Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Singing the mystery of Sinatra

Frank with his three children in 1968.
Afterword for “His Way”
by Kitty Kelley

I’m writing this to mark the occasion of Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday anniversary on December 12, 2015. The day has been billed as “The Sinatra Centennial” by his three children, who compose the Sinatra Estate, and they’ve been ballyhooing the occasion every month for the past year.    

“2015 is Daddy’s year,” said Nancy, Sinatra’s 75-year-old daughter. “We want to introduce him to a new generation.”
Frank and daughter Nancy in 1943.
The Sinatra children realize their father’s appeal may be limited to those who swooned over “The Voice” during World War II. At that time he was a hero to immigrants, especially Italian nationals, many of whom were detained as “enemy aliens” by the Department of Justice under the Alien and Sedition Act. For anyone born after 1965, Sinatra may become a remnant of the past because few entertainers draw from the grave. Most simply fade into rheumy memory. The Sinatra estate is taking no chances.
Frank and Nancy in the studio.
They have sold the use of their father’s name and image for $50 million to Warner Music Group, and with that group they formed Frank Sinatra Enterprises to split 50-50 on all Sinatra products and Sinatra productions, which have included gallery exhibits of Sinatra photographs, symposiums on Sinatra’s style, screenings of Sinatra movies. They have produced elaborate boxed sets of Sinatra songs from his Reprise, Capitol and Columbia catalogues. Many can be heard on the Frank Sinatra 100 App and purchased from the Sinatra website — at premium prices. The “Frank Sinatra Concert Collection DVDS” costs $79.98, and “Duets — 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition” costs $149.98.
Many of the 93 books written about Frank Sinatra are being re-issued, including this one, plus a volume entitled Sinatra assembled by the Sinatra family that they sell on their website, advertised as “a high-end photography book” of “never-before-seen Sinatra images.” They sell their book for $1500.

The Sinatra 100 celebration started in March with the opening of the GRAMMY Museum’s show, “Sinatra: An American Icon,” at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts for six months, before traveling to other cities. In addition, there was a four-hour HBO documentary, “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All,” followed by a multimedia stage production of “Sinatra” at the London Palladium.  In small towns across America Sinatra impersonators strolled on stage in tuxedos and black patent leather platforms to sing his signature songs, some even swirling a glass of what looked like Jack Daniels on the rocks. Frank, Jr., Sinatra’s 72-year-old son, toured internationally with a show billed “Sinatra Sings Sinatra.”
Jarringly, this commercial centennial occurred the same year as the sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. In a celebrity-saturated era it’s probably understandable that ceremonies for a mob-connected singer would vastly outnumber those honoring the memory of America’s most revered President. While the White House will not declare Sinatra’s birthday a national day of remembrance or lower the flag to half-staff, the lights at the top of the Empire State building will turn blue in honor of “Ole’ Blue Eyes,” who made “New York New York” the city’s anthem. Church bells will toll in Hoboken, New Jersey for their favorite son, and blackjack tables in Las Vegas will pause long enough for the shark-skin suits to salute the man who made Nevada the gambling capital of the world.  

“When you think of Sinatra, you think of the best of everything,” said Jimmy Edwards, co-president of Frank Sinatra Enterprises. He told the Financial Times that Frank Sinatra was not merely a singer and an actor, but [also] a lifestyle brand, which accounts for the lucrative license attached to a limited edition of “The Raymond Weil Maestro Frank Sinatra Timepiece 1212” that sells for $1,395.  The Sinatra estate and Frank Sinatra Enterprises also partnered with Jack Daniels to market “Sinatra Select,” a 90 proof bourbon that the Tennessee distillery claims is made in “Sinatra Barrels,” which “have deep grooves on the inside of the slavs to expose the whiskey to extra layers of oak.” Each liter bottle of “Sinatra Select” sells for $200.  

Setting land speed records in what is gently called “posthumous merchandising,” the Sinatra estate and Frank Sinatra Enterprises are not embarrassed by speculation about future exploitations such as Frank Sinatra restaurants, Rat Pack casinos and Chairman of the Board cigars. The only legal restrictions binding Frank Sinatra Enterprises are licensing his name to firearms and X-rated films. Everything else is up for grabs, including a Sinatra orange Maserati, orange having been his favorite color. Ordinarily, the Italian sports car sells for $185,000.

Having seen millions of dollars flood the estates of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and John Lennon, the Sinatra family raced to monetize their father, who slipped into the throes of dementia in his last years, and died on May 14, 1998 at the age of 82.

His funeral was “invitation only” to 400 people who crammed the pews of Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church in Beverly Hills. “It had that faint hint of a movie-Mafia funeral,” reported The Independent of London, “a fitting tribute to the Chairman of the Board.”
Watching Nancy Reagan, Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Don Rickles, Sophia Loren, Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas, Milton Berle, Bob Dylan, Bono, Dionne Warwick, Quincy Jones, Robert Wagner, Liza Minnelli, Jack Jones, Jack Lemmon, and Jack Nicholson file into the church, the New York Times reported “a starry formal funeral that drew mourners from Hollywood’s geriatric set ....”

For several minutes before the Mass started, Nancy, Jr. rested her head against her father’s gardenia-draped coffin. Neither she nor her siblings had been with him when he died after he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance with congestive heart failure. “Barbara didn’t call us,” Tina told 60 Minutes.  Nancy said, “I was not given the chance to say good-bye. I will never forgive her for that.”  Barbara’s publicist released the news of Sinatra’s death, saying he had died in his wife’s arms.   

Within months of his death the Sinatra children established The Frank Sinatra Foundation, whose stated mission is “to honor a man who used his unparalleled artistic talents and resources to improve the human condition.” They solicited money by promising “with every donation you can help us realize Dad’s dreams for better education, the eradication of disease, and aid for the individual in need.”  
Frank Jr., Nancy, and Tina Sinatra pictured at the 85th Anniversary of Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank, California.
Private foundations are funded primarily by the founders and although estimates show the Sinatra family to be worth $500 million, they’ve only contributed an average of $48,000 a year since 2001. Even with assets of $130,000-$330,000, the Frank Sinatra Foundation has made few donations to charity:  $1000 in 2011; $25,000 in 2012; nothing in 2013.

To raise money, the foundation has trademarked little fedora hat pins, small microphone-stand pins, and two rubber wrist bands — the black band says “What Would Frank Do?” The orange band says: “Don’t Despair.” Each item is displayed with a “Buy Now” button and costs $35.  The total profit for these sales from 2008-2013 was $1,273.  
Barbara Sinatra has dismissed the sale of such trinkets as “tacky.” But Tina Sinatra, who holds “creative” control of the trinkets, dismissed her ‘dis with: “Tough shit.” Tina and her father had a falling out over what he considered her crass marketing of his name on cheap ashtrays, pasta sauces and baseball caps. Although he had given his children his licensing rights and Tina had taken control of merchandising, he begged her not to let him end up on a coffee mug. Tina blamed Barbara for starting and stoking the feud, and relations between the women turned poisonous. Tina and Nancy refused to attend their father’s 20th anniversary party where he and Barbara renewed their wedding vows, and Barbara refused to invite them to his 80th birthday party. The situation became so fractious that Sinatra changed his will and added a “no contest” clause. This was his shot across the bow, warning anyone who dared to challenge his wishes that he or she would forfeit any inheritance previously given in his living trust and all bequests in his new will.
When life was simpler.
He also added a clause stipulating that “only children born in wedlock, lawfully adopted children and issue of such children” could inherit from him.    

He might have been protecting himself from a possible claim on his estate by the daughter born to Hungarian actress Eva Bartok, who claimed he had impregnated her during their 1956 affair. Sinatra never denied paternity until 1993 when he signed his will, which stated on the first page: “I have three children, all of whom are the issue of my marriage to Nancy Barbato Sinatra .... I have never had any other children.”

Having been told by her mother that her father was Frank Sinatra, Deana Bartok wrote a letter to him when she was fifteen years old. She did not seek money, only recognition. “I sat down and said ... ‘I’m your daughter and ... I’d like to meet you. Do you think we could maybe get together to meet?’” Years later she told the Daily Mail that she and her mother received a letter back in behalf of Frank, saying that he was having trouble with his other children and that his life was not open to bringing another child into the family.
“I don’t think he was a man of high morals and values,” she said at the age of 58. “That’s my feeling from where I stand.”

The clause in Sinatra’s will regarding children also protected his son, who had been the target of five paternity suits. Frank, Jr. denied fathering four of the five illegitimate children, but he contributed to the support of each. He claimed paternity for only one child, a son named Michael Francis Sinatra, whom he adopted, and now sees once a year. A few months after his father died, Frank, Jr. married for the first time at the age of 54. He divorced two years later.

The issue of paternity flared again in 2013 when Mia Farrow insinuated to Vanity Fair that her son, Ronan Farrow, might have “possibly” been the biological son of Frank Sinatra, and not Woody Allen, her partner at the time. Sinatra was 72 years old when Ronan Farrow was born in 1987, and married to Barbara, who dismissed Mia as peddling “junk.” Although her marriage to Sinatra lasted only two years, Mia insisted that they “never really split up.”

The photograph released showed her with her son, a Rhodes Scholar said to have the IQ of a genius, that showed Ronan with piercing blue eyes and as slim as the young Sinatra.  The photo went viral, and stirred thousands of internet responses, most of which found the resemblance unmistakable.  Even Woody Allen, now married to Mia’s adopted daughter, was struck by the similarity. He said the young man he had considered his and Mia’s son for twenty-six years “looks a lot like Frank with the blue eyes.” Ronan, who entered Bard College at 11 and graduated from Yale Law School at 21, tweeted, “Listen, we’re all ‘possibly’ Frank Sinatra’s son.”
Tina Sinatra denied the possibility. “Dad had a vasectomy,” she told a reporter. “I don’t know whose son Ronan is.”

Frank, Jr. responded to the media furor by saying Mia was being flippant. “It was a joke.”

Nancy Sinatra told the press: “He’s Mia’s son and we love him but he has nothing to do blood-wise with our family. Mia made a joke, an unfortunate joke, and it unfortunately went the wrong way. But that’s neither here nor there. Most people realize that it was not anything but a joke.”

Such humor pains children who had a world-famous father but little of his time and attention as a parent. They cling to his name and revel in the riches his name provides, but each one shows emotional scars from a father who was absent most of  their lives.

“I rarely saw him,” said Frank, Jr. “He was busy making a living so my family and I could go to school and have a life ... No, he didn’t support my career. He said, ‘The kid’s gotta do what the kid’s gotta do.’”
Nancy, Jr. insists Sinatra was “a wonderful father,” but Tina, who was four years old when he left her mother to marry Ava Gardner, probably summed it up best for all of them:  “I think my Dad desperately wanted to do the best he could for the people he loved, but ultimately he would do what he needed to do for himself.” She admitted: “I ache for him. Probably I’ll never stop aching for him.”   

Tellingly, those closest to Sinatra waited until he died before they published their memoirs. Tina was first with her autobiography, My Father’s Daughter, which lacerated Barbara, who by then had received the bulk of Sinatra’s estate.  Tina wrote that Barbara had made the last years of her father’s life miserable by isolating him from his family and friends, and giving him the “wrong medication” that made him “fuzzy and drugged,” hastening his decline.
Frank and Barbara during the taping of an 80th birthday salute to Sinatra.
Barbara retaliated with her book, Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank, in which she named all the King Charles spaniels she and her husband had owned during their 22 years of marriage, but in 371 pages she did not mention the names of his two daughters.

In the four-hour HBO documentary about their father, Nancy and Tina made sure that Barbara was barely mentioned. Their mother, Nancy, was properly honored with words and photos. An actress was hired to read worshipful words from the ghost-written memoir of Ava Gardner, who died in 1990, and Mia Farrow spoke her own words to heap praise on Sinatra. But there were no words by or about his fourth wife, and her blonde image blinked on screen for only a millisecond.

In the end, though, Barbara might have had the last lick because the documentary directed by Academy award winner Alex Gibney drew a small and mostly older audience. Sinatra’s singing was sublime throughout — and I write as a devoted fan of his liquid gold voice — but The Hollywood Reporter deemed the rest to be “a watchable but superficial tribute.”

Fifteen years after Sinatra was buried, his friend, Paul Anka, published his autobiography entitled My Way, after the song he composed for his idol.  Startlingly candid, Anka wrote that Sinatra was so incensed by His Way: The Unauthorized Biography published in 1986 that he wanted me murdered. “He was very verbal about having Kitty Kelley whacked for what she had written about his mother. Jilly [Rizzo] told me it so upset [Frank] that he had to be treated at the hospital for an anxiety attack.”

Taking up the cudgels, Nancy and Tina also raged about my book, claiming it caused their father colon cancer that required him to wear a colostomy bag. Frank, Jr. denied giving me an interview for my Sinatra book, but the photo below proves otherwise. The Sinatra family’s reactions are understandable for they had no control over the book which reveals Sinatra’s secrets long kept hidden.
What stunned me almost more than Sinatra wanting me “whacked” was a small item that appeared in The Hollywood Reporter (February 17, 2012) suggesting that he might have undergone an extraordinary sea change at the end of his life, and I stress “might have” because it’s still too hard to believe.

An article about the 45th California International Antiquarian Book Fair reported:

Frank Sinatra bequeathed [a] copy of Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized Blue Eyes biography, His Way, to a friend after his death, writing that he knew the buddy wouldn’t have bought it while Sinatra was alive.

William Dailey Rare Books, Ltd., in West Hollywood offered the book for sale, and he later wrote me saying that Barbara Sinatra had verified her husband’s handwriting.  Mr. Dailey said Sinatra had written on the book’s endpaper:

To Mike Taylor — I asked my dear friend [name deleted] to give you this book after my death. I knew you would not buy it out of loyalty to me.

Best wishes from your pal, Frank Sinatra.

“It sold for close to the asking price,” said the dealer. “I gave a courtesy discount.”

The book sold for $2,000, proving, I suppose, that anything touched by Frank Sinatra turns to gold. But if true, and again I stress “if,” why would he anoint a book he had fought so hard to keep from being published written by a woman he wished to see dead?

A mystery, indeed, but then again .... He always did it His Way.
Contact Liz Smith here.