Saturday, December 12, 2015

Frank Sinatra & Lauren Bacall: A Rocky Relationship

Today is the 100 birthday of the famous crooner, Frank Sinatra. In honor of this special day, Movie Classics and The Vintage Cameo are hosting the Sinatra Centennial Blogathon. Click here to read all of the other posts on this legendary man.

Known as "The Voice" and "Ol' Blue Eyes," Sinatra is famous for his songs, especially around this time of year, and for his films (From Here to Eternity, Guys and Dolls, The Man with the Golden Arm, High Society, Ocean's 11, Robin and the 7 Hoods). He is also known for his many relationships.

We all know about his turbulant marriages to Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow(!). Married four times total, he also had many affairs during and between marriages. One of his most well know was with friend and fellow Rat Pack member, Lauren Bacall (married to Humphrey Bogart 1945-1957).

Frank Sinatra: His Wives and Lovers in Pictures

Their relationship began in 1957, shortly after Sinatra's divorce from Ava Gardner and Bogie's death. It was doomed from the start, as both were known for their strong personalities.

In her autobiography, Bacall describes the affair as "volcanic" and "combustible."

"I can't remember how it all began - there must have always been a special feeling alive between Frank and me from earlier days. Certainly he was then in his vocal peak, and was wildly attractive, electrifying. And Frank had always carried with him not only an aura of excitement, but the feeling that behind that swinging façade lies a lonely, restless man, one who wants a wife and a home but simultaneously wants freedom and a string of 'broads'."

Frank invited Bacall to a prize fight - the middleweight championship between Sugar Ray Robinson and Gene Fullmer - and when they left "there were photographers waiting and the resulting pictures ended up in newspapers around the world. It was my first public outing in Hollywood - the first time Frank and I were linked, even tentatively, in a romantic way. I remember telling a friend I couldn't understand why the press cared so much. My friend looked at me unbelievingly. 'Don't be a fool - you and Frank can't go anywhere without causing a commotion. Individually you make news, but together it's insane.' The next eight months were to prove him right."

After Bogie's death, Sinatra was the "only unattached man I knew, and I was glad he was around." They soon became a steady pair, acting as host and hostess of each others parties. However, from the beginning there were those who knew it wouldn't last. Franks mood swings  threw Bacall off; she never knew where she stood with him, didn't know how to play the 'love game.'
Always when we entered a room the feeling was: Are they okay tonight? You could almost hear a sigh of relief when we were both smiling and relaxed.

Rejections led to insecurities and when two people are insecure it is not a good thing. "Had he been sure of himself and his own life then, it might have worked. But he wasn't."
On March 11, 1958, Frank met up with Bacall in New York, where she was promoting one of her films. He was contrite for his erratic behavior, saying he had felt trapped but could now face it and asked her to marry him. She said yes and Frank began planning how he wanted the ceremony.
Two days later, while Frank was in Miami on a singing engagement, the announcement was spread across the front page of the papers. Frank blamed Bacall (though later he acknowledged - in a roundabout way that he knew it wasn't her fault) and didn't see her again for six years.
"As I look at it all now, it doesn't seem possible it happened as it did. I see that under no circumstances could it ever have worked. I expected more from him than anyone has any right to expect of another human being - loaded him with more responsibilities. No one could have remained upright in that circumstance. We used one another in some crazy way. Actually, Frank did me a great favor - he saved me from the disaster our marriage would have been."
"Anyway, it turned out to be a tragedy with a happy ending. Now, after a slow start, we are back on some sort of friendly basis. We don't live the same kind of life or think the same kind of thoughts anymore, but I'll always have a special feeling for him - the good times we had were awfully good."

You can read more excerpts from Bacall's autobiography  here.

From Frank's point of view, he too was getting over someone he loved. Bogie had been the love of Bacall's life and Ava of Frank. Sinatra: Behind the Legend by J. Randy Taraborrelli, tells the story from Frank's side.

"He tried to convince himself that he now wanted to be with Lauren Bacall, that Ava Gardner no longer mattered to him. And think of the sweet revenge against Ava that would be exacted if he were to end up married to another exquisite, even younger star, and so soon after their divorce."

"You might as well try to analyze electricity," one writer said when asked why Frank acted the way he did. He simply dropped out of Bacall's life without any explanation.

Frank's mother offered her own explanation (which is insightful in itself as to his relationship with his mother and therefore all women): "The two of them, they're wounded, one worse than the other. They don't need to be together. What kind of marriage is that? It's based on tears: his for Ava, hers for Bogie. And not only that, that woman is going to run his life. And no one runs my son's life. But me."

A few other interesting facts (IMDb):

Briefly lost the ability to sing after his vocal cords hemorrhaged in 1953. When his voice returned it had an extra dimension which many fans believed made his singing better than before.

Although the song Sinatra is most identified with is his hit "My Way", he originally didn't want to record it because he thought the song was "self-serving and indulgent.". His persona became so associated with it however, that he ended every concert with it.

In 1966 he was given a song to record, and after reading it over once, he despised it. The song was "Strangers in the Night", which turned out to be one of his biggest hits. Even after its success, he still hated the song and took every opportunity to deride it.

At his funeral, friends and family members placed items in his coffin that had personal references. These are reported to include ten dimes, several Tootsie Roll candies, a pack of Black Jack chewing gum, a roll of wild cherry Life Savers candy, a ring engraved with the word "Dream", a mini bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey, a pack of Camel cigarettes and a Zippo cigarette lighter.

In 1963 his son, Frank Sinatra Jr., was kidnapped. The kidnappers told Frank Sr. to call them from pay phones. During one call he ran out of coins, and briefly feared that it had cost him his son (the kidnappers gave him another chance). He paid the $250,000 ransom, Frank Jr. was returned, and the kidnappers were eventually caught. However, as a result of the payphone scare, Sinatra swore never to be caught without dimes again, and carried a roll of dimes with him constantly until his death.


Bacall, Lauren. By Myself and Then Some. 2005. Pages 308-324.
Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Sinatra: Behind the Legend. 1997. Pages 206-209.



  1. Very interesting - I'd read about this relationship in Bacall's autobiography, but it's interesting to see the story from the other side too. I'm also surprised to hear Sinatra hated the song Strangers in the Night! Thanks so much for your contribution to the blogathon!

    1. I found it very interesting as well. When I chose the topic I had only Bacall's side of the story in mind. Then I decided to read up on the other side haha.

      I was surprised about the song too! It's always strange when you discover someone didn't like something that is tied to them so closely.

  2. Wow – I didn't know Frank Sinatra didn't like "Strangers in the Night". That was quite surprising.

    Lauren Bacall was right when she said he saved them from a bad marriage. Thanks for sharing all your research with us. :)

  3. It was so great that you let us read about how both sides felt in this relationship. I own Bacall's autobiography, and I want to read it soon. I'll pay extra attention when she is telling about this brief affair.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

    1. Bacall's autobiography is my favorite! I know you'll enjoy it :)