SAMMY DAVIS, JR. Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Samuel George Davis, Jr.                                                               
Born: 8 December 1925 New York City, New York                                                 
Died: 16 May 1990 Beverly Hills, California                                                   
Samuel George Davis, Jr., better known as Sammy Davis, Jr. (December 8, 1925 -               
May 16, 1990) was an American entertainer. He was a dancer, singer, multi-instrumentalist     
(playing vibraphone, trumpet, and drums), impressionist, comedian, and actor. He             
was a member of the 1960s Rat Pack, which was led by his old friend Frank                     
Sinatra, and included fellow performers Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter                   
Davis, Jr. was born in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, New York to Elvera                   
Sanchez, a dancer, and Sammy Davis, Sr., an African-American entertainer. The                 
couple were both dancers in vaudeville. As an infant, he was raised by his                   
paternal grandmother. When he was three years old, his parents split up. His                 
father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour. During his                 
lifetime Sammy Davis, Jr. stated that his mother was Puerto Rican and born in                 
San Juan. However, in his 2003 biography In Black and White, author Wil                       
Haygood writes that Elvera Sanchez was not born in Puerto Rico, but instead in               
New York City, the daughter of Cuban Americans Marco Sanchez and Luisa Aguiar.               
Haygood, who conducted over 250 interviews for his biography, states that                     
the reason Davis claimed he was Puerto Rican stemmed from fear that anti-Cuban               
backlash resulting from the Cuban Missile Crisis would hurt his record sales.                 
The author's claims have never been confirmed by the Davis's immediate family,               
and therefore continues to remain as speculation.                                             
As a child he learned how to dance from his father, Sammy Davis, Sr. and his "uncle"         
Will Mastin, who led the dance troupe his father worked for. Davis joined the                 
act as a young child and they became the Will Mastin Trio. Throughout his long               
career, Davis included the Will Mastin Trio in his billing.                                   
Mastin and his father had shielded him from racism. Snubs were explained as                   
jealousy, for instance, during World War II; Davis served in the United States               
Army, where he was first confronted by strong racial prejudice. As he said later,             
"Overnight the world looked different. It wasn't one color anymore. I could see               
the protection I'd gotten all my life from my father and Will. I appreciated                 
their loving hope that I'd never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they             
were wrong. It was as if I'd walked through a swinging door for eighteen years,               
a door which they had always secretly held open."                                             
While in the service, however, he joined an integrated entertainment Special                 
Services unit, and found that the spotlight removed some of the prejudice. "My               
talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I               
might hope to affect a man's thinking," he said.                                             
Sammy Davis, Jr. (left) with Roy Wilkins (right) at the 1963 Civil Rights March               
on Washington, D.C.                                                                           
After he was discharged, Davis rejoined the dance act which played at a wide                 
variety of spots around Portland Oregon, and began to achieve success on his own             
as he was singled out for praise by critics. The next year, he released his                   
second album. The next move in his growing career was to appear in the Broadway               
show Mr. Wonderful in 1956.                                                                   
In 1959, he became a charter member of the Rat Pack, which was led by his old                 
friend Frank Sinatra, and included such fellow performers as Dean Martin, Joey               
Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Shirley MacLaine. Initially, Sinatra called the                   
gathering of fast-living friends "the Clan," but Sam voiced his opposition,                   
saying that it invoked thoughts about the Ku Klux Klan. Sinatra renamed the                   
group "the Summit"...but nevertheless, the media kept on calling it the Rat Pack             
all along.                                                                                   
Davis was a headliner at The Frontier Casino in Las Vegas for many years, yet                 
was required to accept accommodations in a rooming house on the west side of the             
city, rather than reside with his peers in the hotels, as were all black                     
performers in the 1950s. For example, no stage dressing rooms were provided for               
black performers, so they were required to wait outside by the swimming pool                 
between acts.                                                                                 
During his early years in Vegas, he and other African-American artists like Nat               
King Cole and Count Basie could entertain on the stage, but often could not                   
reside at the hotels at which they performed, and most definitely could not                   
gamble in the casinos or go to the hotel restaurants and bars. After he achieved             
superstar success, Davis refused to work at venues which would practice racial               
segregation. His demands eventually led to the integration of Miami Beach                     
nightclubs and Las Vegas, Nevada casinos. Davis was particularly proud of this               
Although James Brown would claim the title of "Hardest Working Man in Show                   
Business," the argument could be made that Sammy Davis, Jr. deserved it more.                 
For example, in 1964 he was starring in Golden Boy at night and shooting his own             
New York-based afternoon talk show during the day. When he could get a day off               
from the theater, he would either be in the studio recording new songs, or else               
performing live, often at charity benefits as far away as Miami, Chicago and Las             
Vegas, or doing television variety specials in Los Angeles. Even at the time,                 
Sam knew he was cheating his family of his company, but he couldn't help himself;             
as he later said, he was incapable of standing still.                                         
Although still a huge draw in Las Vegas, Davis' musical career had sputtered out             
by the latter years of the 1960s. An attempt to update his sound and reconnect               
with younger people resulted in some embarrassing "hip" musical efforts with the             
Motown record label. But then, even as his career seemed at its nadir, Sammy                 
had an unexpected worldwide smash hit with "Candy Man". Although he didn't                   
particularly care for the song and was chagrined that he was now best known for               
it, Davis made the most of his new opportunity and revitalized his career.                   
Although he enjoyed no more Top 40 hits, he remained a successful live act                   
beyond Vegas for the remainder of his career, and he would occasionally land                 
television and film parts, including highly successful visits (playing himself)               
to the All in the Family series.                                                             
In Japan, Davis appeared in television commercials for coffee, and in the U.S.               
he joined Sinatra and Martin in a radio commercial for a Chicago car dealership.             
Davis was one of the first male celebrities to admit to watching television soap             
operas, particularly the shows produced by the American Broadcasting Company.                 
This admission led to him making a cameo appearance on General Hospital and                   
playing the recurring character Chip Warren on One Life to Live for which he                 
received a Daytime Emmy nomination in 1980.                                                   
Davis suffered a setback on November 19, 1954, when he almost died in an                     
automobile accident in Victorville, California on a return trip from Las Vegas               
to Los Angeles. Davis lost his left eye as a result, and wore a glass eye for                 
the rest of his life. The accident occurred on a bend in U.S. Highway 66 at a                 
railroad bridge. While in the hospital, his friend Eddie Cantor told him about               
the similarities between the Jewish and black cultures. During his hospital stay,             
Davis converted to Judaism after reading a history of the Jews. One paragraph                 
about the ultimate endurance of the Jewish people intrigued him in particular: "The           
Jews would not die. Three millennia of prophetic teaching had given them an                   
unwavering spirit of resignation and had created in them a will to live which no             
disaster could crush".                                                                       
In the mid-1950s, Sammy was involved with Kim Novak, who was a valuable star                 
under contract to Columbia Studios. The head of the studio, Harry Cohn, was                   
worried about the negative effect this would have on the studio because of the               
prevailing taboo against miscegenation. He called his old friend, the mobster                 
Johnny Roselli, who was asked to tell Sammy that he had to stop the affair with               
Novak. Roselli arranged for Davis to be kidnapped for a few hours to throw a                 
scare into him.                                                                               
Davis's first wife was Loray White, whom he married in 1958 and divorced in the               
following year. In 1960, Davis caused controversy when he married white Swedish-born         
actress May Britt he also then converted to Judaism. Davis received hate mail                 
when he was starred in the Broadway musical adaptation of Golden Boy from 1964-1966           
(for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor), but that did not             
bother his fans. At the time Davis appeared in the play, interracial marriages               
were forbidden by law in 31 US states, and only in 1967 were those laws                       
abolished by the US Supreme Court. The couple had one daughter and adopted two               
sons. Davis performed almost continuously and spent little time with his wife.               
They divorced in 1968, after Davis admitted to having had an affair with singer               
Lola Falana. That year, Davis started dating Altovise Gore, a dancer in Golden               
Boy. They were married on 11 May 1970 by Jesse Jackson. They adopted a child,                 
and remained married until Davis' death in 1990.                                             
Davis died in Beverly Hills, California on May 16, 1990, of complications from               
throat cancer. Earlier, when he was told he could be saved by surgery, Davis                 
replied he'd rather keep his voice than have a part of his throat removed.                   
However, a few weeks prior to his death his entire larynx was removed during                 
surgery. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in                         
Glendale, California next to his father and Will Mastin.