Now for a story from one of my favourite periods in history: perhaps no other period contains so much poltical change in such a short period of time.
For one brief, none too long era, a process of enlightenment was spreading, the nexus of politics and entertainment.
It was a glorious time: people called it Camelot, after the magical realm of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. In the late fifties, JFK was the brave young Arthur, beside him his younger brother Bobby. Their father had been a senator in the thirties and had ruthlessly groomed his sons for life in government.
Alongside these feted men, Jacqueline Kennedy was Guinevere to Jack Kennedy’s Arthur.
When it came to entertainment, they looked no further than the recently established Rat Pack. By 1960, Sintra was King of the entertainment industry. He had already established dominance, not only as a phenomenally successful a singer, but as a well respected actor, winning his Oscar for From Here To Eternity in 1953. As if such accolades weren’t enough, Sinatra sought influence in politics too. He had been a frequent attendee at the White House, rubbing shoulders with Roosevelt in the forties. But it was JFK to whom he allied himself most closely.
The Rat Pack had a reputaion as hard drinking, carousing jesters. Maybe that was deserved, they appeared to live exactly as they wanted, appearing in movies that simply continued their antics on screen. But there is another more important element. The Rat Pack were pro civil rights. Considering how paranoid America was about race, this is highly commendable. Although they were to make fun of him in sometimes cruel onstage gaulimaufry, Sinatra and Dean Martin were always supportive of Sammy Davis Junior, even when they were performing in the racist South, where black musicians were denied entry to certain clubs on the basis of colour. The Rat Pack welcomed women too, and from the early days Shirley Mclaine was a hanger-on. Marilyn Monroe, Julie Prowse and Angie Dickinson were group mascots. The Rat Pack had been originally established by Humphrey Bogart, but membership changed after his death in 1956.
Peter Lawford was JFK’s brother-in-law, and the Rat Pack campaigned for JFK at the Democratic convention in 1960. Lawford suggested that JFK stay with Frank, and he went to great lengths to accomodate him, building a helipad specially. yet after Robert Kennedy advised him to sever all ties over Frank’s alleged mafia friends (Sam Giancana), the stay was cancelled. Instead, JFK stayed at Bing Crosby’s residence. This angered Frank so much that he never had a good word to say about Lawford, and his part in 4 for Texas was written out.
Relations soured father after Marilyn Monroe’s death, Frank believed that the Kennedy’splayed a part in her death, even suggesting they had wanted her dead. It was reported that JFK was the last person Monroe called before her death. Only a year later, JFK was assassinated. Although relations had turned bitter, Sinatra was heartbroken when he got the news. According to Nancy Sinatra, he cried for three days in his bedroom.