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Lonesome on Top Of The World

He had the world by a string. But tonight, he was too tired to care. He had neither the will nor the heart.

The papers were reporting that Ava Gardner was going through with the divorce—but carrying a tall torch. If so, wherever she was, it must have been taller than ever tonight.

When Frank Sinatra had said, “I have a career too,” intimating that the*basic problem between them lay in adjusting to two careers, his was an understatement. Tonight that career was really closing in. Motion pictures. Television. Radio. Records. Night clubs. Pick his own spotlight. Write his own ticket. This should have been making him feel great, for just a year ago the wiseacres were writing his ticket for him—only one way.



But tonight, it all seemed an empty victory. He seemed too drained, physically and emotionally, for any of it to matter.

We asked how he’d been. But he didn’t have to answer. Everything about him—his tone, his look—showed how he felt. “Oh . . . busy,” he said. “Having a few laughs and . . .” he stopped short, breaking it off. “Laughs!” he said, in a voice indicating he’d had anything but—

He was rehearsing in Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre, for NBC’s “Comedy Hour” show, and he didn’t have a laugh in him. Nor a song. He seemed far away. Far from the frenzied bustle of a television rehearsal. Far from the shouts, the careening cameras, the chorines, the puppets, the trained seal. Too far, almost, to get through to him. . . .

“I’m tired,” he said. “Beat—real beat—” He’d just returned from three weeks at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He was preparing for his next picture, “Pink Tights,” at Twentieth. “I’m doing three radio shows a week for NBC. I’ve been recording for the last two nights until 2:00 a.m., cutting an album for Capitol. Then down here all day,” he said wearily.

He came alive for the camera. “Sing it, Man,” he said. He made like a comedian—and he was good. He danced. But out of j the camera range, the smile stopped.

If Jimmy Durante hadn’t been an old and dear friend, Frank Sinatra, you knew, wouldn’t have been here. Not tonight. Nor would he have been singing into a dark vacuum— “You vowed your love, from here to Eternity . . .”

This was not the way either Frank Sinatra or Ava Gardner had planned to spend their second wedding anniversary.

Two years ago this night, in a Colonial house on a quiet side street in Philadelphia, they were married. “Well,” Frank said happily then, “we finally made it.” And they thought they had.

A year ago tonight, they’d landed in Nairobi, Africa, just in time to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Frank had accompanied Ava on location for “Mogambo,” wanting to spend as much time as he could with her before filling a nightclub engagement in Montreal. They’d planed into Nairobi just in time to toast their anniversary. And Ava had arranged a surprise party in advance. She gave Frank a platinum cigarette lighter. He gave her a dome-shaped diamond ring. And in this strange land, thousands of miles away from the home they meant to have some day, a radiant Ava, in a white strapless evening gown, asked the orchestra to play “The Anniversary Waltz.”

“I’m going back to New York,” Frank was saying now in the broadcasting studio. “I’m going to leave right after the show.” For how long? “Oh—for awhile,” he said tiredly. “I just want to get away.”

And Ava, at that time, was telling friends she had no immediate plans for a divorce. In fact she had no plans, period. She thought maybe she would take a motor trip. Drive to San Francisco. Just to get away. Then go aboard—probably to Rome—to make another picture.

Again, they were going in opposite directions. But this time by their own will. As though lengthening the distance between them would help them get away from their own memories.

To two such warm, magnetic people who’ve lived and loved so vividly, the statement which had officially dissolved them a few days before their second wedding anniversary must have read like a cold script. Real cold. Ava and Frank had “exhausted every effort to reconcile their differences,” it said. They could “find no mutual basis on which to continue their marriage.” They both “expressed regret, respect, etc., etc., etc.—”

Pressed for reasons, Ava said to a friend wearily, “It’s just too long and complicated to tell.” A solemn Frank said, “I guess it’s so, if that’s what she says. It’s very sad. Very tragic.”

Frank has often admitted, “I’ve got a fine old Italian temper.” And Ava has said, “When I lose my temper, you can’t find it any place.” According to rumor, Ava called Frank in Las Vegas and said, “This is it. I’m going through with it.” And Frank, wondering angrily why she went ahead and talked to an attorney when she had insisted, “I’m not going to do anything until I have my talk with Frankie,” sailed right through Hollywood for Palm Springs.

To those who view the whole adventure of living less spiritedly than Frank and Ava do, their problems have been fairly difficult to follow. As Ava once put it, “Frankie and I are both high-strung people. We explode fast, maybe faster than most married couples. But they all have hassles.” One big difference is that every hassle the Sinatras ever had has made headlines.

Hollywood would have to dig really deep to dream up a story with all the conflicts and triumphs of this couple, who together thought they’d “finally made it,” and who, in their own way, feverishly tried. And Hollywood couldn’t possibly have cast it better:

Ava, the beauty from Smithfield, North Carolina, one of five children whose widowed mother ran a boarding house, and who rose from obscurity and poverty to a $3,000 a week salary in Hollywood.

Frank, the Hoboken kid who was first a twenty-five-dollar-a-week crooner in a small Jersey roadhouse, then a band singer, and finally, explosively, the musical phenomenon of the century. Who arrived in Hollywood ten years ago, a thin young fellow with tousled, dark curly hair, hollowed cheeks, startling blue eyes and a warm animated smile. Who wore a tan gabardine suit and a red, polka dot tie, and stood in the doorway of the train in Pasadena looking out at a solid sweater front of 2,000 frenzied females, and who whispered a surprised “Gosh!” as fifteen policemen shepherded him to safety.

That night, tired but happy, Frankie said, “Well, boys—I finally made it.”

And he and Ava happily repeated that same phrase on their wedding day.

They finally made it—the story of their lives—almost. Today, with Ava’s acclaimed performance in “Mogambo,” and Frank touted as a possible Academy Award winner for his straight dramatic role in “From Here to Eternity,” they’re both at the peak of their careers.

Not that Frank himself expects an award for “Eternity.” As he was saying now, “Oh, no, I’m not looking for any Oscar,” shaking his head. Sure it would be great if it happened. But he certainly didn’t think one would be forthcoming.

“Actually,” he said, “I haven’t looked at it close enough to really take it apart. I saw it in a New York movie theatre with Monty Clift, but I was so busy watching so many different things.”

Frank had had one frustrated glimpse of “Eternity” before that. He tried to see it with Ava in a small projection room in London. “But the sound track was all off. You couldn’t tell anything about it.”

Ava, however, told everybody about it. On the set of “Knights of the Round Table” the next day, she raved about Frank’s performance.

Friends of both believe they’re still in love with each other. And that Frank’s entry into a New York hospital for “observation” shortly after their parting was definitely brought on by his grief. Many feel that they might actually even go back together. But that they’re just not temperamentally suited to be married. The blame is laid on jealousy and constant clashing temperaments. Too many arguments “over little things.” As Ava told a friend, “We have some little argument that doesn’t matter, but it keeps on building—and then WHAM—it does!”

Friends also point out that their difficulties have been magnified by the printed word, the mis-printed, and by the fact that they’ve had to do so much living via international telephone lines. And all the conflicting accounts of the “why” behind their actions hasn’t helped either.

As for the rumor that a third party—feminine—was involved in the break-up, when Ava was asked point blank, she said, “Not that I know of.” The actress in question has laughed the rumors away.

It’s hard to believe that another woman could have been involved when you consider Frank’s anguish during his enforced separations from Ava. He kept the local Western Union boys goggle-eyed wiring poetic cables to Ava throughout the making of “Eternity.” And he could never stop talking about how much he missed her How crazy he was to get back to London to her. “Funny,” he once said, “but I couldn’t convince anybody this was the real thing. When we were married, nobody would believe me.” Maggio was so lonely to see Ava Gardner, he was about to blow his top—before Fatso killed him off and he could get back to her.

When he wasn’t cabling her, he was phoning her. Every evening when the company got in from location and started down to dinner, he’d say, regular as clockwork, “I’ll catch up with you later—after I talk to my old lady.” One very meaningful incident took place in Honolulu that never appeared in the papers. As much as Frank wanted Maggio, as hard as he worked, as much as this performance could mean for him, he was, at one point, about ready to blow up the whole works. He thought he’d lost a ring Ava had given him. He was pretty sure it was in the pocket of some trousers which were going to be picked up by the cleaners. The company was on location some distance from the hotel. Frank asked for a company car so he could go back and have a look before the cleaners came. An assistant on the picture refused. They might need him; they might get to his next scene. Harsh words ensued. Frank took the car anyway, rushed back to the hotel, and rescued the ring.

When his last scene was finished, he Clippered back to Hollywood ahead of the company. He couldn’t wait to get on over to London and see his “old lady” again.

Foremost in the minds of Ava’s close friends now are what the failure of her third marriage could do to her. They recall she once said, “If this one fails, I’m through.” They know her as a girl who didn’t particularly want to be a movie star—and still doesn’t—and who’s happiest in blue jeans and flat heels and no make-up, dreaming out loud about her husband, the home they would have, and the child she longs for. “We figure on two years, before we can settle down,” she said, when she left for Africa on location.”

Her friends are now recalling her great feeling of insecurity, her fear of failure, her candid admission that her greatest tragedy had been her unsuccessful marriages. “I felt these failures were a reflection of my immaturity,” she said.

Just how important is the conflicting- career problem in her rift with Frankie, her friends wonder. They point out that she was eager for him to get the role in “Eternity,” and she urged him to stay in there and pitch for it. Not long before their separation, Ava said, “The rumors about Frank and me surely do get in my hair. What do people expect when I’m a long time away from Hollywood? He couldn’t be with me all the time. He has his own career.”

Frank’s friends are quick to point out that his career suffered greatly only in the past two years, when he was trying to accommodate it to Ava’s and following wherever hers led. He made two trips to Africa to be with her, each time staying as long as he could, until he had to rush back, once for club dates, once to test for his role in “Eternity.”

His friends remind you, too, that Frank can use the money from his zooming career. Although he’s paid off $70,000 of the $160,000 he originally owed the Government in back income taxes, there’s still $90,000 to pay. But even with that debt hanging over his head, he saved up $54,000 from three months’ singing engagements, so he could buy two per cent of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, to insure security for his family.

Frank’s deeply concerned about the future of his three children, Nancy, Frank, Jr. and Tina, ambitious to see all of them through college. “I never did get there myself,” he’s said in the past. “I didn’t get the chance. But they will.”

He talked about his career—his role in “Pink Tights,” his urge to do a movie made from Irwin Shaw’s “Young Lions”—but he couldn’t put much sparkle in it. As we left the rehearsal, the group of songwriters and song-pluggers and sidekicks that usually surround him were missing. He didn’t want to be part of a crowd tonight. Not if he could help it. With him was only Hank Sanicola, his good friend of eighteen years’ standing who used to give the teen- aged Frankie free copies of music when he hung around the publishing house where Hank worked, helped him pick his tunes, pitched for band jobs for him. And tonight—another milestone, Frank’s second wedding anniversary, Hank was there.

We walked along Vine Street, just a block from the old theatre where ten years ago a gay “Voice” wearing a red polka dot tie, made them swoon with those long low trombone sliding notes.

Today, ten years later, he was on top again. And finding his success empty.

“It will turn out all right, Frank.”

“I suppose so,” he said slowly, not putting his money either way.

But Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner are as heart-strong as they are head-strong. And when two people can make each other this mutually miserable . . . the song may not be ended for them.






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