For nearly 50 years, Dean Martin was the household name when it came to entertainment. He was a skilled singer, and a hysterical comedian when paired up with Jerry Lewis. Not to mention he starred in many classic films.
Many remember Martin as a member of the partying yet talented Rat Pack group, headed by Frank Sinatra. With the help of the Pack, Martin's fame rose even higher. But while his crew was out all hours, Dean was actually at home with his children. Who would have thought? These facts will have you falling back in amore with this Rat Pack member.
He Didn't Speak English Until He Was Five
Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti, and if you couldn't tell by his name, he grew up in a very Italian family. Because his father was an Italian immigrant and his mother was Italian-American, Martin didn't learn how to speak English until he was five years old, speaking Italian while at home.
In school, he struggled to learn the new language while also trying to befriend his classmates, which wasn't easy.
Martin Won 24 Boxing Matches
Dean Martin began welterweight boxing at the age of 15, using the name "Kid Crochet." Although Martin held his own in the amateur ring, he also once joked that he won 11 professional fights. The job didn't pay much, and Martin often didn't have enough money to afford tape to go around his knuckles, resulting in a lot of injuries.
Some of those injuries included a broken nose, scarred lip, busted knuckles, and a bruised body. Thankfully, Martin later had his nose straightened out. Who knows what a crooked nasal passage would have done to his singing voice!
He Got A Nose Job When He Was 27
People aren't entirely sure if Dean Martin went under the knife due to his nose breaking while he was boxing, or if he straightened it out because he simply didn't care for his nose. Either way, Martin underwent rhinoplasty when he was 27 years old, right before his career started to take off.
The end result didn't look all that different from the "original." The plastic surgeon made sure to keep the shape of the nose, just making it a bit narrower. The surgery was paid for by none other than film comedian Lou Costello.
He Went From Dino Crocetti To Dino Martini To Dean Martin
After Dean Martin gave up amateur boxing, he began working as a roulette stickman in an illegal casino behind a tobacco shop. At the same time as the casino, he started to sing with local bands, calling himself "Dino Martini," after the Metropolitan Opera singer Nino Martini. Eventually, he began to sing in the lounge of the casino.
In 1940, bandleader Sammy Watkins suggested "Dino" change his name to Dean Martin to avoid confusion with the opera singer. Little did they know that Dean Martin was about to gain a whole lot of fame without the help of another performer's last name.
He Was An Avid Comic Book Reader
Would you believe that Martin only read one book in his entire life, Black Beauty? Even though the singer didn't enjoy reading novels, he was a huge fan of comic books. The funny part is that Martin was too embarrassed to go into a store and buy the comics himself that he had his friend, Jerry Lewis, do it for him!
Ironically, Dean Martin's life has since been immortalized in various novels, memoirs, and biographies. Hopefully, the famous singer is okay with other people reading books about his life! Maybe someone can make a comic book about the Rat Pack.
He Starred In His Own Comic
In 1952, DC Comics released the first issue of The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The comic series ran for five years, publishing 40 issues during that time. Due to the break-up of the comedian team of Martin and Lewis, DC Comics had to rename the series in 1957.
The new title was The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, and the series published issues 41-124. As the title suggests, the new series only starred Lewis, with guest stars such as Batman, Bob Hope, Lex Luthor, Superman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman.
He Earned Three Stars On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame
The Hollywood Walk of Fame has more than 2,600 stars embedded into the sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood, California. The stars are monuments awarded to musicians, actors, directors, producers, musical and theatrical groups, and even fictional characters who have made strides in the entertainment industry.
While most entertainers only earn one star in their lifetime, Dean Martin was awarded three separate stars on the walk. Martin was awarded a star for film, television, and music, each adorned with an emblem of a classic film camera, a television receiver, and a phonographic record, respectively.
His Childhood Friend Was Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder
Dean Martin was childhood friends with Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, the famous Vegas bookie and sports commentator. Both men grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, and were introduced to the underground world of gambling at a young age. Martin eventually worked at one, moving his way up to singing in the lounge.
Snyder made a small fortune early in his life, betting on the 1948 election and winning, the odds were 17-1. He used the money to invest in oil and coal mining, and when that industry wasn't going anywhere, he eventually moved to Vegas. The two hometown friends appeared in the movie The Cannonball Run in 1981.
Martin Met Frank Sinatra For The First Time At The Riobamba Nightclub
Martin performed with several bands throughout the 1940s, trying to develop his own personality and singing style while on stage. Then, in 1943, he was hired to perform as the opening act at the Riobamba Nightclub in New York City. The club was doing poorly, financially speaking, so they needed to book people that weren't going to ask for a large payout.
The headliner the evening Martin was to perform was none other than soon-to-be Rat Pack member Frank Sinatra, of whom had been selling out the nightclub. Unfortunately, by all accounts, Martin's performance did not go so well.
His Extended Family Was A Famous Bunch
It seems as though Dean Martin was always surrounded by a flock of very famous people. Even if you take away his association with the Rat Pack, Martin's family was chock-full of big industry names.
Martin's daughter, Gina, wed Beach Boys singer Carl Wilson and they were married until Wilson's 1998 death. His son, Dean Paul, went on to marry actress Olivia Hussey, divorcing her in 1978. Dean Paul's second wife was Olympic gold medal figure skater Dorothy Hamill, of whom he divorced in 1984. Lastly, his other son, Craig, married Carole Costello, daughter of film comedian Lou.
Martin And Jerry Lewis Bombed Their First Performance
Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin formed a fast friendship during their initial meeting at the Glass Hat Club, where they were both performing in New York City. They decided to do a show together, and during their debut on July 24, 1946, at Atlantic City's 500 Club, they bombed.
It was so bad that the owner of the club, Skinny D'Amato, told them that if they did not come up with something better for their second act of the night then they would be fired. The two regrouped and the second show was divvied up between Martin singing, and the two doing skits and ad-libbed material.
The Toast Of The Town And His TV Debut
Martin and Lewis made their television debut on The Toast of The Town, now known as the Ed Sullivan Show, on July 20, 1948. The on-screen time led the two to hire Norman Lear and Ed Simmons to help them write their comedy bits.
Eventually, the two decided it was time to turn away from the nightclub scene. They both wanted to focus more on radio and television. Their ambition landed them a radio series and a contract with Paramount!
He Had "Kidney Trouble" While On Tour With Sinatra
In 1987, Martin went on tour with Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. The tour was called Together Again. The thing was, Martin hadn't performed in front of a crowd in a very long time, so he was not excited about singing in a stadium full of people.
Out of 17 shows, Martin only performed in five. He reportedly was having kidney troubles while on the road and therefore had to call it quits early in the tour. No one knows if this is true or if Martin was just trying to get out of the rest of the tour.
His Daughter Made A Startling Confession About Martin's Rumored "Bad Boy" Behavior
One of the traits usually associated with Dean Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack is their heavy drinking. A habit that most likely resulted in a few of their health issues later down the line. However, according to Martin's daughter, much of the adult beverages seen in Martin's hand while he was on stage performing, or even hanging out with his friends, was apple juice.
Honestly, the man was an actor, so it's not surprising that he was able to get away with drinking juice and acting silly with his friends. Maybe the act was just due to a very big sugar buzz.
The Dean Martin Committee Does A Lot Of Good
After Dean Martin's death in 1995, the city council of his hometown Steubenville, Ohio, made a Dean Martin Committee. The group is chaired by one of Martin's daughters, Deana, and her husband John Griffeth.
The basis of the committee is to guide walking tours to all of Martin's old spots, build a fundraiser for the Dean Martin Scholarship, and organize the annual Dean Martin Festival. The latter is filled with concerts, Martin impersonators and karaoke. And, because Martin was quite the Italian man, there is an abundance of delicious food and a meatball eating contest!
The Rat Pack Called Their Group Two Different Names
The Rat Pack included Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra, and, of course, Dean Martin. The close-knit group of friends were informal entertainers centered on the Las Vegas casino scene. But the thing is that the name of the group originated in New York to refer to a different group of friends.
It's said that the name came from Lauren Bacall saying that her husband, Humphrey Bogart, and his friends looked like a "rat pack" after a night out in Vegas. The name stuck, and the offshoot group of the pack referred to themselves as either the Clan or the Summit.
The Rat Pack Would Show Up At Each Others Performances
The members of the Rat Pack were famous for showing up at each other's performances unannounced. A thing that only the best of friends would do. They would do this so much that it was expected that one or more members of the Rat Pack would end up on stage at some point during the night.
Whenever Dean Martin performed in Vegas the marquee would usually read "DEAN MARTIN - MAYBE FRANK - MAYBE SAMMY." We all deserve friends who are more than happy to share the spotlight!
Elvis Told Deana Martin That Her Dad Was The King Of Cool
The King of Cool was Dean Martin's nickname at the height of his career, due to his seemingly effortless charisma and self-assurance. Deana Martin, one of Dean Martin's daughters, said that she remembers the night she heard the nickname, most likely because a rock legend said it!
"Elvis [Presley] idolized my dad," she explained. 'I remember meeting Elvis, and he was the one who told me my dad was the king of cool. I'll never forget that." Considering it was a young girl being told her dad was "cool," she probably rolled her eyes a little bit.
"I Did It"
Martin called his daughter, saying, 'I don't know who they are, but I think you and your sisters would want to come down and see these guys.’ The band was The Beatles. Their songs were gracing the Billboard Top 100 chart with no one coming close to knocking them down a notch. Well, until Dean Martin recorded, "Everyone Loves Somebody."
"That song knocked the Beatles [A Hard Day's Night] out of first place," said Deana. “Nobody else could do that. Not Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley. Dad sent two telegrams, one to Presley and another to Sinatra. And it just said, 'I did it.'
He'd Take The Stairs And Not The Elevator
There are many facts that people know about Dean Martin, but something about his personal life was never highly publicized. He was extremely claustrophobic. So much so that when he stayed in hotels he was sure to book a suite on one of the lower levels so he could take the staircase instead of the elevator.
Martin would call elevators "coffins," and once he even hiked up 18 flights of stairs rather than get into the metal death trap. He was a man who wasn't taking any chances with his phobia!
He "Didn't Know What He Was Doing"
Deana Martin knew she wanted to perform ever since she saw her dad on stage singing and making people laugh. Therefore she made sure to get lessons from the best: Frank Sinatra.
"Frank Sinatra was really the one who turned the light on for me," she recalled. “I said to Frank, 'How do you do it?' He said, ‘Oh, by taking a big breath, I push from the diaphragm, and I can tell before a note comes out if I'm going to be on pitch or not.’ Deana said, ‘Really, does my dad do that?’ He said, ‘No, he has no idea what he’s doing. He just does it.'”
His First Movie Was A Flop
The 1957 film Ten Thousand Bedrooms was Martin's first film in the wake of his dissolved partnership with Jerry Lewis. Unfortunately for Martin, the movie was a huge flop. Martin played Ray Hunter, a hotel mogul who files out to Rome to buy another property.
According to MGM records, the film grossed around $955,000 in the United States and Canada and $750,000 elsewhere in the world, resulting in a loss of around $1,196,000. One reviewer said, "Ten Thousand Bedrooms has its place in movie history as Dean Martin's first solo effort without Jerry Lewis. It also nearly sunk his career."
The Young Lions Was His Frist Dramatic Acting Role
In 1958, Dean Martin stole the role of Michael Whiteacre from Tony Randall in the dramatic war movie The Young Lions. The talent agency MCA realized that by hiring Martin they would have a triple threat on their hands, something that they'd be able to capitalize on. They'd be able to make money from his work in nightclubs, films, and records.
So, the role of Michael Whiteacre was recast, leaving Dean Martin with his first dramatic film role. The film also gave Martin two good friends, Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando.
He Has A Hit Western Song
In 1959, Dean Martin was cast as Dude, alongside John Wayne and Ricky Nelson, in the American Western film Rio Bravo. The movie was based on the short story by B.H. McCampbell and revolves around the sheriff of the town who arrests a brother of a powerful local rancher.
In one scene, Martin and Nelson perform a duet called "My Rifle, My Pony, and Me." Later, the Western Writers of America named it one of the 100 greatest Western songs of all time.
Martin Went Golfing During Rehearsal
It's no secret that The Dean Martin Show was a huge success, earning Martin a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series Musical or Comedy in 1966. The show was then renewed in 1968 for a three-year extension costing $34 million. Martin was suddenly the highest-paid entertainer in the world, at the time.
His contract also had other stipulations, such as he did not have to attend rehearsals. Instead, someone would stand in during his parts while Martin went to go play a round or two of golf, one of his favorite pastimes.
He Learned Martial Arts From A Master
During his time portraying the character Matt Helm, a U.S. government counter-agent who took out enemy agents, in a series of spy-movie parodies, Dean Martin was taught martial arts by none other than Bruce Lee.
Lee choreographed the fight scenes for both Maritn and the leading lady, Sharon Tate. You can tell it's Lee's choreography because a few seconds into the movie, Tate and Nancy Kwan both perform the "Gin Lai." The Gin Lai is a bow which Lee always did before he opened and closed on of his Jeet Kune Do martial art and philosophy classes.
Lewis Paid $30,000 For Songwriters To Compose Something For Martin
The vastly popular song "That's Amore" was first performed in 1953 in Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis' movie, The Caddy. The movie's plot centers around Harvey Miller whose father is a famous golf pro and wants Harvey to follow in his footsteps. He becomes an instructor instead.
The song was actually secretly commissioned by Lewis in hopes that it would become a hit for Martin. He paid songwriter Jack Brooks and producer Harry Warren $30,000 to compose it. Eventually, "That's Amore" became a chart-topper and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1953, losing to "Secret Love" from Calamity Jane.
The Dynamic Duo Broke Up In 1956
From 1949 to 1956, the dynamic comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had great success in movies. They were also a very popular live act, touring the country and making nightclub appearances. So, it begs the question, why did the two break up? There are a few different explanations, as no one knows for sure.
The common reason was their respective work ethics. Lewis was a self-proclaimed workaholic while Martin enjoyed only working "so much." Another rumored reason was that Jerry was taking over the spotlight, reviewers not even mentioning Martin's performances. The last reason was their wives. Jeanne Martin did not care for Lewis.
He Liked To Have Early Nights With His Family
Contrary to popular belief, unlike the rest of the Rat Pack, Dean Martin typically like to call it a night fairly early. While Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Pack stayed out till all hours of the night, Martin would head home to spend time with his children.
According to one of his daughters, Deana, her father would always be home for dinner if he was in town and not away for a performance -- an Italian father through and through! Aside from his family time, Martin also liked to hit the hay early so he was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a morning round of golf.
Dean Once Called The Cops On His Wife
Surprisingly, Dean Martin really wasn't a party guy. He'd turn in early when he was out with friends, and if his wife had people over he would go to their bedroom and watch television, leaving the party-goers downstairs. One night, a party his wife was throwing became too loud for Martin, so he called the cops!
He posed as one of their neighbors, complaining about a party going on "at Dan Martin's house." The police complied and drove over to shut down the party that was being hosted by Martin's wife at the time, Jeanne.
Martin And Lewis Feud
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis worked really closely together. In fact, the pair would make 16 films with each other, but while they admired one another, jealousy and frustration crept into their relationship.
Things began to get testy over the years, but the last straw came when the pair were going to be on the cover of Look magazine. In the cover photo of the two, Martin ended up getting cropped out of the picture!
Vegas Paying Tribute
Sadly, all the heavy smoking Dean did resulted in him developing lung cancer in 1993. That's when he elected not to undergo treatment and he ended up passing away of respiratory failure on Christmas day in 1995.
Vegas loved Dean and he loved the city back. To honor his passing, Las Vegas decided to dim their lights that night along the strip. It was a fitting tribute for one of the best entertainers to live.
A Tragic Mountain
Death doesn't pick sides or have feelings. It takes whomever it wants, in whatever fashion. Martin's son, Dean Paul Martin, piloted with the Air National Guard and died in 1987 after crashing into the San Gorgonio mountain.
In a coincidental twist of fate, another high profile family member passed away on the same mountain ten years earlier. That person turned out to be Sinatra's mother. May they both rest in peace.
Bring Out The Tears
Thanks to a referral from a friend, Dean Martin ended up cast alongside John Wayne and Ricky Nelson in the 1959 western, Rio Bravo. It was Montgomery Clift who suggested Martin for the part after he turned it down.
Martin's character was a drunken sheriff, but he found it to be quite difficult. It was hard for him because they expected him to cry on cue, so we're guessing that was something he wasn't that great at doing.
Bullied As A Child
Not everyone is fortunate enough to miss getting bullied as a child. It's something no kid should have to experience, but unfortunately, it still happens today. Dean Martin was one of those kids who went through it.
Martin went to Grant Elementary School in Steubenville, where the kids made fun of him due to his broken English. Martin would later take on drums as a hobby once he hit his teenage years.
Las Vegas Was an Oasis for the Rat Pack
Out of everywhere in America, the Rat Pack gravitated most towards Las Vegas, Nevada. It allowed for the certain level of debauchery the group became notorious for. While in Vegas, Sinatra would play golf, party, and gamble. They'd also create some pretty amazing work.
The Rat Pack filmed two movies that took place in Vegas: Ocean’s 11 and Sergeants 3. They also took the stage at the Sands Copa Room and regularly performed to ecstatic crowds. Back then, the price of a ticket was less than $6, but their chemistry made the show intensely compelling.
They'd Recoup From A Wild Night At The Spa
According to Paul Anka, an occasional member of the Rat Pack, after partying and gambling until 4 or 5 am, they needed to be greatly rejuvenated. This is when the Rat Pack would have their most intimate hangouts. Frank made each of them matching robes emblazoned with their nicknames. Sammy Davis Jr. was "Smokey the Bear," Paul Anka was “Kid” and Dean Martin was “Dago.”
They'd strip down naked, sit around in the steam room and chat, while Sinatra ordered women to join them for a rather “special” type of massage. That’s one way to unwind!
John F. Kennedy Allegedly Partook in the Rat Pack Spa Sessions
Not all of the members of the Rat Pack enjoyed their time in Las Vegas by getting special massages from ladies of the night. Paul Anka admitted he never participated in prostitution, despite watching Sinatra ditch their steam room sessions for private massages.
Though Anka never participated, he admitted that many prominent members of society who were associated with the Rat Pack did. John F. Kennedy, back when he was just a senator, would come to Vegas and hire prostitutes. So did the comedian Bob Hope, who allegedly had massages every day and women "all over the place."
Sammy Davis Did Not Like JFK
Though President John F. Kennedy was affiliated with the Rat Pack and even went on Las Vegas benders as a senator, he did not see eye-to-eye with Sammy Davis. Kennedy allegedly told Davis not to participate in his 1961 Presidential inauguration for some rather racist reasons.
Davis had married a white actress named May Britt. JFK believed that if a black entertainer stood next to his white wife at the inauguration, it would make Southerners angry. Essentially, JFK sold out his friend to get ahead, and that wasn't cool. Davis held a grudge that was momentarily eased when he was honored by the Kennedy Center in 1987.
Marilyn Monroe Was Practically an Honorary Rat Pack Member
What's a group of handsome men without the women that fawn after them? Several major actresses have been linked to the Rat Pack, including Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine, Angie Dickinson, and Juliet Prowse. Marilyn was undoubtedly the most famous and most involved.
Sinatra and Marilyn were very close friends and had been romantically linked in the past. In fact, the Rat Pack was responsible for one of her most iconic moments ever. Peter Lawford signed her up to sing happy birthday to President John F. Kennedy. Dean Martin got her the lead in Something’s Got to Give, which was never completed because she tragically passed away. It’s believed that Lawford was the last person she spoke to before her death.
Sammy Davis Jr. Was a Child Star
Show business was in Sammy Davis Jr.'s blood from the second he was conceived. His mother, Elvera Davis, was a dancer, and his father, Sammy Davis Sr., was a vaudeville star. He spent his childhood following his father and adopted uncle around as they toured with their dance troupe.
Davis debuted as "Baby Sammy" at the age of three and began performing with his father and uncle. He quickly became the act’s star, and they were dubbed the Will Mastin Trio. In 1933, at just eight years old, Davis landed his first film role in Rufus Jones for President. Throughout the ’30s, Davis worked to become a highly accomplished dancer, singer, comedian, and multi-instrumentalist – all before the age of 18.
Davis Had No Formal Education
In 2017, child actors are forced to have some sort of schooling until they're 16 years of age. This wasn’t always the case, and Davis somehow escaped having a real education at all. To be fair, it didn’t really seem like he suffered too much since he managed to learn a number of instruments and even develop his own comedy routines.
Most people require years of education to perfect similar talents. Still, Davis’ father would very occasionally hire a tutor, but their nomadic lifestyle made it really difficult. Sammy Davis Jr. never attended college – he barely attended preschool – but he did have a very temporary career in the army.
Sammy Davis Jr. Fought in World War II and Battled Racism
When Sammy Davis Jr. turned 18 in 1943, the world was nearing the end of World War Two. He was drafted in the U.S. army, where he would discover his true passions. Unfortunately, he also had to deal with extreme racism – something his father managed to shelter him from during his youth. Davis was easy to pick on.
He was of small stature and the mixed race child of a Puerto Rican mother and African American father. Davis was often beaten up by white soldiers and given the most dangerous and dirtiest assignments solely because of his race. One time, he was even forced to drink warm urine from a beer bottle. Eventually, he found refuge in an entertainment unit.
Sammy Davis Jr. Was Frank Sinatra's Opener
Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra had a major bromance going on throughout the history of the Rat Pack. They were best friends and confidantes, but they became friends in a rather unlikely way. This life-long friendship began when Davis was just Sinatra's opening act.
After being discharged from the army, Davis jumped back into show business and started performing again with the Will Mastin Trio. He also dabbled in a solo career and started singing in nightclubs and recording records. In 1947, the Will Mastin Trio opened for Frank Sinatra at the Capitol Theater in New York City. This was a turning point for Davis.
Frank Sinatra Was Davis' Biggest Ally
From the minute the trio played at the Capitol Theater, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra were the best of friends. Sinatra became one of Davis' biggest supporters, collaborators, and allies during this time of rampant racism. Davis’ career as a mixed race entertainer wasn’t easy. He wasn’t even allowed to stay in many of the hotels he performed in because they didn’t allow black guests.
Sinatra always supported him, even tearing up his own contract when a theater banned Davis because of his race. Sinatra also paid Davis’ medical bills when he got into a car accident.
Sammy Davis Was Ashamed to Sign Autographs Because He Never Learned to Write
The only way that anyone could tell Sammy Davis Jr. wasn't an educated man was because he never learned how to write. This was something he tried to hide and was pretty successful because he had strong reading skills.
According to Sy Marsh, Davis’ business partner and a former agent at William Morris, Davis was ashamed to personalize autographs because he couldn’t write. "Till the day he died he could sign his name, but he couldn’t write," he said. “He never personalized autographs to anyone, because he couldn’t spell people’s names and he was embarrassed.”
Sammy Davis Jr. Lost His Eye in a Terrible Accident
After performing with Sinatra at the Capitol Theater, Davis went on a tour with Mickey Rooney. This is where he caught the eye of Decca Records, who signed him in 1954. Later that year, Davis went to Los Angeles to record a record and his life was forever changed.
On his way to the recording studio, he was seriously injured in a car accident and lost his eye. Davis wore a glass eye for the rest of his life, but this tragic incident lead him to find his spiritual side.
Davis Converted to Judaism after His Accident
Davis was born a Christian but never really practiced religion – that was mostly because he never found a religion he identified with before his accident. Sammy Davis Jr.'s accident was traumatic, and he was lucky to be alive. He viewed the crash as a miracle, and while he was at San Bernardino hospital recovering, he spent a lot of time reflecting on his life and existence.
This is where he met a Jewish Chaplain and asked him questions about how he could’ve possibly survived the accident. He ended up finding a lot of similarities between Jews and African Americans because of their history of oppression. He started studying the religion and eventually converted.
Sammy Davis Jr. Didn't Let His Accident Hold Him Back
Though Davis' accident was sudden and tragic, he didn’t let it hold him back for too long. He released his first two albums Starring Sammy Davis Jr. and Sammy Davis Jr. Sings Just for Lovers in 1955. They received massive commercial success and pushed him further into the spotlight.
Davis was no longer an opening act for his beloved Sinatra; he was headlining gigs in Las Vegas and New York and performing on TV. In 1958 and 1959, he made appearances on Anna Lucasta, Porgy and Bess and The Frank Sinatra Show.
Sammy Davis Performed 383 Broadway Shows With Mr. Wonderful
In 1956, Sammy Davis got his first break in Broadway, though admittedly, it seemed a bit late considering his commercial success and extensive performing background. It was almost like Davis was born for the part – and that's because he was. The play was written specifically to showcase his talents.
He played Charlie Welch, an entertainer struggling in show business. It was essentially an expansion of Davis’ Las Vegas nightclub act. The show, which also cast Davis’ uncle and father who he performed with as the Will Mastin Trio, was a massive success. It ran for 383 performances.
Sammy Was Widely Regarded as Ugly Despite His Luck with the Ladies
Sammy Davis Jr. was not a looker – which is why you should never judge a book by his cover. Davis was widely regarded as ugly because of his height and facial features. What attracted people to him was his charisma and talent. Still, he was deeply hurt when people mentioned his looks.
Bob Sylvester, a New York Daily News columnist, cruelly wrote that "God…hit [Davis] in the face with a shovel." He was reportedly devastated but eventually saw his unique features as a sign of power. He'd say, “It’s getting me where I’m going.”
Sammy Davis Jr. Had One of the Most Famous TV Kisses of All Time
Sammy was always one to break down racial barriers and fight for equality. Sometimes this meant raising quite a commotion. This was the case for Davis when he landed the most controversial and famous TV kisses of all time.
In 1972, Davis appeared on All in the Family as himself. He was visiting the Bunker household to get a briefcase he'd left behind in Archie’s taxi cab. Archie spewed racist comments throughout the episode, and Sammy generally ignored them. It finally came to a head when Sammy planted a kiss on Archie’s cheek before leaving. The episode was nominated for two Emmy’s.
Sammy Davis Had a Poor Relationship with His Daughter
Sammy didn't have much luck with the ladies. He dated beautiful women and was married three times. He even had a daughter, but his relationships always seemed strained.
According to his daughter, Tracy Davis, Sammy was an absent-minded father who was hyper-focused on his work. He once missed her fifth birthday and tried to make it up to her by giving her $100 (as if a five-year-old cares about cash). He also skipped out on her college graduation and frequently lost her phone number. "I am not saying that he didn’t love us," she said. “But work was his driving force.”
A Misunderstood Relationship With His Son
While Sammy only had one biological child, his daughter Tracy, he still had three other sons who were adopted. One of his adopted sons, Mark, at one point discovered that Sammy was actually his biological father. Although he knew he was adopted after reading about it in a 1960's article in Life magazine, Mark Davis found his original birth certificate in 2013, which listed Sammy Davis Jr. as his father.
Unfortunately, after verifying with a DNA test, he found that Sammy was just his adoptive father, but still a father nonetheless. Mark recalled that his father’s last words to him were, "You are my son."
His Son Thinks He Might Be Illegitimate
Despite the negative DNA test results and his adoptive mother May Britt's insistence that she did not give birth to him, Mark Davis told Daily Mail, "I am a huge living question mark and this is because I have never understood anything 100 percent about where I came from… If I am Dad’s natural son, and I believe very much that could be the case, then there could have been many reasons why I was put down as adopted.
Maybe it was the whole showbiz thing and the scandal it might cause or the color thing or even that my natural mother’s identity had to remain secret too. Dad was very loving when I was a kid, but being adopted never made sense to me as Dad and Mom had a daughter Tracy who is a year younger than me."
Mark's Whereabouts Today
Despite being the biological son of one of the most famous singers in the world, Mark Davis lives a completely ordinary life. In fact, he's near penniless and works at the photo counter at a Costco store outside Hollywood, California. The IRS took his father’s estate when he died.
Mark now has two sons of his own, and has opened up about what it was like being estranged from his dad when he was younger. He revealed that without a strong father figure, he began to drink heavily. "Luckily, I grew out of it after rehab three times," he said.
A Forerunner For Integration
Because Sammy's past experiences made him all too aware of the blatant racism in America during the ’60s, he was an avid financial supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. During the height of his career, Sammy refused to perform anywhere that practiced racial segregation. As a result, venues from Miami Beach to Las Vegas began to practice integration and let loose on their segregation rules.
Sammy’s efforts towards racial equality earned him induction into the Hall of Fame of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as well as honorary degrees from predominantly black colleges.
Guilty By Association
Despite being a Democrat, Sammy Davis Jr. supported Richard Nixon by publicly endorsing him at the 1972 Republican National Convention. Sammy had won Nixon's respect for his participation in the Civil Rights Movement and the two became close friends for some time, much to the dismay of many of Sammy’s fans.
Sammy made a USO tour to South Vietnam at Nixon’s request and Nixon invited Sammy and his then-wife, Altovise, to stay at the White House in 1973. It was the first time African-American’s were invited to sleep in the White House, where Sammy and his wife stayed in the Queens’ Bedroom.
He Should Have Saved His Support
Nixon's run as president obviously didn’t work out so well for him and Sammy Davis Jr. later admitted that supporting Nixon was one of his deep regrets. Sammy explained that he regretted supporting Nixon after Nixon failed to follow through on some civil rights promises.
A lot of people in the African-American community at the time were livid that Sammy was supporting Nixon, that the both of them received death threats. Not only was he threatened for his support of Nixon, but Sammy was hotly criticized at the time for living what many considered a "white" lifestyle.
Performing For The Cause
The threats after Sammy's public support of Nixon were so severe, in fact, that Sammy’s manager, Sy Marsh, sought a solution. According to a 2003 article in The Washington Post, Marsh reached out to Civil Rights leader Jesse Jackson on a solution to alleviate to anger between Sammy’s relationship with Nixon. Jackson founded Operation PUSH, an anti-poverty organization in Chicago that was often funded by celebrity endorsements.
Marsh recalled, "Jesse said, 'If you can come up with $25,000 for my charity, then [have Davis] come to Chicago." After borrowing money from Vegas casinos, Sammy came to Chicago to perform for disgruntled Civil Rights activists.
An Unwelcomed Visitor
Despite the fact that Sammy Davis Jr. arrived in Chicago to support Jesse Jackson's organization, he was still met with hatred. Vanity Fair reported that he was booed when he appeared on stage, performing only one song before leaving and telling Marsh, "Never again. Never again am I going to extend myself." A member of Davis’s entourage said, “If you were there that night, you’d think, No wonder he hugged Nixon.”
Because of Sammy’s success as a performer for the masses and his friendly relationships with predominantly white people, the African-American community looked at Sammy with a certain amount of disdain.
A Conditional Marriage
Vanity Fair writes that "Davis had spent the first half of his career making himself loved by the white world, and the second half trying to make himself loved by the black world," with Marsh saying, “That's the reason he married Altovise Gore. She was a black woman. It would open up more doors to his being accepted.”
Sammy Davis Jr. met Altovise Gore when she played his sister in Golden Boy and they married in 1970. Of the relationship, Gore recalls that Sammy loved her “unconditionally. We loved each other very much. I was like a kid in a candy store, and he wanted me to have the best.”
Sammy's Oscars Flub
Actors Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway may have made history at the 89th Academy Awards when announcing the wrong winner for Best Picture—the all time most important award at the Oscars—but they weren't the first. Sammy Davis Jr. had his fair share of Oscars mishaps when he did the same thing in 1964. For that year’s Academy Awards, Sammy Davis Jr. was chosen to announce the winner for Best Music Score.
It was supposed to be Andre Previn for Irma La Douce, but the wrong envelope Davis was given read John Addison for Tom Jones. Sammy played it off though, saying "wait ’till the NAACP hears about this," to a laughing applause from the audience.
Wanting What You Can't Have
For all the bad rap that Sammy Davis Jr. received as a celebrity of color, he was still generally well-liked by his fellow actors and musicians. Sammy was known to have a preference for dating blonde bombshells, so it's no wonder that he and -then-rising-star Kim Novak hit it off. Actor Tony Curtis is credited with introducing the two in 1957.
Curtis recalled to Vanity Fair, "[Sammy] didn’t want to create problems, so I said, 'I’m going to have a party at my house. Come on by, and I’ll invite Kim.’ They both came over and they spent the evening together—deep in thought, deep in talk. I could see right from the beginning that they were getting along in an intense way, and that was the beginning of the relationship."
Their Forbidden Romance
Not only was Sammy Davis Jr.'s relationship with blond-haired, blue-eyed actress Kim Novak forbidden, but both parties were actually threatened about ceasing the relationship. National Enquirer reported in 2015 that the 1957 taboo interracial relationship was broken up by Columbia boss Harry Cohn, who had a domineering reputation. Cohn allegedly hired a hitman to scare Sammy, who was threatened to stop seeing Kim or he would lose his other eye.
Novak confirmed, "That DID happen. [Cohn was] surrounded by all these men, including people in the Mob. He told me that my career was in jeopardy if I continued to see Sammy… It was very disturbing, but we knew there was no use fighting it."
The Other Serious Threat
Speculation about their affair took over headlines and was blown out of proportion. Apparently, Harry Cohn was so upset about the rumors, that he approached Sammy's father, Sammy Davis Sr., at an LA racetrack in 1958. Cohn allegedly told the senior Davis, "Listen. I got some terrible news for you. I just got a call from Chicago to hurt Sammy.
I tell you what, there’s one chance. I’ll give him 24 hours. Sammy has to get married—to a colored girl," Vanity Fair reported. This prompted Sammy Davis Jr. to scramble to follow the request in order to protect himself and Kim.
Sammy's Unknown Marriage
Sammy Davis Jr. scoured his address book to look for a suitable wife and picked Loray White, a former Broadway dancer and bit actress who was in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments in 1956. He allegedly sat her down and gave her the proposition of marrying him for an undisclosed amount of money and that they would end the marriage a year later. She agreed and they tied the knot.
Sammy was heavily congratulated and Loray was happy to reap the benefits of being Mrs. Sammy Divs Jr. However, she realized that the fantasy was just a façade. Six months after the marriage, Sammy paid Loray $25,000 to divorce him.
Love That Can Never Be
While Sammy was caught up in his scam marriage, he was allegedly running around with Kim in secret. But she later told Vanity Fair, "It was a very dangerous relationship then—a white woman and a black man, no matter his status—it simply didn't mix publicly. I was suddenly in the eye of a hurricane. . . . My agent told me my career would be over if I continued to see Sammy. Some of my friends wouldn’t even return my telephone calls."
Although they never ended up together, Sammy and Kim reunited in 1979 Academy Awards where they were able to catch up and dance with one another.
His Hidden Talent
Aside from being a musical prodigy, Sammy Davis Jr. found another hobby that he was incredibly talented with in his later life. He was quoted as saying, "Jerry [Lewis] gave me my first important camera, my first 35 millimeter, during the Ciro's period, early ’50s and he hooked me… Nobody interrupts a man taking a picture to ask… 'What’s that [expletive] doin’ here?'"
In 2007 Burt Boyar published a book of Sammy’s work, titled Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr. that features rare photos of the Will Mastin Trio, his Rat Pack cohorts, Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedy’s, and more.