(1915-1998): Mafia's favorite singer
Sinatra and the mob — it's an old and long, long story
and perhaps less significant than one might think.
Some feel there is much to be made of it. Sinatra him-
self felt too much was made of it. He was in showbiz,
he said, and there is no way to avoid gangsters all of
Still, it's closer to the truth to say that Sinatra went
out of his way to be with them than to avoid them.
He flew to Havana in 1946 to attend a big under-
world bash for Lucky Luciano (who had only
months before been deported back to Italy after
being paroled from his organized prostitution con-
viction). Later, when Luciano was away from his
home in Naples, Italian police found a gold cigarette
case with the inscription: "To my dear pal Lucky,
from his friend, Frank Sinatra."
During the Kefauver investigation, Sinatra was
questioned in advance by committee counsel Joseph
L. Nellis to determine if he should be called to testify.
At a 4 A.M. meeting held in an office atop Rockefeller
Center, Sinatra was asked about mobsters he knew,
and he acknowledged "knowing" or "seeing" or say-
ing "hello" and "goodby" to an impressive — but
possibly incomplete — list of them: Lucky Luciano;
the brothers Fischetti, Joe, Rocco and Charles,
cousins of Al Capone and powers in the Chicago
Outfit; Meyer Lansky; Frank Costello; Joe Adonis;
Longy Zwillman; Willie Moretti; Jerry Catena and
Bugsy Siegel. Ultimately the Kefauver Committee did
not call Sinatra. With Sinatra's career then in decline,
the committee felt no real purpose would be served
by lambasting him in public and perhaps finishing off
his career. Implicit in that decision was the fact that
Sinatra, even if the senators didn't know it at the
time, was little more than a Mafia groupie. Joe E.
Lewis and Jimmy Durante would qualify just as
After the hearings Sinatra's career revitalized, and
he continued to be linked with mafiosi, but it would
be hard to tell whether Sinatra was more entranced
with mobsters or they with him. Each at various
times may have gained something from the other.
Ralph Salerno, a specialist on organized crime for-
merly with the New York Police Department, quoted
by Nicholas Gage in The Mafia Is Not an Equal
Opportunity Employer, was upset that people,
knowing Sinatra was an acquaintance of presidents
and kings, would figure his other pals were okay.
"That's the service Sinatra renders his gangster
friends," says Salerno. "You'd think a guy like Sina-
tra would care about that. But he doesn't. He doesn't
give a damn."
Actually the mob was able to use Sinatra and his
PR. clout many times. When Doc Stacher, Meyer
Lansky's close associate, was building the Sands in
Las Vegas, he told interviewers years later, "we . . .
sold Frank Sinatra a nine percent stake in the hotel.
Frank was flattered to be invited, but the object was
to get him to perform there, because there's no bigger
draw in Las Vegas. When Frankie was performing,
the hotel really filled up."
Sinatra's first gangster friend appears to have been
Willie Moretti, the New Jersey extortionist, narcotics
trafficker and murderer. Moretti, also known as
Willie Moore, took a liking to the young fellow New
Jerseyan and helped him get some band dates when
he was struggling in local clubs and roadhouses for
Then Sinatra recorded his first hit song with Harry
James in 1939, "All or Nothing at All," and eventu-
ally went to work for Tommy Dorsey for what
seemed an astronomical salary of $125 a week. A
myth built up after Sinatra and Dorsey had parted
that they remained warm friends. "Hot enemies"
would have been a better description. Sinatra's popu-
larity had soared. Bobbysoxers followed him every-
where. He desperately wanted to dump Dorsey, and
the underworld story has long circulated that Willie
Young Frank Sinatra's career, according to many
accounts, was Postered by mobsters, and he was
described as being close to many top maifosi, charges
which the singer persistently denied.
Moretti came to the rescue. Moretti was said to have
obtained Sinatra's release from the band leader in
convincing Mafia style, jamming a gun in Dorsey 's
mouth. The hard bargaining that followed called for
Dorsey to get $1 in compensation for selling him
Not that Moretti didn't also chastise the singer at
times. When Sinatra's marriage to his first wife,
Nancy, was busting up and he was planning to marry
Ava Gardner, the mobster wired Sinatra: "I AM
VERY MUCH SURPRISED WHAT I HAVE BEEN
READING IN THE NEWSPAPERS BETWEEN
YOU AND YOUR DARLING WIFE. REMEMBER
YOU HAVE A DECENT WIFE AND CHILDREN.
YOU SHOULD BE VERY HAPPY. REGARDS TO
ALL. WILLIE MOORE."
As it turned out, Sinatra had little more time in
which to offend Moretti. The mafioso was executed
by the mob. His advanced syphilis affected his brain,
and it was feared he was revealing too much about
In later years Sinatra was frequently linked with a
number of other top mafiosi, especially Sam Gian-
cana and Johnny Roselli, the Chicago mob honchos.
Sinatra was embarrassed with a news photograph
showing him with an arm around Luciano at the
time of the infamous Havana gathering. In more
recent years another widely published photograph,
taken in Sinatra's dressing room at the Westchester,
New York, Premier Theater, shows the star grinning
widely in the company of such mafiosi as the late
Carlo Gambino, hit man-cum-informer Jimmy "the
Weasel" Fratianno, and three others later convicted
and sentenced for fraud and skimming the theater's
In 1985, cartoonist Garry Trudeau depicted a trib-
ute to Sinatra by President Ronald Reagan and fol-
lowed it in the next panel with the Westchester
theater photo. Outraged, Sinatra issued a statement
through his personal public relations firm: "Garry
Trudeau makes his living by his attempts at humor
without regard to fairness or decency. I don't know if
he has made any effort on behalf of others or done
anything to help the less fortunate in this country or
elsewhere. I am happy to have the President and the
people of the United States judge us by our respective
Over the years Sinatra was as thick with presi-
dents and presidential candidates as with mafiosi.
He had close ties with John Kennedy (until barred
from the White House by Robert Kennedy after he
checked Sinatra's background), Hubert Humphrey
(who scheduled him for a series of fund-raising con-
certs but quietly dropped him from the campaign in
1968 after a Wall Street Journal piece listed some of
his underworld relationships), Richard Nixon,
Spiro Agnew, Gerald Ford and, of course, President
Jimmy the Weasel, after he turned informer, was
apparently quite upset when the Federal Strike Force
didn't go ahead with a case that had what he clearly
regarded as Sinatra star quality. According to Fra-
tianno, Sinatra "gofer" Jilly Rizzo approached him
and complained about a former Sinatra security
guard the singer had fired; he was supposedly supply-
ing the weekly tabloids with material about Sinatra.
The word was that the man, Andy "Banjo" Celen-
tano, was about to write a book about Sinatra. The
Weasel quoted Rizzo as saying: "We want this guy
stopped once and for all," meaning that Celantano
should have his legs broken and be put in the hospi-
tal. "Let's see if he gets the message." Fratianno
accepted the assignment to watch Celentano, but nei-
ther he nor other California mafiosi could locate
their target. Celentano solved their problem alto-
gether by suffering a fatal heart attack on October 8,
Clearly, the Weasel saw a delightful show trial in
his revelations and was disappointed when the Fed-
eral Strike Force showed little interest in the matter.
There was no evidence tying in Sinatra, and certainly
federal lawyers weren't wild about pursuing Jilly
Rizzo. Not when, as one told Fratianno, "you've got
a chance to put bosses in prison. Those are one-in-a-
lifetime chances. With an informant-type witness,
overexposure is a terminal disease." Politely, the gov-
ernment was telling Fratianno that there was no legal
case and they were not going to let him grab head-
lines for scandal purposes.
Unlike with cartoonist Trudeau, Sinatra expressed
no outrage when deadly hit man Fratianno
recounted the details of the alleged incident in his
book The Last Mafioso.