02.23.14

The Week in Death: George Jacobs, Sinatra’s Domestic Confidant

While Ol’ Blue Eyes mingled with mobsters, politicians, and movie stars, his trusted valet was always close by, taking it all in.

George Jacobs, who has died aged 86, was Frank Sinatra’s valet; as an addendum to the Rat Pack for fifteen years, he danced with Marilyn Monroe, played golf with the Mafia and traded gossip with John F Kennedy, all the while serving up Italian delicacies and pneumatic women to satiate Ol’ Blue Eyes’ appetites.

Between 1953 and 1968 Jacobs tended to the whims and moods of “The Chairman”, as Sinatra was known in his inner circle (Jacobs himself referred to Sinatra simply as “Mr. S”). The singer was to be a generous, amusing but tempestuous employer. Although “nasty and self pitying” when drunk (he once threw a plate of spaghetti marinara at Jacobs because he considered it too al dente), Sinatra took him around the world and treated him as a domestic confidant. “Mr S’s problem, if you could call it a problem, was that he was like a hyperkinetic kid,” stated Jacobs later in life. “Today they’d give him Ritalin.”

George Emmanuel Jacobs was born on April 29, 1927 in New Orleans, where his father ran a nightclub called the Joy Tavern on the edge of the city’s red light district. His mother was a cook for a rich white family, and his upbringing, he later recalled, was polarised between “living with these plantation aristocrats by day, visiting my daddy and his hepcat jazzmen at night.”

As a young man he joined the Navy and while on a tour of duty in Korea learned that his father had been shot dead outside his bar. Once demobbed, Jacobs tried out his luck in Hollywood, landing bit parts in B-movies—he was cast as a restless native in the MGM Tarzan series (“We all had one line: ‘Ungawa!’”).

His valet life began in 1950. While browsing a Beverly Hills record store he was approached by a “weird dwarfish man with huge eyeglasses”. The stranger was Swifty Lazar, super-agent to stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Gene Kelly. For the next three years Jacobs acted as Lazar’s “Man Friday,” ministering to his increasingly hyper-phobic impulses (Lazar would only walk on towels at home and had his shirts cleaned in London).

Jacobs met Sinatra in 1953 while looking after Lazar’s Rolls-Royce outside a Los Angeles party. When the singer arrived Jacobs asked him for a smoke. He didn’t have one but returned ten minutes later with a gold bowl brimming with cigarettes. “From that moment on I knew I liked the guy,” he recalled. Sinatra poached him from Lazaar later that year.

Jacobs’s arrival in Sinatra’s household coincided with the rebirth of the star’s career (that year he gave his Oscar-winning turn in From Here to Eternity). He was, however, also caught up in the tumult of his ailing marriage to Ava Gardner. “She could stop planes, not just traffic,” recalled Jacobs. “The first thing to hit me were those cats eyes of hers, green with flecks of gold and hypnotic as hell.” The pair were to become friends.

“Sinatra once threw a plate of spaghetti marinara at Jacobs because he considered it too al dente”

He was to attend to less attractive characters. In 1956 he cooked clams for mobsters at Sinatra’s Palm Springs home but, he claimed, heard little evidence of criminal activity: “The only talk I heard was about broads, boxing, and golf.” Jacobs remained pragmatic about serving the regular entourages of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford while on the “Mob Circuit.” From the Sands Hotel in Vegas to the Copacabana in New York, during the late 1950s “the drill was the same, endless nights, oceans of booze, gorgeous girls, and, of course, the greatest music on earth. Gangsters everywhere.”

Tending to Sinatra’s libido was a full-time job. “He always needed a girl, and she didn’t need to be famous,” stated Jacobs. The food chain of Sinatra’s conquests varied from his leading ladies to Vegas showgirls dispatched to his Sands suite as an “on-the-house nitecap.” For every starlet who succumbed to his advances there would be a headliner, such as Olivia de Havilland, who would dismiss him as childish. Jacobs’s role was less a pimp than a tour guide, helping each conquest home after a brief clinch.

In 1962 he accompanied Sinatra (on his personal plane, El Dago) across Europe and Asia. In Hong Kong, Jacobs fitted him out in orange blazers and snakeskin elevator shoes. “I dig these coolies, George,” Sinatra told him. “I may have to replace you.” But travel was rare—Sinatra liked to remain at home in his Californian compound. And as the decade progressed Jacobs watched the singer go from one trauma to another: first the death of Marilyn Monroe, then the Kennedy assassination and finally the kidnap of his son, Frank Junior.

In the opening line of his memoir, Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra (2003) Jacobs wrote: “The only man in America who was less interested than me in sleeping with Mia Farrow was her husband and my boss, Frank Sinatra.” Jacobs’s fall from grace, therefore, was as ridiculous as it was swift. One summer evening in 1968 he was en route to meet Gardner for Sinatra when he called in at the Candy Store, a Beverly Hills disco. Mia Farrow, whom Sinatra was in the process of divorcing, came in shortly after. The pair danced. This brief, innocent encounter was talked up by the waspish gossip columnist Rona Barrett. Sinatra was enraged at the thought of his soon to be ex-wife “doing the watusi” with his black servant. Within 24 hours Jacobs was fired and locked out of Sinatra’s private Camelot.

While Jacobs had seen his boss banish plenty of hangers-on, his downfall was to end not only a friendship—of sorts—but also a lifestyle. “Mr. S had turned my world upside down,” he said. “I had pretty awful withdrawal symptoms for about a year after getting the axe.” Jacobs went on to work for Steve McQueen and Bill Cosby before giving up service to take up a second career as a carpenter.

George Jacobs was married and divorced three times. His survivors include four sons and two daughters. Three further children predeceased him.