By Matt Micucci
Sinatra was the leader of one of the most famous “packs” in the history of entertainment. In this first of two parts, we take a look at the origin of the Rat Pack, from its original formation to the sixties line-up.
The Rat Pack was originally a monicker used by the public and the press to refer to a social group of friends and Hollywood personalities that revolved around Humphrey Bogart in the fifties. It owed its name to his wife, “the girl with the look” Lauren Bacall, who upon seeing her husband return home with a group of friends from a Vegas trip commented that they looked like a “goddamn rat pack”. Original members included such esteemed personalities as Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Rex Harrison. Frank Sinatra was a member of some importance and influence within the group.
Back then he was known as the “pack master”, and after the passing of Bogart in 1957, he became the group’s centre of attention, at least to the general public and the press. He spearheaded the group as its leader, along with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
Dean Martin is now known as one of the most popular American entertainers of the twentieth century, and his career is quite similar to that of Sinatra. A vocalist with acting ambition, he had made it big as one half of America’s most popular comedy team up of the late forties and early fifties alongside Jerry Lewis. But by the late fifties, he had started to nurture ambitions of becoming a serious solo actor. His first solo movie came with Ten Thousend Bedrooms in 1957, but it was a flop. A year later, he aimed to use a tactic that had worked for Sinatra years earlier by taking a bit-part and a pay-cut in a serious war drama, The Young Lions, which is seen as the beginning of his comeback. Later that year, he starred alongside Sinatra for the first time in Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running.
Being the only child of two popular vaudevillians, Sammy Davis Jr. had been an entertainer all his life, and was taught to sing and dance from an early age. In 1933, he played the title role in the film Rufus Jones for President, and in his early teens joined his father’s group, which was led by his uncle Will Mastin, and former a trio that continued to be billed in Davis’ show throughout his career. After joining the army in World War II, where he said he overcame racial issues with his talent, he rejoined the family dance act and picked up where he left off, rising to become one of the top names in broadway as the leading star in the production of Mr. Wonderful.
There’s nothing really that ties the two groups together apart from the presence of Sinatra in both and the name by which they were known to the press and the public. In order to avoid mixing the two groups up, “il capo di tutti” Sinatra initially referred to it to The Clan, but Davis protested on the grounds that it reminded him far too much of the KKK. So from there on, they became known as The Summit, and never actually referred to themselves as Rat Packer.
The bulk of the group also included TV personality and entertainer Joey Bishop, who usually covered the role of emcee at Rat Pack shows.
Peter Lawford was the fifth and final stable member. Although he was an actor who starred in some top notch productions such as It Should Happen to You (1954) alongside Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon, he was more known for being a socialite and the brother in law of John F. Kennedy. He particularly became associated with the group as they aimed to play an important role in the promotion of his presidential run. But when Kennedy was advised agains spending time in Sinatra’s estate due to his alleged association with the mob, opting instead to stay at Bing Crosby’s house, a deeply hurt Sinatra blamed Lawford and effectively kicked him out of the group. In an ironic twist, Lawford was scheduled to play a role in the film Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), but ended up being replaced by Bing Crosby himself.
The second part of the story of The Rat Pack will be published on JAZZIZ.com tomorrow!