Cover image for The Sinatra files : the secret FBI dossier
The Sinatra files : the secret FBI dossier
Kuntz, Tom.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Three Rivers Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxxiv, 268 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 21 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


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Material Type
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ML420.S565 S56 2000 Adult Non-Fiction New Materials
ML420.S565 S56 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
ML420.S565 S56 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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An American Icon Under Government Surveillance

When Frank Sinatra died in 1998, he was one of the most chronicled celebrities ever, but the most unusual record of his life came to light only posthumously: a 1,275-page dossier recording decades of FBI surveillance stemming from J. Edgar Hoover's belief that Sinatra had mob or Communist ties. This shadow biography, with information never before presented in book form, details:
Hoover's search through Sinatra's past to see if he got a bogus medical deferment from military service, ultimately yielding the simple fact that Sinatra really had suffered a perforated eardrum as a youthThe FBI's previously unreported cooperation with journalists looking for dirt on Sinatra, including one who had recently been punched out by the singerNumerous instances of the star's carousing and intemperate behavior -- including a detailed report alleging that he rampaged through a Las Vegas hotel after he and his wife Mia Farrow lost small fortunes gamblingThe mob's attempts to curry favor with John F. Kennedy through Sinatra -- and its anger when Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy turned up the heat.
This fascinating record of governmental scrutiny will captivate every Sinatra fan, as well as anyone who wants to understand the second half of the American century -- the Cold War, popular culture, the cult of celebrity, Camelot, and the FBI's mania for investigating American citizens -- all personified by the most dominant entertainer of the era.

Author Notes

Tom Kuntz is the editor of "Word for Word," a column of topical excerpts in The New York Times Week in Review section.
Phil Kuntz is a staff reporter in The Wall Street Journal's Washington, D.C., bureau.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Like Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon^-FBI Files [BKL D 1 99], this compilation is proffered by legitimate journalists (for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal). No mere tattle tome, it quotes Kitty Kelly but consists primarily of documents from the Chairman of the Board's FBI file. As in the Lennon book, the documents betray rampant paranoia and strange obsessions at the bureau and reveal the squalor of the lives of pop-culture royalty. Every celebrated Sinatra foible and peccadillo was investigated, and the Kuntzes comment on which legends are proven and which elude confirmation. Did a horse's head in a bed get Old Blue Eyes his career-saving part in From Here to Eternity? No proof. Was a bandleader strong-armed to release Frankie from an odious contract? Myth, nothing more. All the gossip is aired, but the file excerpts drone on repetitively. Still, this is valuable minutiae on one of the biggest stars, the star-making machine, the mob, and some strange aspects of the American Camelot. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

Frank Sinatra, with his mob ties, his ardent New Deal politics and his friendship with John F. Kennedy, was a natural target for J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which spied on countless citizens. The Bureau's secret 1,275-page dossier on the singer was released in 1998 in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. This compilation of excerpts, supplemented by other declassified documents and explanatory commentary, certainly shocks. Sinatra fans will be livid to learn how their idol was spied on, harassed, even smeared by the FBI over the years. Journalist brothers Tom Kuntz and Phil Kuntz (of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, respectively) present evidence that scandalmongering journalists fed the bureau unsubstantiated, damaging rumors that the FBI pursued; in exchange, the FBI occasionally doled out dirt on Sinatra to the press. Charting the crooner's metamorphosis from prominent supporter of left-leaning causes to conservative campaigner for Reagan and Nixon, this dossier reveals that for a year Hoover investigated Sinatra's alleged Communist affiliations, but came up empty-handed. The FBI documents provide many glimpses of Sinatra's associations with mobsters, his rendezvous with prostitutes, his extramarital affair with Ava Gardner (who became his second wife). Readers learn that the budding star, to get an exemption from military service, told draft-board doctors that he had an irrational fear of crowds. Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Peter Lawford, Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana and his girlfriend, singer Phyllis McGuire, also turn up in these memos and transcripts. The book's most explosive sections reveal the sleazy underside of Camelot. Photos not seen by PW. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Greenbaum inhabits a Brooklyn that is somehow both urban and earthy, a metropolis of car trouble, plumbers/ and broken typewriters. Yet in the midst of this Sisyphean world, she discovers the double life/ Within us, and everything. Sooty old Brooklyn yields up beauty in the form of rose/ and coffee shops and the grocer arranging/ his pyramid of grapefruits. The borough!s cherry trees are heavy with pink clusters dense as mattress stuffing. Even the wind is composed in green/ Van Gogh-like swirls. Again and again, Greenbaum makes poetry by engaging contraries, marrying/ acceptance and argument. She concludes this highly readable first book with five confessional poems about birth and miscarriage, path and obstacle, everything that makes this earth the right place to live, as long as we keep inventing it. Recommended for all larger poetry collections."Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



When he died on May 14, 1998, Frank Sinatra was one of the most chronicled celebrities of modern times -- the focus of oceans of ink and miles of film and video footage at turns serious-minded, celebratory, or mean-spirited. But one detailed record of his life, taken from a uniquely penetrating perspective, became fully public only after his death: the Federal Bureau of Investigation's extensive files on the singer and screen star. Most were compiled over the course of several decades under the watchful eyes of J. Edgar Hoover, as his agents investigated whether Sinatra was a draft-dodger, a Communist, or a front for organized criminals. Released in December 1998 in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, the 1,275-page dossier is a trove of insights into Sinatra's life, his turbulent times, and, perhaps most important, the Hoover-era FBI's invasive and at times almost voyeuristic ways. Although Hoover's FBI kept files on other celebrities, few were as voluminous, for no other subject was as enduring or controversial. For more than five decades, Sinatra was a major force in American society and popular culture, a politically active, hard-partying star who associated with powerful figures in both the underworld and at the highest levels of government through every important turn in the latter half of the twentieth century. The Sinatra FBI files offer themselves as an allegory of the American Century and its obsessions. Extensive excerpts from them are published here for the first time. Along with a limited number of historical documents from other sources, the files have been organized and supplemented with explanatory notes to put them in context and to highlight their revelations. Taken together, they invite a reassessment of the entertainer. Revelations abound. Chapter 1 details how the rail-thin crooner with impeccable phrasing at first told World War II draft board officials that he had no physical or mental disabilities, then asserted later not only that he had a perforated eardrum, which was true, but also an irrational fear of crowds, which was highly doubtful. With a blossoming career at stake, could Sinatra have been feigning mental illness? Chapter 2 includes evidence suggesting an unholy alliance between press muckrakers and the FBI's star-obsessed top brass, who occasionally helped favored journalists seeking dirt on Sinatra. This new material lends credence to Sinatra's lifelong grudge against the press. Chapter 3 offers a disturbing glimpse into the red-baiting 1940s and 1950s, when Sinatra was unjustifiably, in his words, "tagged [as a] commie." Though for a time he stood by other embattled Hollywood stars caught up in the paranoia, he became so sensitive to the charges that, according to an intermediary, he volunteered to become an undercover snitch in the FBI's hunt for subversives. Hoover turned him down. So did the army years later, when Sinatra offered to entertain American troops in Korea. In some key instances, what isn't in the files is as important as what is. For example, although excerpts in chapter 4 and elsewhere assiduously note Sinatra's interactions with notorious hoodlums, the FBI gathered no evidence that mob pressure landed him his Oscar-winning role as the pugnacious Private Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity in 1953. This canard is so embedded in the popular imagination that it is assumed to be the inspiration for a scene in The Godfather in which a severed horse's head in a movie mogul's bed ensures a plum role for an Italian-American singer. Nor do the files support the widely held assumption that the mob in 1942 strong-armed Tommy Dorsey into releasing Sinatra from a contract that entitled the bandleader to 43 percent of the singer's earnings for life. More broadly, the files offer a striking case study of the way Hoover managed and manipulated the sensitive information at his disposal. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 detail how the FBI director, with little subtlety, made sure each successive politician who befriended the popular singer knew exactly how much derogatory information the FBI had on their friend. John F. Kennedy's recklessness is by now well documented, but the files' dry bureaucratic account of the president consorting with associates of the very mobsters his brother the attorney general was trying to imprison will startle even the best-read Kennedy aficionados. There also are moments of unintentional humor, as in the case of the straight-faced FBI memo that says, "Sinatra denied he sympathized with Lenin and the Marx brothers." And the capitalized names of Marilyn Monroe, Tony Bennett, and other celebrities leaven the G-men's reports like the boldface type of gossip columns. The files also shed light on the evolving nature of Sinatra's relationship with the FBI: He eventually joined with his would-be pursuers in the bureau in a mutually respectful common cause, when Sinatra's son was kidnapped in 1963. In sum, the files track an iconic career whose arc seems to personify postwar America's loss of innocence: Sinatra's evolution from liberal, idealistic crooner to sophisticated, sexually liberated swinger to jaded Las Vegas headliner and friend of Republican presidents. Was the scrutiny unfair? The FBI twice seriously considered prosecuting Sinatra, once for denying that he was a Communist and once for denying that he partied with a mobster. But despite coast-to-coast investigations, the FBI couldn't make a case against him. Sinatra's problem throughout his career was that he never did much to remove the taint of guilt by association, especially with the mob. Judged by the company he kept, Sinatra kept inviting more scrutiny. The FBI obliged, and its files grew until the singer became, as the journalist Pete Hamill put it, "the most investigated American performer since John Wilkes Booth." Excerpted from The Sinatra Files: The Secret FBI Dossier by Tom Kuntz, Phil Kuntz All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. xi
The Life of Frank Sinatra: Selected Highlightsp. xxiii
Editors' Notep. xxxi
Prefacep. xxxiii
1 Sinatra and the Draftp. 3
2 Sinatra, the FBI, and the Pressp. 24
3 Sinatra and Communismp. 40
4 Sinatra and the Mob--The Early Yearsp. 93
5 Sinatra, the Kennedys, and the Mob--The Courtshipp. 120
6 Sinatra, the Kennedys, and the Mob--The Estrangementp. 150
7 Sinatra Turns Rightp. 199
8 The FBI and Sinatra the Manp. 235
Acknowledgmentsp. 255
Indexp. 257