cover image Sinatra: The Chairman

Sinatra: The Chairman

James Kaplan. Doubleday, $35 (992p) ISBN 978-0-385-53539-7

The great singer-actor contains multitudes in this vast, engrossing biography of Frank Sinatra’s mature years. Completing his bestselling Frank: The Voice, Kaplan follows the 17-year span from Sinatra’s Oscar-winning role in 1954’s From Here to Eternity to his (first) retirement in 1971, a period when he was a commanding Hollywood star and the acknowledged master of the American songbook. Kaplan delves with gusto into Sinatra’s seething contradictions: swagger and insecurity; sensitivity and callousness; deep loneliness amid a perpetual throng of cronies; an omnivorous sexual appetite that encompassed polar opposites Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow; lordly generosity combined with tyrannical control and a violent compulsion to push people around (most memorably when, while dressed as an Native American woman at a benefit event, he got in a shoving match with a cowboy-costumed John Wayne and then, to work off his anger, had a bodyguard beat up a parking attendant). Kaplan’s sympathetic but unflinching narrative revels in the entertainer’s scandalous private life while offering rapt, insightful appreciations of his sublime recording and stage performances. It situates him and his Rat Pack at the Vegas headquarters of a postwar American culture that yoked mobsters and prostitutes to Kennedys and other luminaries. His Sinatra is often appalling, sometimes inspiring, and always a fascinating icon of an energetic, resonant, yet doomed style of masculinity. Photos. (Oct.)