Sunday, June 12, 2011

Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan

Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan
800 pages
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.


  1. The book sounds good, may find it hard to read as I love Ava.

  2. I had considered reading this book but had no idea about the 1954 cutoff. I'm amazed, for a book that only covers Sinatra's early years, that it tops 700 pages! There must be some great detail there. If only there was a part 2 of equal detail - might make a definitive set. Great review.

  3. Wow, finally a Sinatra book I'd be interested in--loving the '54 cut-off date! I have a feeling this is going to be a much more human Sinatra we'll get to read about than the pop icon who comes along later. It's a personal preference on my part, typically my favorite part of any bio is the lead-in to the breakthrough.

    Thanks for the review, Raquelle, going by the release date, this one is going to make the Christmas list!

  4. Well, you know me, I will probably still love Ava after reading the book, but then I've always been forgiving when it comes to pretty women. :-) What disturbs me more is that it stops at 1954. To me Frank was much, much more interesting in the Sixties than he was in the Forties and Fifties. I much prefer Rat Pack era Frank to WWII era Frank!

  5. actually i'm a much smaller person than you Raquele because Ava is so damn gorgeous and in several amazing films that i really love i could care less if she was the anti christ, lol.

  6. Hannah - The author is pretty nice to Ava. It's more Ava's actual words (quoted from her autobiography) and her real-life actions that make her unlikable in this book.

    Robby - Thanks for stopping by! I doubt the author will write a second book because his interest was exclusively about pre-1954 Frank. I think it's a great look at that part of Sinatra's life. It was hard reading it knowing I would read anything about his Rat Pack days. :-(

    Cliff - Great! This book is definitely for you. Please let me know what you think of it. The book is available now in Hardcover by the way.

    Mercurie - Yes. Rat Pack Sinatra was so interesting. I love how he re-invented himself. And yes I know you love your Ava! You are such a kind soul that I can see you forgiving her for her many transgressions.

    Paulie - no you are a bigger person. Not smaller. I can't forgive her for being the anti-christ as you say. Ha ha! I don't even think she was that beautiful. She didn't age well. But you are a connoisseur of beautiful women, so I appreciate your taste in variety of looks.

  7. that's true Quele, Ava did not age well, the hard-drinking always takes its toll on a persons looks that's for sure. but to me in her hey day she was mind-numbingly gorgeous O_O

  8. Regarding Ava on p. 701, did you mean the interview of her saying she wanted a baby and hated show business...or that she snubbed Bacall?

  9. Thanks for the information, I read her autobiography a year or so ago, so I probably won't be too surprised hah.


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