Have you ever fantasized that you’re secretly the long-lost son or daughter of a celebrity? That one day a stranger’s going to knock on your door and reveal that you’re really descended from royalty, pulling back the curtain to reveal a horse-drawn carriage pulling up to your house to whisk you away to a fairy-tale life? In the real world, something like this actually happened to a Sedona resident named Julie Speelman, who at age 53 learned that her father wasn’t the man on her birth certificate; her mother told her that her real father was Frank Sinatra.
Because this is a real-world tale, the story isn’t like it would be in the movies – Julie learned the incredible story too late to meet her father before he died. But it set her on a path to self-discovery that may help ensure she’s living happily ever after.
Julie’s story begins in 1943; her mother, Dorothy Lyma, was an aspiring starlet known as Alora Gooding. Dorothy was married to Thomas Vincent Lyma, a salesman for a food company whose territory included fancy hotels and fledgling casinos in California and Nevada. Lyma’s name appears on Julie’s birth certificate as her father.
As Julie grew up, something struck her as odd about her early years. “All the photos of me start in 1947,” she recalls. “I never saw any baby pictures.”
By that year, Julie’s mom had split from Lyma, remarried and moved to a ranch in Sacramento, where Julie developed what would become a sustaining, lifelong love of horses. (Julie has taught riding and worked as a part-time real estate agent selling horse-zoned properties.) She also had a burgeoning interest in music and performing, a direction her mother discouraged. Now, Julie believes, “my early abilities were suppressed because mom must have been afraid that if I showed my gifts at the piano and singing, people would figure out her secret” – that she and Frank Sinatra had had an affair, and Julie was his baby.
In 1996, when Julie discovered she was Frank Sinatra’s daughter, the secret was out and it turned her whole life upside down.
Alora Gooding met Frank Sinatra in the fall of 1940, Julie says, on one of the rising singer’s earliest trips to Hollywood. He was then singing with the Tommy Dorsey big band, still a couple of years from his 1943 breakthrough at the Paramount Theatre in New York, where the image of bobbysoxers swooning in Times Square would establish Sinatra as popular music’s hottest young star.
Julie’s mom worked as a day greeter at The Garden Of Allah Hotel in Hollywood when Sinatra arrived. “I’ve learned he was in town to sing in the 1941 movie Las Vegas Nights (an uncredited role, singing with Dorsey’s band) and sing at the Palladium. “When mom opened the car door, Frank Sinatra took her picture, and asked her to take his. I found the photo of her, which shows a very distinct place, the Garden of Allah restaurant. Later, I looked at Nancy Sinatra’s book [Frank Sinatra, An American Legend, a photo scrapbook/biography], and there was a photo of Frank Sinatra at the same location that sure looked like it came from the same camera,” Julie recalls. “There was no information about the snapshot in the book, but I believe that’s a photo mom took.” Eventually, Julie says, the Sinatra entourage moved to the Plaza Hotel; she believes her mom did, too.