Lady Blue Eyes: My Life With Frank Sinatra by Barbara Sinatra

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Lady Blue Eyes: My Life With Frank Sinatra by Barbara Sinatra

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A memoir by Barbara Sinatra, telling her life story but focusing largely on the years with her third husband, whom she married in 1976.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: June 2011
Publisher: Hutchinson
ISBN: 978-0091937249

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Barbara Blakeley, born in 1926, was married firstly to Robert Oliver, an executive, with whom she had a son, and secondly to Zeppo Marx. But it was the already thrice-married and thrice-divorced Francis Albert Sinatra, whom she had idolized as a singer for a long time, with whom she would make her most enduring marriage, and vice versa. They tied the knot in 1976, and stayed together until his death in 1998.

While she describes her early life and the times with her first two husbands, it is the years with Frank – as the title suggests – which are the main focus of the book. The picture of Ol' Blue-eyes which has emerged from other biographies, and from certain aspects of his public image, has not always been a positive one. While Barbara does not gloss over his faults, she certainly redresses the balance. The reader would expect her portrait to be a gilded one of the multi-faceted personality, but it is a convincing one and a warm-hearted read.

Maybe he did not suffer fools gladly, had a fiery temper and a massive ego (but then, what successful showbiz personality doesn't?) and could be impatient with journalists (understandably the case with anyone who has spent much of their life in the public eye), he was unfailingly generous to friends and strangers alike. She would walk into a room and hear him on the phone to his accountant, asking him to send a cheque to a mother he had read about in the papers who was unable to pay her medical bills, or find that he had anonymously replaced the Christmas presents a family had lost in a fire after he had seen the story on the TV news. He was also evidently the most considerate of husbands, not only to Barbara but also to his ex-wives, making sure they never went short of money, as well as a lover of cats and dogs, a voracious reader of books – literature, poetry and history - and newspapers, with a passion for art, looking at paintings as well as picking up the brushes himself as a hobby. While he drank and smoked, ever since the tragic example of Billie Holiday he was resolutely anti-drugs, and it saddened him that his friend Sammy Davis Jr, with whom he often worked, should have fallen foul of the habit.

He handpicked every song he sang and worked closely with his musical directors, arrangers and the orchestra. Tunes with good lyrics were particularly important. Surprisingly he was never too keen on two of his signature pieces, 'Strangers In The Night' and 'My Way', which he said were not subtle enough. George Harrison's 'Something', on the other hand, was a beautiful number as it was a love song that never actually said the words 'I love you'.

Not surprisingly, the Sinatras had a wide circle of friends, and I was interested to read of some of the celebrities with whom their paths crossed. Prince Rainier, Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, and Bono of U2 all came into the picture at various times. And although musically they were genres apart, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen were invited to dinner with them on the eve of an 80th birthday celebration concert for Frank in 1995; they all got on, she noted, like a house on fire. Unhappily, there were a few difficult customers along the way. Barbara had a close (luckily not too close) brush with an inveterate gambler who tried to befriend her, but some sixth sense warned her off him. Later she discovered he was known as Ice Pick Willie, and specialized in killing people at cocktail bars with the tip of an ice pick in the eardrum, then discreetly arranged them to look as if they were drunk, and walked away. Another was Betty Brink, one of the most obsessive of his fans, a sad deluded soul who spent an inheritance not only following Frank to every concert, but also dressing like Barbara and booking hairdressing appointments for herself – claiming to be Barbara.

Inevitably, the last years were sad ones, especially hard on the man who felt like the only one left standing at the bar. Yet he did not retire from live performances so much as walk away. In his late seventies he recorded two albums of duets with singers like Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Willie Nelson and Gladys Knight. While giving a concert in March 1994 to an audience of 4,000 he collapsed on stage, and at first many of them feared the worst. He went on to sing in public for the last time eleven months later, in what Barbara called one of the most memorable shows of his life – as if he knew it would be the last one. Although his health was declining and he had started to slow down, he remained in relatively good spirits until the day he collapsed and died.

Frank Sinatra isn't a singer I listen to very often, though I have warmed to his style in recent years. But I'm always interested to read biographies of singers of any genre, and this one certainly held my attention from start to finish.

Our thanks to Hutchinson for providing Bookbag with a review copy.

If you enjoyed this, may we also recommend the very comprehensive Jazz by Gary Giddins and Scott Deveaux or for a biography of the British singer whom Sinatra admired the most, Matt Monro: The Singer's Singer by Michele Monro.

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