Packed with revelations, this is the first complete account of a career built on raw talent, sheer willpower--and criminal connections. Anthony Summers--bestselling author of Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe--and Robbyn Swan unveil stunning new information about Sinatra's links to the Mafia, his crowded love life and his tangled relationships with U.S. presidents. Exclusive breakthroughs include the discovery of how the Mafia connection began--in a remote Sicilian village--and moving interviews with his lovers. Never-before-published conversations with Ava Gardner get to the core of the tragic passion that dominated his life, came close to destroying him, and made his best work heartbreakingly personal. Sinatra delivers the full life story of a complex, flawed genius.
The second collaboration for the husband-and-wife team (after their Nixon bio, The Arrogance of Power) is hardly the first book about Frank Sinatra, and despite their claim to be the only objective biographers to address the crooner's final years, the book's later chapters feel rushed compared with the lengthy passages covering Sinatra's well-trod glory days. Furthermore, since Sinatra's musical genius and acting skills have been thoroughly analyzed by previous writers, Summers and Swan put in minimal effort there. Where their work does stand out is in firming up the evidence of organized crime's "continuing interest" in Sinatra, from affirming that the famous scene in The Godfather only slightly exaggerates how he got his breakthrough role in From Here to Eternity to exploring his possible role as a go-between for the mob and John F. Kennedy. The pair also break new ground in depicting what they describe as Sinatra's alcoholism, pointing out that he frequently drank all night long, and his abusive treatment of women, for which they cite cases. Yet even when the authors say Sinatra raped a woman or fathered another woman's child out of wedlock--and they make good cases for both--their delivery is a lot closer to objective biography than tabloid sensationalism. A&E's airing of a linked documentary, timed to coincide with the book's publication, as well as a first serial in Vanity Fair, will create significant interest in this latest Sinatra saga. 32 pages of photos. (May 17)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 29, 2006
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Excerpt from Sinatra by Anthony Summers
March 18, 1939.
In a studio on West 46th Street in New York City, a band was playing Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee." It was a simple place, a room with couches and lamps, hung with drapes to muffle the echo from the walls. This was a big day for the musicians, who were recording for the first time.
A skinny young man listened as they played. The previous night, at the Sicilian Club near his home in New Jersey, he had asked if he could tag along. Now, as the band finished playing, he stepped forward and spoke to the bandleader. "May I sing?" he asked.
The bandleader glanced at the studio clock to see if they had time left, then told the young man to go ahead. He chose "Our Love," a stock arrangement based on a melody from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Standing at the rudimentary microphone, he launched into a saccharine lyric:
Our love, I feel it everywhere
Our love is like an evening prayer . . .
I see your face in stars above,
As I dream on, in all the magic of
Unseasoned, a little reedy, the voice was transmitted through an amplifier to a recording device known as a lathe. The lathe drove the sound to a needle, and the needle carved a groove on a twelve-inch aluminum-based lacquer disc. The result was a record, to be played on a turntable at seventy-eight revolutions per minute.
The bandleader kept the record in a drawer for nearly sixty years. He would take it out from time to time, with delight and increasing nostalgia, to play for friends. The music on it sounds tinny, a relic of the infancy of recording technology. Yet the disc is kept in a locked safe. The attorney for the bandleader's widow, an octogenarian on Social Security, says the singer's heirs have demanded all rights and the lion's share of any potential income derived from it, thus obstructing its release.
The disc is a valuable piece of musical history. Its tattered adhesive label, typed with an old manual machine, shows the recording was made at Harry Smith Studios, "electrically recorded" for bandleader Frank Mane. Marked "#1 Orig.," it is the very first known studio recording of the thousand and more that were to make that skinny young man the most celebrated popular singer in history. For, under "Vocal chor. by," it bears the immaculately handwritten legend:
A year after making that first record, at twenty-five, Sinatra told a new acquaintance how he saw his future. "I'm going to be the best singer in the world," he said, "the best singer that ever was."
A Family from Sicily
Io sono Siciliano . . ." I am Sicilian.
At the age of seventy-one, in the broiling heat of summer in 1987, Frank Sinatra was singing, not so well by that time, in the land of his fathers. "I want to say," he told a rapt audience at Palermo's Favorita Stadium, "that I love you dearly for coming tonight. I haven't been in Italy for a long time-I'm so thrilled. I'm very happy."
The crowd roared approval, especially when he said he was Sicilian, that his father was born in Sicily. Sinatra's voice cracked a little as he spoke, and he looked more reflective than happy. At another concert, in the northern Italian city of Genoa, he had a joke for his audience. "Two very important and wonderful people came from Genoa," he quipped. "One . . . Uno: Christopher Columbus. Due: mia Mamma . . ."
This second crowd cheered, too, though a little less enthusiastically when he mentioned that his father was Sicilian. "I don't think," he said wryly, "that they're too thrilled about Sicilia." It was a nod to northern Italians' feelings about the island off the southernmost tip of the country. They look down on its people as backward and slothful, and because, as all the world knows, it is synonymous with organized crime. It is the island of fire and paradox, the dismembered foot of the leg of Italy. Sicily: at ten thousand square miles the largest island in the Mediterranean, a cornucopia of history that remains more remote and mysterious than anywhere in Europe.
The island's story has been a saga of violence. Its ground heaved to earthquakes, and its volcanoes spat fire and lava, long before Christ. Its population carries the genes of Greeks and Romans, of Germanic Vandals and Arabs, of Normans and Spaniards, all of them invaders who wrote Sicily's history in blood.
"Sicily is ungovernable," Luigi Barzini wrote. "The inhabitants long ago learned to distrust and neutralize all written laws." Crime was endemic, so alarmingly so that a hundred years ago the island's crime rate was said to be the worst in Europe. By then, the outside world had already heard the spectral name that has become inseparable from that of the island-Mafia.