Barbara Marx Sinatra 1927-2017

Barbara Marx Sinatra, the widow of Frank Sinatra, has died aged 90. A former model and Las Vegas showgirl, she was married to Zeppo Marx from 1959-73, and to Sinatra from 1976 until his death in 1998. As well as overseeing most of his his estate, Barbara was also a philanthropist and children’s campaigner. In her 2011 memoir, Lady Blue Eyes, she recalled meeting  Marilyn during the 1950s:

“Palm Springs was a celebrity circus where Clark Gable would pop his head over her hedge for a chat. She befriended Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. She played doubles matches with Bobby Kennedy and met Marilyn Monroe, who visited Sinatra and reportedly liked to walk around his house naked.

Once when Monroe was staying at the Compound, Barbara’s son Bobby, ‘who had the worst crush on Marilyn,’ insisted Barbara secure an invitation so he could meet the star. ‘So I called Dorothy, Frank’s secretary, and told her my problem and Frank called and said have him come over. Bobby met her and he was totally in love.’

On another occasion Barbara met the ‘beautiful and funny’ Monroe, then married to Arthur Miller, at the Palm Springs Racquet Club. ‘I could see why she’d attract the likes of Mr Sinatra, among others. But her dependence on drugs and alcohol left her vulnerable. We had a casual conversation and she seemed sweet, but we were never going to be close. A few years later she was dead.'”

Buddy Greco 1926-2017

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Marilyn with Buddy Greco, 1962

Buddy Greco, the jazz pianist and lounge singer, died in Las Vegas last week aged ninety.

Armando Greco was born into a musical family in Philadelphia in August 1926, and began piano lessons at four years old. He turned professional in his teens, and had his first hit single in 1948. He was hired by Benny Goodman, and accompanied a young Marilyn Monroe during an audition for the band (she didn’t get the job.)

In 1951, Greco launched a solo career as a nightclub artist. He also released albums and appeared on television. His 1960 version of ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ sold over a million copies. He regularly performed alongside Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and other Rat Pack luminaries at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas.

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On the weekend of July 29, 1962, Greco was playing with Sinatra at the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe. One of Sinatra’s guests was Marilyn Monroe. Buddy reminded her of their earlier meeting, and took a series of snapshots featuring himself with Marilyn, Sinatra, and Peter Lawford. These photos are believed to be the last ever taken of Marilyn, who died just a week afterward.

Greco enjoyed his British tours so much that he bought a house at Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex, while also maintaining a home in Palm Springs, California. He is survived by his seven children and his fifth wife, Lezlie Anders, whom he married in 1995.

You can read Buddy Greco’s account of the Cal-Neva weekend here.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Let’s Make Music

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Marilyn’s RCA Victor award for ‘I’m Gonna File My Claim‘ after it was released as a single to promote River of No Return and sold 50,000 copies in 1954, as well as promotional materials, are among the items in the upcoming Julien’s sale.

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An unedited, 30-minute audio recording of Marilyn performing multiple takes of ‘Runnin’ Wild’ and ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ (from Some Like It Hot) on a reel of acetate tape, from the estate of Studio 7612 owner Myron Blackler, is also on offer.

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Marilyn’s personal songbook – containing more than 369 indexed pages of song standards, such as Cole Porter’s ‘You Do Something To Me’ – is up for bids. Receipts show that in February 1960, Marilyn purchased three albums by Frank Sinatra; and in April 1962, she bought a live double-album by Judy Garland.

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Finally, a set of vinyl compilations featuring Marilyn herself are on sale, as collected by Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull.

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‘Marilyn & Sinatra’ in London

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Marilyn & Sinatra, an hour-long play with songs, is playing through this weekend at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre.  Here’s a selection of reviews…

“On the face of it, Marilyn is a gift: the sex symbol, the pills and drink, the suicide, the famous husbands and lovers … But it’s too much of a gift.  Writers and directors seem to feel that all they have to do it to put the life, or part of it, on the stage, and they have a hit show on their hands.” Traffic Light Theatregoer

“There appear to be a number of versions of the story of their relationship, though this play prefers to avoid being unnecessarily sensationalist. It is quite likely, given how private conversations are acted out on stage, that there was a modicum of artistic licence going on – the play never claims to be a verbatim account of who said what and when.” London Theatre 1

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“In his prologue to the audience, the writer and  director, Sandro Monetti, explains that the premise of the show was inspired by Monroe’s final moments spent listening to various Sinatra albums. The overall performance also benefits from its desire to connect with the audience, with the actors interacting with them while they sing hits made famous by both stars.” The Upcoming  

“A palpable lack of insightful direction remains a recurring problem with this show, as each character tends to stand (or sit) around on the side-lines while the other narrates dialogue that is both awkward and awkwardly delivered … Erin Gavin bears a passable resemblance to the star and does vulnerability well, even if her voice has an occasional sharp edge to it that Marilyn’s carefully nuanced delivery never did.” Theatreworld IM2

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“We are presented with two narrations, starting from the first falterings of Monroe’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio. In her spoken role, Erin Gavin captures the breathy, seductive tones that Monroe used on screen, although there is more devotion to the accent than to its volume, rendering some lines inaudible even within the tiny confines of the Jermyn Street Theatre. There are the signs of vulnerability there, despite Monetti’s clunkingly obvious script, and although her attempts to sing the actress’s trademark songs ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ and ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ are beset with timing issues, one does wish that Gavin (a co-producer of this show) had better material with which to develop her impersonation.” Reviews Hub

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“It’s quite a moving  show … Not really a musical, this little piece is firmly a play with songs. And little is the operative word. It really is very short. Perhaps it would be better staged in a double bill with another short item.” Musical Theatre Review

“Marilyn Monroe’s story has been told on stage hundreds of times in dozens of different ways but her character is always compelling.  The play only just scratches the surface, never really delving deeply into what made Marilyn and Sinatra tick. It falls short of being truly emotional but is entertaining …” Bargain Theatreland

Marilyn and Khrushchev in Hollywood

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This second extract from Alistair Cooke at the Movies focuses on ‘The Script That Got Away: Mr Khruschev’s Propaganda Tour at US Expense’, an article about the Soviet premier’s historic visit, published in The Guardian after Marilyn attended a Twentieth Century-Fox luncheon in Khrushchev’s honour on September 20, 1959.

“He was whizzed so fast over the boulevards between the airport and the Twentieth Century-Fox studio that not one Angelino in a thousand could have guessed, without prior knowledge, that here was the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and not, say, Marilyn Monroe on her way to a dress fitting.

He was shown what any other distinguished tourist would have been allowed to see. He saw the dancing girls of Can Can. He was actually seated at the same table as Gary Cooper, Eddie Fisher, Marilyn Monroe and James Mason. The supreme accolade was reserved for his wife: she was seated next to Frank Sinatra. American hospitality can go no farther.

‘And yet, and yet …’ as the old silent movie captions used to say, the production blew up in the faces of hundreds of skilled politicos, directors and protocol experts who had written it. Nikita Khrushchev, the humble shepherd boy who grew up to play the starring role in the lurid melodrama known to the papers here as ‘The Hangman of Hungary’, retraced his spiritual ancestry and suddenly turned from the home-town boy made good into a frightening ‘baddie’.

He began, with amazing magnanimity, by greeting Spyros Skouras, the president of Twentieth Century-Fox, as ‘a friend and brother before Christ’. He ended by recalling again the futile invasion of his country by soldiers of America, France, Germany, Poland and Britain, by briefly catching himself in an apology for such a tasteless memoir, and then by swelling the veins in his neck in protest at the State Department’s denial of his wish to go down to Anaheim and make a tour of Disneyland…

The movie stars could not have been more uncomfortable if they had been sitting there in nothing but their mascara. Miss Monroe ventured that Mr Khrushchev’s speech ‘was interesting’. Winston Churchill could not have done it better.”

RUMOUR: Did Sinatra Propose to Marilyn?

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This year marks the centenary of another man in Marilyn’s life: Frank Sinatra. The anniversary is being marked by a slew of publications, including Sinatra: The Chairman. Second in a biographical series by James Kaplan, this tome is 992 pages long, and has been previewed in the New York Daily News.

“During Sinatra’s dalliance with Monroe, there are conflicting reports as to who wanted it more. Kaplan sides with Milt Ebbins, a talent manager, who claimed, ‘There was no doubt that Frank was in love with Marilyn.’

‘Yeah, Frank wanted to marry the broad,’ Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s chief henchman, said. ‘He asked her and she said no.'”

However, Kaplan’s claim that Frank wanted to marry MM – ‘to save her from herself’ – is nothing new. J. Randy Taraborrelli previously suggested this in his 1997 book, Sinatra: The Man Behind the Myth. Kaplan also speculates that others believed the opposite – that it was Marilyn who pursued Frank – but the sources for this allegation are not named in the article.

In his 1992 biography of MM, Donald Spoto argues that Frank was ‘apparently the more smitten’ in their on-off romance. Milton Ebbins told Spoto that in 1961, Sinatra failed to show up for lunch with President Kennedy at Peter Lawford’s home, because Marilyn – who was briefly Sinatra’s house-guest in Los Angeles – had gone out without telling him.

‘It wasn’t worry for her safety,’ Ebbins recalled, ‘he was just that jealous of her whereabouts! To hell with the president’s lunch!’

Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958
Joe DiMaggio with Frank Sinatra, 1958

In Sinatra: The Chairman, Kaplan repeats the long-held assertion that the romance ended after Marilyn grew closer to her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. This led to a rift between Joe and Frank, ending a long friendship. However, Marilyn told reporters that there was ‘no spark to be rekindled’ with DiMaggio.

After Marilyn died, Frank was furious that Joe did not invite him to the funeral. Kaplan reiterates the long-held rumour that Sinatra – along with the Lawfords, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Mitzi Gaynor – were turned away from the ceremony. However, contemporary news reports did not mention this at all.

So did Sinatra propose to Marilyn? Based on all available evidence, I think not. Although Frank may have entertained thoughts of marriage, I don’t believe Marilyn was ready to commit herself. And after his failed marriage to another Hollywood beauty – Ava Gardner – I suspect he wasn’t about to risk more heartache.

Perhaps the last word should go to legendary columnist Liz Smith, who knew Sinatra well:

“I would take issue with some of Kaplan’s observations about Ava Gardner and particularly Marilyn Monroe — believe me, if Sinatra really proposed to MM and she refused him, it wasn’t because she was ‘saving’ herself for re-marriage to Joe DiMaggio. But in the face of the rest of this compelling book, that’s real nit-picking.”

Love and Loss: Marilyn and Frank

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100 Years Sinatra: The Legend and the Voice, a large, glossy UK magazine special celebrating Frank Sinatra’s centenary, includes a two-page spread about his romance with MM, written by Glenn Dunks and featuring a rare photo of Marilyn attending a Sinatra concert at Las Vegas nightspot The Sands in 1961, which appears to show Elizabeth Taylor in the background. Available now at WH Smith.

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Don Dondero: Marilyn in Reno

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Marilyn arrives in Reno and is given a key to the city. (Photo by Don Dondero, July 20, 1960.)

The camera equipment of photographer Don Dondero will be auctioned at the Holabird Western Americana Office, Reno, on April 17, reports Reno Gazette-Journal. The Reno-based photographer chronicled much of Marilyn’s 1960 stay in the city, including her arrival; a press conference with the cast of The Misfits, and a birthday party for John Huston at the Mapes Hotel; a weekend break at the Cal-Neva Lodge; and her return to the city after a week’s rest in hospital.

Marilyn with Arthur Miller and Clark Gable at a press conference for 'The Misfits'.
Marilyn with Arthur Miller and Clark Gable at a press conference for ‘The Misfits’.
With director John Huston on his birthday, August 5.
With director John Huston on his birthday, August 5.

You can view Dondero’s photos of Marilyn at Getty Images.

“In the second half of the 20th Century, if a photograph from Reno appeared in a national or international publication, it likely came from the camera of the late Don Dondero.

When he died in 2003 at age 83, the lifelong Nevadan was eulogized by then Gov. Kenny Guinn, who said, ‘Thanks to Don Dondero, future generations of Nevadans will have a glimpse of our state’s history.’

Born in Ely and raised in Carson City, Don Dondero took his first ‘celebrity’ photo at age 12 when he snapped a shot of President Herbert Hoover outside the state capital.

He graduated from Carson High School in 1937 and enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor, becoming a pilot and flying bombers. In 1944, his plane was shot down over the Philippines as he bombed a Japanese merchant ship in Manila Bay. Dondero parachuted safely into the bay and was hidden in the jungle by Filipino guerrillas for 40 days until he could be rescued. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for sinking the enemy vessel.

After the war, Dondero returned to Carson City and married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Franks. He worked for the state of Nevada for several years before moving his growing family to Reno to open his own photography business.

Affable, talented, intelligent and dependable – he never missed a deadline – Dondero became Reno’s go-to photographer from the 1950s into the 1990s. His work appeared in publications around the globe. As longtime newspaperman Warren Lerude said, ‘Dondero owned the Reno dateline.’

Reno was the divorce capital of the world at the time and photos of celebrities in town to get ‘the cure’ were in high demand. In addition, the Mapes, Riverside and other downtown hotels were bringing in top-name entertainment. He photographed celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra and political leaders including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

‘He promoted Reno more through his photos than any one individual,’ said Harry Spencer, a former Mapes publicist and longtime friend of Dondero.”

Marilyn chats with Frank Sinatra after a concert at the Cal-Neva Lodge, August 13. (Arthur Miller at left)
Marilyn chats with Frank Sinatra after a concert at the Cal-Neva Lodge, August 13. (Arthur Miller at left)
Marilyn is welcomed back to Reno by producer Frank Taylor after a hospital stay.
Marilyn is welcomed back to Reno by producer Frank Taylor after a hospital stay. Photo by Don Dondero, August 20.

Cal-Neva Lodge to Reopen in 2015

Marilyn at the Cal-Neva Lodge, 1960
Marilyn at the Cal-Neva Lodge, 1960

The Cal-Neva Lodge, the Lake Tahoe resort once owned by Frank Sinatra and visited by Marilyn and other stars, will reopen in 2015 after a two-year break, reports Tahoe Daily Tribune.

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“Crews currently are renovating the 10-story, 191-key resort that straddles the California-Nevada state line, featuring a full interior and exterior property overhaul that will create a ‘modern and luxurious destination that will be unlike any other in the region,’ according to a Friday statement from resort controlling partner Criswell-Radovan.

The Cal Neva will offer a refurbished non-smoking casino with table games and slot machines. Further, the resort’s theater — The Showroom, originally imagined and built by Sinatra and known for years as the Frank Sinatra Ballroom — ‘will be carefully restored and upgraded to once again serve as Tahoe’s preeminent entertainment venue, which will also host local community events and recitals.’

Built in 1926, the Cal Neva Resort, Spa & Casino was owned by Sinatra from 1960-63, and frequented by the likes of the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe and members of the Kennedy family, among others.

Company co-owner Robert Radovan previously said a Dec. 12, 2014, reopening was originally eyed to coincide with what would have been Sinatra’s 99th birthday.

However, various financing and construction issues delayed the reopening.”