On the evening earlier than John F. Kennedy made historical past as America’s youngest elected president — in addition to its first Catholic one — a star-studded bash, hosted by Frank Sinatra, helped usher in what many hoped could be a brand new period in American historical past. But the occasion additionally revealed the deep racial divisions that also gripped a lot of the nation.
The Kennedy household had a protracted fascination with Hollywood
The household patriarch, Joseph Kennedy Sr., made his fortune in banking and on Wall Street, the place his enterprise acumen and ruthlessness noticed him incessantly skirting lax legal guidelines to his profit.
By the mid-1920s, the East Coast-based Joseph had turned his consideration West, drawn to the glamour — and enterprise alternatives — of the movie business. In 1926 he led a group of investors who bought FBO studios, getting down to develop into a media mogul. But inside a couple of years, Joseph’s L.A. sojourn was over, and whereas a lot of these he had suggested have been left deeply in debt, Joseph had pocketed millions of dollars, which helped fund the subsequent stage in his endlessly formidable journey — politics.
Joseph’s Hollywood years, nevertheless, left a deep impression on his youngsters, who like many different Americans harbored an infatuation with entertainers. His daughter, Patricia, married British-born actor Peter Lawford. And as his son John’s political star started to rise, he turned shut with a variety of entertainers, a lot of whom he met by way of Lawford, together with a rumored affair with Marilyn Monroe and a friendship with one in every of America’s hottest singers and actors — Sinatra.
Sinatra was as fascinated with politics and energy because the Kennedys have been with Hollywood and glamour
A lifelong Democrat, Sinatra had been an ardent campaigner relationship again to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, and he eagerly threw himself into getting younger John elected.
John’s intelligence, wealth, attractiveness and funky demeanor, alongside along with his energetic and engaging household, garnered him assist all through a lot of the leisure business, who, together with Sinatra, threw fundraisers, carried out at rallies and helped manage for the Kennedy marketing campaign. And whereas Joseph had a checkered historical past when it got here to race, each Black and white entertainers lined as much as assist his son, together with many who hoped John would tread a much more liberal path almost about civil rights.
They have been elated when John defeated Vice President Richard Nixon in November 1960. Sinatra, who rightly assumed that he had performed an necessary position in JFK’s victory, hatched a plan to deliver the worlds of politics and leisure collectively by creating an inaugural gala to be held on the eve of John’s inauguration.
Sammy Davis Jr.’s relationship with a white girl proved politically problematic for the Kennedys
Like Sinatra and the remainder of his Hollywood buddies, Sammy Davis Jr. threw his assist behind JFK. A singer, actor and dancer who’d bought his begin in present enterprise when he was a toddler, Davis succeeded throughout an period of deep racial prejudice and discrimination, bristling at how white audiences overtly adored him whereas he was on the stage. However, Davis was additionally criticized by many within the Black neighborhood for his willingness to play to what they thought of racist stereotypes.
Throughout the 1960 marketing campaign, Davis’ private life was within the headlines, due to his romance with white actress May Britt. When the couple introduced their engagement in June, the response was vicious. In an period when interracial marriages have been legally prohibited in dozens of states (the Loving v. Virginia U.S. Supreme Court choice placing down these legal guidelines was nonetheless a number of years away), Davis and Britt have been pilloried. Britt’s studio contract was canceled and the couple received death threats.
When Davis appeared alongside different entertainers on the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles that summer season, he was loudly booed — and deeply wounded. The Kennedy marketing campaign, largely funded and carefully managed by Joseph, grew afraid of the affect Davis’ notoriety might need on the marketing campaign, thanks largely to the racist, anti-segregationist, anti-miscegenation views of a giant swath of Southern Democrats, with out which JFK would lose the election. Davis was reportedly pressured to delay his marriage till after the election, and the couple lastly wed in mid-November, simply days after JFK’s victory.
PHOTOS: JFK’s Star-Studded Inaugural Gala
Davis was invited — after which disinvited — from Sinatra’s gala occasion
Sinatra pulled collectively the cream of the crop for the bash. It was a curious combine of popular culture luminaries, that includes a mixture of entertainers from Broadway, Hollywood and past, together with Bette Davis, Laurence Olivier, Milton Berle, Gene Kelly, Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman (regardless of her avowed assist for the Republican Party) and lots of others. Conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein led the orchestra.
There have been additionally a variety of Blacks slated to carry out, together with Mahalia Jackson, Sidney Poitier, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole. Davis, one in every of Sinatra’s closest mates on the time, made plans to attend. But simply days earlier than, he was instructed he was out. It’s believed it was Joseph, who was bankrolling the gala, who made the brutal name (even if Cole, who had additionally married a white girl, was allowed to carry out).
Davis was crushed by the slight, and the slight upset the opposite Black performers, together with Belafonte, who instructed Vanity Fair journal, “ It was one of those moments where not only was Frank not happy about it, the rest of us were put up against a moment where [we thought], How do we let this slide?… And Sammy not being there was a loss.”
The gala nearly didn’t occur
As the nation’s capital full of dignitaries and honored visitors, Sinatra’s crew was rehearsing on the National Armory. But because the slate of inaugural occasions started, a fierce winter storm descended, paralyzing a lot of the town. Performers who had returned to their lodge to vary for the gala discovered themselves stranded in snowed-in vehicles, whereas others, like Merman, carried out within the plain garments they’d rehearsed in.
The January 19, 1961, gala ultimately performed to a smaller than anticipated crowd, with JFK, his spouse Jackie and numerous Kennedy family members in attendance. Joseph had arranged for the gala to be filmed, however poor audio high quality performed havoc along with his plans. Indented to be broadcast on tv shortly after the inauguration, it was by no means proven, and was largely forgotten till it was edited and aired on public tv stations in 2017.
JFK’s friendship with Sinatra ultimately shattered
Sinatra had lengthy been stricken by his rumored shut ties to organized crime figures and may have been pressured by Joseph in the course of the marketing campaign to make use of these ties to safe the important union vote for John. But after the election, the Kennedys started to distance themselves from Sinatra. In 1962, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover introduced Attorney General Robert Kennedy with proof that allegedly romantically linked each Sinatra and JFK with Judith Campbell, who was additionally concerned with crime boss Sam Giancana.
Robert, famously anti-mob, sprang into motion. He compelled brother-in-law Lawford to cancel a long-planned keep by JFK at Sinatra’s Palm Springs house. Just as Davis had been a 12 months earlier, Sinatra was devastated, angrily destroying the brand new additions he had inbuilt expectation of the presidential go to. He never spoke to Lawford or JFK once more.
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