Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What The Butler Saw

Cover detail of "My Life With Frank Sinatra."
Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra
By Jesse Kornbluth

A friend's birthday is coming up, and as her mother was one of Frank Sinatra's best friends, I thought to give her some Sinatra books she isn't likely to have seen.

I found two.

One is "The Sinatra Treasures: Intimate Photos, Mementos, and Music from the Sinatra Family Collection," and it's exactly that — four pounds of beautifully packaged memorabilia, gathered by "the archivist for the Sinatra family and the president of the Sinatra Society of America fan club, in collaboration with the Sinatra family." It's everything the rabid Sinatra fan could want. [To buy "The Sinatra Treasures" from Amazon, click here.]

Click here to order "The Sinatra Treasures."
Click here to order "My Life With Frank Sinatra."
The second book is "Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra," written by George Jacobs, Sinatra's live-in valet from 1953 to 1968, with veteran LA journalist William Stadiem. [To buy "Mr. S" from Amazon, click here. Because it's only available from Amazon affiliates that sell used books, expect the price to soar when even a few of you buy it. Just wait a few days. The bubble will burst, the price will drop.]

"The Sinatra Treasures" begins with Sinatra, as a newborn, gasping for air.

"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.

Which would you rather read about?

Thought so. But be warned. You want dish, you're gonna get it.

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 and JFK.
Frank Sinatra with Nancy Sinatra and Yul Brunner (who most probably did not leave a tip).
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.")
Breakfast in bed.
Making wishes: Sinatra with Barbara Marx.
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.)

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.
Sinatra and Bacall.
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.
George Jacobs and Mia Farrow. Sinatra fired Jacobs for dancing with Mia. Sinatra and Jacobs in happy times.
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.

Sinatra with his mother, Dolly, in 1945.
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.
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