Rat Pack members without Joey Bishop, from left: Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin. Photo, Life magazine, 1960.
“The Jack Pack” was the name briefly attributed to a famous group of 1960s entertainers who supported U.S. Senator John F. “Jack” Kennedy (JFK) in his 1960 run for president. “The Jack Pack” moniker was actually a variant of “The Rat Pack,” a nickname for a coterie of Hollywood stars and Las Vegas entertainers that included: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. In 1960, this group was temporarily dubbed “the Jack Pack” by Sinatra when they worked in various ways to support Kennedy’s election bid. Kennedy had socialized with Sinatra and the group on occasion and liked the camaraderie, which later turned to political and financial support on his behalf.
What follows here is Part 1 of a two-part story featuring “Jack Pack” history, primarily with Frank Sinatra at the center. Part 1 covers Sinatra’s politics, the Rat Pack scene in Las Vegas, and some of the group’s friends during Kennedy’s presidential run – mostly from 1958 through Kennedy’s election in November 1960. Part 2 of the story picks up at JFK’s presidential inauguration in January 1961, covering selected Sinatra, Rat Pack, and Kennedy Administration history through JFK’s assassination in November 1963 — plus a few related outcomes beyond those years. First, some background on the Rat Pack.
In the late 1940s, film star Humphrey Bogart had a loyal group of friends and drinking buddies in an area of Los Angeles known as Holmby Hills. Then Hollywood rookie, Frank Sinatra, who had moved his family into that area in 1949, became a nearby neighbor to Bogart, and then a member of his group. Legend has it that Bogart’s wife and film star Lauren Bacall, saw the drunken crew of friends all together one night at a casino and remarked that they looked like a “rat pack.”
Life magazine “rat pack” photo, from left: Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin.
Sometime after Bogart passed on in 1957, Sinatra established his own inner group of cavorting buddies, all from Hollywood and the world of enter- tainment. Sinatra’s “Rat Pack” – not initially called that at first – came about gradually from their work in Las Vegas and their Hollywood contacts. The late-1950s-early-1960s “Rat Pack” era appears to have begun in Las Vegas in January 1959 when Sinatra and Dean Martin – then performing separately at The Sands lounge and casino – began appearing in each other’s acts. Sinatra knew Joey Bishop from the early 1950s on the east coast, when Bishop performed at the Latin Quarter in Manhattan. He later asked Bishop to open for him at Bill Miller’s Riviera club in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and soon thereafter Bishop was regularly opening for Sinatra, becoming known as “Sinatra’s comic.” Bishop also began appearing in first-rate clubs even when Sinatra was not on the bill.
Dean Martin, Sammy Davis & Frank Sinatra having a good time.
Sinatra was singing with Tommy Dosey’s band in 1941 when he first met Sammy Davis, Jr., then an aspiring dancer with the Will Mastin Trio. They reconnected some time later after Sammy was discharged from the U.S. Army, and Sinatra would later help Davis in his career. Peter Lawford and Sinatra had worked in a few films together in the 1940s, but Sinatra came to know him much better as Jack Kennedy’s brother-in-law. More on that relationship a bit later.
By the early 1960s in any case, the Rat Pack became known for its multiple-person stage acts – with all five of the principals on stage together, plus others occasionally. The Sands, in fact, would sometimes advertise the horseplay on its outdoor marquee with billings such as: “Dean Martin – Maybe Frank – Maybe Sammy.” Others from Hollywood and the entertainment world would also occasionally appear and/or hang out with the Rat Pack group. Shirley MacLaine, for example who starred with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1959’s Some Came Running, would also become a Rat Pack “associate” from time to time.
Dean Martin on stage at the Sands in Las Vegas, where Rat Pack performances drew large crowds of celebrities & VIPs from Hollywood and elsewhere.
The core group of the Rat Pack, however – consisting of Sinatra and his co-performing buddies – basically set up shop in Las Vegas during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Las Vegas at the time was still growing, and the Rat Pack helped bring in the notice, the visitors, and the money. The Rat Pack’s nightclub act evolved into an entertaining and popular song, dance and comedy act with a lot of cutting up on stage, a rolling bar of alcoholic beverages, along with a measure of social commentary thrown in from time to time.
The Rat Pack “schtick” was part Vaudeville, part Hollywood, and part “bad boys.” It became a unique stage genre and vintage Las Vegas. But it only lasted a few years before it burned out and was eclipsed by a fast-changing cultural scene. In its day, however, the Rat Pack did the trick and fit the national mood. Musically and culturally, it occupied the transition period between the first surge of rock `n roll in the 1950s by the likes of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly – music which Sinatra initially derided – and the arrival of the Beatles in 1964.
Rat Pack stage act with rolling beverage cart, early 1960s.
In addition to their stage act, the Rat Pack compadres also made films together – some shot in Las Vegas. Ocean’s Eleven of 1960 was among the more famous of the Rat Pack films, but there were also nearly a dozen others. Through the early-1960s period, Sinatra and his Rat Pack group reigned supreme in contemporary culture; they became the “cool guys” of their generation, bringing a good share of business to both the Las Vegas nightclub scene and Hollywood’s box office. Their network of contacts, friends, and business partners ranged across Hollywood, Vegas, and beyond, including some underworld figures like Sam Giancana of Chicago and also various Hollywood stars such as Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Janet Leigh, Angie Dickinson, and others.
Rat Pack film, "Sergeants 3," 1962.
The “Rat Pack network” of that era could also be a potent fundraising and vote-getting machine, a fact not lost on Kennedy family patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy, an old hand when it came to Hollywood stars and the film business. The Rat Pack in 1960 became intertwined with the Kennedy family – especially by way of Peter Lawford’s marriage to Jack Kennedy’s sister, Patricia.
However, for some Rat Packers like Dean Martin, politics was a bit of a side show, not to be taken too seriously. Martin, in fact, had met and caroused with a young Congressman Jack Kennedy in Chicago one night 1948 when he and Jerry Lewis were working as a comedy team at the Chez Paree club – a meeting that left “Dino” unimpressed.
But in 1960, Jack Kennedy and politics became very central to Rat Pack leader, Frank Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra with then-U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy outside of The Sands hotel in Las Vegas, NV, Feb 1960, when Kennedy stayed there during a campaign swing.
Frank Sinatra, from his days as a young boy growing up in New Jersey, had been involved in politics by proximity if nothing else. His mother had worked as a Democratic Party committee woman in New Jersey, and as a boy he marched in political parades. But once he became famous as a young singer in the 1940s and caught the national limelight, politicians soon noticed and sought him out. In 1944 he received an invitation to the White House from Franklin Roosevelt, then in his third term. At the time, Roosevelt was under fire from conservatives in the press, especially the Hearst newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst. Sinatra, too, had also received some unflattering ink from the Hearst papers. At his meeting with FDR, the two shared stories with Sinatra giving the president some insight on the music business. But Sinatra was awe struck by the White House attention and couldn’t believe how far he’d come. Roosevelt, he told the press, was “the greatest guy alive today, and here’s this little guy from Hoboken shaking his hand.”
Sheet music cover for song “The House I Live In,” from the RKO short film of the same name starring Frank Sinatra, 1940s. Chappell & Company (1942).
Sinatra supported FDR and contributed to the Democratic Party. He also appeared at the party’s rally at Madison Square Garden that campaign season. He would also become a close friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and years later would invite her to appear on his television show. Sinatra was also active in certain causes, particularly fighting racism and segregation. In 1945, he appeared in, produced, and won an Oscar for the 1945 short film and song, The House I Live In – a plea for ethnic and religious tolerance. In the film role, Sinatra intercedes to protect a Jewish kid being attacked by a gang of bullies. Sinatra appeals to them through the lyrics of the film’s song: “The faces that I see / All races and religions / That’s America to me.” This short film was scripted by Albert Maltz, a person who would later come into Sinatra’s life when he became involved with Jack Kennedy. Sinatra would sing “The House I Live In” on various occasions during his career, and sometimes at political gatherings, as he did at a 1956 Democratic party rally in Hollywood. Sinatra would also put his career at risk at times when he refused to play clubs and hotels that discriminated against blacks. Actress Angie Dickinson, who sometimes cavorted with the Rat Pack, would later call Sinatra, “a very powerful, subtle force in civil rights…[and] not only in Las Vegas.”
Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner at Los Angeles political rally for presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, 1955.
After World War II, Sinatra became publicly associated with left-wing groups and supported organizations that were later identified by Congress as Communist front groups during inquiries by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Though Sinatra was named in some committee documents, he was never brought before HUAC. The Hearst newspapers, however, gave him a rough time over his left-wing involvements. Sinatra’s career, however, like others in Hollywood at the time, suffered. According to one account, Columbia records asked Sinatra to return advance money and MGM released him from a film contract. He was also dropped from his radio show. But Sinatra remained politically involved.
Frank Sinatra with former President Harry Truman (center) and toastmaster George Jessel in November 1957 at Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner and fundraiser, Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles.
In 1947, he urged former FDR vice president Henry Wallace to run for President, which Wallace did as a Progressive Party candidate. But in 1948, Sinatra also campaigned for the re-election of FDR successor, Harry S. Truman. In 1952 and 1956, he supported the unsuccessful presidential bids of Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson. He campaigned for Stevenson in 1956, also the year he came into contact with the Kennedy family for the first time. At the 1956 Democratic convention he sang the National Anthem, but remained at the convention to observe some of the politicking that occurred after Adlai Stevenson had thrown open the vice presidential nomination to the full convention. A young new Senator, John F. Kennedy, was making a run for that spot. Kennedy lost to Senator Estes Kefauver, but Sinatra had watched the Kennedy machine in operation on the convention floor. From that point on Sinatra took an interest in the rising young senator he believed was heading places. But it was British actor Peter Lawford, a subsequent “rat pack” member, who would help Sinatra become much closer to Kennedy and the Kennedy family.
Patricia Kennedy Lawford and Peter Lawford, 1960s.
Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford had known each other from working in Hollywood, dating to the 1947 musical comedy film, It Happened in Brooklyn, in which they both appeared. But their paths crossed again in the early 1950s under somewhat less cordial circumstances. Sinatra had been angered by a 1953 gossip column account of Lawford’s meeting with Ava Gardner, who Frank had recently broken up with. Some bad blood reportedly flowed between the two over the incident. Sinatra later discovered he’d overreacted to the Ava Gardner story, and he and Lawford more or less went their separate ways. Lawford, meanwhile, married Patricia Kennedy in 1954, the sister of then U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy.
In August 1958, at a dinner party at Gary Cooper’s home, Sinatra came to know Peter and Pat Kennedy Lawford somewhat better. By New Year’s Eve 1958, the Lawfords were celebrating at a private party with Sinatra at Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills, a popular spot with Hollywood stars.The Lawfords soon had a regular bedroom at Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs place, where they made frequent visits. They were all together that night, seated at Sinatra’s table with Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. In July 1959, the same group would return to Romanoff’s along with Dean Martin and others at a Sinatra-sponsored 21st birthday party for Natalie Wood. The friendship between Sinatra and Lawfords grew to the point where the Lawfords frequently visited Sinatra’s Palm Springs estate, making the 120-mile drive there from Los Angeles on many weekends. In fact, the Lawfords had a regular bedroom at Sinatra’s place where they kept clothing for return visits. Sinatra and the Lawfords also traveled to Europe together on vacation. Pat Lawford was so charmed by Sinatra she middle-named her daughter “Frances.” Sinatra also helped Peter Lawford land film work in Hollywood, including a role in the 1959 film Never So Few. The two men also became partners in a Beverly Hills restaurant named Puccini’s and Lawford soon became a full-time member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack in Las Vegas.
Frank & Jack
Kennedy’s dramatic bid for the VP slot at the 1956 at the Democratic Convention – and his charisma – had been seen by millions of TV viewers.
Some sources date Frank Sinatra’s first meeting with Jack Kennedy to 1955 when Kennedy attended a Democratic Party rally where Sinatra had also appeared. And in 1956, as mentioned earlier, Sinatra was quite taken with what he saw in the young Kennedy seeking the VP slot at the Democratic convention that year. But through the Lawfords, Sinatra came to know Jack Kennedy more on a personal level. The Lawfords owned a large beach front house in Malibu – the former mansion of Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer – a place, it would turn out, where “rat packers,’ Kennedy campaigners, and other political and Hollywood “glitterati” would gather occasionally for parties and other events.
Jack Kennedy and Sinatra appear to have spent time together in the summer of 1958, whether at the Lawfords or elsewhere. Some sources have Sinatra endorsing Kennedy for president as early as October 1958, though Kennedy was more than a year away from formally announcing his candidacy at that point.Sinatra visited Kennedy at his Mayflower Hotel “hide away” suite in D.C., and Kennedy, when traveling in the U.S. West, would sometimes visit Sinatra. Sinatra was also quoted in the press about that time calling the young Senator “a friend of mine.” Meanwhile, on trips east, Sinatra would sometimes visit Kennedy in Washington, D.C. at a “hide-away” suite that Kennedy kept at the Mayflower Hotel where he would have dinner parties for celebrities and private guests. Likewise, Kennedy, when traveling west on political business, would sometimes visit Sinatra. In early November 1959, after a Democratic fundraiser in Los Angeles, JFK and his aide Dave Powers were Sinatra’s guests at his Palm Springs estate for a couple of nights. On that visit, before coming to Palm Springs, Sinatra and JFK had earlier attended a Democratic Party fundraiser in Los Angeles and had dined at Pucinni’s restaurant in Beverly Hills – the restaurant owned by Sinatra and Peter Lawford. Kennedy and Powers stayed at Sinatra’s Palm Springs house for two nights on that visit. Reportedly, after Kennedy’s stay there, Sinatra began calling the room JFK had used “the Kennedy room” and later had a nameplate put on the door noting “John F. Kennedy Slept Here.” JFK’s father — clan patriarch and former Ambassador, Joseph P. Kennedy — also stayed at Sinatra’s place on at least one occasion during 1959-1960. But JFK at this point, in late 1959, was a recently re-elected U.S. Senator, not yet a formal presidential candidate.
JFK announcing his presidential bid, U.S. Senate Caucus room, January 2, 1960.
On Saturday, January 2, 1960 at the Senate Caucus room in Washington, D.C., Kennedy officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Kennedy had already been campaigning, of course, meeting with party officials and traveling the country. But after his formal announcement, and a January 14th speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Kennedy’s campaign would begin to target primary election states and other locations where he needed to improve his standing. One early campaign stop Kennedy made was in New Hampshire, where the first primary election would be held in March.
On Monday, January 25, 1960, Kennedy and wife Jackie, visited Nashua, New Hampshire, one of the state’s larger towns. On that wintry afternoon, Kennedy walked down Main Street by himself and went into several local stores, shaking hands as he went. One of the shop owners gave Kennedy a pair of golashes to wear, as it was pretty slushy in the streets that day. It was a different era in primary politics then, as Kennedy had no entourage of body guards and handlers. Local folks were meeting him face to face. At one point, as he rounded the corner of Main and West Pearl streets in Nashua, continuing to shake hands, he made he way to one of the town’s downtown landmarks, Miller’s Department Store. At about that point he was joined by his wife, Jackie, and put his arm around her and they continued down the street, arm-in-arm.
Kennedy headlines from Nashua, New Hampshire, January 1960.
There was a rally that day at the Nashua City Hall Plaza, with participants in winter coats holding Kennedy placards as the candidate told the crowd he was running for president. Kennedy would also meet and be photographed with City Hall employees that day, and give a talk at the local Roatary Club as well. The next day in The Nashua Telegraph newspaper, the Kennedy visit was front-page news, as would be the case in other towns and cities as Kennedy campaigned that year for his party’s nomination. “Crowds Out To See Kennedy,” said the headline. And from that point on, it was regular campaigning, sometime with his wife Jackie along, and/or other members of the Kennedy clan.
The Sands marquee at night during 1960 highlighting the Rat Pack group.
Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, meanwhile, began filming the original Ocean’s Eleven movie, a film about a plot to rob several Las Vegas casinos. While filming, Rat Pack members would also perform in the Copa Room at The Sands, doing two or more stage shows each night and sometimes partying with friends thereafter into the wee hours. One famous run of their show – from January 26 through February 16, 1960 – was billed the “Summit at the Sands,” a title that played on an international summit meeting in Paris at the time between President Dwight Eisenhower, Russia’s Nikita Khrushchev, and French President Charles De Gaulle. The Rat Pack “summit” was an “anything goes” stage act of song, dance, and cutting up that became quite popular.
The Sands act with Sinatra and his Rat Pack drew high-rolling and well-known Hollywood royalty – actors, actresses, and producers such as: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Kim Novak, Jack Benny, Cole Porter, Red Skelton, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Gregory Peck, Cyd Charisse, Peter Lorre, and others. Sinatra, who had been singing at The Sands since 1953, already had a Hollywood following. “He drew all the big money people,” Las Vegas lounge singer Sonny King would later say of Sinatra. “Every celebrity in Hollywood would come to Las Vegas to see him, one night or another.” Sinatra and the Rat Pack, in fact, are given credit in some quarters for putting Las Vegas on the “big time” entertainment map, and helping spawn the frenetic economic growth and building boom that occurred there through the 1960s and beyond. At one point in February 1960 – at the height of the Rat Pack’s “Summit” shows – the Sands had received eighteen thousand reservation requests for its two hundred rooms.
JFK meeting Rat Pack members & others outside the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, Feb 1960. From left, clockwise: film director Lewis Milestone (back turned) Dean Martin left of Milestone, shaking hands with JFK, Buddy Lester, Joey Bishop center, Sammy Davis, Jr., partially hidden by Kennedy's arm, Kennedy, and Frank Sinatra.
In early 1960, one of Jack Kennedy’s part-campaign/ part-recreation visits was to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he would hook up with his friend, Frank Sinatra. On Sunday, February 7, 1960, the candidate and his entourage – including a young Ted Kennedy, then Western states coordinator for the campaign – were stumping through the American West for political support and fundraising before the big eastern primaries were to begin. They set up shop in the Sands Hotel, holding press conferences there and fundraisers, but also taking in the stage shows of Frank Sinatra and friends during their stay. Whenever Jack Kennedy came to a show, he was usually seated up front near the stage. And Sinatra, at some point during the act, would single him out for recognition. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he would say with microphone in hand, gesturing toward Kennedy, “Senator John F. Kennedy from the great state of Massachusetts, the next President of the United States.” Sinatra would often add laudatory lines, calling him “one of the brightest persons here or anywhere…” Kennedy would rise briefly to a standing ovation from the audience.
Judith Campbell, in earlier photo, who was in her late 20s when she first met John F. Kennedy.
There were also a few private gatherings at the Sands between the Kennedy campaign group, Sinatra’s Rat Pack group, and various Sinatra friends during JFK’s February visit. On the evening of February 7, 1960, they gathered for dinner at Frank Sinatra’s table in the Garden Room. Among Sinatra’s guests that evening was a woman in her late 20s named Judith Campbell, who was introduced to Senator Kennedy and his entourage. Campbell was formerly married to actor William Campbell, and for a time had been seeing Frank Sinatra. Campbell joined the group and sat next to Ted Kennedy. Jack Kennedy sat directly across from her. Campbell would later recall Teddy as a rosy-cheeked young man, “who was very good looking” and a great teaser, with “eyes that never stopped flirting.” But Campbell, according to her own later account of that evening, was more taken with the charm, sophistication, and “plain likability” of Jack Kennedy. The following day, Jack Kennedy invited Judith Campbell for lunch on the patio of Frank Sinatra’s suite at the Sands. Kennedy would later rendevous with Judith Campbell in New York in early March prior to the New Hampshire primary.
Years later, there would be all manner of reports and allegations about Kennedy meetings with Campbell and other women, some of whom were introduced to Kennedy by Frank Sinatra and/or Peter Lawford, including Marilyn Monroe.
Years later, there would be all manner of reports and allegations about Kennedy meetings with Campbell and other women, some of whom were introduced to Kennedy by Frank Sinatra and/or Peter Lawford, including Marilyn Monroe. FBI files would also include reports of showgirls visiting and/or partying with Kennedy and his entourage at the Sands in February 1960. Still other reports and books mention possible Kennedy-female liaisons at the Cal-Neva resort at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, a resort part owned by Sinatra and frequented by Rat Pack members and friends. Some reports also note an effort by the Kennedy campaign in 1960 to “clean things up” after the Sands visit (and possibly others) to collect all available photographs, etc., lest they become public. On the topic of JFK partying and female companions there is an extensive, but not always credible collection of books, magazine stories, and other sources found on-line and elsewhere.
JFK shaking hands with Jack Entratter, manager & entertainment chief at the Sands, February 1960.
But on Kennedy’s February 1960 swing West, and during his stay at The Sands, he did quite well by most accounts. Beyond the introduction to Campbell, Kennedy left the Sands, according to one account, with “satchels full of cash,” referring to fundraising gains made in part through Sinatra’s friends and connections, including the owners of the The Sands hotel and casino. Frank Sinatra by this time was well on board to help JFK win his party’s nomination and the national election beyond. He would work hard for Kennedy throughout 1960. And while Hollywood and politics had certainly mingled before, this was something of a new mixture between nationally-popular entertainment titans and a rising political star. Sinatra, in particular, pulled out all the stops for his new political friend, and apart from any personal advantage he stood to gain from the association, Sinatra appears to have sincerely believed that Jack Kennedy would be good for the country.
Record label for Kennedy campaign song, “High Hopes,” by Frank Sinatra, recorded, Feb 1960.
Among other things, Sinatra lent his voice to the Kennedy campaign. He refashioned one of his earlier songs for Kennedy campaign use – “High Hopes” – a song first popularized by Sinatra in the 1959 film, A Hole in the Head, a comedy directed by Frank Capra in which Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Eleanor Parker, Keenan Wynn, and others appeared. The original song was written by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by Sammy Cahn, who also helped to rework the new version for the Kennedy campaign. The original “High Hopes” had been a hit song, featured with a children’s choir and lyrics that described animals doing seemingly impossible acts. The song appeared on pop music charts of its day, was nominated for a Grammy, and also won an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 32nd Academy Awards — all of which made it a highly recognizable tune.
“High Hopes” JFK Version, 1:49
Everyone is voting for Jack.
‘Cause he’s got what all the rest lack.
Everyone wants to back, Jack.
Jack is on the right track.
‘Cause he’s got High Hopes!
He’s got High Hopes!
1960’s the year for his High Hopes!
Come on and vote for Kennedy.
Vote for Kennedy,
and we’ll come out on top!
Oops! There goes the opposition, ker…
Oops! There goes the opposition, ker…
Jack’s the nation’s favorite guy.
Everyone wants to back, Jack.
Jack is on the right track.
‘Cause he’s got High Hopes!
He’s got High Hopes!
1960’s the year for his High Hopes!
Come on and vote for Kennedy
Vote for Kennedy,
Keep America Strong
Kennedy, he just keeps rolling along
Kennedy, he just keeps rolling along
Kennedy, he just keeps rolling along
Vote for Kennedy !
_______________________ Listen to full song at JFK Library.
Sinatra recorded a special promotional 45rpm version of “High Hopes” in February 1960 for use on the campaign trail, throughout key primary states, and into the general election. This tune, with special “elect-Jack-Kennedy” lyrics, and backed by a chorus version of “all the way,” pretty much became the JFK campaign theme song. And while Frank Sinatra wasn’t always available to make personal appearances on behalf of Kennedy — though he did his share — his presence still permeated the campaign everywhere by way of this song.
And on some occasions, “High Hopes” received a little bit of extra help. Leading up to the West Virginia Democratic primary election in May, juke boxes in that state, which were controlled through an organized crime network, were updated with copies of the “High Hopes” recording.
Kennedy aides also went through the state paying tavern and restaurant owners a small stipend to assure that the new jukebox version of “High Hopes” was played frequently. Beyond West Virginia, the special recording was widely circulated and used during Kennedy’s election run, played at campaign rallies, on jukeboxes, and also heard in some TV ads. The Sinatra song for JFK was heard all across the country.
During the primary election season, however, Kennedy handlers became nervous about Sinatra and the Rat Pack becoming too overtly connected to the campaign, as Democratic rivals, including Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson, would try to cast those associations in a negative light. So, Sinatra and other Rat Packers did limited public campaigning for Kennedy during the primaries. And not long after the New Hampshire primary– in which Kennedy had won the state’s Democratic Party nomination on March 8, 1960 – there came some controversy with Frank Sinatra.
The Maltz Affair
1950, photo from film clip, Albert Maltz.
In February 1960, Sinatra planned to hire Albert Maltz to write the screenplay for a film he was making about an army deserter during WWII using the title, the Execution of Private Slovick. But Maltz was one of the famous “Hollywood Ten” – alleged communist party members who appeared before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in November 1947. Maltz was one of those jailed in 1951 for contempt of Congress, refusing to tell the committee whether he had ever been a member of communist organizations. When word of Sinatra’s plan to use Maltz was reported by the New York Times on March 12, 1960, the reaction, especially in some conservative corners, began to reach into Sinatra’s involvement with the Kennedy campaign. Sinatra fought back, claiming his critics were hitting “below the belt.” At one point he even took out an ad in the Hollywood trade papers saying he was his own man and could hire who ever he wanted. General Motors, however, then a giant economic power, had been lined up to sponsor some of Frank’s TV specials, and threatened to withdraw over the Maltz connection.
Frank Sinatra & Elvis Presley on Sinatra’s May 1960 “Welcome Home Elvis” TV special.
One of Sinatra’s planned TV specials at the time was to “welcome home” Elvis Presley, the young rock ’n roll star whose earlier U.S. Army enlistment was then ending. But Presley’s manger, Colonel Parker, also called Sinatra, saying Presley might have to pull out. Then the Catholic Church, including a Boston cardinal, began suggesting that if JFK were perceived as soft on communism, this might cost him some Catholic votes. With that, patriarch Joe Kennedy weighed in, telling Sinatra he felt the controversy would hurt Jack’s presidential bid. In early April 1960s, Sinatra finally agreed let Maltz go, but he paid him in full. Sinatra also had a bit of dust up with fellow Hollywood star and then Richard Nixon supporter John Wayne over the Maltz affair. Wayne and Sinatra had attended a benefit dinner at the Moulin Rouge club in Los Angeles later that spring, and they nearly came to blows over Maltz, according to one account. The incident arose over earlier negative comments Wayne had made about Kennedy and Sinatra’a hiring of Maltz. Wayne reportedly told a reporter, “I wonder how Sinatra’s crony, Senator John F. Kennedy, feels about Sinatra hiring such a man.” In any case, neither Kennedy nor Sinatra appeared mortally wounded by the Maltz affair. Sinatra, for his part, was then having a good run on broadcast television. His “Welcome Home Elvis” TV special – the final show in a series of four successful Sinatra TV specials – was broadcast in May 1960, and according to reports at the time it earned “massive viewing figures.” That special, and others that preceded it, also typically included other Rat Pack members, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and at the Elvis show, Sinatra’s daughter, Nancy.
Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy shown on Life magazine cover, March 28, 1960.
Kennedy, meanwhile, in March and April of 1960, was facing a formidable challenger in the Wisconsin Democratic Presidential primary, fellow U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey, a popular liberal from Minnesota. The two senators had squared off in Wisconsin. Both men had campaigned extensively in the state. Kennedy used his family members and wife, Jackie, to help cover the state. Kennedy sisters Eunice, Jean and Pat were there, as were brothers Bobby and Ted. The March 28, 1960 edition of Life magazine did a feature piece on the two candidates spread over several pages with photos of their respective campaigns in the state. There was also a small photo of Frank Sinatra included in Life’s story with the caption “voice Sinatra,” referring to his Kennedy “High Hopes” recording, but also mentioning that he did not appear in the state for Kennedy in person. On April 5, 1960, the day of the primary election, Kennedy emerged the victor, beating Humphrey by a count of 478,118 to 372,034. It was an important primary win for Kennedy. However, Kennedy’s margin of victory in Wisconsin had came mostly from heavily Catholic areas, and that left party bosses unconvinced of his appeal to non-Catholic voters. So the next primary state of West Virginia – a heavily Protestant state where Kennedy would also face Humphrey, but where anti-Catholic bigotry was said to be widespread – would be crucial.
Poster announcing April 26, 1960 campaign event with Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, during West Virginia primary.
West Virginia turned out to be a critical state that Kennedy needed to win for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Without a primary win there, he faced the prospect of a brokered convention decided by Democratic Party bosses where competing candidates such as Lyndon B. Johnson, Adlai Stevenson, and/or Hubert Humphrey might do quite well. Initially, Kennedy thought he would not need to run in the West Virginia primary, as earlier polling in the state in 1958 had shown him to be well ahead of the likely Republican nominee, Richard Nixon. It also appeared there would be no Democratic challenger to run in the primary. But after Hubert Humphrey decided to run there, another Lou Harris Poll found Kennedy running well behind Humphrey. Kennedy’s Catholic religion also became a factor in West Virginia. But on May 8th, two days before the election, Kennedy’s campaign brought Franklin Roosevelt’s son into the state to help, and in a radio broadcast paid for by the campaign, FDR, Jr. asked JFK how his Catholicism would effect his presidency. Kennedy replied that taking the oath of office required swearing on the Bible that the president would defend separation of church and state. Any candidate that violated this oath, Kennedy said in the broadcast, not only violated the Constitution but “sinned against God.”Kennedy patriarch Joseph Kennedy reportedly asked Frank Sinatra to seek election help in West Virginia from Chicago mob leader Sam Giancana. Kennedy also framed the religion issue one of tolerance versus intolerance, and this in particular, helped put Humphrey on the defensive, since Humphrey had long prided himself a champion of tolerance. Kennedy defeated Hubert Humphrey in the West Virginia primary. In addition to Kennedy’s own deft maneuvering in that campaign, he reportedly also had other help.
Kennedy patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy reportedly asked Frank Sinatra to seek election help in West Virginia from Chicago mob leader Sam Giancana. Giancana allegedly helped spread cash around the state and also influenced certain unions to help get out the vote in the primary election. In any case, Kennedy defeated Hubert Humphrey in the West Virginia primary with more than 60 percent of the vote, helping dispel doubts that he could win in Protestant territory and that Americans would support a Roman Catholic nominee. It was Kennedy’s seventh victory in the primaries. On the following day, Humphrey conceded and withdrew from the presidential race. However, there were still other Democratic rivals who could challenge Kennedy at the convention. Chief among these was U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas.
U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson would announce his candidacy in July 1960.
Later that summer, in the week before the Democratic National Convention, former U.S. President Harry S. Truman said at a July 2nd, 1960 news conference in Independence, Missouri, that John F. Kennedy lacked the maturity to be President, and that he should decline the nomination. Truman may have been trying to help some of the other Democratic candidates, such as Lyndon Johnson or Adlai Stevenson, who might fare better at a brokered convention. Truman also had tangled with Joseph P. Kennedy in his political past, so there may have been some bad blood there as well. But a few days after Truman made his remarks, Lyndon Johnson on July 5, 1960, announced that he would seek, and said he expected to win, the presidential nomination at the upcoming convention. Johnson asserted Kennedy had less than 600 of the required 701 delegates needed for a nomination. Johnson claimed he had at least 500. Adlai Stevenson, the party’s nominee in 1952 and 1956, had also announced his candidacy about a week before the convention. But Johnson was the bigger threat, and he challenged Kennedy to a TV debate which was apparently held during or leading up to the convention before a joint meeting of the Texas and Massachusetts delegations, and which most observers believed Kennedy won. After that, Johnson was not able to expand his delegate support beyond the South.
John F. Kennedy arriving at the Democratic National Convention on July 9, 1960, at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California.
As the Democratic National Convention opened in Los Angeles, California at the Sports Arena in July 1960, Frank Sinatra and friends helped fill a “big donors” fundraising dinner on Sunday evening, July 10th at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Sinatra and Judy Garland performed that evening at the event. More than 2,800 guests attended, with a number of Hollywood attendees recruited by Sinatra, among them: Milton Berle, Tony Curtis, George Jessel, Janet Leigh, Shirley MacLaine, Joe E. Louis, Mort Sahl, and others. Then, as the convention got down to the business at hand, it was formally opened on Monday, July 11th, 1960. On stage, and as part of the opening ceremony, was Frank Sinatra and some of his friends – Sammy Davis, Janet Leigh, and Tony Curtis, and Peter Lawford. Also in attendance were Nat “King” Cole, Shirley MacLaine, Lee Marvin, Edward G. Robinson, Hope Lange, Lloyd Bridges and Vincent Price. Some of these celebrities were introduced to the convention one by one. However, when Sammy Davis, Jr. came forward, he was booed by the Mississippi and Alabama delegations. Davis was devastated. Choked up, he managed to sing through the National Anthem with Sinatra and others, but left the convention hall shortly thereafter.
Sammy Davis, Jr. and May Britt, undated. Photo, Brian Duffy.
Sammy Davis, as part of Sinatra’s team, had worked hard for Kennedy. On the campaign trail, the Kennedy people would give Davis a list of rallies and cocktail parties in cities and towns where Davis would be playing. Davis would attend these gatherings, sometimes to sing a song or just mingle with the guests. He would later report that he enjoyed doing it and being involved in the excitement of the campaign. Yet politically, inside the Kennedy campaign, Davis was seen as a potential liability in some parts of the country, especially in the south. And Kennedy needed southern Democratic support to win the election. The south at that time was still deeply mired in its segregated ways. In fact, in 1960, most Southern states still had on their books anti-miscegenation laws, which prohibited marriage between whites and blacks. The Supreme Court would not strike down those laws until 1967.
Tony Curtis & Frank Sinatra share a happy moment with Patricia Kennedy Lawford and Peter Lawford at the Democratic Convention, July 1960. Photo: Life/Ed Clark
Earlier that year, Sammy Davis had become involved with Swedish actress and Hollywood movie star May Britt. The two had fallen in love and made plans for marriage. Davis, in fact, had announced in May 1960 that the couple would be married in mid-October 1960. Frank Sinatra agreed to be Davis’ best man at the wedding. A torrent of bad press, with all manner of ugly public and private displays of hatred and threats came at Davis for the pending biracial union between he and Britt. Soon, Kennedy was being hit by some critics as approving interracial marriage. Sinatra was being singled out as well. Newspaper stories about Sinatra being Davis’ best man sometimes ran next to stories about Sinatra campaigning for Kennedy. Reportedly, Joe Kennedy sent word to Davis to postpone the wedding. In any case, Davis began to feel the pressure, and he knew that Sinatra was feeling it too. He decided to postpone the wedding until November 13, 1960. But at the Democratic Convention that July evening as he tried to sing the National Anthem after the southern booing, Sammy Davis was a deeply wounded man. “Delegates Boo Negro,” read one news headline in the New York Times the next day – accompanied by a smaller sub head that noted, “But Sammy Davis Jr. Is Also Applauded at Convention.”
Frank Sinatra & JFK huddle during a dinner at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, July 1960.
Interestingly, however, on July 10, 1960 — the day before Davis was booed — JFK appeared at a rally of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that was held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Kennedy was cooly received there, but won the crowd over when later in his remarks he vowed to end segregation.
Two days later in the inner workings of the convention, Kennedy’s team did push through a civil rights plank calling for the end of segregation. Martin Luther King, Jr at the time called it “the most positive, dynamic and meaningful civil rights plank that has ever been adopted by either party.” However, it would take another four years before some of those provisions would become law.
Patricia Kennedy Lawford, left, looks on as her brother, John F. Kennedy makes his remarks at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, July 1960.
Meanwhile, back at the Democratic convention on the evening Davis was booed, Sinatra and other friends helped to work the floor of the convention for Kennedy delegates. He, Judy Garland, Kay Thompson, and others worked to persuade Democratic delegates to support Kennedy for the nomination. On July 13th, Sinatra joined JFK and the Kennedy clan monitoring the early convention activity by TV from the Beverly Hills mansion of Joe Kennedy’s Hollywood friend, Marion Davis. There were meetings and comings and goings there that day with labor leaders and party bosses from all over the country, preparing for the convention vote. The formal casting of delegate votes for the candidates would occur the following day.
Jackie Kennedy reading about JFK’s nomination in the “Boston Globe” newspaper back home in Hyannis Port, MA, July 14, 1960. AP photo.
On the evening of Wednesday, July 13, 1960, John F. Kennedy won his party’s nomination for President on the first ballot. Wyoming’s 15 delegates gave him the two-thirds majority. With 761 votes needed to nominate, Kennedy received 806. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson came in second with 409 votes. Sinatra at that time was quite excited with JFK’s victory, reportedly back-slapping Peter Lawford and saying, “We’re on our way to the White house, buddy boy…”
Back at the convention the next day at 9 a.m., Kennedy asked Lyndon Johnson to be his running mate, and to the surprise of many, Johnson accepted. Johnson was not the preferred candidate of many in JFK’s camp, including his brother, Bobby. But Johnson would prove to be an important pick on election night. Meanwhile, after hours, as the political business of that day’s convention activities subsided, Peter and Pat Lawford threw a nomination party for JFK at their Santa Monica home, with Frank Sinatra and various other celebrities attending, among them, Marilyn Monroe.
A Jack Kennedy-Lyndon Johnson campaign poster for the 1960 presidential election.
On a late Friday afternoon, July 15, 1960, Democratic Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy appeared before a crowd of some 80,000 people in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to deliver his formal acceptance speech. At the time, the gathering was touted as the largest crowd ever to hear a political speech. It was in this speech that the phrase “The New Frontier” was first used. In his remarks, Kennedy cited the American West as the “last frontier,” saying “we stand today on the edge of a new frontier— the frontier of the 1960s.” As the convention concluded, the Democrats had their ticket ready to do battle with the Republicans: Jack Kennedy for President and Lyndon Johnson for Vice President — “Leadership for The 60’s,” as one campaign poster put it.
The Rat Pack film, “Ocean's 11,” premiered with a street party in Las Vegas, Nevada, August 1960.
As the Democrats made plans for their fall campaign, the Republicans convened their convention in Chicago, Illinois at the International Amphitheatre from July 25 to July 28, 1960, nominating Richard Nixon. The attention of the Rat Pack, meanwhile, shifted to the premiere opening of their new film, Ocean’s 11. Frank Sinatra had already attended a New York meeting in June with film director Lewis Milestone and Warner Brothers executives to plan a big August 1960 grand opening and film premier in Las Vegas. That summer, Sinatra had also arranged to have a private showing of the film at his Palm Springs home for Jack and Jackie Kennedy. In Las Vegas at the film premier that August, Sinatra and various Rat Packers were on hand to meet with the press to promote the film and also to do their stage act.
A 1960 "Oceans 11" movie poster billing Rat Pack members plus Angie Dickinson.
All five of the Rat Pack core group appeared in the film – Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop. A number of other stars also appeared, some briefly, among them: Angie Dickinson, Cesar Romero, Richard Conte, Buddy Lester, Shirley MacLaine, Red Skelton, and George Raft. The plot of the film involves a group World War II veterans recruited by Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) and Jimmy Foster (Peter Lawford) to rob five different Las Vegas casinos in an elaborate New Years eve heist. The film was among the top ten grossing films that year but was not widely cheered by all film critics. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, writing in August 1960, observed: “A surprisingly nonchalant and flippant attitude toward crime — an attitude so amoral it roadblocks a lot of valid gags — is maintained through “Ocean’s 11…”. Still, the film was popular because of its stars. And over the years, it would become a signature “Rat Pack” film – remade in 2001with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and others. Sinatra and his Rat Packers, in various combinations, would appear in at least nine other Hollywood films made between 1958 and 1970. Sergeants 3, for example, another film with all five Rat Pack members, would come out in 1962. Back at the 1960 Kennedy campaign, meanwhile, the effort was now focused on the fall contest with Richard Nixon and the Republicans. Sinatra and friends would continue to help out where they could.
Frank Sinatra appearing at a gathering of Kennedy supporters at the home of Janet Leigh, September 1960.
As the general election campaign began, Sinatra persuaded some of his Hollywood friends to hold small receptions for prospective Kennedy supporters. Sinatra was friends with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, both successful film stars who had been married to each other since 1951. Leigh had co-starred with her husband in five films through the 1950s, including Houdini (1953) and had just appeared in the Alfred Hitchock classic Psycho, released in June 1960, in which she is murdered in one of Hollywood’s most famous shower scenes. Leigh and Curtis had also attended the Democratic National Convention that July.
In early September 1960, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis agreed to use their home for a “Key Women for Kennedy” campaign event. On September 7th, a crowd estimated at 2,000 turned out at Leigh’s place for quite a successful gathering. Ted Kennedy, then the western states coordinator for his brother’s campaign, was also on hand for the event. Frank Sinatra, shown at left, appeared there as well.
Out on the campaign trail, the issue of Kennedy’s Catholic religion had not gone away. Many still feared that government under Kennedy would be unduly influenced by religious interests, and the issue was still seen as a distinct liability for the candidate. As Kennedy made a campaign swing through Texas, he decided to take on the religion issue directly. On September 12, 1960, he spoke before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in Houston, Texas where he famously told his audience: “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.” Also that September, in Hawaii, which had only recently become a state, Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford were on location filming The Devil at 4 O’ Clock. While in the state, both did some campaigning for Kennedy, including one performance before an audience of about 9,000 at the Waikiki Shell.
Richard Nixon & JFK debate on television, 1960.
By late September 1960, the Presidential race was capturing mainstream public attention, as the first of the Kennedy-Nixon televised debates was broadcast nationally on Monday, September 26, 1960. The debate was telecast from the studios of WBBM-TV in Chicago. The one-hour debate demonstrated the power of image over substance, as Kennedy came across cool and collected, while Nixon, due in part to poor makeup and a recent illness, appeared tense and ill at ease on camera. Although Kennedy was given the edge by many who watched the debate on TV, others who only listened on radio believed Nixon won. Additional TV debates between the two would follow – one on Friday, October 7th from Washington, D.C.; a third on Thursday, October 13th with the candidates appearing on a split-screen telecast, Kennedy in New York and Nixon in Los Angeles; and a fourth on October 21st from New York.
Oct 31 1960: JFK tells Temple University students in Philadelphia he’d like to have a 5th TV debate with Nixon, who could “bring President Eisenhower along, too.” Photo: TSutpen.Blogspot.com
Through October 1960, Frank Sinatra continued to help Kennedy and the Democrats where he could, serving, for example, as a host for the Democratic Governor’s Ball in New Jersey in late October, and also appearing jointly with Eleanor Roosevelt in a radio appeal for Kennedy. Sinatra and his Rat Pack friends weren’t the only Hollywood glitteratti helping Kennedy. Singer Harry Belafonte appeared in one campaign TV ad. with Kennedy aimed at African-American voters. In other radio and TV commercials, Lena Horne, Milton Berle, Gene Kelly, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, and Myrna Loy also made pitches for Kennedy or performed on his behalf. The candidate, of course, was doing his share too, making appearances in major cities during the closing days of the campaign. In late October, there were campaign stops in Philadelphia and New York. On Friday November 4th,1960, Kennedy appeared at the Chicago Stadium for a big pre-election rally where more than 1.5 million people came out.
Richard Nixon and the Republicans, meanwhile, were pulling out all the stops as well. On Sunday, November 6th, Nixon ran 32-page advertising supplements in Sunday newspapers, and later that evening pre-empted the General Electric Theater on CBS-TV for a 30-minute appeal to voters. On the day before the election, Monday, November 7th, Nixon appeared on ABC-TV for four hours (2-6 pm) in the first telethon in presidential campaign history, assisted by Hollywood celebrities Ginger Rogers, Lloyd Nolan, and Robert Young. Kennedy appeared on ABC-TV that evening too, following Nixon, from 6:00-to-6:30 pm. As election day approached, some polls had Kennedy leading by a slight edge, others had Nixon in the lead. Most believed it was too close to call.
Nov. 1960: JFK & aides watching returns on TV after the election. From left: artist Bill Walton, Pierre Salinger, unidentified man on stairs, Ethel Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, RFK. secretary Angie Novello, and campaign aide Bill Haddad. Photo, Jacques Lowe.
On the day before the election, Jack Kennedy spoke at city hall in Providence, Rhode Island before thousands of supporters, returning to his home in Boston following the speech. On election day, November 8th, 1960, he and his then pregnant wife Jackie, voted at a branch library near their Boston home. From there they joined Kennedy family members, friends and a few campaign staff at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where several Kennedy homes were used in monitoring the election returns.
Frank Sinatra, meanwhile, watched the voting on the West coast from the home of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, along with other Hollywood stars and movie people, including Bill Goetze, Billy Wilder, Milton Berle, Dick Shepherd and others. The Curtis-Leigh home that evening served as a “clearinghouse” for Hollywood Democrats all around the country who had worked for Kennedy. Calls that evening were coming in from Henry Fonda in New York, Sammy Cahn in Las Vegas, Peter Lawford in Hyannis Port with the Kennedy family, and also Sammy Davis, Jr., who was then performing at the Huntington Hartford Theater in Hollywood, but giving his audience updates on the election returns.
Peter Lawford & Pierre Salinger following teletype returns, election night, Nov 1960.
In the voting that night, Illinois proved to be a crucial state, having 27 electoral votes. Nixon had taken most of the state’s 103 counties, rural and suburban. But Kennedy would take Cook County by a slender margin, and Chicago, where reportedly, Sinatra and Joe Kennedy had prevailed upon Sam Giancana for assistance. Democratic Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was also believed to have been helpful on Kennedy’s behalf in Illinois. Other states, including Texas, were also at issue with suspected election-night shenanigans on both sides. The Nixon camp too, in downstate Illinois and elsewhere, had its share of suspected vote manipulations.
On election night, as the early returns came in from large cities in East and Midwest – Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago – Kennedy initially amassed a large lead in the popular and electoral vote. It appeared he had certain victory. However, after some early and premature TV declarations of Kennedy wins in selected states – and some retractions – an hours-long “too-close-to-call” contest set in, stretching late into the night. As later returns came in – especially from the rural and suburban Midwest, the western states, and Pacific Coast states, Nixon began to catch up. Some newspapers, including the New York Times, had even prepared “Kennedy elected” headline copy. But the election was still too close to call. Nixon made an appearance at about 3:00 a.m. that hinted toward concession, but he did not formally concede. It would not be until the afternoon of the following day, Wednesday, November 9th, that Nixon finally conceded and Kennedy claimed victory.
New York Times of November 10th, 1960 announcing JFK victory in presidential election. JFK shown with wife Jackie and family members at Hyannis Port, MA press event.
Kennedy had defeated Nixon in one of the closest presidential elections of the twentieth century. In the national popular vote Kennedy led Nixon by just two-tenths of one percent (49.7% to 49.5%), while in the electoral vote Kennedy won 303 votes to Nixon’s 219 (269 were needed to win).
Back on the west coast the next day, Frank Sinatra went work at an MGM set in Hollywood where they were making the film,The Devil at 4 O’Clock with Spencer Tracy and others. The film’s director was Mervyn LeRoy, a Republican, with whom Sinatra had made a friendly wager on the election outcome. A photo reportedly exists of Sinatra riding atop a donkey with LeRoy leading them around the MGM lot, apparently a result of Sinatra winning the wager. After the election, Rosalind Wyman, who served as the co-chair of the 1960 California Kennedy-Johnson campaign and Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, singled out Sinatra for his campaign help, saying he went wherever he was needed. Sinatra, of course, was elated with JFK’s victory, and looked forward to a continuing friendship with the president-elect in the years ahead.
JFK campaign button, 1960.
Part 2 of this story continues with Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford playing a major role in the Kennedy inaugural festivities of January 1961. Part 2 also covers the changing relationship between Sinatra, JFK and the Kennedy family as the Kennedy Administration moved into governing the country. Sinatra’s reaction to JFK’s assassination is also covered there, as well as Sinatra’s later turn toward the Republicans and what became of the Rat Pack members and a few of their friends beyond the 1960s. See also at this website, for example: “1968 Presidential Race–Democrats” and “1968 Presidential Race – Republicans,” both of which also focus on the Hollywood/politics mixture. Thanks for visiting. - Jack Doyle.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “The Jack Pack, 1958-1960,” PopHistoryDig.com, August 20, 2011.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
August 29, 1955: Time magazine cover story features Frank Sinatra’s rise to acting fame. Already a famous singer from the mid-1940s, Sinatra in 1954 won an acting Oscar for his role in the film, “From Here To Eternity.”
John F. Kennedy, who was first elected to Congress in 1946, is featured on Time’s cover, December 2, 1957, as the “Democrat's Man Out Front.”
Frank Sinatra performing at the Desert Inn, 1950s.
U.S. Senators John F. Kennedy, Hubert H. Humphrey, and Albert Gore Sr. in conversation during the 1956 Democratic Convention.
Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra on stage during one of their performances, 1960s.
John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie campaigning in Appleton, Wisconsin, March 1960. Photo, Jeff Dean.
John F. Kennedy, presidential candidate, meeting with West Virginia coal miners, 1960.
John F. Kennedy, campaigning in West Virginia coal country, 1960.
May 1960: John F. Kennedy at home in Washington, D.C. reading newspaper about his victory in the West Virginia primary and rival Hubert Humphrey quitting the race.
July 1960: Ted Kennedy, center, on the floor of the Democratic National Convention as the Wyoming delegation gives JFK the votes needed for the party's presidential nomination. Photo, L.A. Times.
Actress Janet Leigh, left, listens to JFK campaign coordinator Edward M. Kennedy, far right, at rally for his brother at Janet Leigh’s home, Sept 1960.
Frank Sinatra talking with Edward M. Kennedy, lower left at "Key Women for Kennedy” rally at Janet Leigh’s house, Beverly Hills, Sept 1960. Photo: Ralph Crane.
Sept 26, 1960: Los Angles Times headlines on the first Kennedy-Nixon presidential TV debate.
Oct 1960: U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. with John F. Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt in New York city during Kennedy's presidential campaign.
Nov 8, 1960: Los Angeles Times headlines on "down-to-the-wire" presidential election.
Ted Kennedy with sisters Eunice and Pat and Ethel Kennedy watching election-night returns at Hyannis Port, MA. AP photo/Henry Griffin.
Life magazine features “the victorious young Kennedys” on the cover of its November 21, 1960 edition.
The Rat Pack on stage together in a 1960s' performance.
This is the second part of a two-part story on the history of Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack and their dealings with the 1960 presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy and his early Administration. The “Rat Pack” was a nickname for a coterie of Hollywood stars and Las Vegas club entertainers that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. For a time in 1960, this group and some of their friends were dubbed “The Jack Pack” when they helped the Kennedy-for-President campaign.
Through the early 1960s, Sinatra and his Rat Pack reigned supreme in contemporary culture; they became the “cool guys” of their generation. They brought record-breaking crowds to the Las Vegas nightclub scene and made millions for Hollywood’s box office through the movies they made. The Rat Pack’s network of contacts, friends, and business partners ranged across Hollywood, Las Vegas, and beyond, including movie stars such as Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Janet Leigh, Angie Dickinson, and Shirley MacLaine, and also some underworld figures such as Sam Giancana of Chicago.
“Rat Pack” members early 1960s, from left: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
Sinatra and the Rat Pack became intertwined with the Kennedy family in part through Peter Lawford’s marriage to Jack Kennedy’s sister, Patricia, and later through Sinatra’s friendship with U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy. But the Rat Pack’s Hollywood and business network in the entertainment world also made it a potent force for fundraising and voter turnout, which soon become apparent in the 1960 presidential election and beyond.
Part 1 of the story covers Rat Pack history and the group’s involvement with the 1960 Kennedy campaign, up to and including John F. Kennedy’s election in November 1960. Part 2 of the story picks up here as plans for the 1961 Kennedy inauguration festivities are being made. This part of the story will also cover Frank Sinatra’s falling out with JFK and the Kennedy family during the early 1960s, as well as what became of various Rat Pack members and friends and Kennedy family members in the years following the Kennedy election.
Jan 1961: Frank Sinatra escorting Jackie Kennedy to her box at the National Guard Armory for a pre-inaugural gala staged by Sinatra to help pay off JFK & Democratic Party campaign debt.
In December 1960, Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford began planning a big, star-studded gala and party fundraiser to be staged at the National Armory in Washington, D.C. on January 19th, 1961, the night before JFK’s formal inauguration. Among the performers and notables Sinatra and Lawford would gather for this event were: Harry Belafonte, Milton Berle, Nat King Cole, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Kelly, Frederic March, Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante, Mahalia Jackson, Bette Davis, Laurence Olivier, Leonard Bernstein, Fredric March, Sidney Poitier, Bill Dana, Kay Thompson, Roger Edens and others.
Sinatra was responsible for personally recruiting many of the stars, some flying in from filming and performing locations abroad. He and Lawford also convinced several Broadway producers to shut down for one night so actors such as Anthony Quinn, Ethel Merman and Laurence Olivier could attend. One account had it that Sinatra personally bought out the theater tickets for the performances of the Broadway plays in conflict so the those actors could partake in the Kennedy gala.
January 19, 1961: Part of scene at the JFK inaugural gala in Washington, DC, organized by Frank Sinatra.
Several thousand seats at the National Armory would be sold for $100 each and 72 ringside boxes for small groups were sold at $10,000 apiece. “We’ve already sold out the 72 boxes,” Peter Lawford told Time magazine in early December. Sinatra added, “This will be the biggest take in show-business history for a one-nighter. We expect to raise $1,700,000 for the one night…” In January, Sinatra and Lawford flew to Washington on Kennedy’s private Convair plane to begin work on the gala. The Hollywood stars, producers, directors, conductors, and musicians involved were housed at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in Washington, reportedly taking over the top floor or so. Sinatra also hired a Hollywood photographer named Phil Stern to document the entire enterprise, later giving each of the participants their own photo albums.
Sammy Davis, Jr., 1960s.
But in arranging the gala there was also some nastiness for Frank’s friend, Sammy Davis, slated to be one of the gala performers. Davis had planned to take leave from his engagement at the Latin Casino near Philadelphia in order to perform at the gala. But given his recent mid-November 1960 mix-race marriage to Swedish actress May Britt, Sammy was still too hot politically for the Kennedys. Reportedly, there had been discussions with Bobby, Jack and Peter Lawford on Sammy’s participation in the gala, concern being that Southern Democrats would object to Sammy and his new wife attending. Three days before the gala, after Sammy had bought a new tux and his wife a new gown, he received a call from the White House. It was Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s personal secretary. She told Sammy the president didn’t want him at the inauguration, a decision by the president described as being forced upon him by the politics of the moment, and counterproductive to fight. Sammy said he understood. Peter Lawford called Davis to try to smooth things over, but Sammy was crushed.
Gene Kelly performing at JFK gala, January 19, 1961.
On gala day, there was a snow storm in Washington, dumping eight inches on the city through the evening. But the show went on. There was singing, dancing, poetry, stage skits, dramatic readings, and tributes to the presidential and vice-president. Gene Kelly danced; Sydney Poteir read poetry, and Pat Suzuki sang. Kelly sang “The Hat Me Dear Old Father Wore” and did an amazing dance routine. Fredric March did a recitation invoking God’s help to “give us zest for new frontiers, and the faith to say unto mountains, whether made of granite or red tape: Remove.”
Bill Dana, famous in that era for portraying a fictional Chicano character known as José Jiménez, did a well-received comic routine with Milton Berle. Nat King Cole sang and so did a young, 34 year-old Harry Belafonte, whose 1956 Calypso album had become the first long-playing album in history to sell over one million copies.
Frank Sinatra & Peter Lawford enjoy a lighter moment at the 1961 gala for President-elect John F. Kennedy.
Jimmy Durante sang a version of the “September Song,” a JFK favorite. Sinatra sang twice that evening, once with “You Make Me Feel So Young,” and also “That Old Black Magic,” putting a few new twists on the old standard with lines like: “That old Jack magic had them in its spell / That old Jack magic that he weaves so well…” There was also a long biographical tribute sung to Kennedy describing his rise to power, using a parody of popular songs composed by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. This skit began with Sinatra and Berle doing a send up of that era’s famous news team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.“…[I]t may have marked the moment when popular entertainment became an indispensable part of modern politics.” – Todd Purdum “High Hopes,” was also used in this segment, now reworked by Sinatra with new lines that included: “Jack and Lyndon B /… Let’s follow their lead / They’re the men that our America needs!”
Todd Purdum, writing a Vanity Fair retrospective on the famous JFK gala 50 years later, summed it up this way: “It was an only-in-America blend of high culture and low comedy, of schmaltz and camp, and it may have marked the moment when popular entertainment became an indispensable part of modern politics.” In fact, Bette Davis said as much during the show in part of skit she did, reading from a script by radio dramatist Norman Corwin: “The world of entertainment—show-biz, if you please—has become the Sixth Estate…”
JFK with Frank Sinatra at the pre-inaugural gala, Jan 19, 1961, the night before JFK’s formal inauguration.
At one point near the show’s end, with an introduction from Sinatra, JFK rose to speak as a single spotlight shone on him. “We saw excellence tonight,” Kennedy said, while commending Sinatra and Peter Lawford for their work on the gala. “The happy relationship between the arts and politics which has characterized our long history I think reached culmination tonight,” he said.
Of Sinatra’s role in the gala Kennedy said, “You can not imagine the work he has done to make this show a success.” Kennedy called Sinatra “a great friend,” and added: “Long before he could sing, he used to poll a Democratic precinct back in New Jersey. That precinct has grown to cover a country, but long after he has ceased to sing, he’s going to be standing up and speaking for the Democratic Party, and I thank him on behalf of all of you tonight.”
1961: Inaugural dancing at the Armory.
The gala would raise millions to help reduce the Democratic campaign debt, and despite the snow and difficult logistics, Sinatra had pulled off one of the greatest Hollywood-on-the-Potomac fetes the city had ever witnessed.
Even though it was nearly 1:30 a.m. when the gala ended, and Jackie Kennedy had long since gone home as she was still recovering from the Cesarean birth of John Jr., JFK went to another party that night given by his father, Joseph Kennedy, at Paul Young’s restaurant in downtown D.C. JFK didn’t get home until 3:30 a.m.
However the next morning, Inauguration Day, Kennedy was up at eight, reviewing his speech and preparing for a full slate of official and ceremonial meetings with outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and then on to Capitol Hill for his swearing in and one of the more memorable inaugural speeches in U.S. history.
President John F. Kennedy delivering his inaugural address at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 20, 1961.
On the evening of the inauguration, as the President and first lady were making the rounds to the various inaugural balls being held in Washington, Sinatra threw a party at the Statler-Hilton Hotel for all the cast and crew who had been involved in the preceding night’s gala. The President, on a visit to the Statler-Hilton for one of the balls that evening, managed to slip away to join Sinatra’s party and mingle with the guests there. Frank Sinatra was very pleased, and went home to California feeling pretty good about himself and his friend in the White House.
The Sinatra File
Following the inauguration, the ties between Frank Sinatra and the Kennedy’s – especially those involving JFK and the White House – would gradually become strained and eventually would be severed. But this would not occur for another year or so.
FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, center, meeting with JFK and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, January 1961.
Sinatra had been monitored by the FBI stretching back to 1946 when he attended social gatherings in Cuba as a guest of some organized crime figures. The FBI had an active file on Sinatra which continued for years (Sinatra’s full FBI file would not be released publicly until December 1998, ultimately revealing nothing criminal, subversive, or unpatriotic; a file filled with mostly unsubstantiated complaints and anonymous sources).
But in February 1961, within weeks of JFK’s inauguration, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent a pointed memo to the new U.S. Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy. The memo detailed Sinatra’s extensive connections to organized crime figures. Robert Kennedy would later impress upon his brother, the President, that he needed to distance himself from Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford & Robert Kennedy wait for helicopter en route to a Cedars-Sinai Hospital charity event in Hollywood, July 1961.
Still, exchanges between the Kennedy family, Sinatra, and members of his Rat Pack continued through 1961 and beyond. In early July, Sinatra and Peter Lawford joined U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy to attend benefit dinner for the Cedars-Sinai Hospital at the Beverly Hilton in Hollywood. Another report had Sinatra, the Dean Martin family, Peter Lawford and family, Sammy Davis and May Britt, and Janet Leigh using the French Riviera home of Joseph P. Kennedy during a ten-day vacation in August 1961.
Then, in late September 1961, ten months after the election, Joe Kennedy threw a thank-you party for Frank Sinatra at the family’s Hyannis Port, MA compound. At that point, JFK as president was still talking with Sinatra, as Sinatra would approach the president during the Hyannis Port visit to ask for a small favor.
Frank Sinatra sought JFK’s help to lobby Arthur Krim to make this film.
Screenwriters in Hollywood had come to Sinatra about starring in a film, The Manchurian Candidate, based on a 1959 novel by Richard Condon. The Manchurian Candidate is a story about a Korean War hero, brainwashed by the Chinese Communists, who then returns home programmed to assassinate the president as part of a larger conspiracy to take over the White House. In addition to starring the film, Sinatra also had business interests in its distribution. However, the head of Universal Studios at the time, Arthur Krim, was queasy about the film project and its Cold War politics. Krim was also then national finance chairman of the Democratic Party. So, when Sinatra was visiting the Kennedys in Hyannis Port in September 1961, he told Jack Kennedy of the plan for the film and Arthur Krim’s reluctance to make it. President Kennedy called Krim and the movie project went forward, with Krim later saying that Kennedy’s call had made the difference.
Despite Kennedy’s help on the Manchurian Candidate, Sinatra’s access to the President and the White House would soon be ending. Later in the fall of 1961, Sinatra visited the White House as part of a larger group that included Peter Lawford and others. And during that year, press Secretary Pierre Salinger had been questioned by members of the press about Sinatra’s relationship with the president. The inner circle around Kennedy – including Robert Kennedy and the President himself – became less comfortable having Sinatra around the White House. But soon, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI would provide some additional information on Sinatra.
Rat Pack Popularity
Richard Gehman’s 1961 book helped to popularize the term “Rat Pack.”
Meanwhile, the Rat Pack in 1961 seemed to gain in popularity and public notice. The first book arrived that year using the term “Rat Pack” in its title. A writer from Lancaster, Pennsylvania named Richard Gehman published a paperback volume with Belmont Books in New York titled, Sinatra and His Rat Pack. The book sold reasonably well and went into at least three printings according to one source. In the fall that year, a late night talk show hosted by David Suskind featured a Rat Pack roundtable on one of its shows with a mix of journalists and Hollywood celebrities who debated the Rat Pack’s merits and maladies. Even a New Yorker cartoon appeared with a psychiatrist addressing the concerns of a middle-aged man lying on the treatment couch, with the psychiatrist saying: “What makes you think Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and all that bunch are so happy?”
There were also continued stage and club performances of the Rat Pack as a group, or in various combinations. Work on films with one or more members of the group continued as well, and Sinatra had a film or two of his own. The Devil at Four O’Clock, a volcano disaster film with Sinatra and Spencer Tracey came out in October 1961. Sinatra’s music continued to be popular. Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford would have their notices as well.
President Kennedy points to map of Laos at press conference in March 1961.
The Kennedy Administration, meanwhile, had a full plate of activities in 1961. In March, Kennedy announced the establishment of the Peace Corps. The president also held a press conference that month to discuss communist involvement in Laos. In April, in his first international and military crisis, U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba ended in disaster at the Bay of Pigs. Kennedy appeared on TV taking full responsibility for the fiasco, an operation inherited from the Eisenhower Administration. The Soviet Union that month put the first human in space, as cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth in a Soviet spacecraft. In May, speaking before the U.S. Congress, Kennedy committed the U.S. to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. In June, Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev held a summit in Vienna. Cold war tensions escalated in August, as construction on what came to be known as “the Berlin Wall” began; an actual brick-and-block wall that would divide East and West Berlin with the purpose of preventing people from fleeing communist-held areas of the country for sanctuary in the west. Elsewhere in the world, Kennedy Administration officials were working on foreign policy initiatives such as the “Alliance for Progress,” a joint U.S./Latin American economic development program. In December the President traveled to Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.
Stay At Frank’s?
As JFK’s presidential schedule for early 1962 was being plotted out, it was revealed he would be making a trip west to California in March of 1962. Early on, it was decided Kennedy would have an overnight visit at Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs estate on March 24th, 1962. This planned JFK visit became a big event for Sinatra; a very prideful moment – much more than the pre-election partying the two had shared.Sinatra went all-out for the anticipated JFK visit – remodeling the house, adding new cottages, extra rooms, communications gear, and more. . . He even had a helicopter landing pad installed. This was now the President of the United States who was coming to stay overnight. Sinatra had initially built this Palm Springs residence in 1954. It included a main house, a movie theater, guest houses, a barbershop/sauna, two swimming pools, tennis courts, and a personal art studio. But now, he would make improvements.
Sinatra went all-out for the anticipated JFK visit – remodeling the house, adding new cottages, extra rooms, communications gear, and more to accommodate a president and his staff. He even had a concrete heliport landing pad installed. But within days of the planned visit – on March 22nd, two days ahead of the planned arrival at Sinatra’s – Peter Lawford was told by JFK and Bobby Kennedy to inform Sinatra that the President would not be staying at Sinatra’s place. Lawford tried to convince the President and Bobby not to cancel the visit, to no avail. It was then arranged that the President would stay at singer Bing Crosby’s place. Lawford then called Sinatra, fabricating a story about how Sinatra’s place was more open and more vulnerable and that the Secret Service had instead approved Bing Crosby’s “more secure” place, backing up against a mountain. Sinatra was stunned by the news, and tried appealing to Bobby Kennedy with no success. At one point, Sinatra reportedly took a sledge hammer to the heliport he had built to vent his frustration, and he was quite unforgiving of Lawford and others even remotely connected to the cancellation. From that point on, Sinatra and JFK pretty much parted ways.
JFK, J. Edgar Hoover & Robert Kennedy.
Bobby Kennedy and the President had both heard from J. Edgar Hoover about Sinatra and the fact that Sam Giancana – who Bobby’s Justice Department was then investigating – had stayed at Sinatra’s place. Hoover had lunch with the President only a few days before his scheduled March 1962 trip West, and it is believed he discussed Sinatra and Judith Campbell with the President, among other things. JFK knew Hoover played hardball and he wasn’t about to give him any more ammunition by staying with Sinatra. But Sinatra was wounded badly by the cancellation. Years later, Sinatra would say he would have understood if JFK had personally spoken with him about why, politically, he could not be seen with him, given his ties, etc. Sinatra said he would have accepted that. But Kennedy never did that, and Sinatra remained forever hurt by the slight. JFK, meanwhile, had a pleasant visit at Bing Crosby’s place on March 24th, 1962, where guests at that time reportedly included Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” May 19, 1962. Photo, UPI.
Less than two months later, on May 19, 1962, Monroe made a famous public appearance singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to JFK at a Madison Square Garden event for the President’s 45th birthday. It was a huge gala affair, with a number of Hollywood entertainers. Monroe, who arrived late to sing the birthday greeting, was introduced by Peter Lawford. Her appearance came toward the middle-end of the program, and she performed the song in her very best, most sexiest voice. More than 15,000 people attended the JFK gathering, also a Democratic fundraising event, with many VIPs and politicians in the audience. It was hosted by New York Mayor Robert Wagner with Jack Benny as emcee. Among those performing were: Robert Merrill, Ella Fitzgerald, Danny Kaye, Henry Fonda, Maria Callas, Peggy Lee, Jimmy Durante & Eddie Jackson, Mike Nichols & Elaine May, Diahann Carroll, and Bobby Darin. Richard Adler, a composer and lyricist, famous for Broadway musicals such as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, produced the show. Jerome Robbins, of The King and I and West Side Story fame, choreographed a big dance number. Monroe, in addition to “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” also continued her musical tribute to the president, adding a few lines of thanks — “for all you have done, the battles you have won” — to the tune of “Thanks for the Memories.” Monroe wore a sleek, form-fitting, specially-designed dress for the occasion, made for her by designer Jean Louis. Kennedy remarked at the podium later that evening that he could “now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.” Kennedy would later be photographed briefly talking to Monroe with brother Bobby and others at an after party.
Robert F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy in rare photo taken at private “after party,” May 19, 1962. Advisor Arthur Schlesinger, with glasses, is shown at right.
According to some reports, Kennedy had first met Monroe at his sister’s house – Peter and Patricia Lawford’s Santa Monica beach house – sometime in 1959-1960 (although some reports say Kennedy knew Monroe as early as 1954-55). Reportedly, other JFK and Monroe get-togethers occurred around the time of Kennedy’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles on July 12th and July 13th, 1960, including a dinner at Puccini’s restaurant in Beverly Hills, owned by Sinatra and Lawford, and also at a private party at the Lawford’s Santa Monica home the night of Kennedy’s nomination at the Los Angeles 1960 Democratic National Convention. But Monroe’s appearance at the President’s birthday party in New York on May 19th, 1962 would be her last public appearance.
Frank Sinatra, not long after the President’s cancelled overnight visit, began a world concert tour in a dozen or more cities to raise money for various children’s charities. On that trip, Sinatra did concerts in China, Israel, Greece, Italy, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Tel Aviv and Japan and raised more than one million dollars for various benefits. He returned to the U.S. in late June 1962.
Marilyn Monroe in happier times with Frank Sinatra & club manager Bert Grober, Cal-Neva Resort, 1959. Photo: D. Dondero, Reno Gazette.
In late July 1962, according to author J. Randy Taraborrelli, Frank Sinatra invited Peter and Patricia Lawford for a weekend visit to his Nevada resort, the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe. Marilyn Monroe, a friend of the Lawfords and also of Frank Sinatra, joined them. The Lawfords and Monroe traveled together and arrived by private plane. Monroe, however, was not well by then, suffering from depression and taking medication. Sinatra, in fact, upon seeing her, was shocked and angry about her condition and called her doctor on the spot to relay his concern. But at one point during the visit, Monroe did some self-medication and Pat Lawford later found her in her room collapsed. Sinatra, meanwhile, became worried over the incident, concerned she might die at his resort. He told his valet, George Jacobs, to get Monroe out of the resort. One guest who happened to be in the Cal-Neva lobby at the time reported seeing Peter and Pat Lawford on either side of Monroe helping to carry her out of the resort to a private plane that took her back to Los Angeles.
Marilyn Monroe, center, at Peter & Pat Lawford’s home in 1960-61, with Peter Lawford left and Frank Sinatra next to Monroe looking at a photograph. May Britt is standing at right.
Patricia Kennedy Lawford, now visible in another photo from that same time, is seen standing at left. Seated woman may have been Shirley MacLaine.
Other accounts of that weekend at the Cal-Neva report that Dean Martin and Monroe’s former husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio, were also at the resort. DiMaggio had never been happy about some of Marilyn’s Hollywood friends. Still other accounts have Peter Lawford telling Monroe at that point that all communication with JFK and Bobby Kennedy was to be cut off. Monroe reportedly had been upset over some things JFK had said to her in private, and she had also seen Robert Kennedy. Monroe that summer was also working on the film Something’s Got to Give, which was never finished.
After the Lawford’s returned home from their weekend visit with Sinatra, Peter Lawford called Monroe on August 4, 1962, concerned about her health. He found that she was still not well, sounding quite depressed. He later tried calling her again but couldn’t get through. He then thought about going directly to her home. However, he was advised, that as the President’s brother-in-law, he should not go there. On August 5, 1962, Monroe was found dead in her Brentwood home. She was 36 years old. Her death was ruled to be “acute barbiturate poisoning” by Los Angeles coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi and listed as a “probable suicide”.
Scene from “The Manchurian Candidate,” in which Frank Sinatra, as Korean War veteran Bennett Marco, attempts to help a fellow veteran who's been brainwashed.
Through the remainder of 1962, Frank Sinatra continued his work. In August and September he was busy making a filmed adaptation of the Neil Simon play, Come Blow Your Horn, which would not be in theaters until the following year. In October 1962, Capitol Records released a new three-record set of his recordings – Sinatra, the Great Years. A few weeks later, near the end of October, The Manchurian Candidate, the film Sinatra starred in and had gone to JFK for help with producer Krim, began playing in theaters. JFK, in fact, had viewed the film at a special White House screening on August 29, 1962, the day a U-2 spy plane over Cuba would discover eight missile installations under construction– information that would lead, two months later, to the “Cuban missile crisis” and a showdown with the Soviet Union.
By October 16th, a day the New York Yankees would beat the San Francisco Giants in game seven of the 1962 World Series, Kennedy was shown new U-2 photos revealing fully-equipped missile bases capable of attacking the U.S. with nuclear warheads. Plans were drawn up for a possible U.S. invasion of Cuba. A massive mobilization of military hardware began, and more than 150,000 active duty troops from the Marines, Army and Air Force were either positioned in Florida or put on high alert, while additional reservists were ordered to report for duty.
Cuban “missile crisis” headlines, Oct 1962.
On Monday, October 22, 1962, President Kennedy appeared on television to inform Americans of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. He explained that a Naval blockade had been placed around Cuba to prevent any further Soviet deliveries.
The President also stated that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba would be regarded as an attack on the United States by the Soviets and he demanded the missiles be removed from Cuba.
The “missile crisis,” as it came to be called, was the closest the world ever came to nuclear war in the 1960s. In the end, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev turned his ships around. The Soviets agreed to dismantle the weapon sites and, in exchange, the U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba and remove its missiles from Turkey.
April 1963: Frank Sinatra hosts the Academy Awards ceremony, shown here escorting actress Donna Reed.
Frank Sinatra hosted the Academy Awards ceremony in 1963. Earlier that year, Playboy magazine ran an interview with Sinatra that revealed him to be quite well-informed on a range of domestic and international issues, and in which he mentioned the Kennedy Administration a few times in the context of policy issues.
Sinatra also recorded a new LP in April 1963, titled Sinatra’s Sinatra. This was an album of Sinatra songs from the 1940s and 1950s, updated with new versions for Sinatra’s own label, Reprise. The album did quite well, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard and U.K. album charts. The film Come Blow Your Horn, in which Sinatra starred, was also a major box office success that summer, garnering him a Golden Globe acting nomination.
President Kennedy that spring, among other things, visited Hollywood briefly for a Democratic Party fundraiser. This affair, however, was a limited VIP gathering of about one hundred of Hollywood’s biggest stars, among them: Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Gene Kelly, Dean Martin, Rock Hudson, Jack Webb and others. “Instead of offering a formal speech the president table-hopped, impressing his guests with a wide-ranging knowledge of movies in general and their careers in specific,” explains Alan Schroeder of Northeastern University who has written on the presidency and Hollywood. Kennedy was a life-long fan of Hollywood, and remained intrigued about its inner working and even its gossip.
June 1963: JFK delivering his famous speech in West Berlin.
Back in Washington, meanwhile, JFK had a full agenda of pressing issues, domestic and international, with both difficult and hopeful signs for the future. In June 1963, Alabama Gov. George Wallace refused to allow two black students to enter the University of Alabama forcing Kennedy to use the National Guard to ensure the students’ safety. On June 11, Kennedy gave a nationally-televised evening speech announcing a civil rights proposal, a speech that helped calm tensions while also putting front and center the “moral issue” then confronting the nation. “It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution,” he said. “The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities …[T]his Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free …” Also in June, some eight months after the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke at the American University commencement in Washington, D.C. urging a reexamination of Cold War stereotypes and calling for a strategy of peace. In the final months of his presidency, the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was negotiated and signed. June 1963 was also the month that President Kennedy arrived in the partitioned city of Berlin, Germany, delivering his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in West Berlin.
August 1963: Martin Luther King on the Mall in Washington, DC, “I have a dream.”
In popular culture that July, the Beatles’ had become a sensation in Britain, but not yet in the U.S. On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. A few weeks later, on September 12, 1963 in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Frank Sinatra sang “Ol’ Man River” at a benefit gathering for Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Frank Sinatra’s son, Frank, Jr., who was sitting in the balcony for that performance, later observed: “Here was the greatest black leader in history watching this white man sing a song about slavery, and there were tears on his cheeks.”
Elsewhere, however, Frank Sinatra had his problems. In Las Vegas, Nevada, the state’s Gaming Control Board recommended in September 1963, that Sinatra’s casino gambling license be revoked for allowing Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana to visit Sinatra’s part-owned Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe. The Gaming Control Board had a published “List of Excluded Persons” who were not allowed in casinos even as customers, and Giancana was on that list. Sinatra never understood the stigma of his friendship with Giancana and others like him, as he had been friends of theirs since the 1940s. Still, Sinatra had to give up his casino license and sell his interests in the Cal-Neva and the Sands. ( Later, however, Sinatra would have his Las Vegas bona fides restored in 1981 when he applied for license as an entertainment consultant at Caesars Palace, listing President Ronald Reagan as a character reference and having Gregory Peck testify on his behalf. The Gaming Commission voted their approval, 4-1 ).
Nov 22, 1963: JFK, Jackie, and Texas Governor John Connolly in Dallas moments before shots were fired.
Jack Kennedy, in November 1963, was scheduled to visit Texas to make a series of political speeches across the state. On November 21, 1963, Kennedy flew to Texas making three visits that day in San Antonio, Houston, and Forth Worth. The next day, as his car drove slowly past cheering crowds in Dallas, shots rang out. Kennedy was mortally wounded and died a short time later. Within hours of the shooting, police arrested 24 year-old Lee Harvey Oswald as the prime suspect. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson – with a shaken Jackie Kennedy beside him aboard Air Force One – was sworn in as President. The nation went into deep shock and weeks of mourning.
An Era’s End
New York Times front page, November 23, 1963.
In late November 1963, Frank Sinatra was filming a scene for Robin and the 7 Hoods in a Burbank, California cemetery when he learned that Kennedy had been assassinated. Stunned by the news, Sinatra reportedly became very quiet and took a series of long walks away from the set, thinking about the tragedy. He also called the White House from the set, and spoke briefly to a staffer there. He then returned to the waiting film crew and said, “Let’s shoot this thing, ’cause I don’t want to come back here anymore.” After the scene was finished Sinatra went to his home in Palm Springs and, according to his daughter, Nancy Sinatra, “virtually disappeared” for three days while the Kennedy family and nation mourned. Sinatra would later say of Kennedy: “For a brief moment, he was the brightest star in our lives. I loved him.”
Washington Post front page, Nov 23, 1963.
Kennedy’s assassination marked seminal changes for the nation’s character and its culture. America became a less innocent, more somber place. Numerous turning points, public and personal, followed. For the Rat Pack, Kennedy’s death also marked the end of an era. Rat Pack hijinks-type entertainment would gradually fade from the scene. By 1964, with the arrival of the Beatles, the music had changed as well. Yet Frank Sinatra, for one, would hold his own. In 1965, Sinatra turned 50, but he still had years of hit music ahead of him. In that year alone, he recorded the retrospective album, September of My Years and starred in the Emmy-winning television special Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music. In early 1966 he scored a recording hit with the blockbuster single, “Strangers in the Night,” a song that would later win three Grammy awards.
Frank Sinatra shown in a room at his home that includes framed photos and other memorabilia from his Kennedy-era years. Date unknown.
In July 1966 Sinatra married Mia Farrow, a short-lived relationship that ended in divorce less than two years later. Back in Las Vegas, meanwhile, things were also changing. In 1967, Howard Hughes became the owner of the Sands. Frank Sinatra’s politics would change, too, but not right away.
Sinatra Politics II
In the 1968 national elections, during the Democratic presidential primaries, a number of Hollywood celebrities became engaged in those contests, generally hoping to change national policy as the Vietnam War divided the country. Paul Newman and others were backing Democratic candidates such as Senator Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy, or Hubert Humphrey, then Vice President to incumbent Lyndon Johnson who had decided not to run for re-election in a shocking announcement. McCarthy appeared to have the early momentum, then Bobby Kennedy jumped in and was headed for victory before his tragic assassination in June 1968. However, Kennedy had done quite well with Hollywood supporters. But one entertainer noticeably absent from the Kennedy bandwagon was Frank Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra backed Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election.
Sinatra’s go-round with the Kennedys in 1960 had left its mark, plus the fact that as Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy had initiated actions against the Las Vegas gambling scene where Sinatra had friends and interests. In 1968, Sinatra supported Vice President Hubert Humphrey for the Democratic nomination. The old Rat Pack was split among the Democratic candidates: Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Shirley MacLaine had endorsed Robert Kennedy during the primaries; Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Joey Bishop backed Humphrey. Sinatra had met with Humphrey in Washington in early May 1968, pledging to make campaign appearances for him. In Oakland, California, on May 22nd, 1968, Sinatra headlined a gala supporting Humphrey and a delegate slate that opposed RFK in the California primary. At the Oakland fundraiser, Sinatra gave an extensive live performance. He also performed for Humphrey at an August 1968 gala at Cobo Hall in Detroit; appeared for Humphrey at the Houston, Texas Astrodome with President Lyndon Johnson; made a TV ad for Humphrey that fall; and re-stated his support for Humphrey on a live election-eve national telethon. However, the Humphrey-Muskie ticket that emerged in that politically volatile season of 1968 was not enough to beat Richard Nixon.
Jan. 1971: Frank Sinatra with California Governor Ronald Reagan, Vikki Carr, Nancy Reagan, Dean Martin, Jack Benny (obscured), John Wayne & Jimmy Stewart.
By 1970, however, Frank Sinatra began shifting his politics to the Republicans. The first signs came when he spoke out in support of former actor Ronald Reagan, then running for re-election as California’s governor. In fact, Sinatra urged his old Hollywood friend Reagan to move more to the center. Sinatra, however, remained a registered Democrat who broke with Reagan on issues like abortion. But in 1971, the Republicans nationally were being drawn to Sinatra’s potential star appeal. A memo then circulating among some of Richard Nixon’s presidential aides on Sinatra noted: “He has the muscle to bring along a lot of the younger lights.” Nixon aide Charles W. Colson wrote of Sinatra: “If we are going to cultivate him, as I believe we should (I also recognize the negatives) then he should very shortly be invited to the White House to entertain.”
Frank Sinatra’s April 1973 performance at the Nixon White House on Red Cab Records, 2010.
In July 1972, prior to that year’s presidential election, Frank Sinatra announced his support for Richard Nixon. “The older you get the more conservative you get,” he explained to his daughter Tina, who at the time was working for the Democratic candidate George McGovern. Sinatra’s old Rat Pack pal, Sammy Davis, Jr., also supported Nixon in 1972.
In April 1973, a time when Sinatra’s “comeback album” Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back had appeared, he was invited by President Richard Nixon to perform at the White House, the first president to do so. Following a state dinner for Italian Prime Minister Guiulio Andreotti, Sinatra performed a number of his songs for more than 200 guests in the East Room of the White House. During Nixon’s presidency, Sinatra visited the White House several times. He also supported Nixon’s moves to recognize the People’s Republic of China.
Frank Sinatra, left, campaignng with Ronald & Nancy Reagan, 1984.
By 1979, when Ronald Regan ran for president, Sinatra campaigned for him, saying at one point he worked harder for Regan than he had since 1960 when he backed Jack Kennedy. And as Sinatra had done for Kennedy 20 years earlier, in January 1981, he now also produced Reagan’s Inaugural Gala, lining up a slate of performers that included Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Charlton Heston. “I don’t view the inaugural as political,” he said when asked about producing Reagan’s show. “If Walter Mondale had won, and if he had asked me to do [his gala], I’d have been there.” Sinatra also campaigned for Regan in 1984. In fact, during October and early November of that election season, Sinatra went to Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Hartford, Westchester, New York, Washington, D.C., Sacramento, and San Diego doing Republican receptions and/or fundraisers on behalf of Reagan.
May 23, 1985, Sinatra received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan. Cabinet member Jeane Kirkpatrick is seen in the background.
Throughout Reagan’s presidency, Sinatra made frequent trips to the White House, as well as serving on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. In 1985, Reagan presented him with the Congressional Medal of Freedom at a White house ceremony. It was, according to friends and family, one of the proudest days of his life. Sinatra remained friends with both Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and later sang at the inaugural gala for George H.W. Bush as well. And although he identified more with Republican presidents in his later years, Sinatra met Bill Clinton at a small dinner party in Los Angeles after Clinton became president. At that meeting, Clinton later recalled, Sinatra spoke about his admiration for the Kennedys and his pride in having been a part of the Kennedy campaign and JFK’s White House years.
Flashback: Frank Sinatra, January 1961, at Carnegie Hall benefit concert for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with Sy Oliver (left) conducting. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis also participated.
On July 4, 1991, Sinatra, at the age of 75, wrote an opinion piece that ran in the Los Angeles Times and summed up one of his life’s major social concerns – race relations:
“[W]hy do I still hear race- and color-haters spewing their poisons?… Why do I still flinch at innuendoes of venom and inequality? Why do innocent children still grow up to be despised? Why do haters’ jokes still get big laughs when passed in whispers from scum to scum? …Why do so many among us continue in words and deeds to ignore, insult and challenge the unforgettable words of Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence’s promise to every man, woman and child — the self-evident truth that all men are created equal?”
Sinatra passed away in 1998, ten years before the election of Barak Obama. Yet, had he be around at the time, he might well have returned to the Democrats and supported Obama.
Rat Pack Postscript
1965: Rat Packers D. Martin, S. Davis & F. Sinatra with Johnny Carson subbing for J. Bishop in St. Louis.
The Rat Pack had their glory days mostly in the early- and mid-1960s. Thereafter, there were occasional reunions, benefit shows, some continued film making, and revival tours involving one or more of the group. Some of these gigs involved guest participants, as with Johnny Carson in 1965, shown at left. A few of their later reunion attempts even extended into the 1980s. As individual performers, however, the Rat Packers of the 1960s pretty much went their separate ways in later years. And for the most part, each fared moderately well, at least initially.
Feb 7, 1960: Peter Lawford & Sammy Davis, Jr. on stage at Four Chaplin’s Benefit, Las Vegas Convention Center. Photo, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Peter Lawford had appeared in the film the Longest Day in 1962 and two Rat Pack- related films with Sammy Davis –Salt and Pepper (1968)and One More Time (1970). He also had some continuing success on his own in film and on television series in the 1970s. But things began unraveling for him after his divorce from Patricia Kennedy in February 1966. They had four children together.
Lawford, who liked the ladies and partying, married three more times after Pat Kennedy, each time to a woman half his age. Lawford died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 1984 of cardiac arrest complicated by kidney and liver failure after years of drug and alcohol abuse.
Best of Sammy Davis collection on 20th Century Masters CD, 2002.
Sammy Davis had continued success in Las Vegas through the 1960s, as well as in film and on stage. During his career, Davis appeared in 39 movies, four Broadway plays, and released some 47 albums and 38 singles. His 1962 song, “What Kind of Fool Am I,” was Grammy-nominated for both song of the year and best male solo performance. In the Broadway musical Golden Boy of 1964 he received a Tony nomination for best actor. He would also host his own TV show on NBC in 1966 and had top music hits, such as “I’ve Gotta Be Me” in 1968-69 and “Candy Man” in 1972. Davis also had film and TV roles through the 1970s and 1980s. After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally. Davis, who suffered from throat cancer, succumbed to the disease in May 1990. He was 64 years old. At his death, Davis was in debt to the IRS and his estate was the subject of legal battles. On May 18, 1990, two days after Davis’ death, the neon lights of the Las Vegas strip were darkened in tribute to him.
DVD cover for collection of Dean Martin’s TV shows, 1965-1974.
Apart from the performing and films he did with Sinatra and other Rat Packers, Dean Martin had his own successful film, singing, and TV career. His 1964 song “Everybody Loves Somebody” was a million-selling top hit. In fact, between 1964 and 1969 Martin released 11 albums that were certified “gold,” which at the time meant sales of more than 500,000 each. All eleven of Martin’s albums were recorded for Reprise, a label founded by Sinatra in which Martin was an investor. Martin also had a sizeable holding of RCA stock. Martin released his final Reprise album, Once In A While, in 1978. Thereafter recording became less prominent in his career. In television, The Dean Martin Show, a variety-comedy series in which he starred, ran from 1965 to 1974 for 264 episodes, often in the top ten. Following that series, The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, which he hosted for NBC, and during which Martin and friends would “roast” a celebrity, ran from 1974 to 1984. A late 1980s tour with Sinatra and Sammy Davis was attempted, but did not go well. Martin gave some of his last solo performances in Las Vegas at Bally’s Hotel in 1990. A life-long smoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in September 1993. Dean Martin died at home on December 25, 1995. He was 78 year old.
Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin during a Rat Pack stage act in the 1960s.
In the 1950s, Frank Sinatra asked comic Joey Bishop to become his opening act. Soon thereafter, he was opening regularly for Sinatra and also began finding work in first-rate clubs even when Sinatra was not on the bill. After becoming a member of the Rat Pack, he also became a Sinatra loyalist. In mid-1960, Bishop received an invitation from then vice president Richard Nixon to perform at the Republican Convention, which he turned down. Bishop would later acknowledge Sinatra’s help in his his career, including roles in Rat Pack movies. Bishop appeared in 14 films, including Ocean’s Eleven and Sergeants 3, and served as master of ceremonies at JFK’s inaugural gala. However, Bishop felt he was more mascot than full-fledged Rat Pack member, revealed in a 2002 biography by Michael Seth Starr titled, Mouse in the Rat Pack. Still, Sinatra regarded Bishop as central to the Rat Pack’s success, crediting him with writing most Rat Pack jokes and quips, material assumed to be ad-libbed, but much of which was actually scripted. Bishop also went on to star in two of his own TV shows, a sit com on NBC (1961-65) and a late night talk show ABC (1967-1969), both called The Joey Bishop Show. Regis Philbin got his start as Bishop’s sidekick on the later talk show. Joey Bishop died of heart failure in October 2007. He was 89 and at the time, the last surviving member of the 1960s Rat Pack.
Frank Sinatra on the cover of Newsweek, September 6, 1965.
For nearly three decades beyond his Rat Pack years, Frank Sinatra had a full recording, acting, and performing career. His recordings alone — with some 296 singles and 69 albums – span almost 60 years. He began his professional singing career in the 1940s with the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey orchestras. Singers in the 1940s began to manipulate the microphone for detail and nuance, and Sinatra learned to do it better than most. And throughout his career, Sinatra would become a master of rhythm, timing, and phrasing and also re-interpreting older standards. By the mid-1940’s he had become a successful solo artist and had made his film acting debut. He would win a Golden Globe and Academy Award for his 1953 performance in From Here to Eternity, and would later win other Academy and Grammy Awards for his music.
Frank Sinatra on 2008 U.S. postage stamp.
In television, from the 1950s through the 1970s, he hosted both his own variety shows and various TV specials, winning an Emmy for the November 1965 special, Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music. In addition to other songs, Sinatra’s “My Way” of 1969 – a song written by Paul Anka with Sinatra in mind – became a blockbuster hit on the U.S. and U.K. music charts, especially in the U.K, where it stayed inside the Top 40 for 75 weeks, from April 1969 to September 1971.
Sinatra flirted with retirement briefly in the early 1970s, but by 1973 had a gold-selling album and a television special. He also returned to live performing Las Vegas and elsewhere. Still recording in his later years, in 1993 he recorded Duets, an album of old standards he made with other prominent artists which became a best seller. Sinatra died May 14,1998, he was 82 years old. Included among the many honors he received over the years were: Kennedy Center Honors in 1983, the earlier-mentioned Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985, and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1997. Sinatra was also the recipient of eleven Grammy Awards during his career, including the Grammy Trustees Award, the Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The U.S. Postal Service issued a 42-cent stamp in his honor in May 2008.
Murray Schumach, “Hollywood Pauses in Mourning; Industry Deeply Feels Loss of Its Friend, President Kennedy; Sincere Affection Testimonial,” New York Times, December 1, 1963.
Sammy Davis, Jr., and Jane & Burt Boyar, Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr., New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965.
Laura Deni, “Retirement Isn’t The Life For Francis Albert,” Billboard, Nov. 24, 1973, p. FS-3.
Benjamin C. Bradlee, Conversations With Kennedy, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1975.
John Rockwell, Sinatra: An American Classic, New York: Random House, 1984.
Anthony Summers, “JFK, RFK, And Marilyn Monroe: Power, Politics And Paramours?,” The Sun-Sentinel(Fort Lauderdale, Florida), October 27, 1985.
Kitty Kelley, His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, New York: Bantam, 1986.
Anthony Summers, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, New York: Onyx, 1986.
Patricia Seaton Lawford with Ted Schwarz, The Peter Lawford Story, New York: Carol & Graf, 1988.
Sammy Davis, Jr., and Jane & Burt Boyar, Why Me? The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr., New York: Warner, 1990.
James Spada, Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept The Secrets, New York: Bantam, 1991.
Nick Tosches, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, New York: Doubleday, 1992.
WGBH, Boston, “The Kennedys: John F. Kennedy, 35th President,” PBS.org, 1992/1998.
Stephen Holden, “Dean Martin, Pop Crooner And Comic Actor, Dies at 78,” New York Times, December 26, 1995.
Nancy Sinatra, Frank Sinatra: An American Legend, Santa Monica: General Publishing Group, 1995.
Guy Rocha, former Nevada State Archivist, “Myth #21 – Marilyn Monroe: Mystery and Myth,” Nevada State Library & Archives (originally appeared in Sierra Sage, Carson City/ Carson Valley, Nevada, September 1997; repeated May 2006 ).
Thomas Powers, “The Sins of a President” (Review of The Dark Side of Camelot, By Seymour M. Hersh), New York Times, November 30, 1997.
Bernard Weinraub, “Requiem for Rats: Ring-a-Ding-Ding, Baby,” New York Times, April 13, 1998.
Stephen Holden, “Frank Sinatra Dies at 82; Matchless Stylist of Pop,” New York Times, May 16, 1998.
Shawn Levy, Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey, and the Last Great Showbiz Party, New York: Broadway Books/Random House, 1998.
Karlyn Barker, “Masterful Singer, Chorus of Praise,” Washington Post, Saturday May 16, 1998, p. A-1.
Richard Harrington, “Frank Sinatra, on the Record,” Washington Post, Sunday, May 17, 1998, p. G-1.
David Montgomery and Jeff Leen, “The Sinatra Files: Forty Years of the FBI’s Frank Talk,” Washington Post, Dec. 9, 1998, p. A-1.
A&E, Documentary Film Series, Vol. 4, “Camelot and Beyond,” The Rat Pack: True Stories of the Original Kings of Cool, 1999.
2003 edition of JFK book, published by Harper-Collins.
Profiles in Courage is the name of a Pulitzer Prize- winning book by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy written in 1954 and 1955 while he was a U.S. Senator. The book chronicles acts of bravery and integrity in the careers of eight U.S. Senators in American history. Profiles in Courage became a best-seller and was ground-breaking in its day, becoming one of the first books used to advance a political career aimed at the White House. Yet apart from its politics, Profiles in Courage remains popular, not only for its attachment to the Kennedy legacy, but also as an important book on political courage and U.S. Senate history. Sometimes forgotten is the fact that Kennedy’s book also spawned a Peabody Award-winning television series in 1964. Profiles in Courage also had numerous print runs including a 50th anniversary edition in 2004, inspired several new books and ongoing research on the history of political courage, and also led to the creation of the “Profiles in Courage” award, given annually since 1990.
“Jack” Kennedy was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1946 as a Congressman from Massachusetts. He was 29 years old at the time. In 1952, he ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat. However, as a freshman Senator in 1954 and 1955, Kennedy took leave from the Senate to recover from surgery to treat a perennial back problem. It was during this period that he undertook Profiles in Courage. In the book, the senators that Kennedy profiled were mavericks of a kind who took courageous stands or stood apart from the safe and conventional norms of their day. They crossed party lines, defied their constituents, or ran counter to public opinion to do what they felt was right. Among Kennedy’s featured senators were: John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris, and Robert A. Taft. Each of these, and others Kennedy mentions in his book, suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of the particular stance or action each took, which was the point of Kennedy’s “courage” argument.
Early paperback edition of JFK book.
Becoming A Best-Seller
By the late fall of 1955, advance notice of the book’s publication began appearing in some national newspapers. Kennedy himself also penned a long piece in the New York Times Magazine in December 1955 that previewed the book’s themes. On Sunday, January 1st, 1956, the book was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review along with a large photo of Kennedy. Cabell Philips, the reviewer, noting that politicians themselves often criticized their own profession, wrote: “it is refreshing and enlightening to have a first rate politician write a thoughtful and persuasive book about political integrity.” Profiles in Courage generally received good reviews and was widely acclaimed. It became a best seller and remained on the best-sellers’ list for some 95 weeks. The book gave Kennedy a certain political gravitas and national recognition he did not have before, lifting him from the ranks of unknown senators. And the book’s arrival was well-timed too, as 1956 was a presidential election year; a time when national political campaigns were in full swing.
The book gave Kennedy a certain political gravitas and national recognition he did not have before, lifting him from the ranks of unknown senators.
Although Kennedy was not a presidential candidate in 1956, he took center stage for a time at the Democratic National Convention that August in Chicago. Political conventions then were just beginning to receive more coverage by television. NBC, for example, pre-empted its day time soap operas and assigned two of its reporters, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, to co-anchor the convention coverage. Kennedy, meanwhile, gave the nomination speech for Adlai Stevenson, who became the party’s presidential nominee. Stevenson liked Kennedy and thought about making the young senator his running mate, but decided instead to throw open the nomination for Vice President to the entire convention. Several candidates were then vying for the VP slot: Senator Hubert Humphrey, Senator Al Gore, Sr., Senator Estes Kefauver, and Kennedy. All mounted instant campaigns on the floor of the convention. Some of Kennedy’s campaign paraphernalia tagged him as “a profile in courage.”
JFK VP campaign button at the 1956 Democratic Convention tagging him a 'Profile in Courage'.
The scramble for convention votes among the candidates proved dramatic with television capturing a series of roll-call ballots. Three separate ballots were needed. On the second ballot, Kennedy led 618 to 551½. At one point, the Chicago Daily News reported that Kennedy and Kefauver were tied, each falling short of the number to nominate. Kennedy then came to the floor and asked for Kefauver to be put on the ticket by acclamation. Stevenson, watching on TV at his hotel, was reportedly disappointed in the outcome. In the general election that followed that fall, the Stevenson-Kefauver ticket was crushed by the re-election of President Dwight Eisenhower and his running mate, Richard Nixon. For Kennedy, however, the national exposure he had received at the convention provided a springboard for 1960. Kennedy biographer James MacGregor Burns would write of the Kennedy’s vice presidential bid at the convention: “The dramatic race had glued millions to their television sets. Kennedy’s near-victory and sudden loss . . . struck at people’s hearts in living rooms across the nation. In this moment of triumphant defeat, his campaign for the  presidency was born.” One of those who watched on TV was a young Bill Clinton in Arkansas, who years later recalled: “The Kennedy-Kefauver thing, oh, yeah. I remember that,” he said, “– and Kennedy’s gracious concession speech.”
Kennedy featured on Time cover, Dec 2, 1957, with cover story, 'Democrat's Man Out Front'.
In 1957, following the election, Kennedy began his unofficial campaign for the White House as he continued his duties in the U.S. Senate. Among fellow Democrats in the Senate who were also presidential contenders at the time were Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. Profiles in Courage, meanwhile, returned to the news in May 1957 as the book picked up a Pulitzer prize. The award came as something of surprise, however, as the Pulitzer board rejected the jury nominations and gave the prize instead to Kennedy’s book. In fact, a few critics charged that Kennedy’s father had been involved behind the scenes on his son’s behalf. New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, a friend of Joe Kennedy’s, boasted that he had lobbied hard for the Kennedy book. But no evidence of impropriety was found Through 1957, Kennedy continued to travel the country, with numerous speaking engagements. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s December 2nd, 1957 issue, with the feature story, “Democrat’s Man Out Front.” About that same time, however, some charges surfaced that Profiles in Courage had been written by others working with Kennedy. On December 7, 1957, syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, interviewed on TV by Mike Wallace, said the book was ghostwritten for Kennedy, suggesting that Kennedy’s aide, Ted Sorensen, had written much of the book. Kennedy did not take kindly to the charge and hired lawyer Clark Clifford, who produced Kennedy’s handwritten notes and statements from people saying they had seen Kennedy working on the book. Sorenson also denied the allegation and signed an affidavit attesting to Kennedy’s authorship.
John Kennedy, before he entered politics, had aspired briefly to a career in journalism and had written on history and public policy. As a student at Harvard in the 1930s, Kennedy had studied international relations and history. In his senior year, he wrote a college thesis that examined the failures of the British government to take steps to prevent World War II, entitled “Appeasement in Munich.” Kennedy’s paper did not castigate Britain’s appeasement policy, and suggested that an earlier confrontation between the U.K. and Nazi Germany might have been more disastrous in the long run. That paper was written in the spring of 1940.
Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., looking out for his son’s political future, was able to get that senior thesis paper released from Harvard and had it published as a book. Joseph Kennedy, as ambassador to Britain, had supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement during the late 1930s, which many believe cost the senior Kennedy his own political career. At any rate, John Kennedy graduated from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in June 1940. A month later, his thesis was published by Willard Funk, Inc., in New York in July 1940 as Why England Slept – a play on Winston Churchill’s 1938 title, While England Slept, which also examined the buildup of German power.
Although there has been a long running dispute over how much of Profiles in Courage Jack Kennedy actually wrote, it does appear that he formulated the idea, wrote a number of memos on the project, did oversee the book’s structure and production, and did write and/or dictate much of it. Wife Jacqueline also appears to have contributed to the concept for the book, and helped engage the research and writing assistance of a history professor at Georgetown University named Jules Davids, whom she had met taking his history course. Library of Congress researchers also assisted Kennedy, as they would any Senator requesting background research from the Library. But because of his back problem – according to one of Kennedy’s secretaries at the time, Gloria Sitrin – Kennedy could not sit for long periods of time writing or typing, and instead, dictated much of the material. Still, Ted Sorensen, Kennedy’s assistant, is believed by many to have written at least some of the book, while others say he only provided research and constructive editing. In any case, in the final book, Kennedy acknowledged all of these participants and contributors.
About a week after the allegation had been aired by Pearson, ABC executive Oliver Treyz read a retraction of the charge on the air of Wallace’s December 14th TV show. The statement was reprinted in the New York Times, Sunday December 15th, as follows: “I wish to state that this company [ABC] has inquired into the charge made by Mr. Pearson and has satisfied itself that such charge is unfounded and that the book in question was written by Senator Kennedy.” Kennedy had also acknowledged Sorensen’s involvement in the book, crediting him in the preface and also acknowledging other contributions. Kennedy and Sorensen insisted that Kennedy was the book’s author and the initial controversy died down, although it would emerge again years later. Kennedy, meanwhile, was re-elected to a second term in the U. S. Senate in 1958 by a wide margin, and continued to draw national attention through the Democratic front runner for the White House. In January 1960, he formally declared his bid for the Presidency. During the campaign, and after Kennedy won the election, there was continuing interest in Profiles in Courage. By the time of Kennedy’s Presidential inauguration in January 1961, the book was being prepared for sale as a Pocket Books paperback. A young reader’s edition was also produced in March 1961. By then, Profiles in Courage had sold 2 million copies since its original 1956 publication.
In June 1963, midway into Kennedy’s presidential term, the television rights for Profiles in Courage were sold for an estimated $3.5 million (1963 dollars). The NBC television network planned to film and air a series of 26 hour-long TV programs based on the book. Several months later, however, national tragedy came with the president’s assassination in Texas in late November 1963. After Kennedy’s assassination, Harper & Row was besieged for copies of Profiles in Courage, with orders in excess of 10,000 copies by late November. A Perennial Library Memorial Edition of Profiles in Courage was prepared by Harper for 1964, which included a moving introduction by Kennedy’s brother and then U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy.
Front-page New York Times story on the sale of JKF book for TV series, June 10, 1963.
The following year, in mid-November, the planned NBC television series, ”Profiles in Courage,” began airing on Sunday evenings. However, with 26 episodes, additional characters beyond those in Kennedy’s book were needed for the series. All of the additional characters subsequenlty profiled in the TV series had been previously approved by JFK. The producer of the TV show, Robert Saudek, was known for his serious television productions, and had also produced the much-praised OmnibusTV series as well as concerts by the New York Philharmonic. Saudek had a clear grasp of Kennedy’s message for the Profiles TV series. One of the additional historic politicians, for example, was that of Oscar Underwood, an Alabama Senator who in 1924 was in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Underwood, however, chose to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, losing southern support, thereby ruining his chances of winning the nomination and later losing his Senate seat and his political career.
Profiles in Courage-TV Episode List, 1964-1965
Episode Oscar W. Underwood
Mary S. McDowell
Thomas Hart Benton
Richard T. Ely
Gov. John M. Slaton
Robert A. Taft
Gen. A. Doniphan
John Peter Altgeld
Charles Evans Hughes
Edmund G. Ross
George W. Norris
John Quincy Adams
Judge Ben B. Lindsey
____________________ Aired on NBC, Sundays, 6:30-7:30pm.
Time magazine called the Profiles in Courage TV series “a bracing antidote to the plethora of two- dimensional tele- dramas in which tinsel laurels automatically crown the good guy.” The TV series ended in mid-1965, but received a Peabody Award for “distinguished and meritorious public service rendered by radio and television.” The book, meanwhile, remained in print and continued to be used in schools and beyond.
Award & New Books
The Profiles in Courage legacy, however, continued through the remainder of the 20th century and into the 21st Century. In 1989, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation established an award for political courage called “The Profile in Courage Award.” The annual award is made to recognize displays of political and moral courage similar to those that Kennedy originally wrote about in his book. It is given to individuals, and often elected officials, who have risked their careers or lives by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state, or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or pressure from constituents or other interests. Winners are selected by a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which typically includes members of the Kennedy family as well as other prominent Americans. The award is generally made around the time of JFK’s birthday, May 29th. From the early 1990s, the award has been presented at the Kennedy Library in Boston by Kennedy family members, including JFK daughter Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the late John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Senator Ted Kennedy. In addition to honoring those with political courage, the award had also helped kindle continuing interest in the original book.
Former President Gerald Ford receiving 2001 Profile in Courage award from Caroline Kennedy & Senator Ted Kennedy.
In 2002, Caroline Kennedy gave the “profiles of courage” concept a new focus, teaming up with publisher Hyperion and serving as editor for a new book, Profiles in Courage for Our Time, offering a collection of essays profiling recent winners of the Profile in Courage award. In this book, award winners are profiled by a variety of writers, historians. and journalists, some of well-known stature such as Michael Beschloss, E. J. Dionne, Anna Quindlen, and Bob Woodward. Famous award winners, as well as lesser known recipients, are profiled in the book. Among some of the well-know recipients profiled, for example are: New Jersey Governor James Florio, former U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker, and former president Gerald Ford. Among the less well-known are activists and community heroes such as Corkin Cherubini, Nickolas C. Murnion, and Hilda Solis.
2005 book of essays on Profile of Courage award winners by Caroline Kennedy (ed).
In April 2006, a special 50th anniversary edition of Profiles in Courage was published by Harper. This special “P.S.”edition, as the publisher called it, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication and also included a number of extras, such as vintage photographs, an extensive JFK biography, Kennedy’s correspondence about the project, reviews of the book, a letter from Ernest Hemingway, and two speeches from recipients of the Profiles in Courage Award. Elsewhere in the Kennedy family, the “heroes theme” was also being explored by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who with publisher Hyperion in September 2007, launched the first of “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s American Heroes Series” of children’s books, Joshua Chamberlain and the American Civil War. A second book in the series, focusing on another Civil War hero, Robert Smalls, a slave who hijacked a Confederate steamer and turned it over to the Union Navy, and later became a U.S. Congressman, will be published by Hyperion in 2008.
50th anniversary trade paperback edition of JFK book issued by Harper-Perennial in 2007.
JFK’s Profiles in Courage, meanwhile, compiled quite a track record over more than 50 years. The book has had at least 65 printings, sold more than 3 million copies, and hit the bestsellers list three times: in the late 1950s when JFK was an up-and-coming Senator; after he was elected President in 1960-61; and following his assassination in 1963-64. The book also spawned a successful television series in 1964-65, inspired the annual Profiles in Courage Awards, and sparked new research and subsequent books on political integrity and the history of heroism. Whatever criticism may still linger about the JFK’s Profiles in Courage, there is no doubt that this book instigated an important concept and way of evaluating political courage, fostered a respectable progeny of good and useful history, and helped bring into the spotlight contemporary careers of exemplary public service and good works.
For additional stories at this website on Politics & Culture, or Celebrities & Icons, please visit those category pages, or go to the Home Page for other choices. Additional stories at this website related to JFK and other Kennedy family members are listed below in Sources. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “JFK’s Profiles in Courage, 1954-2008,” PopHistoryDig.com, February 11, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Time magazine cover, November 24th, 1958, featuring seven “Democratic Hopefuls” then believed to be in the early running for their party’s 1960 presidential nomination: at top, Adlai Stevenson, former Illinois Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate (1952 and 1956); standing from left, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (MN), Senator Stuart Symington (MO), Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (TX); and seated, from left, New Jersey Governor, Robert Meyner, Senator John F. Kennedy (MA), and then California Governor-elect, Edmund "Pat" Brown.