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The Unlikely Marriage and Sudden Divorce of Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow

Barbara Stepko
Getty Images
Getty Images

Mia Farrow was a 99-pound former Catholic schoolgirl-turned groovy flower child, from a respected show business family. Her father was writer-director John Farrow; her mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan (best known as “Jane” in the Tarzan movies of the 30s and 40s).

Frank Sinatra was, well, the Chairman of the Board. For a few years, in the mid-60s, the two became one of the most unlikely hook-ups in Hollywood history. How exactly did it all go down?

Mia Farrow photographed in 1965

Mia Farrow photographed in 1965

He started calling her “Angel Face.” Her pet names for him: “Frankie” and “Charlie Brown.” Sinatra flew Farrow to Palm Springs for the weekends on his private plane and showered her with expensive gifts. Farrow, who was younger than Sinatra’s oldest daughter Nancy, claimed that she had lost her virginity to him.

The couple soon became the butt of jokes. “I always knew Frank would end up in bed with a boy,” cracked Sinatra’s ex-wife Ava Gardner. (By this time, Farrow had traded her long strands for an ultra-short pixie.).

Sinatra in 1955

Sinatra in 1955

Comedian Jackie Mason incorporated the twosome into his Vegas act, but cut the quips after bullets were fired through his hotel room door. Mia’s mother, Maureen O’Sullivan, reportedly remarked, “If he marries anyone, it should be me.”

Backlash be damned, the pair got hitched in a small private ceremony in Las Vegas, on July 19, 1966. The union, however, was rocky right from the start. Sinatra would soon discover that he had met his match. Beneath her fragile appearance, Farrow was complicated, moody, and not at all intimidated by the singing legend.

Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra. Photo by Getty Images

Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra. Photo by Getty Images

She quickly became bored with Sinatra and his crowd, whose idea of a good time was knocking back martinis and hitting the casino craps tables in Vegas or watching old movies at Sinatra’s place in Palm Springs.

According to one story, when Sinatra suggested that they screen one of his movies during a weekend in the desert, Farrow rolled her eyes and groaned, “Oh, no. We’ve all seen it at least five times.”

She also made the mistake of dancing with Robert Kennedy at a party. Sinatra, who despised the former Attorney General, blaming him for his banishment from the White House — after the singer had worked hard to get his brother, President John Kennedy, elected — was furious.

Frank Sinatra as Tony Rome

Frank Sinatra as Tony Rome

But the biggest source of contention between the two was Farrow’s refusal to abandon her film career. Sinatra had broken off his engagement to actress Juliet Prowse, two years before he met Farrow, because she refused to become a full-time wife. And now this. Eventually the couple compromised, agreeing that Farrow would make one film a year.

Then, in 1968, came Farrow’s big break: the lead role in Paramount’s much-anticipated film, Rosemary’s Baby. Sinatra wasn’t thrilled but he waited for his wife to finish the project, which was filming on location in New York City, so she could join him in The Detective. Playing a small role as his mistress.

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When Rosemary’s Baby fell four weeks behind schedule — not all that surprising, since director Roman Polanski was a renowned perfectionist — an impatient Sinatra began badgering his wife, ordering her to “ankle the film” (slang for “ditch the project”).

Roman Polanski in Paris at the lunch of the César awards nominees. Photo by Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0

Roman Polanski in Paris at the lunch of the César awards nominees. Photo by Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0

Farrow was constantly on edge, crying on the set and dropping a disturbing amount of weight, making her tiny frame look sickly — ironically perfect for her role as a young wife who gives birth to the Antichrist. She begged Polanski to work faster, but refused to bail on the film. Sinatra, not used to people standing up to him, had had enough. A stunned Farrow was served with divorce papers on the set.

Mia Farrow at the 2012 Time 100 gala. Photo by David Shankbone CC BY 3.0

Mia Farrow at the 2012 Time 100 gala. Photo by David Shankbone CC BY 3.0

The couple divorced in Mexico in August of 1968. As was the case with all of Sinatra’s exes, the two remained friends over the years, throughout Farrow’s marriage to composer/conductor Andre Previn and her relationship with director Woody Allen.

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In fact, during Farrow’s well-publicized dust-up with Allen over his relationship with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, Sinatra reportedly offered to send Mafia buddies to break Allen’s legs. Upon the singer’s death in 1998, Farrow proclaimed Sinatra the love of her life, saying she “loved him ’til the day he died and beyond.”

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