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Ol' red, white, and blue eyes: Frank Sinatra and the American Presidency

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  • Ram Lau
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2822/is_4_24/ai_85883709/ Ol red, white, and blue eyes: Frank Sinatra and the American Presidency Michael Nelson The
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 24 10:37 PM
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      Ol' red, white, and blue eyes: Frank Sinatra and the American Presidency

      Michael Nelson
      The close relationship between celebrities and politicians has become
      so familiar a part of the American landscape as to seem unremarkable.
      The motives of each party to this relationship are clear. On the
      Hollywood side, as Ronald Brownstein (10) has written, "Celebrities
      look to politicians to validate them as part of the company of serious
      men and women." One thinks, for example, of Charlton Heston's earnest
      defense of gun owners as head of the National Rifle Association, or
      the relentless grilling on the issues to which the Hollywood Women's
      Political Caucus regularly subjects endorsement-seeking Democratic
      presidential candidates. Barbra Streisand is hardly alone among
      celebrities in having a fulltime political director to advise her
      about which causes and candidates to support.

      On the political side of the relationship, Brownstein notes,
      "politicians look to celebrities to validate them as part of the
      company of the famous." Since the middle of the twentieth century, the
      willingness of Americans to vote a reliably straight ticket for one
      political party or the other has declined dramatically (Wattenberg).
      As more and more voters make up their minds on the basis of other
      cues, especially their impressions of candidates' personal qualities,
      politicians have been encouraged to link themselves in the public eye
      with stars and the courage, intelligence, compassion, glamor, youth,
      or other qualities that people may associate with them because of the
      roles they play. Thus, in 1976, Jimmy Carter involved the Allman
      Brothers in his presidential campaign as a way of softening his
      otherwise straitlaced public image. Twelve years later, George Bush
      (the elder) enlisted country music stars and Arnold Schwarzenegger in
      his run for the Presidency in the hope that they would mute the
      public's impression of him as effete and elitist. Even the
      relentlessly serious Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate for
      president in 2000, bragged that "I've got good celebrities," citing
      Warren Beatty, Susan Sarandon, and Pearl Jam ("Perspectives" 15).

      Politicians also look to celebrities to help them raise money for
      their campaigns. The campaign finance legislation of the 1970s placed
      a $1,000 ceiling on the amount an individual can donate to any
      candidate's campaign for federal office. With campaign costs soaring
      ever higher and the $1,000 contribution limit unadjusted for
      inflation, the ability of celebrities to attract donors in large
      numbers to concerts, cocktail parties, or dinners is much prized by
      political candidates.

      In all, few think remarkable in the 2000s activities that would have
      been inconceivable a half century ago: the leading voter registration
      drive of the past ten years conducted by the rock cable network MTV, a
      television producer called to the White House to advise President Bill
      Clinton on the eve of his grand jury testimony, actors testifying on
      Capitol Hill about food additives--and all this on the heels of the
      two-term Presidency of Hollywood's own Ronald Reagan. The credo that
      George magazine used to print on the cover to describe its mix of
      celebrity and politics -- "Not Just Politics as Usual" -- may be
      accurate as far as political journalism goes, but it is old news in
      the real world of Hollywood and Washington.

      As in music, so in politics: Frank Sinatra paved the way, in this case
      for the intertwining of celebrities and politicians that has become so
      prominent a feature in modern politics. (1) Prior to Sinatra,
      mainstream entertainers shied away from partisan political activity
      for fear of complicating their public images and driving off a large
      portion of their audience. (Studio executives were heavily involved,
      but quietly and mostly as a way of promoting and protecting their
      business interests [Brownstein cbs. 1-4].) In 1944, at the age of
      twenty-nine, Sinatra broke the mold with his active support of
      Franklin D. Roosevelt's bid for a fourth term as President and his own
      public campaign for civil rights. For the next quarter century, he
      continued to work for Democratic candidates, especially John F.
      Kennedy in 1960 and Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968, as well as for
      selected liberal political causes. During the 1970s Sinatra became a
      Republican for a complex set of reasons that had less to do with his
      becoming conservative than with personal disappointment over his
      treatment by the Democrats.

      Sinatra's Early Years

      Path breaking as Sinatra's political involvement was, abstention from
      politics would have been unnatural to him. Sinatra grew up in a highly
      political home in a politics-dominated town. His father, Marty
      Sinatra, worked for the city of Hoboken, New Jersey, as a fireman,
      eventually rising to the rank of captain. More important, his mother,
      Dolly Sinatra, was a leading cog in the Hudson County political
      machine of Mayor Frank (I Am the Mayor) Hague. Extraordinarily for her
      time (women could not yet vote), Dolly was named leader of the Third
      Ward in Hoboken's Ninth District because of her familiarity with the
      many dialects of Italian that were spoken in the immigrant-dominated
      community. Her job was to help poor neighbors in their dealings with
      city hall, then round them up to vote on election day (Hamill 78).

      Frank Sinatra was that rarest of things in an Italian neighborhood: an
      only child. Because Dolly's political activities kept her so busy, his
      alternatives as a young boy were often to stay at home by himself or
      to tag along with his mother. "I've been campaigning for Democrats
      ever since I marched in a parade for Al Smith when I was a
      twelve-year-old kid [in 1928]," he liked to say as an adult
      (Taraborrelli 224). Even earlier, says daughter Tina Sinatra, "Dad was
      carrying placards for candidates when he couldn't read what was on the
      signs" (Hersh 139). During an April 1973 concert at the White House
      for Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, Sinatra told the
      audience, "When I was a kid back in New Jersey, I thought it would be
      a great boot if I could get a glimpse of the mayor of Hoboken in a
      parade" (Taraborrelli 397). John F. Kennedy introduced Sinatra at the
      1961 inaugural gala as one who, "long before he could sing, used to
      poll a Democratic precinct back in New Jersey" (Kelley, His Way 285).

      Dolly was slow to recognize her son's passion to sing professionally,
      but once she did she booked him at local Democratic party events. By
      some accounts, she used political influence both to get Sinatra into
      the singing group the Three Flashes, which (as the renamed Hoboken
      Four) was about to make some movie shorts with entertainment
      impresario Major Bowes (Levy 17-18), and to arrange the landmark 1938
      booking at the Rustic Cabin nightclub in nearby Englewood Cliffs that
      earned Sinatra his first significant notice as a singer (Shaw 16).

      Dolly Sinatra gave her son more than an exposure to politics and a
      boost in his career. As Pete Hamill (78) has written, "She also gave
      him some of her values.... From adolescence on, Sinatra understood
      patronage." Specifically, "She knew how to get a lawyer or a
      bailbondsman," according to Hamill. "She showed up at weddings and
      wakes. She was generous with her personal time, repeatedly helping
      those neighbors who were less fortunate than the Sinatras." "Just as
      her son would become years later," Randy Taraborrelli (27) adds, "she
      was practically a padrone."

      Sinatra and Franklin D. Roosevelt

      Sinatra's meteoric rise in show business (by the mid-1940s, he was "a
      bigger star in more media than anyone else in the world," according to
      Shawn Levy [20]) did not affect his sense of himself as a little guy
      who was represented politically by the Democratic Party and, in
      particular, by Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR had first been elected
      President in 1932, when Sinatra was sixteen years old. On January 10,
      1944, Sinatra named his newborn son after the president: Franklin (not
      Francis) Sinatra.

      Sinatra's first personal encounter with Roosevelt left him starstruck.
      On September 28, 1944, in the company of New York restaurateur Toots
      Shor, Sinatra met the President at a White House tea. Referring to the
      singer's recent appearances at the Paramount Theater, Roosevelt
      jokingly commended him: "Fainting, which once was so prevalent, has
      become a lost art among the ladies. I'm glad you have revived it."
      Sinatra was awed: "I thought here is the greatest guy alive today and
      here's a little guy from Hoboken, shaking his hand. He knows about
      everything, even my racket" (Shaw 77).

      Sinatra's visit with the President was controversial. Politicians and
      newspaper columnists denounced it. Senator Kenneth Wherry, a Nebraska
      Republican, scoffed, "That crooner! Mr. Roosevelt could spend his time
      better conferring with members of the Senate." Hearst columnist
      Westbrook Pegler scornfully labeled Sinatra "the New Dealing crooner"
      and others questioned the propriety of the President honoring someone
      who had neither served in the armed forces (Sinatra was 4-F) nor gone
      overseas to entertain the troops (he made a U.S.O. Tour the following
      year). Nearly all of Sinatra's advisers urged him to withdraw from
      partisan politics lest, as Sinatra himself summarized their views,
      "you may lose fans who don't agree with you" (Shaw 77-78).

      Instead, Sinatra campaigned widely for Roosevelt in 1944, singing and
      speaking to audiences all over the country. The first politically
      active star with a strong appeal to young people, he told audiences
      that "This peace will depend on your parents' votes on November 7"
      (Kelley, His Way 94). He donated at least $5,000 to the Roosevelt
      campaign and, in a nationally broadcast election-eve rally at Madison
      Square Garden (from which many pro-FDR entertainers had begged off,
      fearing that they would alienate their Republican fans), he told an
      audience of millions: "Since he is good for me and my kids and my
      country, he must be good for all the other ordinary guys and their
      kids" (Sinatra 63-64; Wilson 64). Alluding to his White House visit,
      Sinatra even dropped a new lyric into the Adair and Dennis song
      "Everything Happens to Me": "They asked me down to Washington / To
      have a cup of tea. / The Republicans started squawking. / They're as
      mad as they can be, / And all I did was say `hello' to a / man named
      Franklin D. / Everything happens to me" (Brownstein 94).

      Sinatra, Civil Rights, and the Left

      Sinatra's early political involvement was not confined to presidential
      politics. Beginning in the 1940s, a decade when civil fights was not a
      popular or prominent cause on the American political scene, he
      campaigned ardently for racial and religious toleration. "What other
      star at the top of the charts had thrown himself into the civil rights
      struggle so directly?" Jon Wiener (265) has asked. His answer: none.

      Wiener (265-66) recalled the annual screening of the movie short, The
      House I Live In, in his St. Paul, Minnesota, Sunday School class.
      Sinatra, screenwriter Albert Maltz, composers Lewis Allan and Earl
      Robinson, and director Mervyn Leroy, supported by RKO, had donated
      their time and talent to make the ten-minute film in 1945. In it,
      Sinatra steps outside from a recording session for a cigarette break,
      sees some kids taunting a Jewish boy, and intervenes to preach
      tolerance in word ("Look, fellas, religion makes no difference except
      to a Nazi or somebody as stupid") and song ("All races and religions,
      / That's America to me" [Levy 68]). As Thomas Cripps (200-01) has
      shown, the film pulled its punches to some extent by tracing the
      origin of prejudice to foreign sources. But in the midst of World War
      II, the argument that bigotry was unpatriotic and alien to traditional
      American values was surely the most politically persuasive one that
      could be made. The eighth grade-educated Sinatra, on the advice of his
      publicist, George Evans, had been reading books such as sociologist
      Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma, whose thesis was that racism
      contradicted Americans' fundamental beliefs about individual dignity
      and equality. Evans, an ardent liberal, was the only Sinatra adviser
      who supported his political activism (Kelley, His Way 105-06).

      Sinatra's opposition to discrimination was longstanding. Even as a
      six-year-old, he intensely disliked the ethnic name calling that was
      so widespread among the boys in his neighborhood and argued with his
      mother when she questioned his bringing home a Jewish friend (Sinatra
      7-8). On stage and in the recording studio, he changed the opening
      lines of "Old Man River" from "Niggers all work on the Mississippi"
      (or even "Darkies all work," which lyricist Oscar Hammerstein had
      substituted) to "Here we all work" (Sinatra 62). He slugged a southern
      counterman who refused to serve a black musician in his orchestra
      (Shaw 84). (Sinatra's civil rights work and, subsequently, his highly
      visible friendship with entertainer Sammy Davis always reduced his
      popularity in the South ["Sinatra" 96]. He appeared in person to urge
      toleration at several high schools where racial or religious tensions
      were running high (Kelley, His Way 107-09). "Your dad was a hero to
      these kids and he took this powerful message right to them," Vice
      President Hubert H. Humphrey later wrote to Sinatra's daughter Nancy.
      "I am convinced that this early dedication and activity personified by
      your father helped create the political climate that made possible the
      passage of the civil rights legislation in the 1960s." Humphrey, who
      was the mayor of Minneapolis at the time, believed that "[t]housands
      and thousands of boys and girls in the 1940s who have become parents
      in the 1960s had their eyes opened for the first time to the evils of
      prejudice by your dad" (Sinatra 214).

      Sinatra's crusade for civil rights came at considerable professional
      cost. To be sure, Ed Sullivan, then a New York newspaper columnist,
      defended Sinatra ardently. Rebuking stars such as Al Jolson and Rudy
      Vallee for not yoking their celebrity to a social conscience, Sullivan
      wrote: "Some performers will suggest that Sinatra is stupid to step
      out of character, suggest that singing and social significance
      shouldn't be coupled. But it seems to this observer that Sinatra
      instead has added something new and important to popular singing, a
      species of disinterested public service we should all render to the
      things we believe" (Shaw 97).

      Sullivan's praise for Sinatra was drowned out by a barrage of angry
      criticism. In December 1945, spurred by a Life magazine article in
      which Sinatra attacked racial prejudice, an informant of the Federal
      Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Philadelphia secretly charged that
      Sinatra "has recently been admitted to the New York branch of the
      Communist Party" (Kuntz and Kuntz 44). In 1946 the notoriously racist
      leader of the America First party, Gerald L. K. Smith, told the House
      Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that Sinatra "has been doing
      some pretty clever stuff for the Reds" (Shaw 85). Indeed, during the
      eight years that followed the release The House I Live In, Sinatra was
      labeled a communist before the committee twelve times (Wiener 263). In
      1949 the California State Senate Committee on Un-American activities
      charged Sinatra with having "followed or appeased some of the
      Communist party line program over a long period of time" (Wiener 264).
      Columnists for conservative newspaper chains joined the chorus.
      Sinatra was "one of Hollywood's leading travelers on the road to Red
      fascism," charged Hearst writer Lee Mortimer. Later, on the basis of a
      tip from a source in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Mortimer and
      Scripps-Howard columnist Robert Ruark tried to discredit Sinatra by
      reporting on his 1947 trip to Havana, where he was seen in the company
      of mobster Lucky Luciano (Hamill 144). The story was the first of many
      that linked Sinatra with organized crime.

      Nevertheless, Sinatra remained active and outspoken for civil rights.
      "When I was young," he later recalled, "people used to ask me why I
      sent money to the NAACP and, you know, tried to help in my own small
      way." Remembering not just the discrimination his neighbors had
      experienced in areas such as business and education, but also the
      single largest lynching incident in American history, which involved
      eleven Italian immigrants in New Orleans in 1891, Sinatra would reply,
      "Because we've been there too, man. It wasn't just black people
      hanging from the ends of those fucking ropes" (Hamill 42-47). The
      ending of Sinatra's 1958 movie, Kings Go Forth, left little doubt that
      the character he portrayed would marry a black woman. In 1961, within
      a few days of the inauguration-eve gala he had organized for President
      Kennedy, Sinatra did a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall for Martin
      Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council. By the time
      other mainstream stars became publicly involved in the civil rights
      movement during the early 1960s, Sinatra had been active for nearly
      twenty years (Brownstein 169).

      Sinatra also worked on behalf of other liberal causes. In 1944 he had
      moved from New Jersey to California in furtherance of his burgeoning
      movie career. After FDR died in 1945 and the country's wartime
      alliance with the Soviet Union was ended, much of Hollywood, led by a
      growing cohort of New York writers and actors who had moved west with
      the advent of the "talkies," shifted their political allegiance to the
      radical left. Sinatra shifted with them. In July 1946, at the same
      meeting of the newly formed Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee
      of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP) that refused to adopt
      a resolution rejecting communism "as a desirable form of government
      for the U.S.A.," Sinatra was elected vice president of the
      organization (Brownstein ch. 4). Like most HICCASP members, he
      supported Henry A. Wallace when President Harry S Truman fired the
      left-leaning Secretary of Commerce in September. In a letter to the
      New Republic, Sinatra even urged Wallace to "take up the fight we like
      to think of as ours--the fight for tolerance, which is the basis of
      any fight for peace" (Wiener 265). He publicly blasted the right-wing
      Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. In 1947, Sinatra attacked the
      ongoing HUAC investigation of communist influence in Hollywood. "Once
      they get the movies throttled," he asked, "how long will it be before
      the committee gets to work on freedom of the air? ... If you can make
      a pitch on a nationwide radio network for a square deal for the
      underdog, will they call you a commie?" (Patterson 189).

      For all the seriousness of his reading, Sinatra was, in his own words,
      "not a heavy thinker." "I'm not the kind of a guy who does a lot of
      brain work about why or how I happened to get into something," he
      said. "I get an idea--maybe I get sore about something. And when I get
      sore enough, I do something about it." By 1948, Hollywood was feeling
      beleaguered by the assault from Washington. So was Sinatra, but in his
      case beleaguerment over politics was compounded by growing criticism
      of his alleged mob ties, his marital infidelity to Nancy Sinatra, and
      his weakening (at least by the standards of newly faddish Frankie
      Laine-style belters) singing voice. "I don't like communists," Sinatra
      now said, "and I have nothing to do with any organization except the
      Knights of Columbus." Although he did not actively campaign for Truman
      in 1948, neither did he support Wallace, who was running as a
      left-wing third party candidate (Kelley, His Way 106, 110).

      The 1950s

      The left may have been in retreat in Hollywood after the HUAC
      hearings, but liberalism was not. In the early 1950s, as Sinatra was
      struggling to restore his singing and acting career, he fell in with
      the Holmby Hills Rat Pack, a group of show business and literary
      friends who gathered around Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
      According to Bacall, to be a member, "One had to be addicted to
      nonconformity, staying up late, drinking, laughing, and not caring
      what anyone thought or said about us." Sinatra fit in so well that he
      was made "packmaster" of the group. One also had to be politically
      liberal. As William Holden observed bitterly, "The Rat Packers are
      only interested in being with people who think exactly as they do. You
      have to believe in the same things, support the same political
      candidates, have the exact same politics." Adlai Stevenson, the
      Democratic Governor of Illinois and a rising favorite among liberals,
      often visited the group when he was in Los Angeles (Quirk and Schoell
      56, 61-62).

      Sinatra joined Bacall and Bogart's Rat Pack in strongly supporting
      Stevenson in his losing bids for the Presidency against Dwight D.
      Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. On October 27, 1952, at the height of
      public controversy over his stormy second marriage to the actress Ava
      Gardner, Sinatra sang and spoke for Stevenson at a large election-eve
      rally at the Hollywood Palladium. (Gardner introduced him to the
      audience, prompting "Frankie, Ava Kiss and Make Up" headlines that
      eclipsed Stevenson's speech and the rest of the rally [Kelley, His Way
      184; Wilson 104].) In 1956, having regained his popularity as an actor
      and singer, Sinatra not only campaigned for Stevenson but was invited
      to sing the National Anthem at the opening session of the Democratic
      National Convention. According to Look magazine writer Bill Davidson,
      Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, a Texan, slung his arm around
      Sinatra's shoulder as he stepped down from the microphone and burbled,
      "Aren't you going to sing `The Yellow Rose of Texas,' Frank?"
      Sinatra's alleged reply (both he and Rayburn denied the story but
      Davidson had an eyewitness) was, "Take the hand off the suit, creep"
      (Shaw 229-30).

      After Stevenson lost the election, it became apparent that the real
      story at the 1956 convention had been the young Senator from
      Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. When Stevenson threw the vice
      presidential nomination open to the floor, Kennedy ran a surprisingly
      strong second and was pleasingly graceful in publicly conceding
      defeat. As the convention wore on, Sinatra, who had met the Senator in
      1955, spent more and more time with Kennedy and his political
      lieutenants (Brownstein 147). He was impressed with the degree of
      organization the family applied to the campaign. He also took note
      when he heard Robert F. Kennedy, the Senator's younger brother and
      campaign manager, tell people, "O.K. That's it. Now we go to work for
      the next one" (Levy 69).

      Sinatra and John F. Kennedy (Candidate)

      "In the long history of Hollywood's relationship with politics,"
      Brownstein (155) has written, the coming together of Sinatra and
      Kennedy "was probably the pivotal moment." Sinatra's relationship with
      Kennedy, both publicly and in private, was the closest in history
      between a major party presidential nominee and an entertainer, then or

      By the late 1950s, Sinatra had reached the peak of his popularity in
      show business. Close association with Kennedy's 1960 presidential
      campaign promised to open additional doorways for him, to power and
      above all to respectability. "What could be better than being Frank
      Sinatra?" the writer Leonard Gershe wondered at the time: "Being Frank
      Sinatra walking along with the president." Sinatra's long political
      experience and loyalty to the Democratic Party provided an additional
      motive to support Kennedy. "Jack knew how to use power and Stevenson
      didn't," he told actress Shirley MacLaine, who, like most of liberal
      Hollywood, was still "Madly for Adlai" (Brownstein 148-49, 155, 156).

      The basis of Kennedy's attraction to Sinatra was more complex. Kennedy
      hagiographers tend to stress the innocence of it all. Sinatra was
      "fun," according to one: he told Kennedy "a lot of inside gossip about
      celebrities and their romances in Hollywood" (O'Donnell and Powers
      18). Another, in the course of describing the troubled marriage
      between actor and Sinatra friend Peter Lawford and Kennedy's sister
      Pat, quotes JFK as saying, "Sinatra is the only guy who gives Peter
      jobs. And the only way I can keep this marriage going is to see that
      Peter gets jobs. So I'm nice to Frank Sinatra" (Klein 307).

      Less partisan observers have emphasized the lures of Sinatra's
      freewheeling lifestyle, which he gladly shared with Kennedy when the
      candidate visited Las Vegas and Palm Springs. With Bogart dead, the
      ethos of Sinatra's reconstituted Rat Pack was unbridled hedonism. (2)
      To Sinatra, Davis, Lawford, and Dean Martin, fame entitled one to
      freedom from restrictions on personal behavior (Brownstein 154).
      Kennedy liked to join the ongoing party now and then, and when he did,
      according to Lawford, "Frank was Jack's pimp" (Taraborrelli 223). On
      February 7, 1960, for example, Sinatra introduced Kennedy to Judith
      Campbell when the Senator stopped in Las Vegas between campaign
      appearances in Oregon and New Mexico (Parmet 117-18). An affair
      between Kennedy and Campbell began on March 7 in New York and
      continued into the White House (Thomas Reeves 165). A few days after
      the Kennedy introduction, Sinatra introduced Campbell to the Chicago
      gangster Sam Giancana, and another affair was begun (Exner).

      But just as Sinatra's attraction to Kennedy was based in part on
      explicitly political motives, so was Kennedy's attraction to Sinatra.
      In summer 1959 the candidate's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, met with
      Sinatra to ask him to help raise campaign funds, recruit other
      celebrities to the Kennedy campaign, and record a theme song. Sinatra
      agreed (the theme song was Cahn and Van Heusen's "High Hopes," with
      new lyrics like "K-E-double-N-E-D-Y/Jack's the nation's favorite guy"
      and "Oops, there goes the opposition kerplop") and was invited to
      participate in several West Coast strategy meetings with the candidate
      (Taraborreli 216, 230; Brownstein 147). Joseph Kennedy also asked
      Sinatra to speak with a number of labor and crime figures, all of whom
      were wary of the Senator because of Robert Kennedy's recent attacks on
      mob influence in the unions as a Senate committee staffer. For
      example, according to Tina Sinatra, Joseph Kennedy told her father to
      ask Giancana to arrange Teamsters Union support for Senator Kennedy in
      the politically crucial West Virginia primary and, during the general
      election, in Chicago. FBI wiretaps subsequently revealed large Mafia
      donations to the Kennedy campaign. According to former federal
      prosecutor G. Robert Blakey, the money went from Giancana to Sinatra
      to Joseph Kennedy. In return, Blakey says, Giancana and his colleagues
      were convinced that "the Kennedys would do something for them,"
      namely, reduce FBI pressure on their activities (Hersh 137, 140; Levy

      Sinatra's public role in the 1960 campaign (apart from his recorded
      voice on "High Hopes," which blared constantly from Kennedy sound
      trucks) was focused on fundraising. From 1920 to 1950, the cost of
      presidential campaigns, measured on a per capita basis, had
      essentially remained constant (Heard 403). But during the 1950s,
      American politics entered the television age. In 1950, nine of ten
      American homes did not have a television set; in 1960, nine of ten
      American homes did. By the time Kennedy ran for President, the cost of
      campaigning had skyrocketed to pay for political advertising on the
      new medium, generating unprecedented demands for political funds that,
      in Kennedy's case, Sinatra helped to meet. He marshalled a small army
      of Hollywood stars to entertain at a convention-eve fundraising gala
      for the Democratic Party. Nearly three thousand people paid $100 per
      plate (nearly $600 in today's money) to attend the July 10 event in
      Los Angeles, and Sinatra reveled in his presence at the head table
      with Kennedy and other party luminaries. During the fall campaign,
      Sinatra performed at several fundraisers and at a huge election eve
      rally in Newark.

      Kennedy's aides fretted about their candidate's relationship with
      Sinatra. They feared that the Mafia-Sinatra linkage that existed in
      many voters' minds would sully Kennedy's reputation for honesty, and
      worried that the Rat Pack image would undermine their efforts to make
      the forty-three-year-old senator seem mature and experienced. (Sinatra
      did not help matters when he temporarily redubbed the Rat Pack the
      "Jack Pack.") On one occasion, campaign staffers Harris Wofford and
      John Seigenthaler advised Kennedy not to meet "in public" with Sinatra
      at a conference that both men were scheduled to attend in New York.
      Seigenthaler added in a memo, "It is hoped that Sinatra would realize
      his own worth and keep his distance from the senator." He went on to
      recommend that Sinatra be deployed to help a voter registration drive
      in Harlem, "where he is recognized as a hero of the cause of the
      Negro" (Wilson 169).

      Sinatra was willing to do almost anything to accommodate the Kennedy
      campaign. In March 1960, for example, after signing blacklisted
      Hollywood Ten screenwriter Albert Maltz, his collaborator on The House
      I Live In, to write the screenplay for a movie version of William
      Bradford Huie's novel The Education of Private Slovik, Sinatra was
      publicly chastised by conservatives. "I wonder how Sinatra's crony
      Senator John Kennedy feels about him hiring such a man," actor John
      Wayne snarled to an interviewer. Sinatra fought back with an ad in the
      New York Times that said, "I do not ask the advice of Senator Kennedy
      on whom I should hire. Senator Kennedy does not ask me how he should
      vote in the Senate" (Wiener 266-67). But when the Roman Catholic
      Cardinals of Boston and New York expressed their displeasure with the
      Maltz hiring to Joseph Kennedy and, through him, to Sinatra, he paid
      the screenwriter in full and abandoned the project. (3)

      Unfortunately for Sinatra, the relationship between him and Kennedy
      was inherently asymmetrical. Sinatra regarded Kennedy as a friend as
      well as a political leader. Kennedy enjoyed Sinatra's company and
      appreciated the glamor that the singer brought to the campaign, along
      with his behind-the-scenes work with organized labor and organized
      crime--but that was it. Affection, fellow feeling, even gratitude were
      as nothing compared with political expediency. In September, two
      months after Sinatra had exulted to Peter Lawford on the night of
      Kennedy's nominations, "We're on our way to the White House, buddy
      boy!" the candidate told a columnist, "He's no friend of mine. He's
      just a friend of Pat's and Peter Lawford's" (Brownstein 151; Shaw 274).

      Sinatra and John F. Kennedy (President)

      Kennedy's election did not alter his fundamental attitude toward
      Sinatra (enjoy him, use him, then abandon him if the political price
      gets too high), but it did raise the stakes. As President-Elect,
      Kennedy prevailed on Sinatra to organize a preinaugural gala, which
      the singer did to wonderful effect. Yet during the Kennedy years, as
      Lawford recalled, Sinatra "never flew on Air Force One and was never
      invited to any of the Kennedy state dinners or taken to Camp David"
      (Kelley, His Way 291). Eventually Sinatra was snubbed by the President
      in a more public and thus a more humiliating way.

      January 20, 1961, the day of Kennedy's inauguration, marked a
      fundamental divide in his relationship with Sinatra. The
      inauguration-eve gala that Sinatra organized at Kennedy's behest was a
      remarkable entertainment event for which he pulled out all the stops,
      flying in Ella Fitzgerald from Australia, Sidney Poitier from France,
      and Gene Kelly from Switzerland and buying out the house of the
      Broadway show Gypsy for the night so that Ethel Merman could appear.
      The New York Times said that the gala "may have been the most stunning
      assembly of theatrical talent ever brought together for a single show"
      (Alter 64b). Not incidentally, it raised $1.4 million for the
      Democratic Party. The next night, Kennedy briefly excused himself from
      the official round of inaugural balls so that he could spend time at a
      private party that Sinatra was giving at the Statler Hilton Hotel.

      But Kennedy did not see Sinatra again until September, at his family's
      compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Accounts differ about whether
      Sinatra, who had been under pressure from Giancana to ask the Kennedys
      (especially Robert Kennedy, the new Attorney General) to repay what
      Giancana regarded as their election debt to him by muzzling the
      Justice Department's investigation of organized crime, actually spoke
      to John, Robert, or Joseph Kennedy about the matter. But an FBI
      wiretap in December recorded Giancana lieutenant Johnny Roselli
      quoting Sinatra's claim that he had given Robert Kennedy a piece of
      paper with Giancana's name on it and said, "This is my buddy. This is
      what I want you to know, Bob" (Kuntz and Kuntz 152; Richard Reeves
      224; Brownstein 162). Wiretaps also revealed the Sinatra-Giancana
      connection with Judith Campbell, whom Kennedy (and Giancana) were
      continuing to see. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, no friend to either
      Kennedy brother, visited the President on March 22, 1962, to tell him
      that he knew about Campbell and Giancana, as well as about Sinatra's
      role as intermediary between each of them and the president (Richard
      Reeves 289-91).

      Hoover's meeting with Kennedy had its intended effect. Robert Kennedy
      urged his brother to break not just with Campbell (whom the President
      called for the last time a few hours after Hoover left) but also with
      Sinatra: "Johnny, you just can't associate with this guy" (Richard
      Reeves 289-91). The Sinatra-Kennedy relationship had continued to draw
      public criticism from conservative politicians and newspapers for
      other reasons, ranging from the military limousine that Sinatra had
      used while organizing the inaugural gala to the propriety of hosting
      the exemplar of Rat Pack hedonism at the Kennedys' family compound.
      Now the political stakes became considerably higher.

      The President resolved to cut Sinatra loose. "It meant nothing [to
      him]," according to White House aide Richard Goodwin. "If [Jack]
      Kennedy ... thought it would even in the slightest wound his
      presidency, of course he would cut it off; he would cut off people a
      lot closer than Sinatra if he had to" (Brownstein 166). As early as
      December 1961, Roselli had told Giancana, "they don't want him. They
      treat him like a whore. You fuck them, you pay them, and they're
      through" (Mahoney 125-26). The coup de grace came soon after Kennedy's
      meeting with Hoover. Sinatra was informed that, contrary to previous
      assurances, the President would not be staying at Sinatra's
      much-refurbished (in anticipation of the visit) Palm Springs home when
      he visited California. Instead, for "security reasons," Kennedy would
      stay with the singer Bing Crosby (a Republican!).

      Although Sinatra blamed Robert Kennedy and other Kennedy advisers more
      than the President himself for the change in plans, he felt personally
      betrayed and publicly humiliated. His embarrassment was compounded
      when White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, asked at a November
      briefing whether the President had seen a chrysanthemum-covered
      rocking chair that Sinatra had sent for his birthday, said, "No, it
      was sent straight to Children's Hospital with other birthday flowers
      and the president never saw it" (Richard Reeves 320). The final
      humiliation came when Sinatra was not invited to Kennedy's funeral
      after the President was assassinated on November 22, 1963. "He's
      already been too much of an embarrassment to the family," said Peter
      Lawford (Levy 260).

      The Post-Kennedy 1960s

      Sinatra's relationship with John F. Kennedy was sadly ironic. Sinatra
      had hoped that his association with the leader of the free world would
      replace public perceptions of him as an associate of underworld
      figures and a libertine with a more respectable image. Instead, the
      old perceptions were reinforced. If Kennedy dropped Sinatra, many
      seemed to think, then all the sordid stories about him must be true.
      As Brownstein (167) has written, "By standing next to Kennedy, Sinatra
      may have hoped to surmount his past; but he was only stamped with it
      more indelibly than ever."

      But Sinatra's disillusioning experience did not prompt him to retreat
      from Democratic Party affairs: his roots in the party, and the
      continuing influence of his mother, ran too deep for that. Sinatra was
      heartened when California Democrats chastised the White House for the
      Crosby decision (Brownstein 165-66). More important, he remained a
      strong liberal. In a February 1963 Playboy interview, for example,
      Sinatra denounced "practiced bigots," especially "that leering,
      cursing lynch mob in Little Rock reviling a meek, innocent little
      twelve-year-old girl as she tried to enroll in a public school." He
      also told Playboy that "Our concern over a Sovietized Cuba ninety
      miles from Key West must be equated with Russian concern over our
      missile bases surrounding them" and called on Americans to cure "the
      cancers of starvation, substandard housing, educational voids, and
      second-class citizenship that still exist in many backsliding areas of
      our own country." In a revealing comment, Sinatra added that "the only
      chance the world has for survival" may be to lock up "all the leaders
      in every country in the world" and "then--boom! Somebody blows up the
      mother building." Among those he mentioned as belonging in the
      building was Kennedy (Playboy).

      Sinatra did withdraw from national politics for a time. He did not
      campaign for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, and the one personal encounter
      he had with Johnson four years later was unpleasant. Johnson
      reluctantly agreed to a meeting when Sinatra came to Washington to
      perform in a charity concert at Vice President Humphrey's request.
      Sinatra, who was hoping for a picture of himself with the President,
      found Johnson naked on the massage table, awkwardly traded complaints
      with him about the unfairness of the media, and was escorted out after
      fifteen minutes. Reportedly, Johnson still resented Sinatra's brusque
      treatment of his friend and fellow Texan Rayburn at the 1956
      Democratic convention (Berman 96,135).

      Even during his hiatus from national politics, however, Sinatra was a
      mainstay of the California Democratic Party. In 1964 he publicly
      opposed Proposition 14, which would have nullified the state's new
      fair housing law, and supported Pierre Salinger's unsuccessful
      candidacy for the U.S. Senate (Salinger 363). In 1966, he campaigned
      hard on behalf of Governor Pat Brown's reelection bid against
      movie-actor-turned-conservative-activist Ronald Reagan. Sinatra
      disliked Reagan intensely--"almost as much as Richard Nixon," said
      Lawford (Taraborrelli 357). For a time, he even added "Hates
      California / It's Reagan and damp" to concert versions of the Rodgers
      and Hart song "The Lady Is a Tramp." Along with 147 other actors,
      Sinatra signed a newspaper ad that declared: "We believe very strongly
      that the skills an actor brings to his profession are NOT the skills
      of governing" (Kelley, Nancy Reagan 141-42). Nonetheless, Reagan was
      easily elected.

      Distaste for Robert Kennedy's candidacy for the Democratic
      presidential nomination in 1968 ("Bobby's not qualified to be
      president") helped motivate Sinatra to return to the national
      political arena (Kelley, His Way 383). He had first gotten to know
      Kennedy's chief rival for the nomination, Vice President Humphrey, in
      1966, and the two had liked each other. Sinatra was one of the few
      major stars to support the Vice President's candidacy for President.
      He did ten fundraising concerts for the Humphrey campaign and, in
      frequent conversations, advised him on matters such as makeup and
      lighting for his television appearances. Sinatra even opened his home
      to groups of Black Panthers, urging them to support Humphrey. Yet at a
      time when many movie stars, including Warren Beatty, Paul Newman, and
      Marlon Brando, were not only getting involved in politics but also
      speaking out on the issues, Sinatra confined his public political role
      to singing and raising money (Brownstein ch. 7).

      Humphrey's nomination at the 1968 Democratic convention (RFK had been
      assassinated in June) marked the high point of Sinatra's relationship
      with him. Sinatra certainly did not lack enthusiasm: "I'll do anything
      to defeat that bum Nixon," he pledged (Kelley, His Way 388). But, as
      had President Kennedy's advisers eight years earlier, Humphrey's aides
      now warned their candidate to stay away from Sinatra, citing the
      singer's alleged Mafia connections, which were being rehearsed in
      newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. ("Sinatra's Pals--Gangster
      Friendships Cause Singer Trouble But He Isn't Fazed," read the Journal
      headline [Kelley, His Way 386-88]). "It was an old story," Lawrence
      Quirk and William Schoel (330-31) have written. "Politicians always
      wanted Frank to use his showbiz connections to get entertainers from
      all across the world to campaign and entertain for them, but once they
      were in office their advisers would remind them of Frank's mob ties.
      In other words, Sinatra had served his purpose and it was time to give
      him his walking papers."

      In this case, Sinatra kept walking, right into the arms of the
      Republican party.

      Becoming a Republican

      Sinatra's conversion to Republicanism was not sudden. In 1970 he
      endorsed Reagan's candidacy for reelection as governor of California
      and raised $500,000 in benefit concerts for the Republican incumbent's
      campaign fund. But he did so as the co-chair of Democrats for Reagan.
      "I'm an Italian Democrat all the way," Sinatra affirmed. "On that
      score I could never change." Indeed, he accompanied his endorsement of
      Reagan with public support for several California Democratic
      candidates, such as Jerry Brown, the son of former governor Pat Brown
      and the party's nominee for Secretary of State, and Sen. John Tunney,
      for whom Sinatra raised $160,000. In addition, Sinatra tempered his
      endorsement of Reagan by declaring that "if Reagan ran for president
      against Humphrey, I'd come out for Humphrey" (Kelley, Nancy Reagan
      189, 186). Seen in that context, the July 9, 1970, Los Angeles Times
      headline that accompanied Sinatra's Reagan endorsement--"Sinatra
      Explodes Political Bomb"--may have overstated the extent of his

      Similarly, although Sinatra formed a close friendship with the
      controversial Republican Vice President, Spiro T. Agnew, when they met
      soon after the 1970 elections, he did not embrace the ticket of which
      Agnew was a part. "Now Nixon scares me," Sinatra said of the
      President. "He's running the country into the ground" (Kelley, His Way
      397). The Sinatra-Agnew connection prompted Nixon's chief political
      adviser, Charles Colson, to urge the President to try to woo Sinatra
      into the administration's political camp in early 1971. "Sinatra is
      the most important person in the Hollywood entertainment community,"
      Colson wrote in a White House memo, adding (perhaps less
      realistically), "he has the muscle to bring along a lot of the younger
      lights" (Oudes 211). Colson ended his effort after Sinatra announced
      his retirement from show business in June 1971. But as late as
      September Nixon fretted in a taped conversation with his chief of
      staff, H. R. Haldeman, that "[Edmund] Muskie used Frank Sinatra's
      plane in California" (Kutler 32). At the time, Muskie was the
      frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to oppose Nixon the
      following year.

      Nonetheless, by 1972 Sinatra was firmly in the Republican camp. His
      final reservation about the President was removed when Nixon decided
      to keep Agnew on the ticket. Sinatra actually financed a pro-Agnew
      write-in campaign in the early primaries to rouse support for the Vice
      President (Kelley, His Way 406). He contributed $53,000 to Nixon's
      reelection effort, campaigned with Agnew, and briefly abandoned his
      retirement to sing at a Young Voters for Nixon rally at the 1972
      Republican convention in Chicago. "They're both unique, the Quaker and
      Greek. / They make this Italian want to whistle and stamp / Because
      each gentleman is a champ" was among the special lyrics Sinatra sang
      at the rally to the tune of "Tramp" (Wilson 267).

      What explains Sinatra's political conversion? His own answer was that
      his views on the issues had changed. "The older you get, the more
      conservative you get," he frequently told his daughter Nancy Sinatra
      (Sinatra 226). He liked the way Reagan had stood up to student
      demonstrators at the University of California during his first term as
      governor. In addition, according to Agnew, "we hated the way the
      left-wingers were constantly running down the competitive,
      free-enterprise system that was the real strength of America" (Agnew
      205). Yet Sinatra was not consistently conservative. When he learned
      about Governor Reagan's antiabortion, antiwelfare policies in 1970, he
      urged him to moderate them. Part of his attraction to Nixon in 1972
      was the President's bold opening to mainland China, something that
      Sinatra had urged President Kennedy to undertake in 1963 (Sinatra 225).

      A second explanation of Sinatra's move to the Republican Party is less
      ideological than populist. In speaking out for Roosevelt in 1944,
      Sinatra had said of the President: "He's for little guys like me"
      (Shaw 77, 79-80). Big business seemed to pose the biggest threat to
      the common people in the 1930s and 1940s; an active federal government
      seemed to be their defender. At some level, despite his success,
      Sinatra continued to think of himself as a little guy for the rest of
      his life. But by the 1970s, Sinatra and many other erstwhile New Deal
      Democrats, most of them white ethnic Catholics like himself, had come
      to regard big government as their nemesis. In particular, John
      Rockwell (211) has written, "From Sinatra's point of view, his
      constant battles with state and federal officials over his alleged
      Mafia ties were proof of government malevolence."

      A third, and perhaps deeper, explanation of Sinatra's political
      conversion may lie in an aspect of his character that almost all close
      observers of him have noted. Loyalty was the supreme virtue in
      Sinatra's code of morality. He was "Il Padrone," in Gay Talese's (99,
      102) marvelous phrase, a man of "fierce fidelity.... This is the
      Sicilian in Sinatra: he permits his friends, if they wish to remain
      that, no easy Anglo-Saxon outs. But if they remain loyal, then there
      is nothing Sinatra will not do in turn--fabulous gifts, personal
      kindnesses, encouragement when they're down, adulation when they're
      up." To Sinatra, loyalty had to be unconditional and would always be
      rewarded, but disloyalty was unacceptable and must be punished.

      Thus, when Steve Allen published an open letter in 1970 calling on
      Sinatra to put aside "Sicilian vengeance" and support Jesse Unruh,
      Reagan's Democratic opponent in that year's California gubernatorial
      election, he was on to something. Unruh had violated the code of
      loyalty, in Sinatra's view. An ardent supporter of Robert Kennedy in
      1968, Unruh had done nothing to help Humphrey when he won the
      Democratic presidential nomination. "Unruh hurt my man badly in
      Chicago [at the Democratic convention]," Sinatra said. "In fact, he
      hurt the whole Democratic party. Humphrey didn't lose. His people lost
      for him" (Kelley, Nancy Reagan 182). In contrast, Reagan defended
      Sinatra when he had a public run-in with the staff at Caesar's Palace
      in Las Vegas. "Why don't you ask about the good things he's done?" the
      Governor asked reporters. (4) As for Agnew (205), even though
      "political allies of mine did everything possible to persuade me that
      Sinatra was a political liability because of the controversy that
      always surrounded him," the Vice President stood up publicly for his
      friend when Sinatra was called before the Select Committee on Crime of
      the U.S. House of Representatives in July 1972 to answer questions
      about a race track investment. Nixon telephoned Sinatra to
      congratulate him on his testimony, which was a public relations
      triumph (Kelley, His Way 410,409). In December, according to an FBI
      document, high-ranking Genovese crime family member Angelo DeCarlo was
      released from federal prison, allegedly because Sinatra persuaded the
      White House to issue a presidential commutation of sentence (Kuntz and
      Kuntz 226-28). Republicans, it seemed to Sinatra, understood loyalty
      in the same way that he did, and Democrats did not.

      The Republican Years

      If Sinatra had set out to test Nixon's loyalty, he could not have
      chosen a better way to do so than his behavior on the eve of the
      President's second inauguration in 1973. When Secret Service
      officials, citing insufficient time to run a security check, refused
      to let Sinatra add comedian Pat Henry to the bill of the
      preinauguration American Music Concert at the Kennedy Center, which
      Sinatra was scheduled to emcee for an audience that included the
      Nixons, he stormed out of the theater. Later that night, at a party,
      Sinatra exploded at Washington Post society columnist Maxine Cheshire.
      "Get away from me, you scum," he shouted. "Go home and take a bath."
      Then (to cite the PG 13-rated version of the story) he added: "You're
      nothing but a two-dollar broad. You know what that means, don't you?
      You've been laying down for two dollars all your life." Before
      stalking off, Sinatra stuffed two one-dollar bills into Cheshire's
      drink glass (Wilson 270-73; Kelley, His Way 412-13).

      Official Washington was shocked by Sinatra's behavior, and Nixon was
      enraged at having his inauguration sullied by such crude antics. Yet
      the President refused aides' advice to cancel Sinatra's upcoming April
      17, 1973, appearance at the White House (his first White House concert
      ever) to sing for the Italian Prime Minister (Taraborrelli 396-97).
      Nixon had even less use for the Post than Sinatra. Later that year,
      the President sardonically remarked to confidant Bebe Rebozo that
      Cheshire's true price was, "Two bits, not two dollars" (Kutler 621).
      On the night of Sinatra's White House performance, Nixon compared him
      to the Washington Monument -- "The Top." Indeed, Sinatra turned out to
      be, if anything, the less loyal member of the relationship with Nixon.
      He never publicly abandoned the President during the Watergate affair
      ("Nobody's perfect," he would remind Nancy Sinatra), but after it was
      over he told Pete Hamill, "You think some people are smart, and they
      turn out dumb. You think they're straight, they turn out crooked"
      (Sinatra 226; Hamill 180).

      Sinatra's fidelity to Agnew never flagged, however. Agnew stayed with
      him at Palm Springs many times; as an indication of where Sinatra's
      political loyalties now lay, he even renamed the guest house he had
      built in 1962 in anticipation of Kennedy's visit Agnew House. When
      press reports broke in 1973 about a federal criminal investigation
      into bribe taking by Agnew, Sinatra flew to Washington, made his
      lawyer Mickey Rudin available to the Vice President, and phoned him
      every day to buttress his flagging spirits. After Agnew resigned on
      October 10, 1973, as part of a plea bargain and became the object of
      Internal Revenue Service scrutiny, Sinatra made him an unsolicited,
      pay-when-you-can loan of $200,000. Agnew dedicated his memoirs to
      Sinatra, describing him as being "in a special bracket, a bracket of
      one" (Agnew 177-80,203-04).

      After Nixon and Agnew's exit from politics, Sinatra renewed his ties
      with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. At a 1974 fundraiser for Reagan's
      Republican presidential nomination bid, he sang, "Nancy's beam is like
      a lighthouse. / She sees her husband in the White House," to the tune
      of Silvers and Van Heusen's "Nancy with the Laughing Face" (Kelley,
      Nancy Reagan 212). Reagan narrowly lost the nomination to President
      Gerald Ford (whom Sinatra then supported in the general election), but
      when he ran again in 1980, Sinatra campaigned hard. At one Boston
      concert, he raised $250,000 for the Reagan campaign. As usual,
      however, the same audiences that thrilled to Sinatra's singing at
      political events winced at his spoken comments. "He wants to be
      reelected," Sinatra said of Reagan's opponent, President Jimmy Carter.
      "We should string him up" (Kelley, Nancy Reagan 455-56).

      Sinatra's close relationship with the Reagans prompted criticism and
      concern in some quarters. One critic likened the 1981 inaugural gala,
      which Sinatra organized at the President-Elect's request and which
      raised half of the inauguration's $10 million cost, to "a cross
      between Dial-a-Joke and `Hee Haw.'" During Senate confirmation
      hearings, Reagan's Attorney General-designate, William French Smith,
      was taken to task by New York Times columnist William Safire and
      Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire for attending Sinatra's sixty-fifth
      birthday party a few weeks after the 1980 election. Incredibly, a
      rumor spread that Reagan was going to appoint Sinatra as ambassador to
      Italy. The Italian newspaper La Stampa was worried enough to huff: "If
      the American government thinks of Italy as the land of mandolins and
      La Cosa Nostra, then Sinatra would be the appropriate choice" (Alter 64b).

      Ignoring the criticism, the Reagans remained loyal to Sinatra. When he
      applied for a Nevada gaming license in 1980, Reagan listened to his
      wife instead of to his close political adviser, Ed Meese, and wrote a
      strong character reference for Sinatra (Kelley, Nancy Reagan 265-66).
      The President awarded Sinatra the Medal of Freedom in 1985. Sinatra
      was a frequent guest, especially of the First Lady, at the White
      House, both for official events and personal visits. After Reagan was
      reelected in 1984, Sinatra was invited to organize the 1985 inaugural

      As always with Sinatra, loyalty was reciprocated with loyalty. In
      1981, responding to Screen Actors Guild president Ed Asner's
      oft-expressed hostility to the President, Sinatra and others formed a
      group called Actors Working for an Actors Guild and ran candidates for
      the SAG board (Brownstein 290). He ardently defended Nancy Reagan
      against press criticism of her extravagance in clothes and china. He
      helped the White House staff to improve its lighting and sound system
      for evening entertainments, and arranged concerts by artists ranging
      from Zubin Mehta to Mel Tillis. ("I've already checked your schedule,"
      Sinatra told Tillis, "and you are free" [Kelley, His Way 493]). In
      1984 Sinatra raised money for the Reagan campaign at a series of
      cocktail parties and accompanied the president on a frenzied campaign
      visit to the Festival of St. Ann in Hoboken. Displaying a keen
      understanding of the purpose of the appearance, Gov. Mario Cuomo of
      New York, a leading Democrat, complained that Reagan was using Sinatra
      to pander to Italian-American voters. In 1988, when former Reagan
      chief of staff Donald Regan's tell-all memoir, For the Record, was
      published, Sinatra decried the disloyalty of insiders who reveal the
      secrets of their erstwhile bosses. "I'm saying they're the pimps and
      whores," he charged. "They're the ones who write the books about
      people with whom they had a kind of privy association and suddenly
      they're out making a buck" (Kelley, Nancy Reagan 491). (5)


      The story of Sinatra and the American presidency is interesting
      because of what it tells about Sinatra, especially the code of loyalty
      that seems to have animated almost every aspect of his life. The story
      is important because of what it tells about the American presidency.
      Sinatra's participation in the Roosevelt and Kennedy campaigns opened
      the floodgates for celebrity involvement in presidential politics. As
      Jonathan Alter (64b) recently has written, "Sinatra forever changed
      the relationship between Hollywood and Washington."

      Broadly speaking, the motivation for celebrities such as Sinatra to
      seek out politicians has been less economic self-interest than a
      personal and ideological attraction to particular candidates and an
      aspiration to be regarded as serious public figures. The motivation
      for candidates to seek out celebrities has been to bask in their
      glamor and to recruit their help in fundraising. Yet Sinatra's
      experiences with Kennedy and Humphrey reveal the fault line that
      underlies the association: whenever a celebrity's public image becomes
      controversial, candidates are likely to cut him or her loose.
      Similarly, Sinatra's identification with liberal causes brought down
      the animus of right-wing newspapers, politicians, and fellow actors.
      More seriously, it made him a target of the FBI. Like Jane Fonda
      during and especially after the Vietnam War, however, and distinctly
      unlike the Hollywood Ten and other figures in the entertainment
      industry who lacked a strong constituency of fans, Sinatra's fame
      enabled him eventually to surmount many of these criticisms.

      Beyond that marriage of self-interest, however, may lie a deeper
      source of what Brownstein has called the "Hollywood-Washington
      connection." Entertainers and politicians face similar challenges.
      Whether on screen or on the hustings, they must woo the public and
      adjust to changes in style and taste. For many years, celebrities have
      had to deal with something that politicians, because of the
      long-respected distinction in political journalism between private
      life and public responsibilities, did not: a mass media that
      recognizes few areas of life as too personal for the glare of
      flashbulbs and the television spotlight. Since the 1980s, that
      distinction no longer has prevailed in media coverage of politics. In
      almost all aspects of their careers, therefore, celebrities and
      politicians can not only help each other, but can also empathize with
      each other in a way that few outsiders can.


      I would like to thank John Lyman Mason of Rhodes College for his
      thorough and thoughtful comments on this article and a reviewer for
      this journal for helpful suggestions. I presented an earlier version
      at the conference on "Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend"
      at Hofstra University, 12-14 November 1998.

      (1) For an assessment of Sinatra as a singer, see Nelson.

      (2) As Gilbert has argued, Sinatra's emotionally rich recordings from
      this period indicate that the Rat Pack side of Sinatra was only one
      aspect of a highly complex personality.

      (3) Sinatra also endorsed, albeit unenthusiastically, Sammy Davis's
      decision to postpone his wedding to the white actress Mai Britt from
      October 16, 1960, until after the election in deference to a request
      from the Kennedy campaign. Sinatra had agreed to be Davis's best man,
      and Kennedy's aides feared that the public would draw a
      Davis-Sinatra-Kennedy-interracial marriage connection. Later, Sinatra
      did not stand in the way when Davis was dropped from the program of
      the inauguration eve gala (Levy 168; Sinatra 144-45).

      (4) Democrats Brown and Tunney, whom Sinatra also supported in 1970,
      were the sons of old friends and thus fit objects of his loyal support.

      (5) Sinatra supported George Bush for president in 1988 and 1992, and
      organized Bush's 1989 inaugural gala. But by this time his level of
      activity was much lower than in the past, mainly for reasons of health.

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      Michael Nelson works in the Department of Political Science at Rhodes

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