Saturday, 9 January 2016

Sammy Davis, Jr. Performs and Takes a Swim

"Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to go and get insulted."
Sammy Davis Jr

Samuel George "Sammy" Davis, Jr. (1925-1990) had to face racism in the most different situations throughout his life, before becoming a star and after ... when joining the army, when marrying a white woman, when going for a swim, when staying in hotels, when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated ...

“He would come out of the stage door having had six standing ovations and somebody would yell ‘Nigger.’ There would always be something that would just cut through it all, that would just knock him down.”
Burt Boyar

As a child (at the age of three), Davis started performing with his father who put him in blackface and claimed he was "a 44-year-old dwarf" as it was illegal to perform under the age of 16. They stayed in "coloured boarding houses" while on road. His father told him that they had to stay there since people were jealous of their act. "Somehow in my naive sheltered world, I believed it." (via). Davis continued living in a segregated world when he was famous.
"'In the days when Las Vegas began to become popular, the black performers could play in showrooms, but they couldn't stay in the hotel. And it was Frank Sinatra who went to the board of directors, who had rather shady pasts, and he said, 'Are you guys going to come into the twentieth century, or aren't you?'...Somebody said 'Well, we have white people, we have black people.' Sinatra, the story goes, said to them, 'The money is green. How about that?' And they began to look at each other and the wheels were turning, and because of Sammy, Las Vegas became integrated." Frank Sinatra, Jr. on his father
Although a star, for a long time Sammy Davis, Jr. was not allowed to spend the night in the Las Vegas hotels he played. He pushed boundaries when he announced that he would only play a hotel in which he was not denied residence (according to another version it was Frank Sinatra who threatened to pull the plug on Rat Pack shows unless Davis got his own suite, via) - which by the late 1950s most of the big hotels had accepted. Black customers and entertainers were not allowed to reside in Las Vegas Strip hotels, black entertainers - although warmly greeted in showrooms - had to enter and exit through kitchens (via) and stayed in Ms Cartwright's boarding house (a building made of wooden crates) on the west side of Las Vegas. Ms Cartwright stressed the fact that her establishment was the only place black entertainers (such as Lena Horne or Nat King Cole) could stay and charged twice as much as the El Rancho (via).
"You would perform, get out of the casino by the side door, and head to the ghetto’. If they didn’t go out to the shack, they sat outside by the swimming pool." "I don’t know who made up the rules for ‘colored’ performers. But if you were colored you would never address the audience when you walked onstage. There was this invisible wall colored entertainers were not allowed to cross." Sammy Davis, Jr.
Once, Sammy Davis, Jr. and his "Rat Pack" colleagues Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Joey Bishop were playing poker in the Sands (the hotel in which they stayed while shooting Ocean's Eleven) when Davis decided to dive into the pool. "A tense silence reigned over the usually boisterous swim area. An irate guest stormed off to speak to the management. Within minutes after the singer emerged from the water, a crew rushed in to drain, clean, and refill the entire pool. Black Las Vegans relate this story with humor, but it reflects the dept of white 'Negrophobia" in this Southwestern desert town." (Orleck, 2005).

"Ironically, the black press didn’t always celebrate Davis’s breaking of the color line. Part of the problem, as Sy Marsh observes, was that 'Sammy Davis lived in a white world. The majority of his black audience couldn’t afford to go see him. He was a black symbol performing for white audiences.'" (via)

Sammy Davis, Jr. YouTube Selection

This Guy's In Love With You: WATCH/LISTEN
::: (Michael Jackson's) Bad: WATCH/LISTEN
::: Up, Up and Away: WATCH/LISTEN
::: I Gotta Be Me: WATCH/LISTEN
::: Dean Martin Celebrity Roast (50 minutes) with a lot of racist jokes: WATCH

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- Orleck, A. (2005). Storming Caesars Palace. How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty. Boston: Beacon Press.
- photograph by Brian Duffy via, "selfie" via, with James Dean via, with camera via


  1. Now this is what I call a posting, lovely in all regards! Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the great feedback! The next postings are all dedicated to Sammy ... a little "Sammy Davis, Jr. series".