Hardcover November 2010 9780385518048 $35.00
Paperback November 2011 9780767924238 $18.95
also available in ebook and audio book formats
Anchor (an imprint of Random House)
Before I say anything else, let me warn you that this 700+ page tome stops at 1954. There is no volume 2. There is no printing error. In the life of Frank Sinatra, the book comes to an abrupt halt at 1954 when he won the Oscar for his performance in From Here to Eternity (1953). 1954 is a pinnacle year for Frank Sinatra. After having a tremendous singing career and some nice roles in a few key films, Sinatra's career was in a major slump. Rock 'n Roll was making waves and girls stopped swooning over Frank Sinatra and started swooning over other singers. It seemed like his career was over and his tumultuous second marriage to Ava Gardner didn't help much.
While it was interesting reading about the early life and career of Frank Sinatra, I really want a volume 2. Why? Because the 1960s Sinatra fascinates me the most. The Sinatra of the Rat Pack, Las Vegas, Ocean's Eleven (1960), Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968), etc. Heck, I even like the late 1950s Sinatra of The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Pal Joey (1957), High Society (1956), The Frank Sinatra Show and Come Fly With Me. Sinatra was living large during these years after living small for a while. I want to read about what happened after the big comeback! But alas, Kaplan's book is not going to give any of us that.
While I can complain all day about there is no volume 2, I cannot say that this book was no good. Frank: The Voice was beautifully written, well-researched, very organized and most important interesting. It's the perfect book for die-hard Frank Sinatra fans (especially ones who prefer his earlier career as a singer), lovers of unique biographies and avid nonfiction readers.
In the book, we learn a lot about Frank's early years and the effect his mother Dolly had on him. His mother problems started right when he popped out of the womb. The delivery was so horrendous that Dolly she never had another child and in fact wanted to make sure no one else went through that experience too and became a midwife and abortionist. It also didn't help that the forceps the doctor used to pry out Sinatra gave him a permanent scar. Not a very auspicious start for our Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra wasn't the nicest guy. He was short-tempered and his mob connections made him more dangerous than your average skinny Italian singer. In fact, when Sinatra heard that Peter Lawford had dined with Ava Gardner he threatened Lawford to the point where Lawford was scared for his life. But he had good moments too. Kaplan sad "Frank's commitment to tolerance [for minorities] was genuine and profound." He didn't discriminate in the way many other stars in that era did. Kaplan really delves into Sinatra's first two marriages, first with Nancy Sinatra and then with Ava Gardner. We really learn a lot about him as a person when he's put side-by-side these two totally different women.
Frank Sinatra's rise was slow at the beginning but sped up very quickly. In his early days, he was popular with young women in the same way Elvis would be years later. Instead of having Elvis' height, build and hips, it was Sinatra's thin frame and magnificent blue eyes that made women want to bring him home to feed him and worship his golden voice. It wasn't long before Sinatra got a film contract to act in movies but even that start was a big rocky. He had a 7 year contract with RKO but he barely made any movies with them and MCA got him out and into a contract with MGM. He was recording, performing and filming like a mad man and it seemed like the work (and the fame and the money) would never run out but it did.
By 1953, his marriage with Nancy Sinatra had long ended, his marriage to Ava Gardner was about to end, he was going into debt, Capitol Records booted him out the door and it seemed like there was no hope. Then the novel From Here to Eternity made it's way into his hands. He read it over and over again dreaming about himself in the Maggio role. Kaplan says:
From Here to Eternity was his big chance, in every possible way: not only because of the distinguished material and company and the huge conspicuousness of the project, but also because of where Frank was in his life. His first legitimate shot at a big dramatic role had arrived at a moment when he was truly old enough, and experienced enough, to give a complicated performance.
Makes you want to see the movie again, huh?
One adverse affect the book had on me, was that it made me despise Ava Gardner more than I had already. The author by no means bashes her. In fact, he attempts to make us understand that Gardner's actions, much like Frank Sinatra's, were born out of those formative early years that mess us all up. However, her but because her actions and her words (from her autobiography) showed what a self-centered, childish and manipulative woman she was. On particular passage (pg 701 in the hardcover) almost made steam come out of my ears. If you can read this book and still love Gardner, you are a bigger person than I am.
One last note. I do have a beef with who ever designed the jacket of the book though. While it's very gorgeous, I love the skinny Frank Sinatra on the spine, they used a post 1954 image of Frank Sinatra on the back of the jacket. Most likely because it had him at a microphone. But I think it's disingenuous to the book to not acknowledge the 1954 cut off by including a picture from a later time. Here is the picture in question:
It's a John Bryson photograph circa 1960s.
Below is a preview of the book, I hope you'll check it out!
Full Disclosure: I won a copy of Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan on Goodreads.