Was Sinatra a Sometime Stoner?

Handsome Johnny.

Paul Anka’s new tell-all book My Way finally arrived. I was hoping this memoir might shed some light on the Sicilian men-of-honor society since Anka was the youngest member of Sinatra’s Las Vegas ratpack who ruled Vegas throughout the sixties and seventies. The book does not disappoint. In fact, the foreword includes a few paragraphs on Johnny Roselli, who was running Las Vegas for the Chicago family when Anka arrived there as a teenager. Anka says “Handsome Johnny” was working for Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky, but far as I know, he started out doing hits for the Chicago outfit and may have even been the trigger man for the St. Valentine’s day massacre which permanently rearranged the power structure in Chicago.

I have a strange connection to Roselli as he frequently came to my hometown to visit one of his favorite mistresses, the owner of the local newspaper, where I worked on the weekends while in high school, hanging up the UPI and AP tapes that were used to automatically set type. Initially, Roselli was moved out to Hollywood, but after Bugsy Siegal invented Las Vegas, he soon shifted his base of operations there. Anka says Casino is probably the closest movie to the truth about Vegas, but even in that movie the violence is exaggerated for theatrical effect. Roselli and his friends were actually the best-dressed, most well-mannered people in Vegas, and any problems that arose for them were usually dealt with very quietly and behind the scenes.

In fact, the rat pack may have picked up some of its style from Roselli and his pals because they always dressed to the nines. It was Roselli who got Marilyn Monroe her first movie deal, by the way, which is why she owed the Chicago family big time, and why she had affairs with Sam Giancana, Roselli’s boss.

There are many revelations in this book, but one of the biggest is Sinatra actually liked smoking pot on occasion? Anka doesn’t make a big deal out of it, just mentions it in passing one time, but obviously many if not most of the professional musicians in the 30’s and 40’s were vipers at one point. We always heard Sinatra didn’t care for illegal drugs, but, in fact, that may not have been true when it came to marijuana. The rat pack spent a lot of time in the steam rooms, sweating out the booze they were drinking, but marijuana would also have provided some much needed hangover relief.

Of course, Sammy Davis was the weirdest member of that group. At the invitation of the creepy Lt. Col. Michael Aquino, Sammy received an honorary membership in Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. Sammy was a freak at heart and loved having threesomes with a dude and a lady while imbibing enormous amounts of cocaine and watching porn. Sammy supposedly had the biggest porn collection in Hollywood. Sinatra tried to pull Sammy out of that scene when it was obvious Sammy was losing it.

According to Anka, the scene in Casino when they are bundling up the skim in the backroom is not entirely correct. All the cash was put into official wooden boxes and reported except the hundred dollar bills. The hundreds were divided between the families who’d invested in Vegas, and suitcases of hundred dollar bills were constantly being shipped back east.

I’m sure Anka knows more than he is revealing, but even so, the book is filled with revelations and I hope this gets turned into a movie soon. Anka comes across as a very smart dude who was there at the beginning of rock and roll. In fact, he was working with Buddy Holly when Holly died and Anka correctly identifies Holly as the most important influence on the British invasion, the man who almost single-handedly created the singer/songwriter/guitar player role model that swept through the culture a few years later. Chuck Berry was very influential too, but Chuck was an older dude, already in his 30s when the rock tidal wave crashed on the beach. In a way, Holly’s death and Berry’s incarceration opened the doors for the British invasion to walk though as they left such a tremendous void.

Anka and Bobby Darin were the two most talented dudes in their class, the last to come from the Brill Building, and it’s obvious Anka thinks Darin lost all dignity by joining the counterculture late in life. I disagree in that songs Darin wrote during this period were among his best and make great counterculture anthems today, especially Simple Song of Freedom. So I don’t think Darin lost his dignity, quite the contrary, I think he had a spiritual awakening, but like Ricky Nelson found out at Madison Square Garden, sometimes your audience thinks they’re in charge of your paradigm and they don’t want you to change, or at least they don’t follow you down that road.

I didn’t realize Anka was Lebanese, probably because his family is Christian, but he was Adnan Khashoggi’s favorite performer and there’s a lot of praise for that gun runner and Octopus bagman and very little on his criminal behaviors, but then the same goes for the Sicilian men-of-honor. Anka also goes into detail on the famous fight between Steve Wynn and Donald Trump.

But some of his most interesting revelations occur when Howard Hughes arrives in Vegas with the intent of buying up the state. Hughes did buy several casinos before he was mysteriously disappeared, but the men-of-honor? They were left in place. Hughes needed people to run his casinos, and they were simply the best people for that particular job.

The Midnight Move of Howard Hughes

Had Howard Hughes not been so phobic he might have taken over the world. Hughes became a real threat to the Eastern Establishment after his companies began dominating the CIA and defense department contracts. Hughes was stunned when that Eastern Establishment moved to yank TWA airlines away from him, right after he’d transformed it into the greatest jet fleet in America. Maybe it was part of the oil companies desire for a monopoly on all phases of their industry, although the excuse given was that Hughes was unfit to command such a sensitive national security position, and had squandered immense resources on his Spruce Goose boondoggle. There was also talk of England having superseded the USA in jet technology, intimating that Hughes had lost his technological edge. But the problems really started when Hughes announced TWA was going global and would commence transatlantic flights, competing against Pan Am.

The real power center of gravity in the United States appears to reside with those oil companies, the seven sisters, the monopoly that transformed into the energy cartel. Because his grandfather invented a drill-bit essential to oil drilling, Hughes maintained one of the few hick-ups in their dream of controlling all phases of the industry. (Aristotle Onassis would also provoke similar ire when he captured a near-monopoly on the trans-ocean shipments of Arabian oil, but that’s another story.)

Hughes fought tooth and nail to keep TWA, even to the point of calling out the Rockefeller Trust as the true instigators of the plot against him in open session of Congress, but Hughes eventually lost this war against the Eastern Establishment. He responded by taking the half a billion dollars in buy-out in cash and moving to Las Vegas, where he intended to buy the state, a masterful plan well on its way to success. (Just as Onassis survived his assault by investing in Monte Carlo, Hughes wisely saw the Vegas casinos as the most secure way to insure profits.) Hughes already maintained one of the largest private security forces in the world. He picked Robert Maheu, formerly FBI, possibly CIA, as his underboss.

One day, however, Hughes disappeared in the middle of the night. In an elaborately scripted getaway, dual caravans departed simultaneously to two airports, one of which held a drugged Hughes, the other, a decoy. Both planes were flown out of the country, one eventually landing in the Bahamas, where the occupant took up residency in a hotel owned by Hughes’ business rival, Resorts International, a firm connected with both the CIA and the Sicilian men of honor. No one ever saw Hughes again. He did appear by phone once in what many people believe was a staged impersonation by a skilled actor. Likely he was maintained somewhere as a near vegetable until he finally wasted away. There was never any attempt for any independent agency to investigate Hughes’ sudden midnight move, forsaking a hotel he owned, to eventually live inside a hotel owned by his principle rival in the casino business. Maheu went to court convinced Hughes had been abducted by a conspiracy involving his Mormon staff, who had seized day-to-day operations away from Maheu and were rapidly replacing the entire top layer of all his corporations with Mormon controllers. Over the phone, the Hughes double accused Maheu of “stealing him blind,” as the excuse for his midnight move, but Maheu won a libel case after Hughes’s handlers failed to produce any evidence of theft whatsoever. Despite never having met Hughes in person, Maheu had been drawing a salary of $500,000 per year, the equivalent of several million a year today.

Hughes was a spook at heart. Unfortunately, he was also a racist, and a lot of the super rich seem afflicted with that disease.