- Historic Sites
Fly Me To The Moon
Reflections on the Rat Pack Everybody knows what they did. This is what they meant.
December 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 8
Time didn’t know the half of it. JFK came to the Summit for something more than the music. Later he joined the Rat Pack upstairs in their rooms for drinks. Lawford whispered to Sammy Davis: “If you want to see what a million dollars in cash looks like, go into the next room; there’s a brown leather satchel in the closet. It’s a gift from the hotel owners for Jack’s campaign.”
Sinatra was playing marriage broker between the Kennedy campaign and another form of serious authority and power, the mob. Jack’s brother Bobby, chief counsel to the McClellan Senate committee investigating labor racketeering, had gone after Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters; in 1959 he called before the committee the Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, an acquaintance of both Martin and Sinatra. Now the idea, apparently, was that if JFK could be elected with the help of donations from the Teamsters’ pension fund via Giancana, RFK could be persuaded to lay off. Besides, the parties had other common interests to discuss, like getting Castro out of Cuba.
More strange bedfellows were made that night. Sinatra introduced JFK to Judith Campbell, an ex-girlfriend whom he would also hook up with Giancana later that spring. The seeds were sown for a story that has a true sixties flavor: part paranoid political thriller, part bedroom farce, with a cast of entertainers, government officials, and gangsters that would break up the Rat Pack and scotch their bid for high social alchemy.
For two years things went like a dream. Unstinting with their time for personal appearances and Hollywood fund-raisers—twenty-eight hundred people showed up at a hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner at the Beverly Hilton for which Sinatra had turned out Davis, Lawford, Judy Garland, Angie Dickinson, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Milton Berle, George Jessel, Joe E. Lewis, and Mort Sahl—the Rat Pack hitched themselves to Kennedy’s rising star. Sinatra, as bartender and greeter, watched the Democratic Convention with the Kennedys on television at Marion Davies’s mansion in Beverly Hills. When the Wyoming delegation put JFK over, he slapped Peter Lawford on the back: “We’re on our way to the White House, buddy boy.”
On November 8, 1960, the first Catholic was elected President of the United States. Skinny D’Amato, a mob connected Atlantic City club owner soon to be appointed manager of Sinatra’s own casino, the Cal-Neva Lodge, was heard to say, “Frank won Kennedy the election.” Sam Giancana saw it differently. “Listen, honey,” he told Judy Campbell, “if it wasn’t for me, your boyfriend wouldn’t even be in the White House.” On the stage of the Sands the following night, Dean Martin ad-libbed, “I just talked to Jack this morning and he made me secretary of liquor.”
Let’s hit Sinatra. Or I could whack out a couple of those other guys. . . .”
In January Sinatra and the Rat Pack—minus Martin, who always mistrusted Kennedy’s seductive embrace, and Davis—ran the National Armory gala. Bishop emceed, and the talent included Berle, Leonard Bernstein, Nat King Cole, Tony Curtis, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Kelly, Ethel Merman, Laurence Olivier, Louis Prima, Anthony Quinn, and Carl Sandburg. Frank sang “That Old Jack Magic.” The gala raised two million dollars, defraying JFK’s campaign costs and paying off outstanding debts from Adlai Stevenson’s 1956 run. Kennedy told the crowd: “We’re all indebted to a great friend—Frank Sinatra. Long before he could sing, he used to poll a Democratic precinct back in New Jersey. That precinct has grown to cover a country.” Sinatra bought an ad in Variety to reprint the remarks and had them pressed onto a record. The following night the new President sneaked out of the official Inaugural ball to mingle with celebrities at an unofficial party Sinatra was throwing. Framed photos of the evening were later mounted in the “Kennedy Room” in Sinatra’s Palm Springs house.
That house was to host the jewel in Sinatra and the Rat Pack’s social crown: a presidential visit. In January 1962, just after Sergeants Three opened, JFK’s office announced that he’d stay there during a West Coast trip in March. Sinatra spared no expense: a new banquet room to seat forty, two cottages for the Secret Service, a communications center with extra telephone lines, a heliport, a flagpole. A plaque in the guest room was inscribed with Kennedy’s name.