Frank Sinatra’s fire-and-brim-stone relations with the press were a pact with the Devil. He no sooner won his release from Tommy Dorsey than he hired George Evans as his press agent.
“Evans saw the press as a way to launch this rocket. And the press was brought everywhere. They came to the hospital when Nancy was born. Frank’s not there, but all the press is. They came into the kitchen at home. They presented this complete image of a wonderful family boy,” analyzes James Sadwith, the director of CBS’s upcoming five-hour biopic, “Sinatra.”
Billboard gave Evans an award for “Most Effective Promotion of a Single Personality.”
“Then the press began to sniff that it wasn’t as they had been sold, and he (Sinatra) didn’t want the press in his private life,” Sadwith notes.
“He wanted to shut them out when his life got more complicated. But it was too late. He had already opened the door. He’d let them in. He had signed his pact with the Devil.”
Sinatra’s dates with Lana Turner, Marilyn Maxwell, Marlene Dietrich, and the starlet of the moment became the fodder of the Hollywood gossip press.
Sinatra’s campaigning for Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth term, Democratic rally appearances, openly liberal stance, and his early stand against the blacklist made him a target of right-wing columnists, especially Hearst’s Pulitzer Prize winner Westbrook Pegler.
Pegler broke the story of a 1938 arrest on a morals charge, later dismissed, when a night-club groupie had accused him of getting her pregnant.
Short-fused and volatile by nature, Sinatra now instinctively flared at the flash of a camera. In a 1947 trip to Havana, he was photographed with Lucky Luciano and other known gangsters, a picture that made front-page tabloid news.
Hearst columnist Lee Mortimer wrote that the singer was a sidekick of mobsters. When Sinatra ran into Mortimer in Ciro’s, he publicly knocked him down.
The stage was set for the two-year-long extra-marital affair with Ava Gardner.
The press dogged the couple from Mexico, Las Vegas, Spain, New York, to Houston with “Sinatra snapping and growling at reporters every foot of the way,” reported LOOK magazine. Cameramen and reporters besieged his wife, Nancy, and the children at their home in Toluca Lake.
With the steaming Sinatra the tabloid press had an easy recipe for instant front-page soup, “Stir until boiling.”
The Australian press in particular turned the heat up. During a 1974 concert tour his refusal to talk to them and the rough blockade of bodyguards and musicians escorting him through the gauntlet of cameramen and shouting reporters particularly incensed them.
Sinatra responded with an ad-libbed tirade on stage in which he called the Australian press, “bums” and “dollar-and-a-half hookers.” It was the same year he had called Washington society columnist Maxine Cheshire “a two-dollar broad.”
The powerful Australian journalist union threatened his national tour. The president of the Australian Council of Trade, Bob Hawke, later Prime Minister, warned him to apologize: “There’s no way you can get out of Australia unless you can walk on water.” Transport workers refused to fuel his private jet.
But individual writers who passed through the screen of guards and press agents shielding The Man, more often than not found Sinatra pleasant and communicative, as long as they observed his edict, “Don’t ask me anything about my private life that you wouldn’t want asked about yourown.”
To protect that privacy Sinatra waged a yearlong, reported $ 2 million legal battle against the publication of Kitty Kelley’s “His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra.” The book was published in 1986.
If there was muck to rake, and there were barrels full in his relationships with women and mobsters, Kelley diligently raked through it in 575 pages.
And yet, the next year a mellower Sinatra returned to Australia and responded to a question at a press conference, “I’m not an un-nice man. It’s just a matter of what kind of questions I’m asked.”