Friday, August 16, 2013

The Rat Pack: The Original Bad Boys

The Rat Pack: The Original Bad Boys
Antonio G. Pereira © 2013 Antonio G. Pereira

        The Rat Pack: The Original Bad Boys by James Kaplan and The Editors of Life. Published by Life Books An Imprint of Time Home Entertainment Inc. This is quite a fascinating softback magazine. An intriguing look back at a group of men at an important time of what became monumental and long, long overdue changes in the basic fabric of the United States of America. The Rat Pack aka The Clan or The Summit, were poised at the vanguard of this undertaking in U.S. History. One hell of a story is there, but it's still waiting to be told. Unfortunately, writer James Kaplan (along with the Editors of Life), fall into the same trap as writer Shawn Levy did in his book, 'Rat Pack Confidential', embellishing the truth: in whatever way you view reinterpretation. To give Levy credit, he does occasionally add some interesting information to the Rat Pack story, but has a bad habit of exaggerating. One has only to view 'The 60th Anniversary Celebration For Sammy Davis Jr.', (taped in 1990, shortly before he became so sick he couldn't leave home, but well enough to not only attend, but get up on stage and do some startling Tap Dancing with Gregory Hines, get up and give a long, warm embrace to Shirley MacLaine and get up onstage again to give a similar embrace to Michael Jackson {in essence passing the baton to him}) to see the deep love between Frank Sinatra (who started off the proceedings) and Sammy Davis Jr.; which puts to shame the garbage written by a few 'Experts', with regard to their relationship. The cover of this magazine (a photograph of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra sharing a joke backstage at a Carnegie Hall benefit in honour of Martin Luther King Jr. and to aid the Civil Rights Movement, which at the time was exposing the horrendous racial climate in the south for all the world to see) is a perfect example of why this magazine is badly flawed. You will find nothing inside which will explain or tell you anything about the cover photograph or the circumstances under which it came about. What we do get in this magazine is plenty about Hollywood Showbiz Glitz and a peculiar and incomplete 'tsk tsk tsk, isn't that a shame' picture of Sammy Davis Jr., similar to the profile in the Shawn Levy book, 'Rat Pack Confidential'. If we're going to tell the whole story, let's remember in retrospect that in 1967 The Wasps took back Las Vegas. And it's stayed that way ever since. Having been taught a lesson by the Civil Rights Movement, with additional scrutiny by the New Government and no nonsense enforcement by the new Attorney General, the days of preaching Democracy to the rest of the world, while continuing lynching practices and segregation at home, was something the United States could no longer afford; as Democracy without Justice was exactly what it appeared to be, an empty contemptible lie. This of course is the rest of the 'embellishment of the truth' in this magazine, relating to Sammy Davis Jr. being booed by the Southern Delegates while singing the National Anthem at the Democratic Convention. These characters could see and feel a threatening change blowing in the wind. And now that there were National and (worse still) 'International' News Cameras there to capture all of this on film, there were no rocks to hide under anymore.
To give this magazine it's points though, the archival photographs (what there are of them) are beautifully presented. (I would have liked to have seen a comical black and white photograph of The Rat Pack reproduced in this book, that was once in Vanity Fair years ago. It showed a mock scene in which Sinatra, Davis, Martin and Lawford are seated next to each other. Dean Martin (feigning a wise guy with a cigarette), is picking a fight (backed up by a puffed up and smugly staring Peter Lawford) with an unsure and putting on a brave face Sammy Davis Jr., who is being nudged by the elbow by a supportive Frank Sinatra, to not back down and put up a fight.) The story of how the original Rat Pack came into being at Humphrey Bogart's home is very clearly retold in this magazine, as well as the birth of what became the original Las Vegas. An interesting footnote to all of this (strangely absent as it relates to the early Mafia influence in Vegas and the blatant racism that existed there) is the murder of Jazz and Be Bop Saxophonist Wardell Gray. Log onto  click Articles, excerpts and notes, scroll down and click, 'The Covert War Against Rock' by Alex Constantine Chapter 7; for the footnote relating to Wardell Gray. For what 'The Rat Pack: The Original Bad Boys' is, which is a pulp publication, put out for mass consumption, this is pretty much typical of what you'd expect. Luckily, we have Sammy Davis Jr.'s three books, 'Yes I Can', 'Hollywood In A Suitcase' and 'Why Me?'. Additionally, Frank Sinatra's valet, George Jacob's book, 'Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra', was quite an overdue surprise. Sam Giancana, who weaves in and out of The Rat Pack story and everything related to it, ended up as you would expect. A paranoid caged rat, whose ill gotten gains, by the time he was brutally murdered, didn't do him any good; as in the end even Sinatra distanced himself from him. British Investigative Journalist Anthony Summers pieced together some amazing research on the players in this real life drama in his three books, 'Frank Sinatra: The Life', 'Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover' and 'The Kennedy Conspiracy'. So there are other places to look where you can read and fill in the rest of this story.