The love between ‘Frankie’ and ‘Norma Jeane’ that was kept secret
The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes trailer
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Her neckline plunging, bare shoulders moving to the music, Marilyn Monroe sat front and centre in the star-studded audience alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Dean Martin, as Frank Sinatra opened his residency at the Sands resort and casino in Las Vegas. It was 1961, and a long-running clandestine love affair between “Ol’ Blue Eyes” and Monroe was poised to culminate in a trip down the aisle that would shock an unsuspecting Hollywood.
But that night, Monroe had broken one of Sinatra’s cardinal rules, making him think twice about tying the knot.
“Marilyn was very drunk in public, her breasts falling out of her dress, swaying in her seat, and there was nothing Frank hated more than a woman drunk in public,” says Ed Epstein, author of the new book, Frank & Marilyn. The exposé reveals the desire and dysfunction behind their secret seven-year on-off affair.
“She was taking barbiturates washed down with Dom Perignon champagne, having a tough time psychologically,” says Epstein.
“Frank was furious. He thought women should be ladylike. But he was really troubled by her psychological weaknesses,
loneliness and insecurities that she drowned in alcohol and pills.”
Their marriage plans fell apart, but Monroe and Sinatra remained lovers – “friends with benefits,” as Epstein puts it – until her death from a drug overdose in 1962, aged 36.
Even then, their affair was known only to their closest Hollywood confidantes.
“They found excitement in the cloak-and-dagger secrecy of their romance,” reveals Epstein. They planned to marry, but walked a perilous tightrope, balancing between her affairs with President Kennedy, his brother Robert, and her possessive ex-husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio.
“Frank and Marilyn wouldn’t dare go public, not even holding hands on a red carpet, because both knew how jealous Joe DiMaggio could be. Frank was frightened of DiMaggio, who was a head taller, and a volatile Italian with Mafia connections.
“When planning their wedding, Frank thought that they should tie the knot in Europe, far from DiMaggio.”
Monroe and Sinatra had begun as friends and became lovers, calling each other “Frankie” and “Norma Jeane”. “They found they shared a lot in common,” says Epstein.
“They understood each other, knowing what it was like to live under constant pressure, public scrutiny and nasty headlines. Both were vulnerable, tormented by insecurities, lonely and isolated by their fame.
“Frank liked to save ladies in distress, and Marilyn turned to him in times of trouble. When together they could take their masks off. He could even relax around her without his toupée. In his own way, Frank was as emotionally fragile as she was. They were, in many ways, each other’s analysts.”
But Monroe came with a truckload of psychological baggage: abandonment by her unknown father, the schizophrenic mother she hid for years in a mental institution, and her divorce from DiMaggio, who continued to watch over her every move like a demented stalker.
Putting their wedding plans on hold, both Sinatra and Monroe realised they wanted to pursue other relationships, while remaining lovers, says Epstein. “They enjoyed sex without any reservations; they were sexual animals.” Marilyn was at the apex of a love pentangle with Sinatra, both Kennedy brothers and DiMaggio. “Marilyn had passion for all four men,” says the author.
“Though DiMaggio was too controlling after they divorced in 1954 they remained close, and Joe was fiercely protective of Marilyn. Meanwhile, Marilyn genuinely thought she would marry JFK. It was a mess.”
Monroe and Sinatra met in 1953 when both were riding a career-high, says Epstein: “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes made Marilyn a bona fide star, and Sinatra, after hitting rock bottom with his music career seemingly over, won an Oscar for From Here To Eternity and was back on top.”
Friends tried to warn Monroe.
“I told her to stay away from him,” said actress Shelley Winters. “Talk about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He can scare the hell out of you.” Bandleader Tommy Dorsey also cautioned Monroe: “Frank is the most fascinating man in the world, but don’t stick your hand in the cage.” She didn’t listen.
Their romance might have gone public if joint plans for a movie and concert tour had not faltered. Monroe and Sinatra were set to star on-screen in musical comedy The Girl In Pink Tights, but Monroe dropped out when she learnt she would be paid less than a third of Sinatra’s salary. Plans fell through to co-star in the movie Guys And Dolls, and a remake of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.
Sinatra invited Monroe to join him on a world concert tour, but she declined, fearful of DiMaggio’s jealousy. Yet Sinatra took her sailing on a private yacht, bought her diamond and emerald earrings, a fur coat, and gave her a white poodle she named Maf, after his Mafia connections.
Monroe also loved Sinatra’s singing. “She’d play Frank’s music all the time at home,” says Epstein. “Marilyn told a friend that Frank was a skilful, unselfish lover, but confessed: ‘He’s no Joe.’” Monroe finally succumbed to DiMaggio’s obsession and wed America’s greatest living sporting hero in 1954. They lasted only 274 turbulent days before she filed for divorce and slipped into Sinatra’s arms.
Yet throughout their relationship, Sinatra and Monroe indulged other lovers: she bedded Marlon Brando, and married playwright Arthur Miller; Sinatra romanced Gloria Vanderbilt and was briefly engaged to Humphrey Bogart’s widow Lauren Bacall.
And Monroe remained close to her ex-husband DiMaggio.
John and Robert Kennedy dangerously added their libidos to the mix. “It was Frank who introduced Marilyn into the Kennedys’ circle, not anticipating them becoming her lovers,” says Epstein. “Marilyn honestly thought she would marry JFK and he’d divorce his wife Jackie. But when the Kennedys dumped Marilyn and stopped taking her calls, she threatened to go public about their affairs.”
Her fling with Robert Kennedy had sent Monroe into a downward spiral, teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sinatra invited her to join him to recuperate at his Cal-Neva resort hotel on the California-Nevada border, but even then an insecure Monroe begged DiMaggio to stay in a nearby hotel in case she needed him. “Marilyn was caught between a rock and a hard place,” says Epstein. “She knew Frank believed in medical science and following doctor’s orders, and was terrified that he would send her to a mental hospital for treatment.
“Joe had pulled her out of a mental institution before, but was possessive and domineering, and wanted Marilyn to stay at home and give up her career. She didn’t like either solution.”
At Cal-Neva, Monroe overdosed on barbiturates, and Sinatra walked her around the room battling to keep her awake.
“She wants to kill herself,” he told friends. “I’ve been there.”
Says Epstein: “Marilyn fell apart at the very end. She didn’t have the strength to, in Frank’s words, pick herself up and get back in the race.”
Shortly after returning to Los Angeles, Monroe was found dead at the home of a drug overdose. Before going to bed for the last time, she had played Sinatra records.
“Frank told friends he believed Marilyn had been murdered to stop her talking about her affairs with the Kennedys,” says Epstein. “He believed the Kennedys had a hand in her death. She had gotten in too deep and had become a danger to them.
“Frank never got over her death. He wished he could have saved her.”
- Frank & Marilyn by Edward Z Epstein is published by Post Hill Press on February 16 priced £22
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