The meatiness of the material justifies the length of the author’s second (and concluding) volume of his biography of Frank Sinatra (1915-1998).
Just as his subject matured into a far more compelling artist than the one who had elicited squeals from bobby-soxers, the follow-up to Kaplan’s Frank: The Voice (2010) is far more substantial than that initial volume. Where the biographer subjected the early Sinatra to plenty of psychobabble—lots of mommy issues—and purple prose (particularly steamy with Ava Gardner), the story that begins with his mid-1950s resurgence sustains its own narrative momentum with the author generally staying out of the way. The allure of Gardner remains, long after their short-lived marriage, but Sinatra has grown in accomplishment (and reader interest) as a recording artist, an actor, a Nevada tycoon, a record-label mogul, and a controversial public figure. His pals at the time included future president John F. Kennedy and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana—as well as the notorious Judith Campbell Exner, who was involved with all three—and Kaplan nimbly imagines the negotiations of power and influence, as Kennedy ultimately froze Sinatra out and Giancana threatened his life. The author explores the ambivalence of Sinatra’s relationships with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. and his propensity toward both public boorishness and private benevolence, and he illuminates his “astonishingly intimate singing, created in the one place where Frank Sinatra was capable of creating intimacy.” Kaplan still displays pulpy flashes, in his evocation of how Sinatra and Mia Farrow “began to explore the strange new territory of each other” and “were a strange hybrid, this May-September pair, holding hands over a chasm, trying to stay together in spite of everything.” Refusing to take sides between Sinatra’s widow and his progeny, Kaplan treats the final years of Sinatra’s life in comparatively perfunctory fashion. But most of the rest provides a riveting story, strong enough to stand on its own without a lot of authorial embellishment.
An appropriately big book for an oversized artistic presence.