Frank Sinatra’s February 1963 Playboy Magazine Interview, Part 2 of 3
By: Joe Hyams
Playboy: Hasn't religious faith just as often served as a civilizing influence?
Sinatra: Remember that leering, cursing lynch mob in Little Rock reviling a meek, innocent little 12-year-old Negro girl as she tried to enroll in public school? Weren't they -- or most of them -- devout churchgoers? I detest the two-faced who pretend liberality but are practiced bigots in their own mean little spheres. I didn't tell my daughter whom to marry, but I'd have broken her back if she had had big eyes for a bigot. As I see it, man is a product of his conditioning, and the social forces which mold his morality and conduct -- including racial prejudice -- are influenced more by material things like food and economic necessities than by the fear and awe and bigotry generated by the high priests of commercialized superstition. Now don't get me wrong. I'm for decency -- period. I'm for anything and everything that bodes love and consideration for my fellow man. But when lip service to some mysterious deity permits bestiality on Wednesday and absolution on Sunday -- cash me out.
Playboy: But aren't such spiritual hypocrites in a minority? Aren't most Americans fairly consistent in their conduct within the precepts of religious doctrine?
Sinatra: I've got no quarrel with men of decency at any level. But I can't believe that decency stems only from religion. And I can't help wondering how many public figures make avowals of religious faith to maintain an aura of respectability. Our civilization, such as it is, was shaped by religion, and the men who aspire to public office anyplace in the free world must make obeisance to God or risk immediate opprobrium. Our press accurately reflects the religious nature of our society, but you'll notice that it also carries the articles and advertisements of astrology and hokey Elmer Gantry revivalists. We in America pride ourselves on freedom of the press, but every day I see, and so do you, this kind of dishonesty and distortion not only in this area but in reporting -- about guys like me, for instance, which is of minor importance except to me; but also in reporting world news. How can a free people make decisions without facts? If the press reports world news as they report about me, we're in trouble.
Playboy: Are you saying that . . .
Sinatra: No, wait, let me finish. Have you thought of the chance I'm taking by speaking out this way? Can you imagine the deluge of crank letters, curses, threats and obscenities I'll receive after these remarks gain general circulation? Worse, the boycott of my records, my films, maybe a picket line at my opening at the Sands. Why? Because I've dared to say that love and decency are not necessarily concomitants of religious fervor.
Playboy: If you think you're stepping over the line, offending your public or perhaps risking economic suicide, shall we cut this off now, erase the tape and start over along more antiseptic lines?
Sinatra: No, let's let it run. I've thought this way for years, ached to say these things. Whom have I harmed by what I've said? What moral defection have I suggested? No, I don't want to chicken out now. Come on, pal, the clock's running.
Playboy: All right, then, let's move on to another delicate subject: disarmament. How do you feel about the necessity and possibility of achieving it?
Sinatra: Well, that's like apple pie and mother -- how can you be against it? After all, despite the universal and unanimous assumption that both powers -- Russia and the United States -- already have stockpiled more nuclear weaponry than is necessary to vaporize the entire planet, each power continues to build, improve and enlarge its terrifying arsenal. For the first time in history, man has developed the means with which to expunge all life in one shuddering instant. And, brother, no one gets a pass, no one hides from this one. But the question is not so much whether disarmament is desirable or even whether it can be achieved, but whether -- if we were able to achieve it -- we would be better off, or perhaps infinitely worse off.
Playboy: Are you suggesting that disarmament might be detrimental to peace?
Sinatra: Yes, in a certain very delicate sense. Look, I'm a realist, or at least I fancy myself one. Just as I believe that religion doesn't always work, so do I feel that disarmament may be completely beyond man's capacity to live with. Let's forget for a moment the complex problems we might face in converting from a cold war to a peace economy. Let's examine disarmament in terms of man's political, social and philosophical conditioning. Let's say that somehow the UN is able to achieve a disarmament program acceptable to all nations. Let's imagine, a few years from now, total global disarmament. But imagine as well the gnawing doubts, suspicions and nerve-wracking tensions which must, inevitably, begin to fill the void: the fear that the other side -- or perhaps some third power -- is secretly arming or still holding a few bombs with which to surprise and overcome the other. But I firmly believe that nuclear war is absolutely impossible. I don't think anyone in the world wants a nuclear war -- not even the Russians. They and we and the nth countries -- as nuclear strategists refer to future nuclear powers -- face the incontrovertible certainty of lethal retaliation for any nuclear strike. I can 't believe for a moment that the idiot exists in any nation that will push the first button -- not even accidentally.
Playboy: You foresee no possibility of world war or of effective disarmament?
Sinatra: I'm not an industrialist or an economist; I know I'm way out of my depth when I attempt even to comprehend the complexity of shifting the production of a country from war to peace. But if somehow all those involved in production of implements of destruction were willing to accept reason as well as reasonable profit, I think that a shift in psychology might be possible. And if this were to happen, I believe that the deep-seated terror in the hearts of most people due to the constant threat of total destruction would disappear. The result would be a more positive, less greedy, less selfish and more loving approach to survival. I can tell you this much from personal experience and observation: Hate solves no problems. It only creates them. But listen, you've been asking me a lot of questions, so let me ask you a question I posed to Mike Romanoff the other night. You know, Mike is quite a serious thinker; when we spend an evening together, we play an intellectual chess game touching on all topics, including those we are discussing here. Anyway, I asked Mike what would happen if a summit meeting of all the leaders in every country in the world was called, including Red China, at the UN. Further suppose that each leader brings with him his top aides: Kennedy brings Rusk, Khrushchev brings Gromyko, Mao brings Chou. All these cats are together in one room, then -- boom! Somebody blows up the mother building. No more leaders. No more deputies. The question I asked Mike, and the one I ask you, is: What would happen to the world?
Playboy: You tell us.
Sinatra: I told Mike I thought it might be the only chance the world has for survival. But Mike just shook his head and said, "Frank, you're very sick." Maybe so. Until someone lights the fuse, however, I think that continuation of cold war preparedness might be more effective to maintain the peace than the dewy-eyed notion of total disarmament. I also wonder if "total" disarmament includes chemical and bacteriological weapons -- which, as you know, can be ju st as lethal as nuclear weapons. Card players have a saying: "It's all right to play if you keep your eyes on the deck" -- which is another way of saying, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
Playboy: Do you feel, then, that nuclear testing should be continued?
Sinatra: Absolutely not. I think it's got to stop, and I think it will stop -- because it has to stop. The name-calling in the UN and the finger-pointing at peace conferences is just a lot of diplomatic bull. Both sides have to live on this planet, and leaders in all countries know that their children and grandchildren have to live here, too. I suspect that when the limits of strontium 90 in the atmosphere get really dangerous, scientists in both camps will persuade the politicians to call a final halt to testing -- probably at precisely the same time, with no urging from the other side.
END of Part 2 of 3