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SINATRA: THE CHAIRMAN published by Doubleday on October 27th, 2015

My Oscars memoir in Byliner….

My Oscars memoir in Byliner:


My brother, the widely revered editor Peter Wennik Kaplan, died on November 29th, 2013. I attach the eulogy I read at his funeral on December 3rd.

James visits Sinatra’s NYC penthouse

530 East 72nd Street, up in the sky and over the river -- Frank lived here from 1962-1971, and James visited the other week....


Chef Marcus Samuelsson likes FRANK: THE VOICE

Chef Marcus Samuelsson likes Frank: The Voice as much as I like Red Rooster Harlem....

Ernest Borgnine interview, December 15, 2009

In December 2009, I had a delightful talk with Ernest Borgnine, who left us recently, too soon, at age 95. I asked Ernie (as he insisted I call him) for his reminiscences about Frank Sinatra, and he happily obliged:

JK:   You said in [your memoir]  Ernie that you and Sinatra were both scared when you did your scenes together.

EB:   Yes, we were. We were frightened to death because we wanted to prove ourselves again, you know. I didn’t have anything to prove except one thing—that I could do it. He had to prove himself again because he was right down to nothing. He had lost his voice, and he was doing gigs at that time for $50 a night. It was terrible. But between Montgomery Clift and myself and everything else, we got him going, and boy, I’ll tell you, when it came out, he won the Academy Award, and I was just so proud of him.

JK:   Well, you won one pretty soon after that.

EB:   I beat him out for that thing that he had...Man...what the heck was it...

JK:   Oh, The Man With the Golden Arm.

EB:   Man With the Golden arm. That’s it.

JK:   You beat him out. Good for you. Was he what you expected? Was he different from what you expected? He was such a gigantic star...

EB:   No. To me, he was a human being, and he always was a human being, and he was marvelous. There was nothing put up about Frank. He was Frank, and you could take it or leave it. That’s the way it was with him. He was the kind of fellow that took Lee J. Cobb one time out of a hospital with...

JK:   I know about that.

EB:   Have you heard about that?

JK:   Yeah, it’s amazing.

EB:   and God bless him, he’s that kind of a fellow. Never said a word. Just paid for everything, and BOOM. He said, “Why?” “Because I like the way you act.” Isn’t that wonderful.

JK:   He had a reputation... Well, he had a lot of reputations. But he had a reputation as a movie actor of being One-Take-Charlie...

EB:   That’s it.

JK:   ...and of being very impatient on the set.

EB:   Well, I don’t blame him. Because you know, they keep you there half-a-day trying to get a little tiny thing that can come automatically. Today, when they watch motion pictures, they don’t watch the entire thing by watching on the set. They watch a television set.

JK:   Thanks to Jerry Lewis, yes.

EB:   You know, that’s terrible! Because how the hell can you shoot a picture watching on the television set? You don’t see the expressions, you don’t see the things that are happening in a man’s eyes. When you do it on the television, what the hell good is it? You might as well be watching television.

JK:   But see, I read that on From Here To Eternity he was not like that, that he was much more patient and hard-working.

EB:   Oh, absolutely.

JK:   That was your impression, too.

EB:   Because he was trying to prove himself back again. You know what I mean? He had to keep going and really prove that he could do it.

JK:   So he was respectful with you?

EB:   Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We got to be good friends, and for years, up until the time he passed away. Whenever we wrote to each other, for Christmas cards or stuff like that, he would write his name “Maggio” and I’d write mine “Fatso.”

JK:   I thought that you also... I’ve got to ask you this question. It’s a little bit delicate, but you mentioned it in your book, and so I’m asking you. You said something about that on the set of From Here to Eternity, that Frank was going to show up with some booze and broads, but he never showed up.


JK:   Do you remember that?

EB:   Yes, I do. He said, “I’ll show up...” This was after we did the fight, the knife fight between Montgomery Clift and myself.

JK:   What did he say?

EB:   He said, “Oh, hell, you guys are going to get through early. Maybe I’ll come by and we’ll have a couple of drinks, and then some broads, and who knows?” And he never showed up.

JK:   Maybe he found one for himself that he didn’t want to...

EB:   Who knows? Who knows? Hah-hah. But he was... I tell you, in my estimation, Frank could do no wrong, because he made it look so right. He was a good guy.

JK:   He was, and he was really working hard on that movie. Just tell me a tiny bit about Fred Zinnemann. Did you like Zinnemann?

EB:   Zinnemann was wonderful. He said, “Thank God for New York actors.” Hah-hah-hah! Because we used to bring him a lot to do. We gave him things to work with. There are people out here that don’t really communicate very well. But the old boys from New York, we always brought new ideas to it and everything else. We asked him, “What do you think about this?” “Yes, let’s try it.” He was that kind of fellow.

JK:   He was a serious guy and a professional, is my impression.

EB:   Oh, absolutely. To say the least.

JK:   And quiet and thoughtful.

EB:   Very quiet. Never said a word. He’d always come up... A very suggestive and very wonderful man. Never argued or anything else. I never heard an argument in my life with that man. He was just wonderful.

JK:   Did you have any contact with Harry Cohn at all?

EB:   Harry Cohn one time wanted to put me under contract.

JK:   Is that right?

EB:   That’s right. After my very first picture here, The Mob, with Broderick Crawford.  He liked what I did. He said, “We’ll put you under contract and give you $150 a week, and so-and-so-and-so.” I said, “Sir, I’m sorry. I’d love to take it. I really would. But my wife is very close to her family, and she doesn’t like to leave her family.” He said, “What the hell is she? Jewish?” I said, “Yes, sir, she is.” He said, “Goddamn Jews are all alike.” [LAUGHS]

JK:   Pot calling the kettle black.

EB:   The casting director at the time, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll find something for you,” and he was the one who kept pushing me for From Here to Eternity.

JK:   Did Cohn show up on the set of From Here to Eternity?

EB:   I never saw him once.

JK:   How about Buddy Adler?

EB:   Buddy Adler, yes. Oh, he was a sweetheart.

JK:   Was he?

EB:   Yes. He was our producer. The minute he saw me, he said, “My God, there’s my Fatso Judson.” Then another time, I saw this couple come across this studio... we were working inside of a studio, and they came through the doors of the studio, and we just said hello. Monty Clift and I were talking together, you know. They came over, and the first thing you know, I’m embraced by this man in these big arms, and he said, “You’re the son-of-a-bitch I wrote about when I wrote this book.”

JK:   Ah, James Jones.

EB:   It was Jim Jones himself. I said, “My God, thank you very much, sir. I really appreciate it.” He said, “No, I appreciate it.” Quite a man.

JK:   You did such a great job in that movie. After you did that fight scene with Sinatra, was it hard to switch gears... You showed such hate for him in that scene.


JK:   I guess that’s why they call it acting.

EB:   That’s where the acting comes in, you see? The funny part about is that I had a line at the end, where I lay down there and he stepped over me, and he looked over me... I had a line that came out and said, “You’ve killed me; why did you want to kill me?” I studied that line for seven weeks. I said, “I want it to come out right. I don’t want somebody to come out and say, [AFFECTED VOICE] ‘oh, you’ve killed me; why did you want to kill me?” Well, to make a long story short, when I went to see the picture, they cut the bloody line. I suddenly realized, “They made me a heavy...but the best heavy ever.” I was so thrilled, you know. Hey, from then on, I was sticking pitchforks in Lee Marvin... [LAUGHS]


Neil Sedaka likes FRANK: THE VOICE

Brill Building songwriting legend Sedaka tells the New York Post he can't put Frank: The Voice down....

James is a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded Fellowships to a diverse group of 181 scholars, artists, and scientists in its eighty-eighth annual competition for the United States and Canada. Appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise, the successful candidates were chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants.

James is extremely proud to have been awarded a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship for Volume 2, Sinatra: The Chairman of the Board.

Writer’s Voice With Francesca Rheannon likes FRANK: THE VOICE

Francesca Rheannon, host of the nationally syndicated radio show and podcast Writer's Voice With Francesca Rheannon, names her interview with James Kaplan one of her Top 10 Shows of 2011.

Bernie Taupin likes FRANK: THE VOICE

"Hands down the best book written on Sinatra. Engrossing, enlightening and addictive, this like Guralnick’s twin volumes on Elvis is all you need. I just hope there’s a volume 2 in the works as 'The Voice' ends with Frank’s resurgence and Oscar win for 'From Here To Eternity.' 'Frank: The Chairman' perhaps?" — Bernie Taupin's American Roots Radio, Recommended Books

Sting likes FRANK: THE VOICE

"Words are important to [Sting]; as important, he says, as music: 'I read a lot. I’m always reading. I couldn’t live without books.' He has just finished Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and is now engrossed in James Kaplan’s new biography of Frank Sinatra: 'It’s beautifully written. I’m currently falling in love with Ava Gardner.'" — from "The Singing Police Man," The New Zealand Listener, Jan. 22, 2011

James on the B’nai B’rith International Podcast

In his newly published book Irving Berlin: New York Genius, distinguished biographer and journalist James Kaplan tackles the complex relationship between Irving Berlin and the city of New York. In this podcast episode, B’nai B’rith International CEO and host Daniel S. Mariaschin and Kaplan discuss Kaplan’s book as well as the legacy of Irving Berlin.

James on the Jewish Lives Podcast

Yale University Press’s Jewish Lives Podcast dedicated its November 18th episode to James’s Irving Berlin: New York Genius:

Irving Berlin has been called—by George Gershwin, among others—the greatest songwriter of the golden age of American popular song.

James Kaplan, author of the Jewish Lives biography Irving Berlin: New York Genius, underscores Berlin’s unique brilliance as a composer, his witty, wily, and tough Jewish immigrant experience, and his continued relevance in American popular culture today.

James on Irving Berlin on NPR

James discussed Irving Berlin: New York Genius on From the Bookshelf with Gary Shapiro on November 18th.

James on Berlin at the Detroit Jewish Book Fair

James discussed his new biography of Irving Berlin at the 67th annual Detroit Jewish Book Fair on November 9th, 2019. Irving Berlin was published by Yale University Press on November 5th.


Irving Berlin: New Book

James Kaplan’s Irving Berlin was published November 5th.


“James Kaplan’s Irving Berlin is just like its subject: taut, vibrant, and thrumming with the irresistible words and music of America’s songwriter laureate.  It’s by turns a buoyant and poignant trip across the tumultuous 20th century, through the eyes of an artist who helped define its popular taste. Kaplan reclaims the proud Jewish identity of the patriotic immigrant who knew that his country was blessed, because he had been.” Todd S. Purdum, author of Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution

Irving Berlin


Raves for Sinatra: The Chairman

“Remarkably insightful…. An alternately triumphant and tragic account of… a life that, as Kaplan concludes, ‘touched almost every aspect of American culture in the twentieth century.’ That’s a big statement, but this big book makes us believe it.” — Bill Ott, Booklist [starred review]

“Riveting…. An appropriately big book for an oversized artistic presence.” — Kirkus Reviews [starred]

“The great singer-actor contains multitudes in this vast, engrossing biography…. Kaplan delves with gusto into Sinatra’s seething contradictions.” — Publishers Weekly [starred]

“This is a great book, make no mistake.” — Craig Fitzgerald, Vermicious

“Hugely compelling… wildly readable… stunningly researched.” — Jeff Simon, Buffalo News

“Fifty pages from the end of Sinatra: The Chairman, the second and concluding volume of James Kaplan’s magisterial biography of Frank Sinatra, I guarantee you’ll begin to weep. Not because you’ve finished a 900-plus-page book (though you will feel relief), or because Kaplan so persistently details the ugly truth about Sinatra…. No, you will weep over the death of a massive and unforgettable talent whose style of living helped define post-war America, and you will weep of an America that no longer exists, whether you lived during those years or just yearn for their return.” — Sibbie O’Sullivan, The Washington Post

“This year marks Sinatra’s centennial, a celebration replete with musical, film, television, and museum tributes. And, of course, books–of which the crowning glory is surely… Sinatra: The Chairman… a riveting read… juicy, painstakingly researched, excitingly written.” Julia M. Klein, The Boston Globe

“Endlessly engaging…. [Kaplan’s] Sinatra is a magnificent monster…. The music is central… as it should be.” — Edward Kosner, The Wall Street Journal

“Written with… brilliant passion and understanding…. James Kaplan’s two volume set is the definitive word on Frank Sinatra, as definitive as any biography of any public figure can be. It’s jammed with something juicy on almost every page. It has been written with integrity and affection. It neither sugar coats or demonizes.” Liz Smith, New York Social Diary 

“Hugely readable, vastly entertaining, a page turner….”  Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

Sinatra: The Chairman

James talks with Alex Gibney about HBO Sinatra doc

James and Alex Gibney discuss Gibney’s 2-part HBO Sinatra documentary in a podcast moderated by Billboard senior editor Frank DiGiacomo:

Frank Sinatra
James Kaplan

James on Frank and Billie, BBC2

Jamie Cullum, Ian Parkinson, and James talk about Billie Holiday’s lasting influence on Frank:

James Kaplan

Frank Delaney interviews James about FRANK: THE VOICE and SINATRA: THE CHAIRMAN

The eminent Irish novelist, journalist, and broadcaster Frank Delaney interviews James about Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman.

Frank Sinatra

Derek at the beginning: Kaplan on Jeter, New York Magazine, April 7, 1997

Kaplan on Jeter, New York Magazine, April 7, 1997

James Kaplan

SINATRA: THE CHAIRMAN published by Doubleday on October 27th, 2015

Sinatra: The Chairman

My Oscars memoir in Byliner….

My Oscars memoir in Byliner:

My Oscars

James Kaplan has been writing noted biography, journalism, and fiction for more than four decades. The author of Frank: The Voice, the definitive two-volume biography of Frank Sinatra, he has written more than one hundred major profiles of figures ranging from Miles Davis to Meryl Streep, from Arthur Miller to Larry David.

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