Wednesday, June 19, 2013

BING, SINATRA, AND THE PRESIDENT

In 1962 President Kennedy planned a weekend trip to Palm Springs, California, where he would stay at the residence of Frank Sinatra from March 24-26. As the weekend approached, Bobby Kennedy, the President's brother and attorney general, became concerned about Sinatra's extensive links to organized crime. He persuaded the President to cancel his stay with Sinatra, and Peter Lawford was given the assignment of informing Sinatra.


Lawford  was both a member of Sinatra's Rat Pack and a Kennedy relative by marriage. When Bobby asked Lawford to inform Sinatra of the President's change in plans, Peter pleaded with Bobby to reconsider. The attorney general was adamant, however, that the President could not stay at the house of a man who also played host to hoodlums.

Lawford told Sinatra biographer Kitty Kelley: "It fell to me to break the news to Frank, and I was frankly scared. When I rang the President I said that Frank expected him to stay at the Sinatra compound, and anything less than his presence there was going to be tough to explain. It had been kind of a running joke with all of us in the family that Frank was building up his Palm Springs house for just such a trip by the President, adding cottages for Jack and the Secret Service, putting in 25 extra phone lines, installing enough cable to accommodate teletype facilities, plus a switchboard and building a heliport. He even erected a flagpole for the Presidential flag after he saw the one flying over the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport. No one asked Frank to do any of this, but he really expected his place to be the President's Western White House."

"When Jack called me, he said that as President he just couldn't stay at Frank's and sleep in the same bed that [Sam] Giancana or any other hood had slept in. 'You can handle it, Petah,' he said to me."

Lawford continued, "I made a few calls but in the end it was Chris Dumphy, a big Republican from Florida, who arranged everything at Bing Crosby's house for him. The Secret Service stayed next door at Jimmy Van Heusen's, and Frank didn't speak to him for weeks over that one, but I was the one who really took the brunt of it. He felt that I was responsible for setting Jack up to stay at Bing's -- Bing Crosby, of all people -- the other singer and a Republican to boot. Well, Frank never forgave me. He cut me off like that -- just like that."

Frank could not believe what Lawford told him: that the President was coming to Palm Springs but would stay at Bing Crosby's Rancho Mirage residence near Palm Springs because Bobby didn't want him to stay with Frank. Frank called the attorney general in Washington. Bob explained it was impossible for the President to stay at his house because of the disreputable people who had been his houseguests.

"Frank was livid," said Peter. "He called Bobby every name in the book, and then rang me up and reamed me out again. He was quite unreasonable, irrational, really. George Jacobs told me later that when he got off the phone, he went outside with a sledgehammer and started chopping up the concrete landing pad of his heliport. He was in a frenzy."


When the President arrived at the Crosby home, he called Sinatra to smooth things out and to invite him for a visit to Bing's place. Sinatra declined, saying he had to leave for Los Angeles. After the conversation, the President told Lawford, "He's pretty upset, but I told him not to blame you because you didn't have anything to do with it. It was simply a matter of security. The Secret Service thought Crosby's place afforded better security."

Lawford told Kelley: "That's the excuse we used -- security -- and we blamed it all on the Secret Service. We'd worked it out beforehand, but Frank didn't buy that for a minute, and, with a couple of exceptions, he never spoke to me again. He cut me out of all the movies we were set to make together -- Robin and the 7 Hoods, 4 for Texas -- and turned Dean [Martin] and Sammy [Davis] and Joey [Bishop] against me as well."

Not only did Sinatra cut Lawford from his upcoming Rat Pack movies, he rubbed salt in his wounds by persuading Bing Crosby to play the role of Alan A. Dale intended for Lawford in Robin and the 7 Hoods!

(Adapted from His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra by Kitty Kelley, Bantam, 1986 and Sinatra: The Man and the Myth by Bill Adler, Signet, 1987.)


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