Frank Sinatra’s temper was legendary in Hollywood. Those close to the artist knew that the most minor thing — a meal not prepared to his liking or a perfume he didn’t like — could send him into a rage. Therefore, his reaction was somewhat surprising when a guest at a party hosted by his ex-wife accidentally broke something in her home. He chose to also smash something to make the guest feel better.
Frank Sinatra divorced his first wife after a very public affair
Sinatra began dating his first wife, Nancy Barbato, in 1934, when both were teenagers living in New Jersey. Five years later, they married and had three children together. Soon, Sinatra found success as a singer and actor. He also started up a number of affairs.
“The more famous Frank Sinatra got the more women there were who wanted to go to bed with him, and he saw no reason not to oblige as many of them as possible,” his biographer James Kaplan wrote in Frank: The Voice, per The Washington Post. “Covering up the evidence was rarely his first priority.”
Amidst Sinatra’s public love affair with Ava Gardner, he and Barbato permanently separated. In 1951, they officially divorced.
“Unfortunately, my married life with Frank has become most unhappy and almost unbearable,” Barbato said in a rare public statement about her relationship.
He once smashed her belongings after a mistake by a party guest
Despite their split, Sinatra and Barbato remained in each other’s lives. At one point, Sinatra hosted a party at Barbato’s California home. A reporter named Jane Hoag, who went to school with Sinatra’s daughter Nancy, leaned against a table and knocked an alabaster bird figurine to the floor, shattering it.
The 1966 article “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese (via Creative Nonfiction) noted that the room fell entirely silent when this happened.
“Sinatra’s daughter cried, ‘Oh, that was one of mother’s favorites…’ — but before she could complete the sentence, Sinatra glared at her, cutting her off, and while 40 other guests in the room all stared in silence, Sinatra walked over, quickly with his finger flicked the other alabaster bird off the table, smashing it to pieces, and then put an arm gently around Jane Hoag and said, in a way that put her completely at ease, ‘That’s OK, kid.’”
Frank Sinatra and his former wife maintained a friendly relationship after their divorce
Though she likely did not appreciate him smashing one of her favorite possessions, Sinatra and Barbato remained close even after their divorce. She instructed Sinatra’s valet George Jones on how to make her former husband’s favorite foods. She also offered advice on his romances with other women and accepted that he would sometimes come over and crash on her sofa unannounced. Barbato even threw Sinatra’s 50th birthday party.
“I didn’t do it under the pretense of thinking he’d come back,” she said. “It’s just that we had a nice association and I wanted to keep it that way.”
Barbato never remarried and remained Sinatra’s friend until his death in 1998.