For better and worse, this ambitiously epic biography of Frank Sinatra (1915–1998) reads like a movie biopic.
Over the course of nearly 700 pages, biographer Kaplan (co-author, with Jerry Lewis: Dean and Me, 2005, etc.) brings his subject up to 1954, when his Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity revived a career that had been on the skids (with the likes of Eddie Fisher and Perry Como far exceeding his popularity). So, is there anything new to say about ’Ol Blue Eyes? Not really, as the author draws heavily from—and frequently provides commentary on—many previous Sinatra biographies, as well as those of other crucial figures in his life, including Ava Gardner, Lana Turner et al. The distinguishing features of Kaplan’s narrative are its psychological focus on the domineering mother who shaped the singer’s psyche and its attempt to craft a literary style that echoes Sinatra’s. Thus the author describes Gardner in her first encounter with Sinatra as “curvy, fleshy in just the right places” and later as “a sexual volcano [who] ruled him in bed.” The inscrutable smile of Nancy Sinatra, the singer’s first wife, “reminded him of that chick in the painting by da Vinci.” His response to the passing of FDR: “death was such a strange thing: it gave him the creeps.” And his reaction to the playback of “I’ve Got the World on a String,” his revitalizing triumph with arranger Nelson Riddle: “'Jesus Christ,’ he breathed, almost prayerfully, his eyes wide and blazing. “I’m back! I’m back, baby, I’m back!’ ” Whether readers find that such stylistic flair enhances the narrative or compromises its credibility, Kaplan humanizes his subject, illuminating both the insecure man and the artistic genius.