April 18, 2015

"They weren’t thinking about me, just about my mother. They just ripped me out and tossed me aside," said Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra was a gigantic baby, the year was 1915, the setting was the family's kitchen, and the midwife had to call for the doctor, who arrived, with forceps, to save the mother. 
The doctor cut the cord and laid the boy - huge and blue, bleeding from his wounds, and apparently dead - by the kitchen sink, then quickly shifted his efforts to ­saving the nearly unconscious mother’s life.

The women all leant in, shouting advice in ­Italian. At the back of the scrum, one of them looked at the seemingly lifeless baby, picked up it up and, just in case, ran ice cold water from the sink over it and slapped its back. It snuffled and began to howl....

In a nightclub with a lover named Peggy Connelly, he flinched when, in the dark, she caressed his left cheek and her fingertips touched his ear. Though she had barely noticed the deformity, he told her how sensitive he was about it....
Connelly recalled: ‘There was no ­outburst of emotion, just a ­lingering bitterness about what he felt had been a stupid neglect of his infant self to concentrate on his mother, otherwise his torn ear might have been tended to in time.’
As for the mother, Dolly Sinatra:
After Frank was born, there were no more babies, possibly because the birth rendered Dolly unable to have any, but more likely because she ­simply decided — and she was one of life’s deciders — she didn’t want to go through that again.
But she compensated for her trauma in the strangest of ways. She chose to become a midwife and an abortionist, for which ­illegal activity she got the ­nickname ­Hatpin Dolly and a ­criminal record.
The link goes to an excerpt from the book "Frank: The Making Of A Legend" by James Kaplan. I ran across that this morning because last night we were watching the new HBO documentary "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All," which isn't based on Kaplan's book, but goes through the same story of the birth and contains that brief, startling fact: Sinatra's mother was an abortionist.

We were watching the Sinatra documentary because we'd gotten tired of that other, much more noticed HBO documentary "Going Clear," which is based on the Lawrence Wright book "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief." I'm sure the book is much more worth your time. The movie is just too dumb for my taste. In the part I put up with, there were too many boring people on camera stating that they were indeed taken in. But why? Some of the clips of L. Ron Hubbard were interesting. He was brilliant/crazy/devious. He's a good character. The rest of the cast... well, one wonders what they would have done with their lives if they hadn't entered the "prison of belief" in Scientology.

I was surprised to see that both documentaries were made by the same guy, Alex Gibney. If he could have been allowed to stay with the interesting character in "Going Clear," I might have liked it as much as "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All." But left to delve into the mystery of ordinary people getting and staying inside of religious belief, he had little insight. At least not in the part I put up with.

Maybe I'll finish it at some point... or, more likely, switch to Wright's book or just Wright's New Yorker article, "The Apostate, Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology." I could get interested in Scientology's complicated legal problems, but I don't want to hear long accounts of dumb people getting trapped in "the Prison of Belief." Why are other people's beliefs a "prison"? If some beliefs are prisons, what beliefs are not prisons? Now, if the point is, the organization threatens and bullies anyone who tries to leave, then it's not belief that is the prison.

ADDED: Lawrence Wright goes on the podcast "Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin" which I was in the middle of listening to when I tried to watch HBO's "Going Clear." This morning, having given up on "Going Clear," I went back to the podcast and was surprised to get to hear Alec Baldwin complain that what the movie was missing was just about exactly what I'd thought. Go to 23:32. Baldwin had seen the movie, and he said: "There wasn't any sense, to me, of: What are the people who are in Scientology, who remain in Scientology, who are dedicated to this, what do they perceive they're getting out of it?... What does it do for them? Why are they there?" Baldwin suggests "maybe it's in the book," and Wright is able to give some answers — but these are answers that make me want to ask whether the motivations are different from what brings people into other religions.

By the way, at the "Here's the Thing" site, the title of Wright's book is misstated as "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Unbelief." That's a good (if unwitting) response to my statement (above) it's not belief that is the prison.


whitney said...

Don't you mean "'everyday people' getting and staying inside of religious belief "

traditionalguy said...

So what does family mean to someone in different cultures?

Italians from Rome easily see the mother icon as the valued object over a new born baby. That is their approach to status and one baby resented it.

But Scientologists see their family as church e-meter auditors imparting secret knowledge that they dare not lose or they will be no one and no where with no protection from the family they abandoned.

Laslo Spatula said...

I experimented with Scientology when I was in college. Meaning I slept with a girl who had read part of "Dianetics."

When I was with her I released a few 'engrams' and it felt pretty good.

I am Laslo.

CatherineM said...

That birth of Frank Sinatra and his damaged ear and abortionist mother was told by Paul Harvey in a broadcast I heard in 1987. Then I knew the rest of the story!

Sebastian said...

"I don't want to hear long accounts of dumb people getting trapped in "the Prison of Belief.""

You mean, you don't want to hear most of human history?

Just kidding, just kidding.

MadisonMan said...

This is the kind of althouse post that I really enjoy. So many different topics!

Laslo Spatula said...

Why are other people's beliefs a "prison"?

That is a topic that is often explored in films such as these.

I am Laslo.

etienne said...

I don't know the history of abortion, but I found it mentioned often in the books I read coming of age. My Dads sex talk with me consisted of merely "don't have sex with anyone you don't intend to marry" was somewhat meant to say, that unmarried pregnant girls had to do something, and often sitting home getting fat, expelled from school, that abortion was one way out.

There was a home for unwed mothers about four blocks away from where we lived. It was a large institution, with tall walls, but I was always impressed by the beautifully manicured grounds.

It wasn't until recently, when I was researching some census family data, that I found out these girls at this "home" were known as "inmates" on the census.

Laslo Spatula said...

"Sinatra was a gigantic baby..."

Or at least part of him was.

"Recalling a quote from Sinatra's lover Ava Gardner, in which she stated the singer was "only 110 pounds, but 10 pounds of it is c**k!"..."

I am Laslo.

Virgil Hilts said...

Great althouse post; now want to watch the Sinatra documentary on HBO. I think of Sinatra as a weird sort of bridge from my parents generation to the boomers' generation, with Mia Farrow crossing the bridge when Frank divorced her, she got the bad hair cut and then starting hanging out with the Beatles in India (Nov 67 - Feb 68). Frank - the epitome of cool -- was suddenly uncool (at least for awhile).

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael K said...

My youngest daughter had a school friend whose parents were dedicated Scientologists. The father was a chiropractor and they were quite prosperous. They went to meeting of the cult in Florida and were kind of enthusiastic about getting my daughter involved, which was a big turnoff for us.

I suspect they used it as a way to organize their lives but I have also heard that some members got taken financially. That's about the extent of my knowledge.

etienne said...

Laslo quotes the tabloids...
According to my wife, A 10 pound penis in your vagina, feels exactly like you're seriously constipated, and all you can think about until he's done, is where you left the enema kit.

Luckily my urinator is statistically normal, and feeling constipated, means you're constipated.

FullMoon said...

Connelly recalled: ‘There was no ­outburst of emotion, just a ­lingering bitterness about what he felt had been a stupid neglect of his infant self to concentrate on his mother, otherwise his torn ear might have been tended to in time.

Awwww, poor Frank, if they would only have let Mama die, they might have fixed his ear. Bummer, man!

ndspinelli said...

Althouse babbles more lengthy, affected, nonsense than L Ron Hubbard.

traditionalguy said...

Hubbard just needed money and wrote the Dianetics myth to sell on the sci-fi books market. That was successful, so he started a "Church" that sold the treatments with a fake electrical meter machine described in the Dianetics myth.

But Hubbard was also a participant in the same spiritual line of evil the birthed you know who, Adolph Hitler.

The cover story is that he was a Naval Intelligence agent under cover investigating Nazi mind control methods. So he joined the OTO that young Adolph had learned his spiritual secrets from 40 years before.

lemondog said...

He was abandoned under a blanket in the woods. A Bible lay on his chest.

And he had been in that position for five days.

The 21-year-old man, who is quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy, was found Friday night in Cobbs Creek Park, when a man walking through the woods stumbled across him and called 911.

Hoo hoo Frank.

Lem said...

I came across the Sinatra documentary early on, by the time he was dating his first wife, so I missed the abortion survivor part.

I remember seeing the scar later in the documentary and wondering about it.

Graham Powell said...

Synchronicity: literally just last night I read a (fictional) story with a young Sinatra as a character, in which he recounts being "born dead".

etbass said...

Dunno why he was so obsessed with it. I saw a bazillion movies,clips and photos of Sinatra and never noticed an ear problem. Prob'ly just me.

theo said...

I never liked Sinatra. Seemed like a punk and mob wannabe.

Ernest Borgnine is one of my favorite actors and more so after seeing "From Here To Eternity".

Sinatra's character comes to a messy end after an encounter with ol' Ernie.

FleetUSA said...

Several of the men I have lunch with once a week saw the HBO Sinatra movie and were raving about it.

Part of their takeaway involved the JFK killing and possible mafia/Cuba involvement.

p.s. Note to Coupe, how does your wife know that?

Bad Lieutenant said...


WTF do you pretend to know about "Italians from Rome," or to be honest, anything in the world besides the contents of the very small box you came in?

Boy do you have a big mouth. And whoever mentioned Jack Chick earlier, I think, really nailed you.

n.n said...

The progression of human rights from sacred to apathetic to devious. It must leave more than a few survivors cynical about motives.

It seems that most people, especially abortionists, will go to the ends of the Earth to prolong their own life. Perhaps pro-choice policy is nothing more than a brutal realization of a minority fitness function.

etienne said...

FleetUSA said...how does your wife know that?

I'm her third husband. Well, that and she went to college. I won her after she peaked.

William said...

That Scientology thing seems to have worked out very well for Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Bob R said...

"I never liked Sinatra. Seemed like a punk and mob wannabe."

Terry Teachout, who is one of the narrators for the documentary, has an interesting take on this. Sinatra in the recording studio is his more humane, better self. More sensitive as both a person and an artist. The punk comes out in (most) live performances (an exception being the performance at the center of the documentary.) Anyway, Teachout says it better than I, but the bottom line is that I can't listen to Wee Small Hours or Only The Lonely and think "punk."