Author J. Randy Taraborrelli thought he’d uncovered everything about Frank Sinatra and his women. Then the star’s confidantes came forward with a host of new revelations.
Today, in our third extract from his new biography — 18 years on from the original — we reveal the truth behind Sinatra’s rocky marriage to Mia Farrow, 29 years his junior . . .
The scene could have come straight out of the film Annie Hall. As Frank Sinatra sat down next to a boyish blonde waif, she dropped her handbag, spilling all its contents on the floor.
First, she retrieved a stale doughnut (‘Oh my, I’m so sorry!’); then a tin of cat food (‘Oh no, I’m so embarrassed!’); a lip salve (‘No! No! No!’); even a brace for her teeth (‘Oh my God!’).
She wasn’t curvy and voluptuous like his previous lovers — including Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner — but there was definitely something about this doe-eyed slip of a girl that intrigued him. And not just the fact she happened to be wearing a sheer white nightie.Her name, she said, was Mia Farrow. She’d been filming nearby and had just popped on to the set of his latest film, Von Ryan’s Express, during a break.
‘I act on a TV show called Peyton Place. Ever hear of it?’ asked Mia. He hadn’t. The nightie, she explained, was her costume for the day. He listened enchanted as she prattled away; and when their eyes locked, it was clear to Sinatra, then 48, that something significant had just happened.
The year was 1964, and Mia, the daughter of film star Maureen O’Sullivan and director John Farrow, was just 19 — easily young enough to be his daughter.
But that didn’t stop him asking her out to a film screening, and then holding her hand all the way through it. Afterwards, Sinatra asked her to come out to his home in Palm Springs on his private jet. ‘We’ll just take off and be there in an hour. What do you say, kid?’
This was quite a lot for Mia to digest. She’d never had a boyfriend before, and now a famous man more than twice her age was asking her to go away for the weekend.
Hesitantly, she agreed. ‘Oh, and don’t forget your brace,’ Sinatra added with a chuckle.
Mia wasn’t really a Sinatra fan and preferred rock ’n’ roll. Still, she liked the sharp way he dressed and the way he seemed totally in control.
And when she saw it for the first time, she also loved his ultra-modern glass and metal house. Her first night with him, Mia later recalled, was magical. They had dinner on the terrace, served by an army of servants, and then he swept her into his bedroom. By morning, she was deeply in love.As she wandered through the house the next day, she couldn’t help noticing several framed pictures of a stunning brunette. Oh — that was Ava Gardner, said Sinatra, who then started telling her all about their doomed romance.
Ava. The name sounded familiar. Then it hit Mia: her father had once had an affair with Ava, back in 1953 — while Sinatra was still married to her. In fact, it was one of the reasons her parents’ marriage had broken up.
Better not to mention it, she decided.
Sinatra found the young actress quite unlike any other woman he’d ever met. While he’d long believed that there was pure ‘bull****’ at the core of every human being, Mia believed there was pure goodness. She was a vegetarian, and into mysticism and yoga, which he thought was eccentric. All the same, he was charmed.
‘You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, pallie,’ warned his friend Dean Martin.
‘God help me,’ said Sinatra, ‘but I’m tired of feeling sad, old and washed-up. We’re talking marriage already, pallie.’
‘Jesus Christ, Frank,’ Dean exclaimed. ‘I got scotch older than this kid.’
It didn’t take long for the first problem to surface. A fortnight after the visit to Palm Springs, Sinatra asked Mia to give up acting. When she refused, he looked startled.
She also encountered a new side of Sinatra when she tried to ask him why he’d ended his brief engagement to Lauren Bacall. Was it true that it was because news of it had appeared in a gossip.
‘I’m not going to have this discussion with you, Mia,’ said Sinatra, his anger rising.
‘But . . .’
‘Enough!’ he shouted at the top of his voice, pounding a table with both fists. Then he stormed off, leaving her pale and shaken.
In December 1965, Mia prepared to take her place at Sinatra’s side at his grand 50th birthday party, to which his three grown-up children (two of them older than Mia) and closest friends had been invited.
On the night of the party, however, just as Mia was getting ready, he told her she couldn’t go.
‘It’s just not going to work,’ he said. ‘My son called and he’s upset, and his sisters are upset.’
Mia said nothing; the next thing Sinatra heard was her wheels screeching as she drove off. The following day, in her Peyton Place dressing-room, she hacked at her long blonde hair with scissors until all that remained was uneven tufts.
Scriptwriters had to whip up a plot that involved her being in bed with bandages round her head.
In 1966, after nearly two years with Sinatra, Mia finally met his two adult daughters. Relations were tense to begin with but both women eventually accepted her as a friend.
Sinatra, however, didn’t help matters by insisting on a secret wedding that July, without any of the family in attendance.Next, he decreed that Mia should meet his former great love, Ava, at her home in London. When they called round, however, the former film star was tipsy and in a mischievous mood.
‘Francis, now why didn’t you tell this child that you called me on your wedding day?’ she asked.
‘Um . . . well . . .’ Sinatra stammered, looking like a deer in headlights.
Ava ploughed on: ‘Remember, you said: “Tomorrow, when you read about this wedding in the papers, know that no matter how I feel about this girl, I’ll always have a place in my heart for you.” That was so sweet of him, wasn’t it, dear?’ Ava asked, turning to Mia, who wore a frozen smile.
Later that evening, the couple bumped into Ava at a nightclub. While Sinatra was in the loo, she approached Mia and confided: ‘Daaaarling, I never said it.’
When Mia looked bewildered, Ava explained: ‘The papers! They wrote that I said: “I always knew Frank would end up in bed with a boy!” But I didn’t say it, my dear,’ she insisted, slurring her words.
For the next year, Mia Farrow tried hard to be a dutiful wife, but she was a clumsy and inexperienced hostess, with little in common with her husband’s middle-aged friends.
All too often, she had to hang around with the wives and girlfriends of his pals in Las Vegas, while he spent half the night gambling.
One Friday evening, six Apollo astronauts came to see Sinatra’s Las Vegas show and then joined him at the gambling tables. As he’d always done before, he asked the management for credit — but this time it was refused.
Fellow Rat Pack member Dean Martin warned him: ‘You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, pallie. I got scotch older than this kid’
For years, he’d been receiving tens of thousands for his gambling, then either keeping his winnings or chalking up the losses to the management of the Sands Hotel, then owned by billionaire Howard Hughes. It was the least they could do, he reasoned, as his singing engagements brought in so many punters.
Now, however, they’d pulled the plug — and Sinatra had been humiliated in front of his heroes. After a stand-up row with the casino vice-president Carl Cohen, he grabbed Mia and started stalking furiously through the hotel.
Passing the telephone department, he darted in and pulled all of the wires out from the switchboard. Then he came upon a golf cart used to transport VIPs, pushed Mia into it and pressed the accelerator pedal down as far as it would go.
‘We were headed straight for the shiny plate-glass window,’ recalled Mia. ‘I knew it was pointless to say a word. In the final instant, we swerved and smashed sidelong into the window. By the time I realised we were both unharmed, he was already out of the cart and striding into the casino as I trotted after him, clutching my little beaded evening purse.
‘He threw some chairs in a heap and, with his golden lighter, he tried to set them on fire. When he couldn’t get a fire started, he took my hand and we left the building.’
Mia spent the evening in her room, crying about what she later described as ‘Frank’s personality disorder’. The next morning, she fled to Los Angeles.
Later that same day, Sinatra and Carl Cohen had another showdown, this time in the hotel’s Garden Room restaurant. ‘I’m never playing this hotel again,’ Sinatra shouted. ‘You tell Howard Hughes that, why don’t you? I’m done here.’
‘You know what?’ Cohen said. ‘F*** you, Frank.’
Enraged, Sinatra grabbed a fistful of chips and hurled them at Cohen’s face. Then he tilted the dining table, spilling food and drinks all over the vice-president’s lap.
Cohen rose calmly, brushed off his suit, and then landed a punch squarely on the singer’s jaw. Sinatra went down like a sack of potatoes, the caps on his two front teeth flying clear across the room.
Soon, both men were grappling on the floor, throwing punches and kicks as the other diners looked on. At one point, Sinatra threw a chair at Cohen, but it missed and hit a security guard, who later required stitches to his head.
Afterwards, Sinatra called Mia. ‘His speech was unclear,’ she said later. ‘He sounded bewildered and upset as he said he loved and needed me — and with my whole being, I loved and needed him, too.’By this stage, Mia’s own friends were growing worried about her. Why was she so abject, so ready to forgive a man who was both tempestuous and ultra-controlling?
And then a film script arrived for the horror film Rosemary’s Baby. The director Roman Polanski wanted Mia to play the lead role, but Sinatra wasn’t keen.
‘I just don’t see it,’ he said as he skimmed through the script over breakfast one day. ‘You giving birth to the Devil? I don’t like it — it’s like some strange voodoo s***.’
‘But it’s the opportunity of a lifetime,’ pleaded Mia. ‘I really want to do it.’
‘But what about our movie?’ asked Sinatra.
Mia had agreed to make a police thriller with him called The Detective, due to start filming in October 1967. But, as she pointed out, that was over three months away — and Rosemary’s Baby was only going to take three months. So she could do both.
Reluctantly, Sinatra agreed she could take her first starring role — ‘as long as you promise that this won’t interfere with our movie’. Mia jumped into his lap and smothered him with kisses.
Unfortunately, Rosemary’s Baby was a tough shoot. Roman Polanski insisted on up to 40 takes for each scene and the movie was soon four weeks behind schedule.
Several days after learning this, Mia made the telephone call that would change the course of her life.
Sinatra was predictably furious. What did she mean, she couldn’t walk out? He’d done it plenty of times himself when movie schedules over-ran.
When Mia refused to pull out of Roman Polinski’s film Rosemary’s Baby – he served her with divorce papers
He told his wife: ‘Look, Mia. You need to choose — it’s either me or the film. I’ve had enough. Choose!’
A couple of days later, Mia was on set when Sinatra’s lawyer, Mickey Rudin, suddenly turned up.
Pulling Mia into a corner of the on-set kitchen, he presented her with a brown manila envelope. ‘This is for you, from Frank,’ he said. As Mia opened the envelope, her eyes filled with tears. Inside it were divorce papers.
‘This isn’t what I want,’ she protested. Rudin seemed surprised. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I don’t know what to say. Frank’s instructions to me were to have you sign these papers. What can I tell you? Sign them, Mia — it’s for the best.’
‘But . . .’ The words seemed to catch in her throat. ‘He needs me . . .’ she managed to say.
‘Just sign them, Mia,’ Rudin repeated. Not once had Sinatra and Mia ever discussed divorcing — yet she found herself mechanically signing.
After Rudin had left, Polanski knocked on her dressing-room door. ‘I found her sobbing,’ he said. ‘She told me what had happened — it was so cruel. It just shattered her. But what could you do? She got caught up in Frank’s world. Who could survive that, other than Frank himself?’
That evening, Sinatra’s publicist released a statement saying: ‘Frank Sinatra said today that he and Mia Farrow, his wife of little more than a year, have agreed to a separation.’
During the next seven months, the Sinatras had a painful on-again, off-again relationship — but there was only ever going to be one outcome.
When the divorce was finalised on August 19, 1968, Sinatra wasn’t present. ‘I don’t seem to be able to please him any more,’ Mia told the court sadly. At around the same time, Rosemary’s Baby was released, gaining critical plaudits and turning Mia into a major movie star.
Sinatra’s own movie, The Detective, did poorly at the box office.
Eventually, Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra would become friends. But it would take a long time.
Culled From: MailOnline
- Adapted by Corinna Honan from Sinatra: Behind The Legend by J. Randy Taraborrelli, published by Sidgwick & Jackson on August 13 at £20. © J. Randy Taraborrelli 2015. To pre-order a copy for £16, visit mailbookshop.co.uk or call 0808 272 0808. Offer until August 8, p&p is free.