Although the name ‘Rat Pack’ might give you visions of a smokey room where Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin are drinking champagne and cracking jokes….these were not the members of the original Rat Pack. Originally, the group centered around actor Humphrey Bogart. His wife Lauren Bacall was referred to as the ‘ Den Mother’ and the group included famous friends of the couple, such as Spencer Tracy en Katherine Hepburn.
But this is not the group that is associated with the term ‘Rat Pack’. In 1959 Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford were in Las Vegas to film Ocean’s Eleven. In the evenings, Sinatra, Martin and Davis performed individually, rotating evenings. The three stars started making appearances in each other’s shows and ‘kidding around’ on stage. The audience loved it.
But they got along off stage as well. Ocean’s Eleven’s five leading men treated Las Vegas as their playground. They hung out together, partying, chasing girls, drinking and laughing. The press had a field day and called them ‘The Rat Pack’. A term that was never used by the group itself. They found it to be derogatory and referred to themselves as ‘The Summit’.
From then on the five friends were inseparable. They performed together regularly in Vegas, causing a flood of tourists in the small town in the desert. They continued to do movies together, some with just two or three of them, and even had political influence. Fellow Rat Peter Lawford was married to John F. Kennedy’s sister.
Sammy Davis Jr.’s presence wasn’t always appreciated by some members of the public. During a performance of The Rat Pack and some of their celebrity friends at a democratic rally, Sammy Davis, Jr. was booed by the Mississippi and Alabama delegations. Davis was devastated. Choked up, he managed to sing through the National Anthem with Sinatra and others, but left the convention hall shortly thereafter. But The Rat Pack was not just JFK supporters they were also vocal when it came to equal rights. For instance: the group refused to perform in Las Vegas hotels and casinos that had a segregation policy.
But it was not just serious politics; the five friends loved to have fun. They liked to gamble, go to parties and chase after girls.
Many actresses were friends with the five men, such as Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine and Judy Garland, and the group affectionately called them their ‘mascots’.
But alas, the splendour of the Rat Pack did not last. Problems within the group and the growing popularity of artists like Elvis Presley and The Beatles, tore the group apart.
The first rift was the one between Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford. According to reports, Frank blamed Peter when John F. Kennedy decided to stay at Bing Crosby’s house instead of his, as was promised. It is said that JFK was advised to stay away from Frank due to his ties with the mafia. Even so, Frank blamed Peter and refused to talk to him or even be in the same room with him.
As the years went by Sammy Davis Jr. got lost in drug abuse and lost touch with his friends for awhile.
After the 60’s there were occasional reunions, benefit shows, a couple of small films and revival tours involving two or more of the group. In December 1987 Sinatra, Davis, and Martin announced a 29 date tour, called Together Again.
Their first show was performed in front of a sold-out crowd of 14,500. But Dean Martin decided to quit after a couple of shows en Liza Minnelli was brought in. With Minnelli, the tour was called The Ultimate Event, and continued internationally to great success.
Today, none of the members are alive anymore. But the Rat Pack lives on in their music, their films and in many tributes that celebrate this fun-loving group that represents a unique period in Hollywood history.