Cinema: The Moonchild and the Fifth Beatle

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(8 of 10)

The producers of Peyton Place saw more in Mia than she saw in herself. For two years as Allison MacKenzie, Mia made the soap opera one long disaster aria and attracted the attention of millions of viewers—including Frank Sinatra. It was 1964—a very good year for long-haired swingers and toupeed singers. The way the public pop-psyched it out, at 19, she was looking for a father; at 48, he was looking for his youth. Their life became about as secluded as an airport. The couple took the most curious romantic cruise since the owl and the pussycat, with much the same result: a mismatched marriage.

After the Las Vegas wedding—attended by 37 still cameras, 14 motion-picture cameras and seven writers—show business set in. "Hah!" chortled Sinatra's ex-wife Ava Gardner, "I always knew Frank would wind up in bed with a boy." The gossip columnists were scarcely kinder. The pair's every waking hour seemed to make the wire services. During the affair, when she lopped off her hair, Dali called it "mythical suicide." After the separation, her behavior seemed more of the same. She flew off to India with her flower-child sister Prudence* for a month of transcendental meditation with Maharishi, the groovy guru. "I got there," Mia remembers, "and it was just the same zoo all over again. It was scary in the Himalayas, although I was scared of just about everything at that time. There were even photographers in the trees. I was there for my birthday, and I had to wear a silver hat. Two days later, I left."

A disintegrating marriage has several breaking points: the most obvious occurred during the filming of Rosemary's Baby with Director Roman Polanski. Sinatra tried to get her to leave Rosemary and join The Detective; she wouldn't. By night he telephoned her to say that he couldn't live without her; by day he planned divorce proceedings. Mia heard about them not from her husband but from his attorney. Coolly she announced that she wanted no financial settlement—which apparently stunned the singer more than a countersuit for a million. After the lawyer's visit, she took Sinatra's private plane to Los Angeles—where she found an airport full of reporters who could only have been tipped off by Sinatra's associates. Terrified, Mia talked the pilot into taking off and depositing her at another airport miles away.

Like a child who insists on a happy ending for The Red Shoes, Mia remains transcendentally tranquil about the chairman of the board. Though the divorce decree is final, she still absently refers to Sinatra as "my husband," still remembers him wistfully as "a gentle, quiet man." Yet she offers the best clue as to why the marriage proved unworkable: "Maybe it bothered him not being young. He felt things getting away from him. My friends from India would come into the house barefoot and hand him a flower. That made him feel square for the first time in his life."

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