“Sinatra: The Life” begins with a fascinating tidbit about the teenage Frank Sinatra’s earliest recording and the reason it has never been released. The rest of this faulty biography concerns the juicy details of Sinatra’s private life, which, sadly and unjustly, overshadow the entertainer’s extraordinary career.
At least authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan did their homework. There are references to the previous books about Sinatra, from the hagiographies written by daughters Tina and Nancy to Kitty Kelley’s “overly negative” tome to Gilbert L. Gigliotti’s academic “A Storied Singer: Frank Sinatra as Literary Conceit.” There are also new interviews — 500 of them — with everyone from Jerry Lewis and Janet Leigh to mob-connected folks to distant relatives (the immediate Sinatra clan chose not to participate) to a smattering of fellow musicians and former girlfriends.
In a coup of sorts, Summers and Swan quote from the never-before-published transcripts of interviews with Ava Gardner, Sinatra’s second wife, who reveals insights into Sinatra’s moodiness and surprisingly “gentle” love-making techniques.
Packed with information as “Sinatra: A Life” seems, however, much is missing. In particular, Sinatra’s movie career — not to mention his place in American popular music — is given short shrift. Some films rate a mere passing mention (“Guys and Dolls,” “The Manchurian Candidate”), a few are totally ignored (“On the Town”), and there is no filmography or discography.
Other industry lore is neglected, including why Sinatra bowed out of making such dissimilar projects as “Carousel” and “Dirty Harry.” The authors examine the saga behind Al Martino’s thinly veiled portrayal of Sinatra in “The Godfather,” but only because it relates to their obsession with Sinatra’s alleged Mafia associations. Most regrettably, they decline to critique Sinatra’s work as a vocalist or actor.
For all the book’s emphasis on the salacious, however, there remain curious gaps even in this area: no citing of Kitty Kelley’s bombshell about Sinatra’s reputed White House affair with Nancy Reagan, just a line referring to Kelley’s expose that Sinatra’s mother performed abortions during Frank’s Hoboken youth.
While “Sinatra: A Life” offers some valuable new material, it leaves a sour aftertaste about the man himself. The uninitiated may wonder why so much care has been lavished on a book about so controlling and unpleasant a person. Readers are advised to play Sinatra’s recordings during their scrutiny of this highly flawed, albeit smoothly readable work.