Getting under Sammy's skin
<B>Getting under Sammy's skin</B> Toward the end of his life, Sammy Davis Jr. became a kitschy cultural caricature. We saw him with cigarette in hand, shoulders pulled slightly forward, mugging with Frank and Dino, talking fast and funny. But, as author Wil Haygood details in <B>In Black and White</B>, a dazzling, hard-to-put-down examination of the performer's life and times, Davis was no cardboard cut-out. Haygood gets under his skin, exposing a complicated man and a virtuoso talent whose influence on the American entertainment industry and the civil rights movement was profound.
Based on more than 250 interviews, exhaustively researched and written with the assured and snappy style of one of Sammy's own shows, In <B>Black and White</B> explores the forces that formed the performer as well as the real man. A child of vaudeville who was all but abandoned by his showgirl mother, Davis was just 4 when his father took him on the road with Will Mastin's revue. At 8 he delivered impromptu dances on stage, reveling in the applause. Mastin shrewdly incorporated little Sammy into the act. Mastin, Davis and Davis Jr. would eventually comprise the Will Mastin Trio, which led to Sammy's stardom. A man who lived for the limelight, Davis had unlimited energy, seldom slept (he caught his z's traveling to and from gigs) and triumphed over the accident that took his left eye. And he was rapturously talented as a hoofer, singer, mimic, actor. He knocked 'em dead in nightclubs, lit up the Broadway stage, let loose on film and television and made waves in Vegas, baby, Vegas. He was also a major figure in the civil rights movement a role that was mired in controversy because Sammy was a member of the Rat Pack. He dug Sinatra, posed with Nixon, and he loved in every sense of the word white women, especially blondes. As the joke went, Sammy was the whitest black guy who ever lived. Ah, but there was so much more to Sammy; far too much to detail here. In Black and White brings his act to a bookstore near you.
<I>Pat H. Broeske is the co-author of biographies of Howard Hughes and Elvis Presley.</I>