In last week’s excerpt from the new biography His Way, Frank Sinatra starts out as a scrappy kid in Hoboken, N.J., where his mother’s activities as an abortionist embarrass him. He pursues a singing career and soon has audiences swooning over “Frankie.” Equally smitten is actress Ava Gardner. But the hot-tempered lovers fight bitterly, and Sinatra is driven to two suicide attempts. Separated from Gardner, Frank seeks solace in the company of Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland, all the while lamenting the loss of Ava. By 1956, he was pursuing a new love:
Frank was involved in a secret relationship with Lauren Bacall. Noël Coward, who attended Frank’s New Year’s party in Palm Springs, commented on her possessiveness in his diary Jan. 1, 1956, saying, “Frankie is enchanting as usual and, as usual, he has a ‘broad’ installed with whom he, as well as everyone else, is bored stiff. She is blond, cute, and determined, but I fear her determination will avail her very little with Betty Bacall on the warpath.”
There was no one in Hollywood whom Frank admired more than Humphrey Bogart. He worshiped the cynical, outspoken actor as an artist, and looked up to him as a mentor. Bogart, in turn, admired Sinatra. “He’s kind of a Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, fighting people who don’t want to fight,” he said. “He’s a cop-hater. If he doesn’t know who you are and you ask him a question, he thinks you’re a cop. Sinatra is terribly funny. He’s just amusing because he’s a skinny little bastard and his bones kind of rattle together.”
In February 1956, Humphrey Bogart was diagnosed as having throat cancer. He required surgery and radiation treatments to contain the malignancy. But the operation was too late and Bogie had less than a year to live. Frank visited him regularly when he was in town.
That fall, when Frank was playing the Sands, he sent a chartered plane to Los Angeles to fly Cole Porter, Swifty Lazar and other friends to Las Vegas to celebrate Lauren Bacall’s 32nd birthday. Bogie did not attend. Instead, he spent the day on his boat with his son.
“He was somewhat jealous of Frank,” said Bacall many years later. “Partly because he knew I loved being with him, partly because he thought Frank was in love with me, and partly because our physical life together, which had always ranked high, had less than flourished with his illness.”
This was the closest Bacall ever came to admitting her passion for Frank during the time that her husband was dying. “It was no secret to any of us,” said playwright Ketti Frings, who visited Bogart at home during his last days. “Everybody knew about Betty and Frank. We just hoped Bogie wouldn’t find out. That would have been more killing than the cancer.”
On Jan. 14, 1957, Bogart died. Frank was performing in New York at the Copa when he got the news. He canceled his next two appearances, telling his agents, “I can’t go on. I wouldn’t be coherent.” He called Bacall in California and offered her his Palm Springs house for two weeks, then canceled three more shows. But he still couldn’t bring himself to fly to the West Coast for the funeral. He pleaded laryngitis, but close friends suspected that he had developed a crippling case of what his former press agent George Evans once called “the guilt germs.”
During 1957 Frank was seen escorting Bacall to premieres, dinner parties, and weekends in Palm Springs. “Frank and I became a steady pair,” she said. “At all his small dinner parties I was the hostess. People were watching with interest. It seemed to everyone—to his friends, to mine—that we were crazy about each other, that we were a great pair; that it wouldn’t last; that Frank would never be able to remain constantly devoted, monogamous—yet that maybe with me, he would.”
It was months of what Bacall described as an “erratic” courtship. Frank would be “wildly attentive” one minute, and sullen the next. “He’d had so many scars from so many past lives—was so embittered by his failure with Ava—he was not about to take anything from a woman,” she said.
Deeply in love, she wanted nothing more than a wedding ring from Frank, but he vacillated until the evening of March 11, 1958, when he finally proposed.
“I must have hesitated for at least 30 seconds,” she said.
That evening they went to the Imperial Gardens on Sunset Boulevard to celebrate with Swifty Lazar. A young girl came to their table asking for autographs. Frank said, “Put down your new name.” After “Lauren Bacall” Mrs. Bogart wrote “Betty Sinatra.”
“I was so happy, I wanted everyone to know that we were getting married, but I kept my mouth shut,” she said.
Frank left the next day for Miami, and Lazar took Bacall to the theater. During intermission a columnist asked her if she and Frank were going to get married. “Why don’t you telephone Frank in Florida?” she said before admitting the truth, which Swifty confirmed minutes later. That night she saw the headlines on the early edition of the morning paper: SINATRA TO MARRY BACALL.
Not knowing how he would react, Bacall phoned Frank in Miami to tell him what had happened. He didn’t call her back for days. When he did, he said, “Why did you do it? I haven’t been able to leave my room for days—the press are everywhere. We’ll have to lay low for a while, not see each other for a while.”
That was the last Lauren Bacall heard from Frank Sinatra. He didn’t speak to her again for six years, and then only in rage. When reporters asked him about the marriage report, he said, “Marriage? What for? Just so I’d have to go home earlier every night? Nuts!”
That night Ava called Frank from Spain. “I hear you called off the marriage,” she said.
“The marriage to Betty Bacall.”
“Jesus. I was never going to marry that pushy female.”
The violence within Frank kept people at bay, leaving some women in his life to receive the roughest treatment. During the time Natalie Wood dated Frank, he insulted her so terribly at a party in his home that she went screaming from the table in tears. Even so, he threw her a surprise party on her 21st birthday, and on her 22nd he sent her 22 bouquets, and had them delivered one by one hourly. He also ordered 22 musicians to serenade her.
“It was really something to see,” said a woman who lived with songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen. “Frank would bring someone to the desert for the weekend, and, of course, we’d have to be there, so I saw a lot of what I call Frank’s ‘before-and-after’ treatment. Before bed, he would be so charming. The girl was ‘mademoiselle this,’ ‘darling that,’ and ‘my sweet baby.’ He was a perfect gentleman. He’d fill her glass with champagne every time she took a sip. With a hand on her neck he’d say, ‘You’re beautiful tonight,’ or he’d whisper loudly enough for all of us to hear, ‘No one prettier has ever been in my house. You look radiant, gorgeous.’ Then the next day we’d go over for his interminable pool party, where everyone drank for hours, followed by his spaghetti dinner, which was followed by more drinking. It was the next day that we’d always find the other Frank, the one who wouldn’t speak to the girl who had been the most beautiful woman in the world the night before. Sometimes he wouldn’t even go near her, nor would he tolerate any affectionate overtures from her. The minute the conquest was achieved, kaput. The girl could pack her bags. I saw many of them leave his house in tears.”
Paul Chandler, who worked as a houseman for Frank for many years, said one of his jobs was to drive the women home the next morning. “Frank was just like a child. He wanted every new toy there was, and then after he played with it, he’d just toss the toy away. Those girls were no more than toys to him. Some mornings I’d get to the house and find four or five of them in the bed at the same time, and all colors of girls, too, let me tell you,” he said.
It was this “swinging” image of Sinatra that so fascinated President Kennedy. He delighted in hearing reports of what Frank was doing, and especially with whom. “It’s true that Jack loved hearing about Frank’s Hollywood broads,” said Peter Lawford. He added that the President enjoyed movie and show business gossip so much that he subscribed to Variety to keep up with what was going on.
In the late ’50s and early ’60s Sinatra introduced Kennedy to numerous women. Among them was a striking 25-year-old brunette named Judith Campbell (later Judith Campbell Exner), with whom Sinatra had had a brief affair which ended when she refused to participate in his sexual parties, telling him that his tastes were “too kinky” for her.
Frank introduced her to Kennedy in Las Vegas and provided his own suite for the room service lunch the two shared on Feb. 8, 1960, a lunch that launched a two-year affair that would include twice-a-day phone calls, a four-day stay at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, and romantic interludes in Palm Beach, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Jack Kennedy’s home in Georgetown while Jackie was away.
Knowing that Judith Campbell had started an intimate relationship with Kennedy, Frank introduced her to his friend Sam Giancana, the chief of Chicago’s Mafia who wore Sinatra’s friendship ring. Giancana smoked Cuban cigars, drove a pink Cadillac, and talked out of the side of his mouth. This short, balding man with a sixth-grade education was the successor to Al Capone, and as such he was a top member of La Cosa Nostra, the national crime syndicate. He controlled the protection rackets, pinball machines, prostitution, numbers games, narcotics, loan sharks, extortioners, counterfeiters and bookmakers in the Chicago area.
“Frank never called Sam or any of his killers Mafia—they were always ‘the Boys’ or ‘the Outfit’!” said Peter Lawford. “But they were Mafia all right…Because of Giancana [Frank] kowtowed to the Chicago mob. Why do you think Frank ended every one of his nightclub acts by singing My Kind of Town (Chicago Is). That was his tribute to Sam, who was really an awful guy with a gargoyle face and weasel nose. I couldn’t stand him, but Frank idolized him because he was the Mafia’s top gun. Frank loved to talk about ‘hits’ and guys getting ‘rubbed out.’ And you better believe that when the word got out around town [that Frank was a pal of Sam Giancana] nobody but nobody ever messed with Frank Sinatra. They were too scared. [Sam] was a killer.
“Giancana was always summoning Frank and Dean [Martin] to perform for him, and they always went. They both flew to Chicago on four different occasions that I know of, and sang free of charge.”
Frank was proud of his friendship with the Chicago capo, and introduced him to his friends. He fixed him up with women in Las Vegas, Miami and Hollywood. Frank told Judith Campbell: “Wake up and realize what you’ve got in the palm of your hand.” Both Jack and Sam enjoyed a simultaneous intimacy with the woman who unintentionally brought the underworld into a relationship with the White House.
“Jack was always so grateful to Frank for all the work he’d done in the campaign raising money,” recalled Lawford. “He said, ‘Maybe I’ll ask him to the White House for dinner or lunch.’ I said that Frank would love that, but then Jack said, There’s only one problem. Jackie hates him and won’t have him in the house. So I really don’t know what to do.’ Here was the President of the United States in a quandary just like the rest of us who are afraid to upset our spouses. We joked for a few minutes about stuffing Frank into a body bag and dragging him around to the side door so the gardeners could bring him in like a bag of refuse and Jackie wouldn’t see him. We also talked about sneaking him in inside one of John-John’s big diaper bundles. The President brightened up a few minutes later and said, ‘I’ll wait until Jackie goes to Middleburg, and I’ll have Eunice be the hostess.’ So that’s what he did.”
FRANK AS A FAMILY MAN
Sinatra left the raising of his three children to their mother, ex-wife Nancy. “Nancy Jr., was clearly the favorite. No doubt about it,” said Doug Prestine, a friend and neighbor of the Sinatra children. “Tina was too young to be affected by the favoritism, but it sure was tough on his son. Big Frank had spoiled Nancy to the neglect of Frankie and it hurt him a lot—It was Nancy who got to be on Frank’s television show with Elvis Presley, not Frankie. Nancy had a huge bedroom in their Bel-Air house on Nims Road and Frankie had a real tiny one. Big Frank gave Nancy her own television set and poor Frankie didn’t even have a radio of his own. One day the rivalry really got to him, and the two of us pulled one of the parts out of Nancy’s television set so that it wouldn’t work anymore. That sabotage was more than just prankishness on Frankie’s part. He was hurting from being so ignored by his dad and struck back at Nancy. There was always a distance between them because of his dad’s overindulgence towards her.
“I still remember when we were walking home from school one day and, completely out of context, Frankie turned to me and said, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are to have a real father.’ Even though we were only about 13 at the time, I knew that that statement was significant; I just didn’t know what to say to him. Big Frank would come around when he was in town, or for a special occasion like Thanksgiving, but then he’d be gone for months at a time. He called a lot, but that wasn’t enough for the kids. At least it wasn’t enough for Frankie.
“One night the two of us were watching television in the library of the Sinatra house when Big Frank crashed through the gate in his Cadillac Eldorado with the hand-brushed stainless steel top. He was real drunk and wearing a white dinner jacket that was torn and dirty, as if he’d been in a fight or rolling around the gutter someplace. He wasn’t the least belligerent. In fact, he was kind of friendly. He slurred his words and said, ‘What are you two doing?’ I was stunned to see him in that condition because I’d never seen a grown-up drunk before, but Frankie wasn’t surprised at all. He very matter-of-factly went outside, got his dad out of the car, and carried him into the house, where we tried to wash him up and poured some coffee down him. Then Big Frank passed out on the couch, and we went back to watching TV. Frankie acted like it happened all the time.”
Early on, young Frank saw how much his sister and his mother adored his father. Hungry for some of that same affection, he began fashioning himself in his father’s likeness, imitating his mannerisms, his singing, his speech.
“If I stand in front of the fireplace with my hands behind my back, he does the same thing,” Frank said of his 10-year-old boy. “He kills me. When I do a television show, he’ll quote everything I said the next time I see him.”
Frank’s way of demonstrating love was through lavish gifts, and his former wife and children always looked forward to opening “Daddy’s presents.”
“I was one of Nancy Jr.’s, closest friends and I remember the first Christmas that I spent with the Sinatras,” said Rona Barrett, the Hollywood commentator. “It was incredible. There was a stack of Frank’s presents higher than the tree for Nancy and Tina, and a brand new car with a red satin ribbon on it for Nancy Sr., but scarcely anything for Frankie. It was so pathetic. The girls got furs and diamond bracelets and cashmere sweaters and silk blouses and loads of $100 shoes. I’d say each of their piles was worth at least $15,000, but Frankie didn’t get more than $500 worth of gifts. I really felt sorry for him.”
When Nancy Jr. was 19, she became pregnant. Her mother took her to have an abortion. “In those days you didn’t sleep with anyone before marriage and you never had an abortion,” said Nancy Jr. “I explained my reasons and my mother understood. She never once made me feel guilty. Neither did my father. They simply didn’t want me hurt.” The next year she married Tommy Sands in Las Vegas in front of 35 friends and family. Little Nancy had intended to marry Sands after Tommy’s Air Force tour of duty was completed, but she pushed the marriage ahead because “my father goes to Honolulu to make a picture….I couldn’t get married without my father.”
Her mother watched with mixed emotions as Nancy Jr. rushed into marriage with the young singer who, as a teen idol, had sold a million copies of Teen-age Crush for Capitol Records. “It’s my own life happening 20 years later,” said Big Nancy.
Frank cried when he saw his daughter ready to walk down the aisle. “He looked at me in my white gown and veil,” she said. “He saw the bouquet and the little diamond star earrings he’d given me for the wedding gift. He just stood there with tears streaming down his face.
” ‘I love you, chicken,’ he said.
“I said, ‘I love you, too, Daddy.’ And off we went down the aisle, both in tears.”
Later Nancy said, “You know what most mothers give their daughters for a wedding present? Silver or china or money for a romantic trip. My mother gave me a sewing machine.”
The marriage was to be tough for Tommy. “I remember when we went to the Sinatras one Christmas when Nancy was married to Tommy,” said Mickey Rudin’s former wife, Elizabeth Greenschpoon. “Nancy opened her present from her father, which was a $10,000 leopard coat. That was something Tommy could never have afforded to give her, and when she opened the present she started screaming. Everyone oohed and aahed over Frank, and poor Tommy left the room.”
Five years later Tommy Sands would walk out on Nancy.
In 1964, Sinatra was making Von Ryan’s Express. On the 20th Century-Fox lot he met Mia Farrow. She was 19, Frank 48. With blond hair streaming down her back and wide innocent blue eyes, Mia seemed pure and fresh. In her little smocks and tights, she was a universe away from the hardened slickness of the rest of the women in Frank’s life. Although Mia was shrewd, ambitious and manipulative, she appeared naive and helpless to Frank, and he wanted to protect her.
In the beginning of their relationship, they spent weekends at his house in Palm Springs. After more than a year of courting, Frank gave Mia a nine-carat diamond engagement ring he had bought at Ruser’s jewelry store in Beverly Hills for $85,000. He presented it to her on July 4, 1966 during a weekend they spent in Mt. Kisco, N. Y. with Random House publisher Bennett Cerf and his wife, Phyllis.
A few nights later, Sinatra had dinner with his friend actor Brad Dexter at the Colony Sporting Club in London, a gambling club managed by George Raft. They played a little blackjack and returned to their suites in Grosvenor Square, where Frank announced his plans to marry Mia. He asked Brad what he thought about it, and Dexter didn’t lie. “It’s too big an age difference, Frank. You’re talking about 30 years in age. It doesn’t make sense. When she’s 40 you’ll be 70, but if that’s what you want, go ahead and marry the girl.”
“Well, don’t you think it’s a good idea?”
“No, I really don’t.”
“Why don’t you approve? The age business doesn’t mean a thing. Besides, she’s a good kid and I’m lonely. I need somebody.”
Erupting in fury, Frank swept the table lamps to the floor with a loud crash and threw an ashtray at the window, shattering the glass. Without a word he grabbed the telephone and placed a call to Jack Entratter, president of the Sands in Las Vegas. Glaring at Dexter, he barked orders at Entratter to get a marriage certificate, line up a judge, order cake and champagne, and prepare everything necessary for a wedding.
Ava’s comment on the nuptials was succinct and bitter. “Ha!” she said. “I always knew Frank would end up in bed with a little boy.”
At 5:30 p.m. on July 19, Frank took Mia into Entratter’s living room, where the strains of Frank’s new record, Strangers in the Night, were faintly audible over the hotel’s speaker system. The judge read a four-minute civil ceremony. Frank slipped a gold wedding band on Mia’s finger, kissed her three times, and the judge pronounced them husband and wife.
The news of the marriage stunned Frank Jr., then 22, who was in Cocoa Beach, Fla., performing at the Koko Motel. “I think you got the wrong party, pal,” he said when asked how he felt to be one year older than his stepmother. “I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it.” That night, before singing what he called his Sinatra songs, he told his audience: “I’m going to devote exactly five minutes to my father because, as he once confided in a moment of weakness, that’s exactly how much time he has devoted to me.”
In November 1966, Frank began his first engagement in Las Vegas after marrying Mia. She attended his opening night at the Sands, where the standing-room-only crowd stretched to catch a glimpse of her as she walked to her ringside seat on the arm of her husband’s close friend, Joe E. Lewis. She gazed at Frank adoringly as he sang his songs and the crowd exploded with applause.
That evening Frank and Mia and the Sinatra entourage stopped at the Aladdin to watch Joe E. Lewis’ midnight show. Frank jumped up onstage to help the comedian with his material.
“I really came to see Jackie Mason,” [who was also appearing in Las Vegas at the time] he said. “Hah, I’m just kidding….If that bum came out here on the stage now, I’d bite him on the neck. He’s a creep…”
Mason’s lacerating jokes about Frank’s marriage to Mia inflamed Sinatra, who did not find references to his hair transplants and elevator shoes funny. Nor was he amused when the comic talked about the couple’s nightly ritual: “Frank soaks his dentures and Mia brushes her braces…then she takes off her roller skates and puts them next to his cane…he peels off his toupee and she unbraids her hair…”
At 5 a.m. on Feb. 13, 1967, Jackie Mason was sitting in a car in front of his Miami apartment with Myrna Falk, a receptionist, when an unidentified man yanked open the door on the driver’s side and with a fist wrapped in metal smashed Mason’s face, breaking his nose and crushing his cheekbones.
“We warned you to stop using the Sinatra material in your act,” Falk heard the attacker tell Mason.
Although he could never prove any involvement, and even tried to make excuses for Frank at the time, Mason remains convinced that Frank was responsible.
Frank’s behavior often appalled journalists. Yet there was also the Frank Sinatra who responded when his friends were in trouble. When Charlie Morrison, owner of the Mocambo in Los Angeles, died in 1957, leaving his widow with a stack of debts and no insurance, his creditors threatened to close the club, forcing his wife into bankruptcy.
“Charlie had thousands of friends, but we had about $4,” she said. “Then Frank called me up. He said, ‘Mary, I don’t have anything to do for two weeks. How about me coming into the Mocambo with Nelson Riddle’s orchestra?’ He had never sung at any club in Hollywood and it was like New Year’s Eve every night. We took in over $100,000 in those two weeks, and I gave old Charlie a millionaire’s funeral. It kept me going for a year besides. Celebrities were shoving against celebrities, and the waiters were able to pay off the mortgages on their homes.”
Shortly after they were married, Sinatra had agreed to let Mia pursue a movie career, saying, “I love her and I must be fair. She has talent.” Yet he resented her being away from him, and the longer she was gone, the more violent he became, throwing furniture out the window of his Florida penthouse or lobbing cherry bombs.
In 1967 Mia signed with Paramount to make Rosemary’s Baby and begged her agent to call David Susskind in New York for the role of the mute in Johnny Belinda, which was being made as a television movie for ABC. Susskind said absolutely no. The agent asked why, and the producer gave him four reasons: “She can’t act, she’s too thin, she’s Frank Sinatra’s wife, and she has the sex appeal of Spam.”
The next day Mia called herself to plead for the part. “Please, please, please reconsider me,” she said. “I’d give anything in the world to play that part.”
After several days of negotiating, the producer relented and cast Mia in the role that had won an Academy Award for Jane Wyman in 1948. Rehearsals started in California, but midway through, Mia was hospitalized. “I started to worry because we only had a week or so to go before airing and I needed to make a decision about replacing her,” Susskind said. “So I flew out to the Coast and she showed up for work with black welts all over her body. She was bruised from head to foot, with mean red gashes and marks over her arms, shoulders and throat as if she’d been badly beaten. She looked like she’d been roughed up pretty bad. I sat down with her and said, ‘Mia dear, I don’t think someone wants you to do this role.’ She lowered her eyes and said that she still wanted to do it. She begged and pleaded with me and said she would be fine. She pointed out that most of the damage was done below her face, so we could cover her up with makeup, which we did, but in certain lights you could still see those awful welts. I felt so sorry for that poor kid.”
Susskind and his wife had come to know the mistress of Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo, a member of the Vito Genovese Mafia family, and through her, the mobster himself. “Mary, the Mafia mistress, called one night and insisted on seeing me on urgent business,” said Susskind. “She was so uncomfortable about what she was trying to tell me that she couldn’t get it out for at least an hour. Finally, she said, ‘David, someone doesn’t like you…someone wants to hurt you and hurt you bad. Nothing fatal. He doesn’t want to kill you. Just break an arm and a leg…It’s Sinatra. He’s put out the word to get you. You used his wife in a movie when he didn’t want his wife to work. He’s mad and he’s going to get other gangsters to do it for him. My guy says that no one touches anyone in the East without his okay, and that if anyone touches you, he won’t be alive the next day. But he says that you’re not to go to Las Vegas or Miami. He can’t control what goes on there.’ ”
Frayed at the edges, Frank’s marriage began unraveling because he thought that Mia enjoyed being a movie star more than being his wife. He now resented her ambitions and retaliated with a couple of brief sexual escapades during the making of Tony Rome in Miami while she was in London. Mia called him every day from England and made two transatlantic flights to spend weekends with him, but she refused to exchange her career for the full-time role of Mrs. Frank Sinatra.
The debate over Vietnam seemed to exacerbate the differences between Frank and Mia: He drank Jack Daniels; she smoked marijuana. He got drunk; she got stoned. He gave her diamonds; she wore wooden love beads. He enjoyed nights out at Jilly’s; she liked disco dancing at the Daisy. He valued boxing; she studied transcendental meditation. He liked eating Italian; she picked at yogurt and bean sprouts. He gambled; she did needlepoint. He thrived in Las Vegas; she flourished in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The final rupture in the marriage came in the fall of 1967 when Frank, who was in New York, called Mia in California to say that she was to start work with him in The Detective. She said she couldn’t because she was still working on Rosemary’s Baby. Frank ordered her to walk off the set and report to work with him. She refused.
The relationship disintegrated further and he instructed his lawyer to draw up divorce papers. “The Mia thing was hard,” said Nancy Jr., who was five years older than her stepmother. “I don’t care who you are, or what age you are, you suffer through something like that just like everybody else.”
“If we could make it through Mia, I guess we can endure anything,” said Frank Jr.
The trauma of divorcing his young wife hit Frank hard early in 1968. He was filming Lady in Cement in Florida during the day and performing at the Fontainebleu at night. The film was finished within six weeks and the post-production details fell to Michael Viner, the 21-year-old assistant to the producer. “There were a couple of problems involving Sinatra,” he said. “One night he was so mad at the scriptwriter, he ripped a fire ax out of its casing and chopped down the door to his room, which cost us a few hundred dollars. Then there was a prostitute who complained that Frank and his pals had not treated her quite right. She said that after an all-night party, Frank had invited her to stay for breakfast and called for an order of ham and eggs, which he then ate off her chest with a knife and fork. She threatened to sue 20th Century-Fox because of that incident, but we settled before it got to court.”
Frank indulged himself sexually with a variety of women and most were thrilled to be in his company. Some, including Pamela Churchill Hayward, he would have married, but the British beauty had declined the offer shortly after the death of her husband, producer Leland Hayward, in March 1971. Six months later, she married Averell Harriman.
Some women, like Hope Lange, Lois Nettleton, and Victoria Principal, may have longed to become the next Mrs. Frank Sinatra, but they were simply pretty interludes along the way for Frank, who had sworn off marriage. “I’ve been married three times and that’s enough,” he said. “I’m not getting married again!”
“It was a happy time, his mellow period, after he’d retired and before he went back into show business,” said Victoria Principal. “We were very discreet. Few people even knew about our relationship. But I will always treasure the memory of those happy months we had together.”
Frank’s first wife, Nancy, whom he divorced in 1951 when she was 33, devoted her life to her children, but made no secret of her desire to reconcile with their father. She prefered to retain the status of a divorced woman and be Mrs. Nancy Sinatra for life rather than to remarry and lose the Sinatra name. She told friends, “Once you’ve had the best…”
Phyllis McGuire remembered when she and Sam Giancana spent Easter of 1963 with Sinatra and Nancy in Palm Springs. “It was so pathetic,” she said, “but Nancy is a very sweet lady and has handled herself very well, considering. It’s no secret that the dream that keeps her alive is of Frank returning to her someday. It’s sad, so very sad.”
During that weekend Nancy Sinatra took Phyllis into Frank’s bedroom and pointed to the photograph of Ava Gardner next to the bed. Then she pointed to the pictures of Nancy Jr., Tina, and Frank Jr., sitting on the bureau. “Ava couldn’t do that for him,” she said, looking at the photos of the three. “Despite all the women he’s had, I’m the only one who gave him children.”
Nancy opened her jewelry box to show Phyllis all the pearls that Frank had given her through the years. Holding up chokers, long ropes and delicate necklaces, she cited the occasion for each gift. “He got these for me when we were in New York and these I got because…”
Phyllis listened with sympathy.
THE PRESENT WIFE
In 1971 Frank began seeing Barbara Marx, who was still married to her second husband, Zeppo, the youngest of the Marx Brothers. She and Zeppo lived near Sinatra on the Tamarisk golf course in Palm Springs. An excellent tennis player, Barbara had been frequently invited to Frank’s house as a doubles partner for Spiro Agnew.
She had been a show girl in the 1950’s at the Riviera Hotel. She also modeled for the California designer Earl Blackwell, who became famous for his annual list of the World’s 10 Worst Dressed Women.
“Barbara is not a woman of humor, nor is she very intelligent, but she’s beautiful, she’s sweet, and she’s incredibly patient,” Blackwell said. “I started designing in 1956 and she was my No. 1 model. We were very poor then and had to share a hotel room to save money. We used to spend hours together talking about our dreams for the future and Barbara said she needed to marry a man of position. She was very ambitious. Not for a career, because she really didn’t want to work, but she said she needed to marry a man of means. She loved jewelry.”
The Marx marriage lasted 13 years—until Barbara fell in love with Frank. Everyone seemed to like the pretty, blue-eyed blonde who was uninhibited in her devotion to Frank, helping him with his parties, accompanying him on the golf course, traveling with him around the world.
Frank sometimes subjected her to insults and abuse. “In the south of France he slapped her across the face for laughing at him and she could not come out of her hotel room for two days,” said Gratsiella Maiellano, girlfriend of Pat DiCicco, a good friend of Frank’s. “It was in the lobby of the Hotel de Paris and Frank told her to go to her room and shut up or else he would kill her—We had been sitting at the pool looking at a Spanish magazine picture story of Frank, and I was translating it for everyone. He had been taken in by a girl reporter at the Marbella Club. She had fooled him and never said she was a newspaper girl. Frank took her to dinner and put his arm around her and she sold those pictures to a magazine and wrote a story about him, how coarse he was, how sullen. She wrote that Frank was so ill-bred that he ordered a bottle of Château Lafite to be sent to the kitchen, not knowing that only the nouveau riche would do something that boorish. He was really pissed off when we started laughing. That’s when he hit Barbara and made her go to the room.”
Still, Barbara wanted to marry Frank and began pressing him to make their relationship permanent. He refused, and at the end of 1974 he stopped seeing her.
But by May 1976, Sinatra had changed his mind and asked Barbara to marry him. He gave her a $360,000 diamond ring.
Although she had been living with Frank for years, marriage opened up a whole new world to Barbara, who suddenly found new respect and attention as Mrs. Frank Sinatra.
Frank gave his bride free rein to redecorate his Palm Springs compound. “Do what you want,” he told her. “Do it exactly the way you want it, and then I want to see it.”
With no financial restraints, Barbara started refurbishing. She commissioned a new master bedroom, new dressing rooms, new closets, and a new bathroom. She also ordered furniture in soft shades of orange, Frank’s favorite color, and jolted the salespeople at Kreiss in Los Angeles when she made a down payment on some dust ruffles and a few pieces of wicker.
“Mrs. Sinatra opened her purse and took out $10,000 in cash that still had the Caesars Palace wrapper on it,” said Bahman Rooin, a Kreiss salesman. “That was the way she made the down payment on her order.”
As Mrs. Sinatra, Barbara began to do her part with charity work. She joined boards, volunteered her time, and contributed considerable sums of money.
“We only deal in giving away millions,” she said to a woman who requested a mere $1,000.
DOLLY SINATRA’S DEATH
On January 6, 1977 Frank’s mother, Dolly, was on her way to Las Vegas by chartered jet to attend his opening night. Sinatra received the news that the plane had disappeared in a turbulent snow storm in the mountains. All that night, and the next day, he waited for word, and then, tortured by the image of his mother buried alive under a freezing blanket of snow, he insisted on joining the helicopter search for her. He returned without hope. The searchers found parts of her body the next day.
“My father was devastated by his mother’s death,” said Frank Jr. “The days after were the worst I had known. He said nothing for hours at a time, and all of us who were nearby felt helpless to find any way to ease his agony.”
Frank turned to his long-neglected religion for reassurance, clinging to the Catholic priests who had been so much a part of his mother’s later life. Her death seemed to bring him painfully in touch with his own mortality, and, as if in atonement, he began inching his way back to the church. Soon he decided that he wanted to return to the sacraments and to remarry his Protestant wife of six months in front of a Catholic priest. To do that, though, she would have to take instruction, and he would have to obtain an annulment of his first marriage.
Determined to honor his mother’s memory in the best way he could, Frank applied for an annulment to his marriage to Nancy. His decision so rocked the family that his daughter Nancy called a UPI reporter in Los Angeles in a rage, hoping the wire service would write a story about it. The children believed that the church dissolution would mark them as illegitimate in the eyes of society, though in fact an annulment does nothing to affect legitimacy or the laws of inheritance. Frank had to send a priest to convince his children that the dissolution of his marriage to their mother would not harm them in the least.
Frank received his annulment in 1978, but he did not announce it then nor when Rev. Raymond Bluett married him and Barbara in Palm Springs, in a religious ceremony. It was when he was photographed taking Holy Communion in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in 1979 that a rash of press stories appeared around the world.
DID FRANK MAKE THE VATICAN AN OFFER IT COULDN’T REFUSE? asked the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
SINATRA STARS IN STORM OVER CATHOLIC DIVORCES, said the London Observer.
The letters-to-the-editor columns reverberated for weeks with outrage from readers who were unaware of the new changes within the Catholic Church and resented what they thought was Frank’s new standing. Rev. Edgar Holden wrote to the New York Daily News: “If Frank Sinatra received Holy Communion…I’m happy for him. I’d also presume he felt he had a right in conscience to do so. As for his first marriage being annulled, that’s none of my business, or, for that matter, anyone else’s.”
“The annulment was very embarassing for Nancy Sr.,” said her close friend Kitty Kallen. “She wishes she knew more about it. She doesn’t understand how [Frank got it] and people are saying terrible things, that she got paid off, which isn’t true at all. I know that for a fact!”
Sinatra’s antipathy toward Ronald Reagan in the mid-60s was intense. “He said he thought he was ‘a real right-wing John Birch Society nut—dumb and dangerous,’ and so simple-minded,” said Peter Lawford. “He swore he’d move out of California if Reagan ever got elected to public office. Frank couldn’t stand Nancy Reagan, either; he said she was a dope with fat ankles who could never make it as an actress. He took every opportunity in Las Vegas to change the words to The Lady Is a Tramp-instead of singing ‘She hates California where it’s cold and it’s damp,’ Frank would sing, ‘She hates California, it’s Reagan and damp…that’s why the lady is a tramp.’ ”
But by the time of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign, Sinatra was no longer singing those lyrics. He had become close to the Reagans, especially to the First Lady. After the Reagans arrived in the White House, Nancy, in turn, acted like a thrilled schoolgirl in Frank’s presence. A special rapport developed between the First Lady and the singer, whose Secret Service code name was “Napoleon.” Frank flew to Washington several times to have private luncheons with her in the White House solarium, where they chatted for hours. On his trips to see Nancy, Frank came unaccompanied by his wife, who was not at all close to Mrs. Reagan. Barbara seemed to resent her husband’s fawning attentions to the First Lady. The feeling was mutual on Nancy Reagan’s part. “Even when the Sinatras were invited to a White House state dinner, Mrs. Reagan always wanted Frank seated next to her and Barbara…well, we had to seat her in Outer Mongolia,” said a staff member.
After his private luncheons with the First Lady, Frank flew back to Palm Springs. The White House staff ushered him in and out of the family quarters so that he was never seen by the press. “We always knew better than to interrupt those luncheons,” said a member of Mrs. Reagan’s staff. “When she was with Sinatra, she was not to be disturbed. For anything.”
As soon as Frank heard about the assassination attempt on the President, he rushed to Washington to be at Nancy’s side; he sat next to her on the Truman balcony watching the Fourth of July fireworks; he danced with her most of the night at the Annenbergs’ New Year’s Eve party, which so angered his wife that she stormed out and refused to attend the following year. Frank offered to buy Nancy Reagan the Bulgari jewels that she had borrowed to wear to the wedding of Prince Charles; he contributed $10,000 to her White House redecoration project; he arranged for her to receive the Scopus Award from the American Friends of Hebrew University; he helped her promote the Foster Grandparents program by singing with her at the White House and then recording the song for Reprise Records with all royalties going to Foster Grandparents. He even flew into Washington to be the surprise entertainment at a Congressional Club luncheon in her honor.
Nancy relied on Sinatra for everything pertaining to White House entertainment, making him the unofficial czar in charge of performances for state dinners. The White House social staff soon learned to look to him for direction. He upgraded the lighting with colored filters in the East Room and suggested a new sound system, which the White House purchased and installed to his specification. He taught the resident staff—engineers, ushers, and the social office—how to maximize a performance with the placement of the stage, putting plantings in the acoustical dead zones and making the live zones technically correct.
The only friction to arise between Frank and the First Lady occurred during the Queen of England’s 10-day visit to the United States in March 1983. This was an important occasion for Nancy, who wanted to return the same kind of hospitality she and the President had received at Windsor Castle. She put Frank in charge of the dinner at the 20th Century-Fox studios at which she would welcome the British monarch, hoping that he would produce a spectacular gala.
Unfortunately, Frank was not at his best for the occasion. He had learned that the Queen was planning a dinner the following evening aboard her yacht, Britannia, in honor of the Reagans, to which he had not been invited. Irate, he made his wife, Barbara, call the White House and talk to Mike Deaver about the royal slight. The presidential advisor said he could do little to accommodate the Sinatras because the guest list was the Queen’s and the White House had nothing to do with it. At Barbara’s insistence, though, Deaver reluctantly called Buckingham Palace.
“We have a very difficult situation here,” said Deaver, “and I do hope you won’t think us too presumptuous, but if it would be possible to receive Mr. Sinatra on the yacht, we’d be most grateful.”
The palace politely took the matter under advisement, but declined to extend Frank an invitation. More than a week passed while Frank waited impatiently. Finally, he threatened to pull out as producer of Nancy’s dinner for the Queen unless he were included on the yacht. An appeal was quickly made to Walter Annenberg, the former U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, to intercede for Frank. Only then did the palace agree to include the Sinatras in the Queen’s shipboard party.
“It [the Reagan gala] was a disaster—an absolute disaster,” said a White House secretary. “Frank put on the worst Las Vegas variety show, completely lacking in style and taste, and Mrs. Reagan was humiliated. And then Frank violated all protocol by leaving before the Queen did. I guess he knew that he had blown it and just wanted to get away as fast as he could.”
Sinatra, however, remains a Reagan favorite. In July 1984, he was asked by the President to appear in New Jersey to help in the reelection campaign.
Since 1900, St. Ann’s in Sinatra’s hometown of Hoboken, N.J. had been the parish church of the Italian community. The saint’s feast day was celebrated around the world on July 26 and was dedicated to women, especially pregnant women. It was an appropriate date for President Reagan to deliver his message against abortion and for prayer in the public schools. He wanted to attend the traditional procession as women carried the 580-pound statue of St. Ann through the streets while parishioners rushed forward to pin money and flowers and jewelry to the cape hanging from her shoulders.
Meeting the President in Newark, Frank flew by helicopter with him to Hoboken. They were driven in a presidential limousine to the church rectory at Seventh and Jefferson Streets. Hundreds of people surged forward to greet Reagan, but hundreds more shouted to Frank, cheering his arrival and welcoming him back home.
Shaking the outstretched hands like a veteran politician, Frank, once an infrequent boyhood parishioner of St. Ann’s, smiled and laughed and greeted everyone amiably. Inside the church, Ronald Reagan pleaded for the rights of the unborn.
The President stayed that night for the spaghetti dinner with the archbishop. But Frank did not. He was in a limousine, heading out of town.
Frank begged off the dinner and did not sit on the dais as the President condemned abortion in front of people who still remembered Sinatra’s mother as “Hat Pin Dolly.”