By Humra Laeeq
Barbara Sinatra, the American model and showgirl, passed away at the age of 90 at her home in California, on Tuesday. She was the fourth wife and widow of Frank Sinatra, one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century who died in 1998.
She headed the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center-a nonprofit organization that provides services for abused, neglected and at-risk children. John E. Thoresen, the director of the Center, first announced on Barbara’s death that she died of natural causes. Barbara is survived by her son, grandson, and two stepdaughters.
A beauty queen of her time
Barbara Ann Blakeley (her maiden name) was born on March 10, 1927, in Missouri. Raised in Kansas, she graduated from Wichita North High School and moved to California. The young enthusiast was accepted at the Robert Edward School of Professional Modeling. She became the Model of the Month and in 1948, the queen at the Belmont Shore pageant. A natural socialite, Barbara soon captured the attention of her associates and friends, gathering celeb aura at the Racquet Club, modelling and playing tennis with Tony Curtis who was having an affair with Marilyn Monroe.
With colleague and best friend Nelda Linsk at the Racquet Club, Barbara soon became Palm Spring’s top model. In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars-walk of fame in California was dedicated to her. In 2011, Barbara in an interview said “Palm Springs was a wonderful life. At that time, it was total happiness.”
A roller coaster of a personal life
Palm Springs was where the model met her second husband, Zeppo Marx, a former member of the Marx Brothers comedy team at the Club. They married in 1959 and Zeppo provided well for her son. By 1973, she divorced the 72-year old comedian and translated her much hyped ‘friendship’ with Frank Sinatra into a romance. At the time they had first met, the singer was married to his second wife, Ava Gardner. In her autobiography Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank published in 2011, she remembered that her first encounter was when she was asked to be a partner at tennis with Gardner.
Barbara was Sinatra’s longest surviving wife, that is until the singer died in 1998. However, the marriage was not a smooth one. In her memoir, she admitted, “I don’t know that I handled his moods, I lived with them.” The beauty queen had endured his infidelities with Ava Gardner and boozing, while also facing the disdain of his family. Her mother in law Dolly told her superstar son when his affair began in the 1960s “Aren’t there enough whores around?” Barbara’s step-daughters Nancy and Tina never spoke to her again after Sinatra died, except through lawyers. Tina quoted “Peace will never happen with my stepmother.” Nancy even more bluntly branded Barbara as ‘a horrible human being.’
Giving back to society
While she was indefinitely inspired by her own childhood miseries in Kansas, Sinatra provided her with the financial ground to translate her dream to give to charity into action. In Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank, she stated that her parents were ‘broke’ and poverty-ridden. Her classmates in Kansas would regularly abuse her, regarding her with ‘disdain’ because of her skinny appearance and country accent.
The Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center provided counseling for child victims of serious physical, sexual or social abuse. Founded in 1986 by Barbara and Frank Sinatra both, it was funded by the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament that included shows by the singer from 1989 until his final performance in 1995. After Sinatra’s death, Barbara continued to host the fund-raising tournament and the gala parties.
Thoresen says, “since 1986, over 20,000 children have received beneficial therapy. There are several child advocacy centres like it around the country, this one is probably most recognized.” The recognition is international as well since the centre extends help through online videos. In March, the Children’s Hospital at Los Angeles partnered with the centre to raise $250,000 for services for children and their families to receive treatment at both facilities.
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