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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


BIG on samples and happy hour buffets, periodically declares he's giving up on cheese (might as well call him "anti-American" i know), LOVES his wife (remember, "wife" spelled backwards is "efiw"), is certain his son is destined to be known as "Enzo the Great," appreciates his "parents" more each day (in-laws included), still dislikes cats, greatest fear is mediocrity, has resigned himself to blatant self-promotion (hey! i amuse me), defies popularity by defining himself, and wants (would like) you to pay him lots (market-value) of money for his work.

lorenzo@lorenzodom.com

....more on "Papa" Lorenzo

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Stardust Memories:

The Essential Guide to American Adult Pop-Culture
of the Age of Innocence,
1946-64

Sammy Davis, Jr.

"Mr. Entertainment "

Sammy only grew up to be 5'3", but he proved his size was not a measure of his personality and talent. Born on December 8, 1925 in New York's Harlem, he grew up in a family of entertainers. Starting out in vaudeville, Sammy ended up strutting across and singing on some of the most prestigious stages of Vegas, Hollywood and New York.

His parents were performers in Will Mastin's Holiday in Dixieland vaudeville show and by the age of three Sammy had also become an essential part of the act. After winning an amateur contest in Philadelphia, Sammy, Jr. was added to the Mastin troupe and billed as "Silent Sam the Dancing Midget." By the age of seven in 1933, Sammy had made his screen debut as a dancer in the film short Rufus Jones For President. Although, the youngest part of the Mastin act, the decline of vaudeville and the rise of radio and television allowed Sammy to progressively receive bigger billing, moving from being only a novel part as "the Dancing Midget" to "Will Mastin's Gang, Featuring Little Sammy" to "The Will Mastin Trio": Mastin, Sam Sr. and Sammy.

Employed in show business for almost all of his early life, Sammy entered adulthood by being drafted into the Army immediately after Pearl Harbor. In the service, Sammy was hit with the realities of life, most dramatically, prejudice, which he had for the most part not faced as a child, having been sheltered under the wings of his male guardians and fellow performers.

After his stint in the armed services, Sammy returned to the Mastin Trio, which survived by making the nightclub circuit and by taking advantage of the entertainment opportunities afforded by the new vice and vanity haven sprouting up in the middle of the Mojave desert, Sin City, Las Vegas, Nevada. Sammy's lifetime association with Vegas began in 1945 when the Trio was booked as an opening act for the Irish Tenor, Johnny O'Brian, at the El Rancho Vegas Hotel and Casino.

It was in Vegas that Sammy not only continued his life on stage, but it was where he continued to face the ugly practice of racial discrimination. For Blacks were not only mistreated, but were not even allowed to stay on the premises of their host hotels, a practice which lasted until the late 1950s.

Yet, all his experience in Vegas was not perilous and painful, for it was here that he began to sing as part of his act, and where he began to expand the repertoire of his impressions. The latter improvement was especially important and career altering, because prior to Vegas his impressions were exclusively of Black celebrities, and it was in Vegas where he dared break social convention by imitating White performers, which fortunately worked out to his advantage, adding to his popularity.

Yet, Sammy's and the Trio's truly lucky break came in Los Angeles when they started their engagement at Ciro's in Hollywood. Originally booked as the opening act for the silverscreen chanteuse Janis Paige, the Trio immediately proved so popular that not only was their contract extended from two weeks to eight weeks, but by the second show they were billed as the headliner and Paige was accorded the second line on the marquis.

Subsequently the Trio's popularity grew beyond expectations and they were booked solid throughout the late 1940s and into the 1950s in Hollywood and in Vegas. Moreover, it was Sammy's popularity which soared because the dancing midget began to receive due respect when the act was billed as "The Will Mastin Trio, Featuring Sammy Davis, Jr." and eventually "...Starring Sammy Davis, Jr."

In 1949, Sammy also began to make his mark commercially with twenty recordings under the Capitol Records label. But just like his stage career, Sammy was not recognized for the giant talent that he was in the beginning of his recording career. It was not until October, 1954 that Sammy finally had a hit on the Cashbox pop charts under the Decca Record label.

.A little more than a year later, Sammy experienced another life altering event when he lost his left eye in an automobile accident riding from Vegas to L.A. But amazingly enough, nothing short of death could hold back Sammy, because three months later in March 1955, he was on the stage of Ciro's for the second lucky break of his life.

With an eyepatch and a passion for life, Sammy continued his rise to stardom in 1956 with a starring role on Broadway as "Mr. Wonderful" in the play of the same name. Two years later the Sands in Vegas realized Sammy's lucrative potential and signed him for a long-term contract. The same year Sammy made his first feature film appearance in Anna Lucasta, co-starring with Eartha Kitt. He went on to perform in several other films including the infamous Rat Pack films of the early sixties, including Oceans 11 (1960) and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964). Sammy's Broadway career continued on into the late seventies, intertwined with his Vegas stage performances (the last of which was in July, 1989), TV specials and appearances, concerts and recording sessions.

Mr. Entertainment, Sammy Davis Jr., was not only a consummate entertainer like many of his peers, but also courted controversy throughout his career. From his interracial marriage to Mai Brit to his conversion to Judaism to his rebel rousing with the of the Rat Pack , Mr. Candy Man kept himself well positioned in the public eye.

.Beyond fruitful recording and performing careers, Mr. Davis, wrote three autobiographies, leaving few stones to turn for aspiring journalists chronicling the comical one-eyed Jack of all artistic trades. Sammy Davis, Jr. died May 16, 1990 and was honored with a blackout on the Vegas Strip two nights later, only the second such blackout of Sin City's history, the first being in honor of JFK after his assassination on November 22, 1963.

Stardust Memories:
The Guide to American Adult Pop-Culture of the Age of Innocence, 1946-1964
Stardust Memories Index.

Copyright © 1997
Fresh Ink Company & Lorenzo D. Dominguez
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