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VCH Book Review # 3— Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra

January 8, 2016

 

George Jacobs was Sinatra’s right hand man—his live-in valet, chief cook and bottle washer and private confessor for 15 years, from 1953 to 1968. And oh, what a ride it was. 

 

These were the 50’s and the Capitol Records years of Frank’s resurgence; the years of his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in From Here To Eternity and his fabled comeback from the land of lost voice and career purgatory. They were the early 60s and the heyday of the Rat Pack and Ocean’s Eleven and getting JFK into the White House and "High Hopes"…

 

George Jacobs knew Sinatra intimately; how he lived and loved and laughed—and raged—probably better than anybody else. Like the Chairman used to sing it, George’s story is ultimately much too sad to be told. But tell it he does, and despite the ring a ding ding good times it recounts, it’s still a heartbreaking story.

 

George says he had “one of the coolest jobs in the world” and was at Sinatra’s side when Mr. S was king of the world until suddenly one day, out of the blue, it all ended. More about that later.

 

 

 

The book is a tell-all, but not in the angry, nasty way of some other tell-alls. It’s painfully evident on almost every page just how much George loved—and still loves—Frank. Even when dishing up a Mean Frank story, George can’t help but give him the benefit of the doubt. Or at least try. 

 

Mostly he just tells us how cool it was to ride the gravy train with Mr. S when that meant hanging with the coolest, most glamorous stars in the world. People like Joe DiMaggio and Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart and Judy Garland and Billie Holiday and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. and JFK and Marilyn Monroe—and yes, scary mobsters like Sam Giancana, too.

 

 Sinatra and Joltin' Joe DiMaggio

 

He gives us the requisite gossip. Like who were the cheapskates—Peter Lawford and Yul Brynner are the standouts on that score; and also the larger than life, unbelievable stories—like having a voyeur’s dream come true. Jacobs reports witnessing a romantic, au naturel poolside encounter between Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. 

 

Ring a ding ding!

 

 

 

Warning, more SPOILERS follow.

 

According to Jacobs—believe it or not—Ernest Hemingway and Dean Martin were both very fond of the booze. Deano was also a fiend for golf and hit the links bright and early whenever possible. 

 

The Chairman wasn't much interested in golf or in getting up early. But he was interested in the ladies. And how. 
 

Pretty much all the famous guys (and gals) in the book are constantly on the lookout for love or at least a lovely one night stand. Jacobs names names and provides enough of the sordid details to keep us interested, without getting truly pornographic.

 

It was, after all, the age of Don Draper before Don Draper was ever dreamed of…and yeah, they really did all that stuff.

 

Jacobs says that it’s true Frank never got over the breakup with his second wife, super sexpot movie star Ava Gardner. You begin to understand how it tortured him and helped him sing his incomparable torch songs.

 

You can’t help but like that about Frank. The scrawny underdog who was a poor lovelorn sap when George Jacobs met him is still one of the most endearing aspects of Sinatra's personality and story.

 

That, and his generosity. He paid the college tuitions for the kids of a number of girlfriends who were little more than one night stands. He didn't do it for the press, either. He often performed such random acts of kindness and insisted there be no publicity about it.

 

Unfortunately, there was a darker side to the genius known as The Voice, that supreme stylist of the American songbook. Jacobs saw the darker side grow as Sinatra got older.

 

There was a mean edge to Sinatra that allowed him to hold a grudge for a lifetime. Like when he cut off Rat Pack buddy Peter Lawford (also called Lawford-in-Law, as befitting Patricia Kennedy’s husband) after Frank was snubbed by the Kennedys.

 

He never spoke to Lawford again.

 

 Peter Lawford

 

 

 

Those inside Frank's circle of trust started using Lawford’s name as a verb: to be Lawfordized was to be shunned, man. It was the kiss off of all kiss offs—the kiss of (social) death from Il Padrone.

 

And it was usually final.

 

Frank almost never forgave you when he wrote you off. Sammy was one of the rare ones who did come back after being Lawfordized, after he mildly criticized Frank in an interview. He was written out of Never So Few, and his part in the movie given to newcomer Steve McQueen. But Sammy did manage to eventually come back into the fold and the Chairman’s good graces.

 

George Jacobs was not so fortunate.

 

His sin? He made the mistake of dancing with Mia Farrow.

 

George sets the scene with the book's exquisitely engaging introduction: "Summer 1968. The only man in America who was less interested than me in sleeping with Mia Farrow was her husband and my boss, Frank Sinatra."

 

Frank was divorcing Mia and they were already living separate lives, and Frank had asked George to keep Mia happy and out of his (thinning) hair while all the details of the divorce were worked out. Jacobs was used to babysitting Frank's girlfriends and ex and soon to be-ex wives by then. It went with the job.

 

George and Mia became pretty good pals. They both were enjoying the swinging sixties much more than Sinatra by the summer of '68. Jacobs describes Sinatra as being "stuck in some kind of 50s time warp" in those days.

 

The Chairman hated Elvis (still) and drugs; hated hippies and all the trappings of the counter culture; hated all the kids buying records that weren't cut by Old Blue Eyes. He hated feeling middle-aged and past his prime and perhaps the worst sin of them all for Sinatra: for finally feeling out of sync with his times.

 

He'd become a square. He was dullsville, baby. He went into denial about it, but somewhere deep inside, he seemed to know. 

 

The Leader always did.

 

Perhaps the fact that George and Mia were younger and quite friendly had aroused a latent jealousy in Sinatra, despite the fact he was thoroughly fed up with his ethereal hippie chick-wife who preferred The Beatles to his beloved jazz and Puccini records.

 

We'll probably never know when George began to run afoul of his boss. What we do know is that when George danced with Mia, the world as he knew it came to an end.

 

It was at a popular club and a reporter saw them dancing and the next day it was in Rona Barrett’s gossip column. Sinatra's black valet had been seen dancing the night away with Mia. That was all it took. The wrath that Jacobs had seen before and was sure would never be visited upon him, thanks to his undying loyalty to Frank, wasn't long in coming.

 

George was shocked to discover when he went home the next day that he was locked out— literally. His key didn’t work. A fearful African American housekeeper friend of his—obviously upset and possibly afraid of losing her own job—could only hand him a letter from Frank’s lawyer that kissed him off but good: no more contact with Mr. Sinatra, no apology, no explanation from Mr. S, no severance pay, no NOTHING.

 

He was Lawfordized, and it broke his heart.

 

Over 30 years on, it's obvious reading his story that it was still as unfathomable to Jacobs as it was tragic, how he ever fell from grace. It was equally obvious that he considered his 15 years with Sinatra as the best years of both of their lives. 

 

Jacobs only saw Sinatra once after The Fall. 

 

It was ten years later when he ran into him at a bar in Palm Springs, surrounded by new guys George didn't recognize. They were face to face at the bar.

 

Frank did the honorable thing and smiled and told him everything was okay. 

 

"Forget about it, kid." He put his arm around him. Squeezed hard one last time. "It isn't so bad."

 

Jacobs, who was crying like a baby, could say nothing. He had totally lost control. He never saw or heard from Mr. S again. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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