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Books

Frank Sinatra

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 29, 2015
Category: Memoir

ANDREW SULLIVAN: A few years ago, I profiled the Web’s most tireless blogger for Harvard Magazine. Now he’s surprised colleagues and readers: He’s quitting. For me, it’s like this: Elvis has left the building. I wrote a short appreciation for The New York Observer.
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WEEKEND CLASSIC: Maybe the Super Bowl is a sporting event — maybe. It’s definitely show biz. Very tightly controlled show biz — even the “leaked” bits of gossip are choreographed. I prefer dish that’s unauthorized, personal and revealing. And what dish is more delicious than dish about Frank Sinatra? Here’s a two-course meal.

Mitchell Fink’s parents danced to Sinatra. At his Bar Mitzvah, he and his mother danced to Sinatra. In high school, he formed his own Rat Pack, “punk Jewish kids from the South Shore of Long Island who smoked cigarettes like the Rat Pack, drank hard liquor like the Rat Pack, and tried to be with all the hot girls like the Rat Pack.” Someday, he dreamed, he’d be a big shot.

Family friends were borderline connected, and Fink saw Sinatra close up. His father died. He quit college, went into the family business, caught a break and broke into journalism. A piece about Sinatra opened doors. And in his short ebook, “Frank Sinatra, Miriam, and Me,” he offers nonstop stories about showbiz legends. The parade is vast: from Rudy Vallee to Bruce Springsteen.

There are few journalists as concise and amusing as Mitchell Fink, who’s been a columnist for People and an on-air correspondent at CNN, Fox, CBS, and Access Hollywood. He never fails to get the telling anecdote — as Sinatra walked by one night, he heard Frank say, “Let’s get the booze, get the broads, and get the hell out of here” — but even more, he’s a decent guy who didn’t get blinded by the stars in his eyes. In these charming pages, without trying, Mitchell Fink is as big as his idol. [To buy the ebook of “Frank Sinatra, Miriam, and Me” from Amazon, click here.]

“No man,” wrote Samuel Johnson, “is a hero to his butler.” The exception might be “Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra,” by George Jacobs, Sinatra’s live-in valet from 1953 to 1968, with the help of veteran LA journalist William Stadiem.

“Mr. S” begins like this:

Summer 1968. The only man in America who was less interested than me in sleeping with Mia Farrow was her husband and my boss, Frank Sinatra. Theirs had to be one of the worst, most ill conceived celebrity marriages of all time, and after two years of one disaster after another, it was all over except for the paperwork. Mr. S’s lawyer, Mickey Rudin, who was a combination bag man, hit man, and Hollywood hustler, was planning to take Mia down to Juárez for a Mexican divorce that would get her out of Mr. S’s life once and forever, which, for everyone who knew them as a non-couple, couldn’t have been soon enough.

You want dish, you’re gonna get it. [To buy “Mr. S” from Amazon, click here.]

So what about Mia Farrow? Jacobs presents her as a darling 19-year-old hippie — and very much an operator. Ava Gardner, Sinatra’s greatest love, was less charitable. Mia, she said, was “a fag with a pussy.”

That last word appears often in these brisk 239 pages. No surprise. Bob Evans, Jacobs writes, “could deliver pussy, and pussy always trumped talent in Hollywood.” And Evans was, in these pages, mostly a purveyor. Sinatra was a customer — and a prize score.

Sinatra, we learn, had a weakness for Sweet Irish Rose hookers who looked as if they’d graduated from Catholic school. He was not only a frequent customer but a goodhearted one — he didn’t degrade his women, he paid them well and had Jacobs drive them home. (No one, even his girl friends, spent the night. And he had the sheets discarded — not just changed — as soon as his sessions ended. As long as we’re on this subject, let me tell you what was widely known in Hollywood: Sinatra was massively endowed, requiring special underwear to keep audiences at his concerts from being distracted. Or as Ava Gardner put it: “There’s only ten pounds of Frank but there’s one hundred and ten pounds of cock!”)

Sinatra’s friends were equally obsessed with sex. Ambassador Joe Kennedy expected to be serviced whenever he visited Sinatra in Palm Springs. JFK was no better. “I would ask him about Castro or Khrushchev, but he wanted to know if Janet Leigh was cheating on Tony Curtis.” As the future President told Jacobs, “I want to fuck every woman in Hollywood.”

Kennedy did coke with Peter Lawford (“for my back, George”), who liked his sex with whips and chains. Yul Brynner was so cheap “he wouldn’t tip a scale.” Movie Mogul Harry Cohn was “the guy who invented sexual harassment.”

Sinatra’s mother hoped he’d marry Marilyn Monroe, but that was out of the question. Sinatra took four showers a day. In contrast, Marilyn was “filthy, frequently too depressed to bathe or wash her hair. She ate in bed and slept among the crumbs and scraps, she would wear the same stained pants for days.” (Sinatra would eventually marry Barbara Marx, about whom he said, “She’s Grace Kelly with my eyes closed.”)

The sex is what jumps out at me and will, I suspect, jump out at you — it’s unvarnished and crude, but it’s great reading because it feels like the kind of truth that some men share when there are no women around. With Sinatra, that was generally the case; women had a very limited purpose. And if they turned on him? Well, when he and Lauren Bacall broke up, he spoke of her as “that Jew bitch.” (As anti-Semitism goes, that was mild. Here’s a Joe Kennedy joke: “What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? The pizza doesn’t cry on its way to the oven.”)

I’m making it sound as if career came second to sex for Sinatra. Not so. He’d been up and he’d been down, and he liked it a lot better when he was king of Hollywood. Those glasses of Jack Daniels were often tea with honey. He’d light cigarettes but not smoke them. Yes, he liked to record just one take of a song, but that was because he’d thought hard about what he was going to do in the studio.

In this account, do you see what drives Sinatra? Yes, and it’s abundantly clear: “Mr. S craved class like a junkie craves a needle.” That deep insecurity also fueled his violent tantrums: “No one could bear a grudge like Frank Sinatra. Everything about Mr. S had to do with paying debts and settling scores.”

Oh, and he was vain: “He would often change his pants if he sat down once. That’s why he was forever pacing. He may have seemed wired and edgy, but the reality was that this fashion plate didn’t want to wrinkle his trousers and spoil the perfection.”

Oh, and he was not cosmopolitan. In Italy, Jacobs cooked for him. (Scroll down for the recipe of his mother’s famed marinara sauce.) At La Tour d’Argent, he ate steak.

Oh, and he was petty. He fired Jacobs for dancing with Mia Farrow. He did it the Sinatra way. He had the locks changed. There was a lawyer’s letter. And a check for $12,000.

Jacobs is not petty. It may sound that way to you, as if he’s looking for one more check and telling all to get it. I’d bet that for every nasty story told here Jacobs buried ten that were nastier. I see the book as an effort to show the many sides of Sinatra, a way of rendering a larger than life character in all his complexity.

Maybe it’s even a love letter. Ten years after Jacobs was fired, he saw Sinatra at a Palm Springs restaurant. “I took one look at him and broke down into tears,” he writes. “I couldn’t stop crying. Mr. S put his arm around me. ‘Forget about it, kid,’ he said. ‘It isn’t so bad.”’

For voyeurs like me — and, hey, you read every word of this, didn’t you? — it isn’t so bad. I mean, it is. It’s appalling. But addictive. A guilty pleasure. A classic of kind.

Dolly Sinatra’s Marinara Sauce

Serves 4

1/2 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with puree
1 sprig fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the oil is fragrant and is seasoned, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and purée. Heat to simmering, and cook on low heat until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.

Add the oregano, basil and Italian seasoning, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook on low heat for another 15 minutes or so as it thickens.

Short takes

A Natural History: dances about relationships

Catherine Tharin is a triple threat. She choreographs, she dances, and she’s endured my friendship for more than a decade. She created and performs in “A Natural History,” dances about nature and relationships (but not about ours) on February 5-7 at 8:30 PM and Sunday the 8th at 4 PM, at the West End Theater, 263 West 86th Street. For information and tickets, click here.

Lyrics by Bob Dylan, Music by Marcus Mumford

Performed by Marcus Mumford. At the end, is that sweat in his eye — or tears? (Yes, that’s Johnny Depp on guitar.)

Common and John Legend: “Glory,” from the film “Selma”

The movement is a rhythm to us
Freedom is like religion to us
Justice is juxtaposition in us
Justice for all just ain’t specific enough
One son died, his spirit is revisitin’ us
Truant livin’ livin’ in us, resistance is us
That’s why Rosa sat on the bus
That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up
When it go down we woman and man up
They say, “Stay down” and we stand up
Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up
King pointed to the mountain top and we ran up

Two Days, One Night

A film by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, starring Marion Cotillard — that alone should motivate you to see if the art theater near you is showing this film. The Dardenne brothers are master writer/directors; “Two Days, One Night” is Belgium’s nominee for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. As for Cotillard, as A.O Scott writes in the Times, “Her performance is as fine a piece of screen acting as you will ever see.” Like this: After a medical leave, Sandra is ready to return to her job. But the boss has set an impossibly high hurdle: He makes the workers choose between a 1,000 Euro bonus or Sandra’s continued employment. Predictably, they vote for their bonuses. Sandra convinces her boss to have a second, secret vote on Monday. She now has two days to convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses. The film is her life over that weekend. Be warned: “Two Days, One Night” will rip your heart out. It might — it should — also inspire you. At the very least, it will remind you what a great film looks like.