he felt “just fine.”
The heartbreak Frank suffered over Ava seeped into his music, giving new poignancy to lyrics of loss and loneliness. The songs he sang in the clubs expressed the brooding melancholy he was feeling at the time.
The nights were the hardest for Frank, and he tried to fill them with dates and nightclubs and card games with the boys. “One time he called us over to play cards, and when we got there he was on the phone to his first wife, Nancy,” said one friend. “Sometimes he needs advice or wants somebody to talk to or maybe he’s just lonely, so he calls Nancy. Well, this time she was mad at him. She wouldn’t talk to him.
“By the time we got the game started, he didn’t want to play. He went into the den, opened a bottle and started drinking alone. Okay. So we keep the game going awhile, and then [songwriter] Sammy Cahn gets up and goes in to try to get Frank to join us. So what does he see?
“There’s Frank drinking a toast to a picture of Ava with a tear running down his face. Sammy comes back and we start playing again. All of a sudden we hear a crash. We rush into the den, and there’s Frank. He had taken the picture of Ava, frame and all, and smashed it. Then he picked up the picture, ripped it into pieces and threw it on the floor. He says, ‘I’m through with her. I never want to see her again. I’m all right. I’ve just been drinking too much.’
“So we go back to the game, and a little while later Sammy goes back to Frank, and there he is on his hands and knees picking up the torn pieces of the picture, trying to put it back together. Well, he gets all the pieces together except the one for the nose. He becomes frantic looking for it, and we all get down on our hands and knees and try to help him.
“The doorbell rings. It’s a delivery boy with more liquor. Frank lets him in, and as he opens the door, the missing piece flutters out. Well, Frank is so happy, he takes off his gold wristwatch and gives it to the delivery boy.”
Ava did not apply for her divorce until 1954, when she established residency in Nevada, and then she dropped proceedings because she insisted that Frank pay the legal costs and he refused. The divorce was not finalized until 1957. Even after that, Sinatra still kept talking about his beautiful ex-wife. While making movies he kept her picture taped to his dressing room mirror.
Frank fell into many arms trying to recover from Ava and reached out to women around him for comfort. He proposed to some but forgot most, running away as soon as they wanted more than he wanted to give. He swore to actress Mona Freeman that he didn’t care if he ever saw Ava again, and he said the same to Judy Garland, whom he dropped abruptly when she wanted to become the next Mrs. Sinatra. Elizabeth Taylor got the same treatment toward the end of her unhappy marriage to Michael Wilding when she found herself pregnant by Frank and wanted to marry him. He arranged an abortion for her instead.
No one woman seemed to be able to wipe away the scars of Gardner. “He always told me one of the things that fascinated him about Ava was that there was no conquest,” said comedian Shecky Greene. “He couldn’t conquer her. That is where the respect comes. He never got her. He couldn’t dominate her.”
A woman that he knew recalled, “In his Palm Springs house there remained an icon to Ava—a little painting of her on the wall going up the stairs, with a candle underneath that Sinatra lit every day.”