Forget Ben, Jennifer and the nanny. Don’t give a second thought to Gwen and Gavin. Contemporary Splitsville sagas are dullsville compared to the craziness of Golden Age Hollywood stars Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. Their four decades-plus romance, detailed in John Brady’s juicy and judiciously reported Frank & Ava: In Love and War, was the stuff of both dreams and nightmares and makes for a doozy of a read.
They met in the 1940s at the trendy Mocambo club on the Sunset Strip. Budding actress Gardner was with new husband and MGM star Mickey Rooney. (Yes, Mickey Rooney.) Frank Sinatra, a family man who was nonetheless on the prowl, ambled over and said to her, “Hey, why didn’t I meet you before Mickey?”
Rooney and Gardner lasted less than a year. Ditto Gardner’s subsequent marriage to big band leader (and famed Lothario) Artie Shaw. Inevitably, Sinatra and Gardner married. He called her Angel, she called him Francis. He liked being in charge, she hated being told what to do. His career was at a crossroads. She had become a box office queen.
They both liked booze and drama. They’d fight, she’d threaten to leave, he’d threaten suicide. They once tore into the desert night—in a Caddy—with a bottle and a pair of Smith & Wesson .38s. They shot out shop windows in a small burg. The cops got involved. Sinatra made a phone call and no charges were filed.
Best known previously for his tell-alls about writing (The Craft of Interviewing), former Writer’s Digest editor Brady once worked for Reprise Records, where he met Sinatra and many of his musical chums. The gig obviously resonated. In addition to original interviews, the book makes adroit use of the author’s knowledge of the music scene, Sinatra in particular, along with sourced materials in previous works.
More than a story of a dizzying love affair, Frank & Ava depicts the profound aftershocks of a relationship. For instance, Gardner campaigned for Sinatra to get the role of doomed Angelo Maggio in the screen version of the era’s hot book, From Here to Eternity. He got the part, won an Oscar and saw his movie career skyrocket. Hers, alas, went the way of aging actresses.
The marriage fizzled, too. Divorced, they went their colorful ways. But they kept reconnecting, even talking remarriage. The sequel never happened.