Kidnapper tries to cash in on taking of Sinatra’s son 40 years after the fact.

Barry Keenan’s been trying for decades to get Hollywood to tell his story.

Which shows that the phenomenon of people making fools of themselves to achieve – or prolong – their 15 minutes of fame didn’t start yesterday.

Keenan, now a real estate developer, had his moment in the limelight in 1963, when he organized and carried out the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr., a largely botched affair that landed Keenan and his two fellow kidnappers in jail for what was originally supposed to be the rest of their lives and left the then-19-year-old Sinatra under a cloud of suspicion that he’d been a co-conspirator in his own abduction.

Showtime attempts to lift that cloud, at least, in Sunday’s “Stealing Sinatra,” a dark, “Fargo”-esque-without-all-the-blood comedy that boasts “Fargo’s” William H. Macy as one of Keenan’s partners, John Irwin, and stars David Arquette as the clueless Keenan.

Thanks to Frank Jr.’s long battle in the courts to keep his kidnapper from profiting from his crime, the movie Showtime is airing isn’t the one Keenan long planned, but another project that according to the pay-cable network was based on trial transcripts and “various public documents.”

Maybe so, but many of the details jibe with those supplied by Keenan in a mid-1990s interview with Sinatra biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli (“Sinatra: Behind the Legend”) in which Keenan described a comedy of errors that varied only a little from the account in the movie.

That he would actually have wanted this story told suggests that Keenan, who went to high school with Nancy Sinatra, Frank Jr.’s sister, hasn’t learned much since.

Arquette, who does twitchy optimism as well as any actor alive, is perfect as the grandiose entrepreneur, whose get-rich-quick scheme involves kidnapping his former classmate’s little brother and holding him for a $240,000 ransom. Among the absurd touches: The operation was partly financed by Dean Torrence, of Jan and Dean fame.

Though Sinatra Jr. appears to experience a bit of “Stockholm syndrome” as he seeks to ingratiate himself with his abductors, there’s no indication here that he was in on the plan or that he didn’t genuinely fear for his life at times. (Two of the defendants’ attorneys later argued, unsuccessfully, in court that the kidnapping was a hoax.)

Macy is all gloom and nerves as Irwin, the oldest of the kidnappers, and his phone calls with Sinatra Sr. (James Russo) are comic gold, the multimillionaire singer at one point offering $1 million ransom for his son and Irwin holding fast to demand for $240,000.

One thing that’s not made entirely clear in the movie’s afterword: Keenan and his fellow kidnappers were released from prison in 1967 and 1968, far short of the sentences they’d originally received, because it was discovered that documents had been doctored by the prosecution’s side.

Keenan, who’d had substance-abuse problems, apparently sobered up and went on to become a successful developer.

After luck like that, you wouldn’t think he’d want to push it any further.


8 p.m. EDT Sunday


Ellen Gray:

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AP-NY-04-22-04 1053EDT

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