“You might have belonged to another…”
Sinatra’s talent and hard work took him from singing in Hoboken saloons to eventually signing on with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra—the premier touring act in the late 1930’s. It was a tremendous experience for Frank, but the contract was a bit stifling, as bandleader Tommy Dorsey was entitled to 43% of Frank Sinatra’s earnings… for the rest of his life.
After a while, Frank began to realize that this arrangement wasn’t going to cut it. He began to eclipse his charismatic, yet extremely temperamental boss—and decided it was time to part ways. Dorsey, for obvious reasons, thought otherwise.
This sets the stage for one of the most legendary tales of American pop culture…
As the story goes, a reputed mafioso and friend of the Sinatra family by the name of Willie Moretti approached Dorsey and offered $60,000 to buy out Frank’s contract. Dorsey, ever the hard case, scoffed at the offer.
Soon after, Moretti “allegedly” paid Dorsey a second visit—this time cramming a pistol into the trombonist’s rather valuable trachea. The terms of the deal suddenly changed dramatically, and Moretti compensated Dorsey for Sinatra’s contract… to the tune of $1.
If this story sounds at all familiar, it was woven into Mario Puzo‘s seminal masterpiece, The Godfather. In Francis Ford Coppola‘s film version, Michael Corleone explains to his then-girlfriend Kay how his father Vito Corleone helped Johnny Fontane, and “an offer you can’t refuse” became part of our cultural lexicon.
Sinatra never liked that story. Nor did he do much to refute it, as he spent much of his life in the visible embrace of organized crime figures—to the point that he was even subpoenaed to testify before the Kefauver Committee on Organized Crime. As for the Johnny Fontane parallels, at the peak of The Godfather‘s success, Frank chased Mario Puzo out of Chasen’s restaurant in Los Angeles. Apparently the author had stuck a chord…
“Remember the movie director who made five thousand a week,
And there was a diamond collector who had the same technique,
You knew a prince, a duke and a lord,
You had your choice of the three,
You might have belonged to another,
By luck you settled for me.”