Samuel George “Sammy” Davis, Jr. was an American entertainer.
Primarily a dancer and singer, Davis was a childhood vaudevillian, and became known for his performances on Broadway and in Las Vegas, as a recording artist, television and film star, and the only black member of Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack”.
At the age of three Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father and “uncle” as the Will Mastin Trio, toured nationally, and after military service, returned to the trio. Davis became an overnight sensation following a nightclub performance at Ciro’s after the 1951 Academy Awards, with the trio, became a recording artist, and made his first film performances as an adult later that decade. Losing his left eye in a car accident in 1954, he converted to Judaism and appeared in the first Rat Pack movie, Ocean’s Eleven, in 1960. After a starring role on Broadway in 1956’s Mr Wonderful, Davis returned to the stage in 1964’s Golden Boy, and in 1966 had his own TV variety show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Davis’s career slowed in the late sixties, but he had a hit record with “The Candy Man”, in 1972, and became a star in Las Vegas.
As an African-American, Davis was the victim of racism throughout his life, and was a large financial supporter of civil rights causes. Davis had a complex relationship with the black community, and attracted criticism after physically embracing Richard Nixon in 1970. One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he was asked what his handicap was. “Handicap?” he asked. “Talk about handicap ? I’m a one-eyed Negro Jew.” This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles.