By Matt Micucci
Sinatra was the leader of one of the most famous “packs” in the history of entertainment. In this second and final part, we take a look at the how The Summit became an iconic group of carefree sophistication.
The Rat Pack became one of the most iconic factions of entertainers and symbols of carefree sophistication. Throughout the first part of the sixties, they became a powerhouse force, performing regular shows around numerous clubs in Las Vegas. Of these, one in particular became their home – the Sands Hotel and Casino, which sadly no longer exists but at the time was the coolest spot on the planet. It was here that The Summit held their regular meetings, and in particular in the Copa Room.
These meetings were regular shows put on by the pack that were largely driven by its leaders Sinatra, Martin and Davis Jr., who would sing, tell jokes and do impressions for the audience in attendance. Fellow packers Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford rounded up the numbers. Occasionally, they would also be joined by other personalities and starlets such as Angie Dickinson and Marilyn Monroe, who became known as the Rat Pack Mascots. Shirley MacLain became so closely associated with them that even to this day she is regarded by many as the sixth member of the group’s formation.
These shows were extremely popular, and some of the banter has survived to this day thanks to a number of recordings. But their popularity did not end there. They also starred in a number of films together. Two in particular feature the entire Rat Pack – Ocean’s Eleven (1960) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). The first has since become a classic New Year’s Eve film and can easily be considered the ultimate Rat Pack movie, inspiring a loose modern adaptation starring George Clooney and his own 2000’s version of the pack featuring Matt Damon and Brad Pitt in 2001. The second actually did not feature Lawford, who was replaced by Bing Crosby, due to an incident that took place some time earlier.
The Rat Pack had risen to national prominence by playing a big part in JFK’s presidential campaign in the sixties, through various publicity performances and photo ops. Actor Peter Lawford, who was the future president’s brother in law, or brother-in-Lawford as Sinatra referred to him, was included in the pack as a result. Sinatra even recorded a new version of the song High Hopes, which became Kennedy’s official presidential campaign song, and featured the line “so if you vote for Kennedy you’ll come on top”.
In 1962, Lawford suggested that Sinatra be rewarded for his contribution to the campaign by hosting Kennedy in his estate for a few years. Sinatra spent a lot of time and money in order to accommodate him, but plans were changed at the last minute, when JFK was advised against forming too close a bond in the public’s eye with a man who had been accused of having ties with the mob. Sinatra blamed Lawford for the incident, effectively kicking him out of the group, and replacing him in Robin and the 7 Hoods with Bing Crosby, who had hosted Kennedy on this one occasion instead of Sinatra.
There have been rumours that have in fact linked this event with the beginning of the break up of the pack, and by the late sixties they were no longer appearing together. In the eighties there were plans to rekindle the magic with a reunion tour, but by then it may have been too late. Dean Martin had to quit after only a few dates due to illness and apathy. Sammy Davis Jr. died in 1990 and Dean Martin died in 1995. Three years later came Sinatra’s turn. Their legacy, and the legacy of The Summit – of The Rat Pack – lives on.