Frank Sinatra's last wife, Barbara Marx Sinatra, reveals details of the couple's 22-year marriage in her memoir, "Lady Blue Eyes."
In the book, Barbara Marx Sinatra describes a homey side of the music legend -- a man who was extremely neat, a great cook, a voracious reader and a crossword puzzle ace. On their evenings out, she witnessed his state of the art tipping.
"He'd walk into a restaurant with a stack of one hundred dollar bills," she recalls. "And say, 'Make sure to take care of all the busboys, not the waiters, the busboys...and everyone in the kitchen.'"
Prologue: A Very Good Year
The year I married Frank Sinatra was a very good year. It was 1976, but it had taken us five years of flirting and courting to finally say "I do." It probably took another year before I grew accustomed to the idea that I now carried his iconic name. At first, I'd almost whisper when booking a restaurant reservation or beauty parlor appointment. Even to say "Mrs. Sinatra" out loud felt like bragging.
For a long time I had to pinch myself almost daily to believe that I, Barbara Ann Blakeley, the gangly kid in pigtails from the whistle-stop of Bosworth, Missouri, had somehow become the wife of Francis Albert Sinatra. Could I really be married to the singer whose voice I'd first heard at a drive-in when I was fifteen years old?
"I'll walk alone because to tell you the truth I'll be lonely. I don't mind being lonely when my heart tells me you are lonely too," he sang with such sincerity at the height of the Second World War. Even though he didn't make me swoon like some of the "bobby-soxers" at his concerts, the tenderness in his voice still melted my tomboyheart.
Our love affair began almost thirty years later, long before we took the wedding-day vows that were to last for more than two decades. By then I was married to Zeppo Marx, the youngest of the famous comedy brothers. Our next-door neighbor Frank Sinatra had recently divorced for the third time and was dating some of the world's most desirable women. I'd met his second wife, Ava Gardner, and Mia Farrow, his third. I'd seen Marilyn Monroe when she stayed with him not long before she died, and would meet Lauren Bacall, Kim Novak, Juliet Prowse, and Judy Garland, all of whom he'd stepped out with.
Not that I was a complete naïf. As a young model and the wife of a gambler named Bob Oliver, I'd been wooed by John F. Kennedy. As a Las Vegas showgirl, I'd resisted Frank's advances, and I'd lived with a television host named Joe Graydon. I'd been chased by some of the world's most drop-dead, knockout movie stars, none of whom had anything on Frank. He had a sexual energy all his own. Even Elvis Presley, whom I'd met in Vegas, never had it quite like that.
A big part of Frank's thrill was the sense of danger he exuded, an underlying, ever-present tension only those closest to him knew could be defused with humor. One of the greatest things about Frank was that he loved to laugh. He not only surrounded himself with comedians like Don Rickles, Tom Dreesen, Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin (the most natural comic of them all) but took great delight in devising elaborate practical jokes. Even his fi eriest Italian tantrum could be extinguished with a witty one-liner.
On one of my earliest visits to Villa Maggio, his sprawling mountain home at Pinyon Crest high above Palm Springs, California, which he'd bought against the fi erce summer months, I joined in a late-night game of charades. I was on the opposing team to his, which included his drinking buddies the comedian Pat Henry, the golf pro Kenny Venturi, the songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen, and Leo Duro cher, the baseball manager.
Having placed a large brass clock on my lap, I called time before Frank's team guessed his charade—the government health warning on a pack of cigarettes.
"Three minutes are up," I cried gleefully. "You didn't get it!"
They began to howl their protests, but the look on Frank's face as he rose to his feet silenced them all. "Who made you timekeeper anyway?" he barked, his eyes like blue laser beams.
"Why, you did!" I replied.
Frank snatched the clock from my lap and gripped it tightly in his hands. For a moment I thought he might hit me with it. Refusing to be intimidated, I stared him out until he turned and hurled the clock against the door, shattering it into a hundred pieces.
Springs, coils, and shards of glass fl ew across the room. The clock face lay upturned on the fl oor, its hands forever fi xed at a few minutes after 4:00 a.m.
It was Pat Henry who broke the ensuing hush. The comic who opened Frank's shows said, "I know what that charade is, Francis."
"What?" Frank spun round and scowled.
"It was 'As Time Goes By.' "
When Frank's face cracked into a broad grin, so did the rest of ours, none more gratefully than mine. The moment of danger had passed.
What I saw that night was a glimpse of the complex inner character of the man known as the Entertainer of the Century.
This was someone who had a God-given talent, The Voice. He'd clawed his way up from a tough childhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, with an even tougher mother, Dolly, who'd alternately smacked him and pressed him to her bosom.
He'd fought on the streets. He'd experienced the highs, lows, and then highs again of a performer's life. He'd had his heart broken. By the time he turned his attentions to me, he was a fi fty-fi ve-year-old living legend who'd grown accustomed to getting his own way.
He had money, power,and friends, all of which helped occupy his restless mind. The one thing he didn't have, though, was love.
Having been nothing but courteous for months, Frank fi rst came looking for it my way at a gin rummy party he hosted at his house across the fairway from ours in Palm Springs, California. My husband, Zeppo, sat a few feet away, oblivious to the drama that was about to unfold. Our twelve-year marriage had long been dead.
Twenty-six years older than me, Zeppo had been successful in vaudeville and manufacturing, but once he retired he preferred a routine of golf or sailing followed by early nights. Unable to relinquish the swinging lifestyle of his fraternal youth, he also dated other women. The Marx name and fi nancial security he'd offered me and my son, Bobby, were all that was left of our once promising romance. I was bored and lonely by the time Mr. Sinatra aimed those eyes in my direction. The spark he ignited inside jerked me from my slumbers.
Frank had been watching me all night as if he was seeing me for the fi rst time. Sitting close, he called me "Barbara, baby" in that killer voice and fl ashed me a lopsided smile. He asked if anyone wanted "more gasoline" and offered to fi x me a fresh martini. Taking my arm, he led me to the den. It was my turn to watch as he swirled vodka around a glass, reached for an olive and then some ice. A cigarette balanced on his bottom lip, a curl of blue smoke rising. He handed me my drink with a Salute! and then added softly, "Come sit with me awhile."
Thrown off guard by his sudden change of tack, I found myself directly in the path of that extraordinary force of nature. There was nowhere to run. Once he turned on the charm, my defenses rolled away like tumbleweed. Inhaling his heady scent of lavender water, Camel cigarettes, and Jack Daniel's, I could do nothing but savor the moment of intoxication, oblivious to the consequences.
As we settled onto a couch, our eyes met, and then he pulled me into his arms and kissed me. I knew with that first kiss that I was about to become another Sinatra conquest, and the thought snatched away what little breath he'd left me. Nothing more would happen that night. Not for weeks, months even.
That was the way Frank liked to play his game. He'd set me spinning in his orbit, and it was only a matter of time before gravity would draw me inexorably toward him. Whatever was to follow from the discreet seduction he'd begun—and I didn't dream then that it would amount to anything more than a fl ing—I awaited his next move with eager anticipation.
Such was the power of the Sinatra magnetism that I didn't really have a choice.