Was Sinatra a Stoner?
Paul Anka’s new tell-all book My Way finally arrived. I was hoping this memoir might shed some light on the Sicilian men of honor society since Anka was the youngest member of Sinatra’s Las Vegas ratpack who ruled Vegas throughout the sixties and seventies. The book does not disappoint. In fact, the foreword includes a few paragraphs on Johnny Roselli, who was running Las Vegas for the Chicago family when Anka arrived there as a teenager. Anka says “Handsome Johnny” was working for Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky, but far as I know, he started out doing hits for the Chicago outfit and may have even been the trigger man for the St. Valentine’s day massacre which permanently rearranged the power structure in Chicago.
I have a strange connection to Roselli as he frequently came to my hometown to visit one of his favorite mistresses, the owner of the local newspaper, where I worked on the weekends while in high school, hanging up the UPI and AP tapes that were used to automatically set type. Initially, Roselli was moved out to Hollywood, but after Bugsy Siegal invented Las Vegas, he soon shifted his base of operations there. Anka says Casino is probably the closest movie to the truth about Vegas, but even in that movie the violence is exaggerated for theatrical effect. Roselli and his friends were actually the best-dressed, most well-mannered people in Vegas, and any problems that arose for them were usually dealt with very quietly and behind the scenes.
In fact, the rat pack may have picked up some of its style from Roselli and his pals because they always dressed to the nines. It was Roselli who got Marilyn Monroe her first movie deal, by the way, which is why she owed the Chicago family big time, and why she had affairs with Sam Giancana, Roselli’s boss.
There are many revelations in this book, but one of the biggest is Sinatra actually liked smoking pot? Anka doesn’t make a big deal out of it, just mentions it in passing one time, but obviously many if not most of the professional musicians in the 30’s and 40’s were vipers at one point. We always heard Sinatra didn’t care for illegal drugs, but, in fact, that may not have been true when it came to marijuana. The rat pack spent a lot of time in the steam rooms, sweating out the booze they were drinking, but marijuana would also have provided some much needed hangover relief.
Of course, Sammy Davis was the weirdest member of that group. At the invitation of the creepy Lt. Col. Michael Aquino, Sammy received an honorary membership in Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. Sammy was a freak at heart and loved having threesomes with a dude and a lady while imbibing enormous amounts of cocaine and watching porn. Sammy supposedly had the biggest porn collection in Hollywood. Sinatra tried to pull Sammy out of that scene when it was obvious Sammy was losing it.
According to Anka, the scene in Casino when they are bundling up the skim in the backroom is not entirely correct. All the cash was put into official wooden boxes and reported except the hundred dollar bills. The hundreds were divided between the families who’d invested in Vegas, and suitcases of hundred dollar bills were constantly being shipped back east.
I’m sure Anka knows more than he is revealing, but even so, the book is filled with revelations and I hope this gets turned into a movie soon. Anka comes across as a very smart dude who was there at the beginning of rock and roll. In fact, he was working with Buddy Holly when Holly died and Anka correctly identifies Holly as the most important influence on the British invasion, the man who almost single-handedly created the singer/songwriter/guitar player role model that swept through the culture a few years later. Chuck Berry was very influential too, but Chuck was an older dude, already in his 30s when the rock tidal wave crashed on the beach. In a way, Holly’s death and Berry’s incarceration opened the doors for the British invasion to walk though as they left such a tremendous void.
Anka and Bobby Darin were the two most talented dudes in their class, the last to come from the Brill Building, and it’s obvious Anka thinks Darin lost all dignity by joining the counterculture late in life. I disagree in that songs Darin wrote during this period were among his best and make great counterculture anthems today, especially Simple Song of Freedom. So I don’t think Darin lost his dignity, quite the contrary, I think he had a spiritual awakening, but like Ricky Nelson found out at Madison Square Garden, sometimes your audience thinks they’re in charge of your paradigm and they don’t want you to change, or at least they don’t follow you down that road.
I didn’t realize Anka was Lebanese, probably because his family is Christian, but he was Adnan Khashoggi’s favorite performer and there’s a lot of praise for that gun runner and Octopus bagman and very little on his criminal behaviors, but then the same goes for the Sicilian men of honor. Anka also goes into detail on the famous fight between Steve Wynn and Donald Trump.
But some of his most interesting revelations occur when Howard Hughes arrives in Vegas with the intent of buying up the state. Hughes did buy several casinos before he was mysteriously disappeared, but the men of honor? They were left in place. Hughes needed people to run his casinos, and they were simply the best people for that particular job.