Frank Sinatra – ‘the medieval monarch of showbiz’

Neil Spencer in The Guardian:

UntitledFrank Sinatra’s favourite time of day was dawn, especially the ice-blue desert dawn of Las Vegas, the signal that he had slaked his gargantuan thirst for fine music, fast company, beautiful women and booze. His customary bedtime was 7am, at which point the perpetual party he led and underwrote would evaporate. Sinatra’s need for distraction and his terror of solitude are a central theme of Sinatra: The Chairman, James Kaplan’s meticulously researched biography, this second volume marking the singer’s centenary. Kaplan takes up his story in 1954, when Sinatra’s Oscar for From Here to Eternity began “the greatest comeback in showbusiness history”, taking him from over-the-hill crooner to worldwide icon. Kaplan draws from previous biographies and the memoirs of Sinatra’s lovers and fellow travellers, but the pithy narrative is his own, as are his persuasive critiques of the music.

…For a decade or more, Sinatra ruled US showbiz like a medieval monarch, “welcoming worship and demanding fealty”. Las Vegas, then little more than a clutch of casinos stretched along a two-lane blacktop, became his favourite playground, the home of the self-styled Rat Pack led by Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. His work schedule was unrelenting, involving up to four live shows a night and three movies a year (mostly Hollywood schlock studded with a few fine performances), quite aside from his cheesy TV programmes and carefully crafted recording sessions. His personal life was just as intense. There wereendless flings with starlets and hookers, more serious affairs with Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe and, later, an ill-advised, short-lived marriage to Mia Farrow, 30 years his junior. Yet Frank remained entangled with his second wife, Ava Gardner, the woman who “taught him how to sing a torch song”, as Nelson Riddle observed. “She taught him the hard way.”

More here.