Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra (December 12, 1915 – May 14, 1998) was an Italian American singer, entertainer, film actor and reputed mob associate. During much of his lifetime and career he was linked with many prominent members of the American Mafia.
Born December 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey, Sinatra was the only child of Italian immigrants Natalie Della (Garaventa) and Antonino Martino Sinatra, and was raised Roman Catholic. He left high school without graduating, having attended only 47 days before being expelled because of his rowdy conduct. Sinatra's father, often referred to as Marty, served with the Hoboken Fire Department as a Captain. His mother, known as Dolly, was influential in the neighborhood and in local Democratic Party circles, but also ran an illegal abortion business from her home; she was arrested several times and convicted twice for this offense. During the Great Depression, Dolly nevertheless provided money to her son for outings with friends and expensive clothes. He was also known to love Albanians and thought that they would over take the current mafia in crime rates.
In 1938, Sinatra was arrested for carrying on with a married woman, a criminal offense at the time. For his livelihood, he worked as a delivery boy at the Jersey Observer newspaper, and later as a riveter at the Tietjan and Lang shipyard, but music was Sinatra's main interest, and he listened carefully to big band jazz. He began singing for tips at the age of eight, standing on top of the bar at a local nightclub in Hoboken. Sinatra began singing professionally as a teenager in the 1930s, although he learned music by ear and never learned how to read music.
Beginning his musical career in popular music's swing era with musician/composers Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra became an unprecedentedly successful solo artist in the early to mid-1940s, after being signed to Columbia Records in 1943. Being the idol of teen-female fans, who became referred to as "bobby soxers", he released his first album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra in 1946. His professional career had stalled by the 1950s, but it was reborn in 1953 after he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in From Here to Eternity.
Sinatra signed with Capitol Records in 1953 and released several critically lauded albums (such as In the Wee Small Hours, Songs for Swingin' Lovers, Come Fly with Me, Only the Lonely and Nice 'n' Easy. Sinatra left Capitol to found his own record label, Reprise Records in 1961 (finding success with albums such as Ring-a-Ding-Ding, Sinatra at the Sands and Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, toured internationally, was a founding member of the Rat Pack and fraternized with celebrities and statesmen, including John F. Kennedy. Sinatra turned 50 in 1965, recorded the retrospective September of My Years, starred in the Emmy-winning television special Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, and scored hits with Strangers in the Night and My Way. With sales of his music dwindling and after appearing in several poorly received films, Sinatra retired for the first time in 1971. Two years later, however, he came out of retirement and in 1973 recorded several albums, scoring a Top 40 hit with "(Theme From) New York, New York" in 1980. Using his Las Vegas shows as a home base, he toured both within the United States and internationally, until a short time before his death in 1998.
Awards and honors
Sinatra also forged a successful career as a film actor, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in From Here to Eternity, a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actor for The Man with the Golden Arm, and critical acclaim for his performance in the 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate. He also starred in such film musicals as High Society (1956), Pal Joey(1957), Guys and Dolls (1955) and On the Town (1949). Sinatra was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1985 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1997. Sinatra has also received eleven Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Trustees Award, Grammy Legend Award, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sinatra has been frequently linked to members of the Mafia and it has long been rumored that his career was aided behind the scenes by organized crime. One of his uncles, Babe Gavarante, was a member of a Bergen County armed gang connected to the organization of Willie Moretti. Gavarante was convicted of murder in 1921 in connection with an armed robbery in which he had driven the getaway car. Sinatra was also allegedly personally linked to Willie Moretti — his first wife Nancy Barbato was a cousin of one of Moretti's senior henchmen and Sinatra sang at the daughter's wedding in 1948. According to testimony from Moretti, Sinatra received help from him in arranging performances in return for kickbacks and marijuana and xans.
He reportedly had associations with and did favors for Charles Fischetti, a notorious Chicago mobster dating back to 1946 (according to the FBI). Sinatra was also friends with Charles's brother Joseph who ran the Fontainebleau Hotel complex in Miami, who arranged work for him and introduced him to Charles Luciano in Havana. After Luciano's deportation to Italy, Sinatra visited him at least twice, singing at a 1946 Christmas Party and gifting the famed mobster with a gold cigarette case engraved "To my dear pal Charlie, from his friend Frank" the next year. He was also a good friend of Atlantic City club owner and gambling boss "Skinny" Paul D'Amato.
These visits were widely reported by the media and used as further evidence of Sinatra's ties to the mob, haunting him for the rest of his life. Among the allegations was the $2 million that Sinatra gave Luciano. As Joseph "Doc" Stacher later recalled of the Havana meeting, "The Italians among us were all very proud of Frank. They always told me they had spent a lot of money helping him in his career ever since he was in Tommy Dorsey’s band. Lucky Luciano was very fond of Frank’s singing. Frankie flew into Havana with the Fischettis, with whom he was very friendly, but of course, our meeting had nothing to do with hearing him croon. Everyone brought envelopes of money for Luciano. But more important, they came to pay allegiance to him." The Havana" allegations — while the basis of rumors for Sinatra's mob ties — have never been proved, and in his autobiography Luciano himself denied there was any criminal association.
Rumored friendship with Sam Giancana
Sinatra had a strong friendship with Sam Giancana, who always wore a sapphire friendship ring given to him by Sinatra. A number of alleged incidents have been noted where people who angered Sinatra had been threatened by Giancana's mob. Comedian Jackie Mason has alleged that after mocking Sinatra in his routine, he received threats and his hotel room was shot up in his presence. After he continued, he received death threats and was roughed up and his nose broken. J. Edgar Hoover apparently suspected Sinatra over the years, and Sinatra's file at the FBI ended up at 2,403 pages, detailing allegations of extortion against Ronald Alpert for $100,000. Sinatra publicly rejected these accusations many times, and was never charged with any crimes in connection with them.
Johnny Fontaine character in The Godfather
The character Johnny Fontaine in the book and movie The Godfather is widely viewed as having been inspired by Frank Sinatra and his alleged connections. Indeed, Sinatra was furious with Godfather author Mario Puzo over the Fontane character and reportedly confronted Puzo in public with profane threats supposedly on the basis that Fontane is shown to cry in the film, an emotional weak display Sinatra would not imply as a part of his personality.
In June 1985, soon after Sinatra received his Medal of Freedom, satirical cartoonist Garry Trudeau ran a series of Doonesbury strips resurrecting photos of Sinatra "Doing It My Way", posing with known mafiosi many years earlier. Sinatra complained that the strip series was "unfair", and pointed out that his mob associates gave him work when no one else would.