News for James Kaplan

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

Upcoming Events

James and Gary Giddins will discuss Irving Berlin: New York Genius at the Graduate Center at CUNY on February 5, 2020.

James will also speak at the 92nd Street Y on February 13.

Reviews & Press for Irving Berlin: New York Genius

Genius is the operative word. The latest entry in the “Jewish Lives” series tackles perhaps the most prolific and important composer and lyricist in U.S. history…Kaplan, no stranger to daunting subjects…has written an extensively researched, entertaining, and nuanced account that contextualizes Berlin’s story and achievements within the scope of Jewish immigrant New York and modern American popular culture.” – Library Journal.

“Short but robust and richly rewarding…Kaplan vivifies Berlin and…brings his deep knowledge and wise insight to Berlin’s life story so that even his most classic songs like “White Christmas” feel like a new discovery.” – The National Book Review.

“One senses on every page Kaplan’s enthusiasm for his subject as well as his deep knowledge.” – The New York Journal of Books.

“Kaplan excavates psychological depth beneath the blithe melodies…a smart, entertaining biography of a great songwriter that will have readers humming along.” – Publishers Weekly.

Read more at The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Times of Israel, The Arts Fuse, The Jewish Review of Books, DownBeat, Wesleyan University, America Magazine, Mosaic, Popmatters, CBS News, NBC New York, and Broadway World.

James on the B’nai B’rith International Podcast

James appeared on the B’nai B’rith International podcast on November 22nd:

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 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


Irving Berlin

Raves for Sinatra: The Chairman

Sinatra: The Chairman

James talks with Alex Gibney about HBO Sinatra doc

Frank Sinatra / James Kaplan

James on Frank and Billie, BBC2

James Kaplan

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

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.