The Cal-Neva resort has a long and storied past that reaches all the way back to the days of prohibition. It was actually built with secret tunnels to facilitate bootlegging. At least that’s the legend. Others say that Frank Sinatra built the tunnels after he bought and renovated the place (with gangster Sam Giancana’s money) in the early 60s. The lodge was built by a wealthy businessman in the 20s to entertain friends. It’s situated on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Lake Tahoe straddles the border of California and Nevada. It’s in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, fairly close to Reno. The state line that dissects the lake goes right through the resort. The Nevada side of the Cal-Neva is home to one of Nevada’s oldest casinos. It got it’s gaming license shorty affair gambling became legal in Nevada. Through the years it became the playground of not only the rich and famous, but mobsters as well. It was also a favorite haunt of JFK’s father, Joe Kennedy. Old man Kennedy not only liked to visit, he had Christmas trees sent back east every year. Our interest in the Cal-Neva begins in the mid-fifties when gambler Bert “Wingy” Grober bought the place. There’s a famous photo of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra dining at the Cal-Neva. In the photo a white haired man standing behind the seated pair leans over between the two. That man is Wingy Grober.
In the spring of 1958, old Joe made an offer to Frank Sinatra that he couldn’t refuse. JFK wouldn’t officially enter the race for the presidency for another year and half but his old man was already lining things up for the campaign. Joe Kennedy was going to sell his son Jack like soap-flakes and part of that marketing effort involved wowing the Hollywood crowd. Joe had little faith that his actor/son-in-law, Peter Lawford, could get the job done. Peter’s old friend Frank Sinatra was a different story. Frank could not only could bring on board his fellow celebrities, he could pass the hat around to gangster pals as well. The only problem was that Frank and Peter had had a falling out years earlier. Kennedy persuaded Sinatra to mend that friendship, then do what ever it took to get JFK elected. Sinatra and John F. Kennedy were kindred spirits and Frank needed little persuading. But to sweeten the pot, Joe Kennedy promised to sell part of his share of Cal-Neva to Sinatra at a sweetheart price should JFK win the nomination at the Democratic National Convention set to be held in Los Angeles in 1960. That summer in ’60, John Kennedy did win the nomination and Frank Sinatra and his pals became owners of the Cal-Neva. Now exactly who owned what, and at what percentage, became a contested matter, and the matter would simmer below the surface until it finally blew up in the summer of 1962.
When Frank took over ownership of Cal-Neva he had big plans. The hotel had a short season, it was only open in the summer. Snowy, mountain roads made in hard to get to in the winter. So to make the place accessible year round he built a helicopter pad. He also built a large new concert hall and new cabins. Frank’s big plans came with a big price tag. It was going to take a big loan to make it happen. Enter Sam, aka Momo, aka Mooney, Giancana. Frank and Giancana had probably already been making plans as early as that spring or summer of 1958 when Joe Kennedy first proposed the idea. That summer Giancana was hiding out with Sinatra in a small Indiana town during the shooting of Some Came Running. He was ducking Robert Kennedy and the Rackets Committee.
Some versions of history have Joe Kennedy sitting down with Sam Giancana and making a deal. It’s likely it never happened. What is likely is that Joe Kennedy used Frank Sinatra and had him make the deal. Kennedys “deal” had probably been nothing more than a blanket promise to all donors that when elected JFK would remember the people that had helped him get there. How much Sinatra embellished on that deal can’t be known. What’s almost certain is that Giancana thought there was a deal.
Continue reading this story about Marilyn Monroe’s last weekend at Cal-Neva here.
Buddy Greco, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra at the Cal-Neva. Was this photo taken the weekend before Marilyn’s death? Buddy Greco always maintained this was taken on the last weekend of July 1962. Because Marilyn visited the Cal-Neva at least twice during that last July many people have confused the events that happened on these different weekends. Some have even made the bogus claim that Marilyn died at Cal-Neva and was transported back to her home in Brentwood. An accurate account of this weekend is crucial to pitting together the events of Marilyn’s last days. There is still one living person who can shed light on the mystery of Marilyn’s death but she refuses to help. Is it perhaps because she has something to hide? Or is it because Pat Newcomb’s loyalty is still to the Kennedy family and not her friend or an accurate recording of history?