In the public eye, they lived a fantasy that mere mortals could only dream of. But between the ellipses of Rat Pack lore existed a carnival of leisure, stress, politics, starlets, heartache and happiness. For decades, some of the only photographic evidence was stashed in a cardboard box labeled “Do Not Print.” That is, until now.
“The Rat Pack,” a limited-edition volume by Reel Art Press, is a sprawling compilation of visual footnotes in the everyday world of Frank Sinatra and his band of brothers. In private life, their mystique lingered in the clothes they wore, the cigarettes they smoked, the women on their arms and the rules they broke. The bulky hardcover pools guarded snapshots with gems from the cutting-room floor taken at the Cal Neva Resort in North Lake Tahoe and the star-studded gatherings at Peter Lawford’s Santa Monica beach house. Among them are shots by Bob Willoughby, Sid Avery, Ted Allen, Bernie Abramson and others in their inner circle.
“When you look through the book, it’s like being a fly on the wall,” said editor and RAP co-founder Tony Nourmand. He collaborated with Andy Howick of the MPTV photo agency to trace shots of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Lawford during their heyday in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Excavations into MPTV’s archives unearthed a trove of unprinted negatives; shots of Sinatra partying with Marilyn Monroe and Spencer Tracy, wisecracking with mobsters and sharing dinner with President John F. Kennedy. It also included photos of Sinatra with Lauren Bacall, who coined the “Rat Pack” phrase for Sinatra’s friends. “They’re not posed shots,” Nourmand said. “It’s the same as you going to your friend’s house, taking out your iPhone and taking shots of people who were sitting around.”
Shawn Levy, who wrote the book “Rat Pack Confidential,” pitched in with an introduction and captions accompanying 448 pages of meditative silhouettes and backstage antics in color and black and white. “I don’t think it changes our sense of who they were or what kind of lives they led,” said Levy. “But it gives us more of a sense of how they lived … how they ate, how they drank.”
One crucial tidbit unearthed by Levy was the name of the late Floyd McCarty, who shot a classic photograph of the gang posed in front of the Sands Hotel marquee, shoulder to shoulder in the scorching Las Vegas sun. Nourmand and Levy also obtained interviews with the last surviving Rat Pack photographers, including Lou Jacobs Jr., 90, and Bernie Abramson, who died in August, two months before the book was published.
The book starts at $650 for the Masters Edition and $1,650 for the Deluxe Edition, which includes a wooden slip case and a bonus image of Sinatra and Martin signed by the photographer, Gerald Smith. The customizable, $4,000 Heritage edition — limited to 30 copies — includes a rare, vintage photograph and signatures from Nourmand, Levy and art director and designer Graham Marsh. For the Rat Pack, only the best.