Robert S. Ensler Presents

A Tribute To Sammy Davis Jr.
Biography

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Book on Sammy Davis Jr. written by daughter Tracey Davis ( by Swedish actress May Britt.) Story of her relationship with her father the ups and downs of a superstar and his family.8 pages of photos,270 pages.

 

 

 

        Sammy Davis Jr.   Recognized throughout much of his career as "the world's greatest living entertainer," Sammy Davis, Jr. was a remarkably popular and versatile performer equally adept at acting, singing, dancing and impersonations -- in short, a variety artist in the classic tradition. A member of the famed Rat Pack, he was among the very first African-American talents to find favor with audiences on both sides of the color barrier, and remains a perennial icon of cool. Born in Harlem on December 8, 1925, Davis made his stage debut at the age of three performing with Holiday in Dixieland, a black vaudeville troupe featuring his father and helped by his de facto uncle, Will Mastin; dubbed "Silent Sam, the Dancing Midget," he proved phenomenally popular with audiences and the act was soon renamed Will Mastin's Gang Featuring Little Sammy. At the age of seven Davis made his film debut in the legendary musical short Rufus Jones for President, and later received tap-dancing lessons courtesy of the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. In 1941, the Mastin Gang opened for Tommy Dorsey at Detroit's Michigan Theater; there Davis first met Dorsey vocalist Frank Sinatra -- the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

In 1943 Davis joined the U.S. Army, where he endured a constant battle with racism; upon his return from duty, the group was renamed the Will Mastin Trio. Three years later they opened for Mickey Rooney, who encouraged Davis to begin including his many impersonations in the Trio's act; where previously they had exclusively performed music, the addition of comedy brought new life to the group, and by the beginning of the next decade they were headlining venues including New York's Capitol club and Ciro's in Hollywood. In 1952, at the invitation of Sinatra, they also played the newly-integrated Copacabana. In 1954 Davis signed to Decca, topping the charts with his debut LP Starring Sammy Davis Jr; that same year he lost his left eye in a much-publicized auto accident, but upon returning to the stage in early 1955 was greeted with even greater enthusiasm than before on the strength of a series of hit singles including "Something's Gotta Give," "Love Me or Leave Me" and "That Old Black Magic." A year later Davis made his Broadway debut in the musical Mr. Wonderful, starring in the show for over 400 performances and launching a hit with the song "Too Close for Comfort."

In 1958 Davis resumed his film career after a quarter-century layoff with Anna Lucasta, followed a year later by his acclaimed turn in Porgy and Bess. Also in 1959 he became a charter member of the Rat Pack, a loose confederation of Sinatra associates (also including Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop) which began regularly performing together at the Sands casino in Las Vegas. In 1960 they made Ocean's Eleven, the first in a series of hip and highly self-referential Rat Pack films; although Davis' inclusion in the group was perceived in many quarters as an egalitarian move, many black audiences felt he was simply a token -- the butt of subtly racist jokes -- and declared him a sell-out. His earlier conversion to Judaism had been met with considerable controversy within the African-American community as well; still, nothing compared to the public outcry over his 1960 marriage to Swedish actress May Britt, which even elicited death threats. Still, Davis remained a major star, appearing in the 1962 Rat Pack film Sergeants 3 and scoring a major hit with "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Two years later he returned to Broadway in the long-running Golden Boy, scoring a Tony nomination for his performance.

In 1964, the third Rat Pack film, Robin and the Seven Hoods, was released; two years later, in the wake of the publication of his autobiography Yes I Can, Davis was also among a number of musical luminaries, including Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, who co-starred in the jazz drama A Man Called Adam. In 1968 he and Lawford teamed as Salt and Pepper; the picture was a hit, and a sequel, One More Time, appeared in 1970. In between the two Davis delivered one of his most memorable screen performances in Bob Fosse's 1969 musical Sweet Charity; he also appeared in a number of television features, including The Pigeon, The Trackers and Poor Devil. In 1972 Davis topped the pop charts with "The Candy Man," from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; from 1975 to 1977, he hosted his own syndicated variety show, Sammy and Company, and in 1978 starred in the film Sammy Stops the World. However, in the late 1970s and through much of the 1980s Davis's profile diminished, and he was primarily confined to the casino circuit, with a 1988 comeback tour he mounted with Sinatra and Martin largely unsuccessful. His appearance in the 1989 film Tap was much acclaimed, but it was to be his last screen performance -- a lifelong smoker, Davis died of cancer on May 16, 1990.

Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide

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SAMMY DAVIS JR.
 
Singer, actor, dancer. Born in Harlem, New York to black vaudeville star Sammy Davis, Sr., and the Puerto Rican dancer, Elvera “Baby” Sanchez. When he was two, Davis’s parents divorced, and he was raised by his father.

A multi-talented performer, Davis recorded forty albums and made countless film, television and Las Vegas appearances in his lifetime.

Davis began his career in vaudeville, tap dancing and singing at the age of four with his adopted uncle in an act they called “Will Mastin’s Gang, featuring Little Sammy.” When authorities threatened to close down the act due to child labor laws, Mastin gave the tiny Davis a cigar to hold and billed him as “Silent Sam, the Dancing Midget.”

Davis made his film debut by tap dancing in the 1932 short Rufus Jones For President. After continuing to perform with Mastin throughout the 1930s, at age eighteen Davis was drafted and served in the Special Services in World War II. When the war ended, he resumed dancing with what was now the Will Mastin Trio, after Davis’s father joined the troupe. In 1946, Davis recorded “The Way You Look Tonight” for Capitol Records, which was chosen by Metronome magazine as Record of the Year. In the late 1940s, Davis (still with the Will Mastin Trio) opened for Frank Sinatra at the Capitol Theatre in New York, which ignited a friendship that would last a lifetime. He toured for six months with Mickey Rooney and performed in a Bob Hope benefit show. Through Jack Benny, the trio won a booking at Ciro’s in Hollywood and an appearance on the Colgate Comedy Hour. After an appearance at the Copacabana in New York, Decca Records signed Davis in 1954 and released his first albums, Starring Sammy Davis, Jr., and Just for Lovers.

The 1950s brought Davis into the spotlight for both personal and professional reasons. In 1954, he made headlines when he lost his left eye in a near-fatal car crash while driving back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas. During his recovery in the hospital, he converted to Judaism, which was bruited about by the press. Davis continued treading on socially-controversial ground by carrying on a series of interracial romances, most notably with actress Kim Novak, and with the Swedish actress May Britt, whom he married in 1960.

But even in these racially backward times, Davis came into his own on a professional level. He debuted on Broadway in 1956 with the Will Mastin Trio in the musical comedy Mr. Wonderful. He began making solo appearances on television, including The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1959, he resumed his film career in a breakthrough role as Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess (1959). In the early 1960s, he appeared with his “Rat Pack” cohorts Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford in a series of films including Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Sergeants Three (1962), and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964). Davis returned to Broadway in 1964 as boxer Joe Wellington in a highly successful musical adaptation of the 1937 Clifford Odets drama Golden Boy.

Davis continued appearing on television variety shows and performing in Las Vegas throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1972, he had a number-one hit on the top-forty charts with “Candy Man.” He acted in two Cannonball Run films in the early 1980s, which reunited him on-screen with Dean Martin. After undergoing reconstructive hip surgery in 1985, Davis recovered sufficiently to co-star and dance with Gregory Hines in the film Tap (1989). And, after announcing that he had successfully overcome an addiction to cocaine and alcohol, Davis embarked on a concert tour in 1988-89 with fellow Rat-packers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Liza Minnelli, a close friend of Davis, Sinatra and Martin, replaced an ailing Martin after he fell ill on the tour. Although he did not show it or speak about it, Davis was said to be sick on the tour, as well. He succumbed to throat cancer on May 16, 1990.

Davis was married three times, first to Loray White, a dancer; to actress May Britt, with whom he had one daughter and adopted two sons; and to Altovise Gore, a former showgirl. He wrote three autobiographies, Yes I Can (1965), Life In A Suitcase (1980) and Why Me? (1989).

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