Sinatra’s First Wife: Nancy cover

Sinatra’s First Wife: Nancy

By


IT was, as Sinatra’s oldest friends liked to say, a match made in Hoboken.
Nancy Rose Barbato was the nice girl from the neighborhood, hand-picked by his mother to keep her son in order.
With her big, noisy Italian family of five sisters and a brother, opera reverberating onto the porch of their large Jersey City, New Jersey house, Nancy was just 17 when she first saw Sinatra, then 19, walking home from the beach.
She would go on to bear him three children, scrub floors, sew her own clothes and scrimp and save while her husband pursued his dream to be a singer.


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars on 1 review

"Very interesting i give this article 5 stars" 5 stars by




NoteStream NoteStream

NoteStreams are readable online but they’re even better in the free App!

The NoteStream™ app is for learning about things that interest you: from music to history, to classic literature or cocktails. NoteStreams are truly easy to read on your smartphone—so you can learn more about the world around you and start a fresh conversation.

For a list of all authors on NoteStream, click here.




Read the NoteStream below, or download the app and read it on the go!

Save to App


Sinatra’s First Wife: Nancy

Match Made In Hoboken

IT was, as Sinatra’s oldest friends liked to say, a match made in Hoboken.

Nancy Rose Barbato was the nice girl from the neighborhood, hand-picked by his mother to keep her son in order.

With her big, noisy Italian family of five sisters and a brother, opera reverberating onto the porch of their large Jersey City, New Jersey house, Nancy was just 17 when she first saw Sinatra, then 19, walking home from the beach.

She would go on to bear him three children, scrub floors, sew her own clothes and scrimp and save while her husband pursued his dream to be a singer.

Early Days

Early Days

How could she have known in those early days that the scrawny boy who serenaded her from the sidewalk with ‘April Showers’ and sang at the local Cat’s Meow restaurant was destined to leave her way behind?

Committed

For 12 years she hung in there gamely, determined to remain his wife, even after he swapped Hoboken for Hollywood and showed precious little interest in spurning the attentions of some of the world’s most beautiful women.

As much as Sinatra liked to reference his New Jersey origins, there was no going back. Nancy was a fine looking woman – beautiful when she was dressed up for a night on the town – but she couldn’t compete with the likes of Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall…or Ava Gardner.

Brutal

With an insensitivity that would characterize many of his relationships, Sinatra would later twist the knife by expressing regrets about his first marriage, saying,

“What I had mistaken for love was only the warm friendship Nancy had brought me.”

She would remember their marriage differently, especially the tough years in Jersey when he was penniless and she was working all hours to keep them afloat. To Nancy, they were the best of times.

In truth, there were warning signs even before they were wed.

Duet

Frank Sinatra with Nancy Barbato, 1940s

Duet

Frank and Nancy had been making eyes at one another across the street for some time before he broke the ice by playing his ukulele and singing to her as she sat spellbound in the rocking chair on the porch.

Price Of Impatience

Nancy’s father, Mike, a plastering contractor, worried that his prospective son-in-law didn’t have a proper job, talked Sinatra into doing some laboring work for him.

It lasted just a couple of weeks in 1938 but it was the only day job the crooner ever had.

Never a patient man, Sinatra couldn’t wait until he got married to lose his virginity. But after he slept with another local girl, he found himself in hot water with Nancy – and the law.

There was an embarrassing catfight when the two girls fought over Sinatra at the Rustic Cabin, a local haunt. The next night the situation took an even worse turn when Nancy’s rival for Sinatra’s affections complained to the police that he’d taken advantage of her.

Mug Shot

Mug Shot

Sinatra was arrested for having sex on the nights of November 2 and 9 of 1938 with the older girl - a “single female of good repute for chastity,” according to court papers.

The case fell apart pretty quickly, not least because the victim wasn’t exactly chaste, but the Sinatra and Barbota families were left with a dilemma. Frank and Nancy must either break it off – or make it legal.

I Do

The die was cast. On Saturday, February 4, 1939 they got married at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Jersey City.

Out Of Sight

She would cook and clean for Sinatra, all while working herself as a $25-a-week secretary.

They moved into their own three-room apartment in Jersey City, but Sinatra was increasingly absent, even when Nancy gave birth to their first child, also named Nancy, on June 8, 1940.

It’s not like he was far away – about six miles, in fact, playing with his band at New York’s Astor Hotel. But Sinatra’s laser focus wasn’t concentrated on his family right then, it was all about becoming a star.

Makeover

Nancy’s self-esteem wasn’t helped by the fact that after giving birth to her first daughter, she was henceforth known as ‘Big Nancy.”

But then, according to Sinatra biographer James Kaplan in ‘The Voice,’ an unlikely savior stepped in to patch over the problems in the marriage. Publicist George Evans took Nancy in hand, re-igniting her husband’s interest in her by orchestrating a major makeover, refitting her wardrobe, encouraging her to lose some weight and even getting her teeth capped at a Park Avenue dentist.

New Look

It clearly worked. Sinatra may have been toying with Lana Turner, but his wife’s new look put a twinkle back in his famous blue eyes.

A month later Nancy was pregnant again and she gave birth to their son, Frank Jr. on January 10 1945.

Again, the baby was born in Jersey City. Again, Sinatra was absent, this time across the country in Los Angeles.

Nancy smiled for the cameras and held up the baby together with a photo of her husband.

Pictures Perfect

Pictures Perfect

But, wrote Kaplan, “To a great degree it was like a political marriage; the public had begun to overwhelm the private. The time they actually spent together, just the two of them, was almost non-existent – especially with Frank so busy on the Coast.”

Cross Country

At Sinatra’s instigation – a decision he’d live to rue –

Nancy moved that June across the country with the kids to live in Toluca Lake in California’s San Fernando Valley, about ten miles from Hollywood and just down the road from Bob and Dolores Hope.

But that certainly didn’t guarantee that Nancy would see more of Frank. As the months went on the pattern from Jersey City would repeat itself until he barely came home at all.

The Bracelet

The beginning of the end came after Nancy discovered an extravagant diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s that Sinatra had hidden in the glove compartment of his Cadillac towards the end of December 1945.

She assumed her husband had bought it for her for Christmas and was confused when she received pearl earrings instead.

The mystery was solved at a New Year’s Eve party the Sinatras threw to usher in 1946 when Nancy spotted her bracelet on the wrist of blonde actress Marilyn Maxwell.

Although Sinatra was suitably apologetic and an apoplectic Nancy eventually forgave him, the actresses would keep throwing themselves at him and, more often than not, he’d be there to catch them.

New Baby

They broke up for a few days, only for Frank to sing ‘Going Home’ before a very public tearful reconciliation at one of his Copacabana concerts.

Desperate to exert whatever power she had to keep hold of her straying husband, she shocked Sinatra by revealing early in 1947 that she’d aborted their third child.

Still, the marriage survived sufficiently for Nancy to fall pregnant again and she gave birth to Tina, their second daughter, on June 20, 1948. At least this time Sinatra was around for the birth, driving his wife to the maternity ward in Los Angeles.

Divorce

They bought a new house, Nancy put up a brave front, but just as with the first two, the new baby’s birth did little to curb Sinatra’s womanizing.

Nancy could put up with the faceless showgirls, even the ambitious young actresses. She even managed to overlook her husband’s all-too-public fling with Lana Turner.

She was, after all, the mother of Sinatra’s children.

But in the end she couldn’t fight the inevitable. They announced their separation on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1950 and were legally divorced on October 29, 1950.

Force Of Nature

Force Of Nature

Nancy was finally confronted with a force of nature that no amount of New Jersey grit and determination was going to withstand.

Her name was Ava Gardner.