Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan #FrankSinatra #BookReview

 In 2010’s Frank: The Voice, James Kaplan, in rich, distinctive, compulsively readable prose, told the story of Frank Sinatra’s meteroic rise to fame, subsequent failures, and reinvention as a star of live performance and screen. The story of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” continues with Sinatra: The Chairman, picking up the day after Frank claimed his Academy Award in 1954 and had reestablished himself as the top recording artist in music. Frank’s life post-Oscar was incredibly dense: in between recording albums and singles, he often shot four or five movies a year; did TV show and nightclub appearances; started his own label, Reprise; and juggled his considerable commercial ventures (movie production, the restaurant business, even prizefighter management) alongside his famous and sometimes notorious social activities and commitments.

Sinatra: The Chairman (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible) (AbeBooks)

About a month ago, I read a historical fiction novel Strangers in the Night: A Novel of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner by Heather Webb and that got me wondering more about Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. Last week, I listened to and reviewed Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan, which covers Sinatra’s life up until he won his Oscar for his role as Maggio in From Here to Eternity. This book covers the remainder of his life.

I don’t know how long this book is, but the audio version clocked in at 30 hours at normal speed! A hefty volume, especially considering that it’s part two of Sinatra’s life. There’s a lot to cover in the second half of the crooner’s life, from his further ties to the mob, to his marriage to Mia Farrow, and later Barbara Marx, to his forming his own record label, Reprise Records, and more. And that’s the problem: too much detail.

Every record Sinatra made from 1954 through about 1970 is gone over in painstaking detail, and after a while, it got old. Same old same old. Sinatra was a very gifted entertainer and musician, but it doesn’t get past the fact that he was a horrible human being. I can still listen to Sinatra and enjoy the music, much like I can watch clips of The Cosby Show and still see the genius in the writing and comedic performances.

Sinatra couldn’t hold his liquor, was a serial cheater, had racist speech, some sadistic behavior towards those he loved most, and in short was a psychologically damaged individual. Let’s not forget the criminal activity and misogynistic ways. It’s true that I can’t stand the human being after listening to this dual biography but can still appreciate the genius. He was definitely a tortured genius, yet much of it was problems he brought upon himself.

I found the sections on his relationship with the Kennedys and the formation of his own “Rat Pack” the most interesting, naturally. The matriarch, Joseph Kennedy, found Sinatra’s star power and connections to the mob helpful leading up to the 1960 presidential election, but afterwards advised Robert and John to distance themselves from the great entertainer. A lifelong Democrat, Sinatra slowly turned around and later endorsed Ronald Reagan. As for the Rat Pack, what looked like a bunch of guys having a great time in Vegas on stage and in a few movies was all a calculated move by the actors, the biggest one Sinatra himself.

Overall, I thought this bloated part two of the biography of Sinatra could have used some editing. But more importantly, I just wish Sinatra the man was a little bit better human being in real life. Kaplan does his best to make Sinatra come off like a great man, but he wasn’t. He was a gifted performer, and a tortured human.

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