Gay Talese's 1966 Esquire profile "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold" is the closest thing literary journalism has to a sacred text, to the point his shirt board outline for the article looks something like a holy relic. Unable to get an interview with Sinatra, Talese turned anthropologist, spending three months just outside Sinatra's orbit; close enough to pick up details from hangers-on, but far enough removed to see Sinatra as a visage carefully maintained.
The ferocious detail given to clothes (Sinatra and writer Harlan Ellison nearly come to blows when he spots the younger man wearing "a pair of brown corduroy slacks, a green shaggy-dog Shetland sweater, a tan suede jacket, and Game Warden boots" at a bar), private jets and fast cars ("In his dressing room Sinatra was met by an auto-mobile designer who had the plans for Sinatra's new custom-built model to replace the $25,000 Ghia he has been driving for the last few years"), and his isolated personal life ("While Sinatra is often delighted that he can be in his home completely without people, enabling him to think and read without interruption, there are occasions when he finds himself alone at night, and not by choice. He may have dialed a half-dozen women, and for one reason or another, all are unavailable") add up to a profile that makes the Chairman of the Board the human equivalent of a low pressure system
These perfectly-observed, perfectly-related details make "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold" a classic, but in a new interview with Andrew Goldman in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Barbara Sinatra--Frank's fourth and final wife, who is currently on the PR circuit to promote her new memoir Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank--accuses Talese of lying about the "little grey-haired lady who, holding his hair in a tiny satchel, follows him around whenever he performs. She earns $400 a week." Here's the exchange between Goldman and Sinatra.
AG: Something confused me in the book. You wrote that around his 70th birthday, he said, ‘‘If I’m going to continue working, then I think maybe I should get a toupee.’’ Gay Talese’s classic 1966 Esquire profile of him reported that even back then he owned 60 hairpieces cared for by a gray-haired lady who earned $400 a week.
BS: I don’t think that’s true. He never had a lady comb or brush his hair. He always had men. Right there you know that’s a lie.
It's worth noting that Barbara married Frank in 1976, ten years after the profile ran in Esquire. We've put in a fax to Talese asking for his response and will let you know if we get a reply.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.