IS FRANK SINATRA THE MOST MALIGNED CELEBRITY IN HISTORY?

From his politics to claims of ties to the Mob, the legendary singer’s reputation has always carried the whiff of controversy. THE RAKE goes in search of the truth…

His first public appearance with Ava Gardner. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Why do the words ‘celebrity’ and ‘scandal’ make such amorous bedfellows? One theory is that volatile, complex humans gravitate towards fame; another is that fame corrupts. Both probably have some truth in them. Another, more compelling, hypothesis is that celebrity acts as a kind of barium sulfate for the personality, exposing the basic human flaws that exist in all of us, and thus creating a modern equivalent of the adulteress in St. John’s Gospel. The bigger the celebrity, the larger the dose of white, chalky liquid and the longer the queue of ordinary people eager to cast the first stone, safe in the knowledge that their own faults remain hidden.

A prime case in point is a certain blue-eyed megastar of the 20th century, who was born in 1915 to Italian immigrants in Hoboken, New Jersey. Of course, Frank Sinatra is far removed from being a disgraced figure. He’ll always be known primarily for the two-octave, light baritone voice — one whose confiding, moderated delivery musical scholars have compared to the bel canto ideal of 16th-century opera — that sold 150m records worldwide*.

Those better versed in his life will also remember him for a rollercoaster movie career that contained two Oscar wins, while readers of TheRake will point to the style smarts that varied over the years, reaching a peak in what cultural historians call His Second Act, and which included high-waisted trousers, fedora and checked blazer combo, dots-and-stripes rule-bending, and scarf-and-tux nonchalance.

However, the FBI investigated Sinatra for more than three decades over various issues, and the broad image of him that remains in the public’s consciousness more than 20 years after his death remains that of a highly flawed genius. So let’s go through the key charges, one accusation by one.

Published

August 2020

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