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Rat Pack Confidential Hardcover – April 13, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

If you're not inclined to read individual biographies of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr., Shawn Levy's Rat Pack Confidential is a perfect one-stop resource. Less a group biography than a series of impressionistic snapshots, the book is loaded with can't-miss material--the dirt on the making of Ocean's Eleven, information about Sinatra's wild stint as a casino owner, deep background on Peter Lawford's habit of introducing Jack Kennedy to glamorous starlets, wiretap transcripts of mobsters Sam Giancana and Johnny Formosa discussiong Dean Martin's lack of respect.

Levy, whose previous book, King of Comedy, is a serious consideration of Jerry Lewis's life and career, offers similarly well considered insights into the members of the Rat Pack. He covers Davis's lifelong struggle against racism and the complicated intertwinings of the Kennedy political machine and "the Clan," as the performers preferred to be called (they often denied anything like the Rat Pack even existed and resisted collective references).

The book's debts to its predecessors are often apparent; much of the material on Sinatra's friendship with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, for example, appears to have been gleaned from recent Bogart biographies. The writing style, which tries to capture the ring-a-ding-ding feel of the era, also owes serious debts to Nick Tosches by way of James Ellroy, while only intermittently reaching their level of mastery. But these are minor quibbles. As a synthesis of thirty years worth of journalism and celebrity biography, Rat Pack Confidential succeeds in portraying the supernova blowout of old-school showbiz in all its dazzling glory.

From Library Journal

It used to be Frank Sinatra's world: Women were broads, the whole world was a smoking section, and booze flowed freely. And at no time was it more Frank's world than when the Rat Pack was in session. Sinatra was the center of the group, with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. completing the nucleus. Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Shirley MacLaine, the only female admitted, comprised the periphery. Since Sinatra's 80th birthday in 1995 was commemorated by at least a half-dozen books, one might think that all that could possibly be written about Sinatra already has. Indeed, most of the material in these books has been seen before in the biographies and autobiographies of the various Rat Pack players, but each book finds its own angle. Quirk (author of a string of movie-star biographies) and Schoell (a novelist and author of books on film) concentrate a bit more on the various Rat Pack films. Levy (author of a Jerry Lewis biography and former editor at American Film) digs somewhat deeper into Sinatra's connections with politics and organized crime. In light of Sinatra's recent death, there will likely be demand for more material on him, and these boks will be welcome additions to circulating popular culture collections.AMichael Colby, Univ. of California at Davis Lib.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (April 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385487517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385487511
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Shawn Levy is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestsellers "Rat Pack Confidential" and "Paul Newman: A Life." He served as film critic of The Oregonian from 1997 to 2012 and is a former senior editor of American Film and a former associate editor of Box Office. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, The Independent, Film Comment, Movieline, and Sight and Sound, among many other publications. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he serves on the board of directors of Operation Pitch Invasion ( To get a peak into his head, visit

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Andy Orrock VINE VOICE on June 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
I picked up 'Rat Pack Confidential' in the airport, looking for a way to kill time on a couple of upcoming flights. This book filled those needs and more. It's a very compelling read...a finely crafted and expertly researched work on the makings - and subsequent unmakings - of the Rat Pack.
There are excellent portraits of the main protagonsists - Sinatra, Davis Jr., Martin, Lawford and Bishop - and Shawn Levy draws a vivd portrait of Las Vegas at the beginning of the 60s. Levy's research brings up five distinct personalities...despite the perceptions of 'clanishness' that the public held about the Rat Pack, these were each very unique individuals.
Levy weaves together a series of threads to make up the core of the book, and one month after finishing it, there are three that linger in my mind...
1. Sinatra's 'using' of Peter Lawford as an inroad to JFK. [Sinatra derisely referred to Lawford as 'the brother-in-Lawford.'] Once Lawford was of no use to him anymore, Sinatra discarded him & Lawford never really fully recovered.
2. Sinatra's desperate attempts to curry favor with JFK, and the Kennedy Administation's efforts to keep him (and the Rat Pack) at arm's length.
3. Marilyn Monroe - caught in a downward spiral, her eerie presence haunts the latter-half of the book as powerful men use (and abuse) her.
I went into this book expecting a breezy show-biz-type read and was very pleasantly surprised about the serious matter of much of the material: the development of Las Vegas; Presidential politics; Mafia intrigue; and lives destroyed by excess. Great stuff.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By John P Bernat on July 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
The author sets the scene well in the prologue. He paints the conductor of this orchestra of self-absorption, Frank Sinatra, as a revered singer and actor, who somehow decided to set up a situation where people he was curious about would be set up around him, so he could watch them, contrast them and influence them.

The stage thus set is almost like an extended form of performance art. "T am so unique and so invulnerable that I can make this happen, and make people like it." Many "American Idols" have done this, but few did what Frank did: set up a group like the Rat Pack to bounce along with.

Two figures of great significance emerge outside the perimeter in this story: John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. The former seems most similar to Sinatra himself: glad to have others feel that they are taking advantage of him, while constantly doing just the reverse. The latter is just awfully sad: a directionless icon who loses all sense of life purpose and whose end is almost a relief.

The part I liked the best was how Frank builds an extensive compound, including Secret Service and helicopter support, which Kennedy completely spurns. It was a comeuppance that Frank totally deserved.

You'll enjoy this book. And, as others have observed here, Nick Tosches' book, "Dino," is a natural companion.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Corneil on August 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
It's January 1960, a time of shiny suits and narrow ties, the space race, JFK and rumbles in the jungle. Gray clouds may be gathering ninety miles off the coast of Florida but a full blown storm is already roaring through the City of Las Vegas, way out West.

Frank Sinatra has swept into the neon playground to make a movie called 'Ocean's Eleven' and to do more than his fair share of hell raising while he's at it. Joined by his Hollywood pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, the glamorous quintet of singers, dancers and comics are officially known as 'The Clan' and somewhat less respectfully as 'The Rat Pack'.

Just for laughs, the boys have also decided to treat the guests of the Sands Casino to a series of adlib stage shows. With the playful celebs filming by day and clowning in the Sands 'Copa Room' by night, the whole crazy get-together is being referred to as 'The Summit' by members of the international media who simply can't get enough of the eminently newsworthy goings-on.

And it's into this heady mix of thundering showbands, cigar smoke, tuxedos and riotous laughter that author Shawn Levy takes us on a personally guided tour. Not only do we get to enjoy the legendary club act but we also get to take a peek behind the big velvet curtain to catch a glimpse of the private partying that went on after hours. And boy, oh boy ... if only those red, blue and yellow 'feature walls' of the Sands were still standing, what a story they could tell. But we do have an excellent substitute in the form of Mr Levy who, provides a whiz-bang recap of the Rat Pack's life and times over the 300 plus pages that follow.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jayson Olson on February 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book as more of a fill in the gaps type of curiosity I had after watching HBO's "The Rat Pack" (see it if you can). After watching the two hour movie, I was intrigued about how the Rat Pack was formed, how it lived, how it disbanded and all the great stories that went with it...
This book delivers all that and much more.
It is a friendly read, neither critical or praising; straight down the line as accurate and level headed as can be.
What I really enjoyed was the origins of each of the members. Then there was the mafia and multiple dames tie-ins. The Kennedy's are portrayed in this book and it lends to a great history lesson in back door politics.
Then the book closes with the eventual downfall of their swinging empire. What exactly happened to each cast member and the people that surrounded them. Its all answered.
This book gives great insight to each of the players. By the end of each chapter I was sure whether I loved them, or hated them.
A definite must read!!!
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