Monday, 8 February 2010

The Rat Pack

The Rat Pack was a supergroup of actors and jazz musicians originally centered on Humphrey Bogart. In the mid-1960s it was the name used by the press and the general public to refer to a later variation of the group, after Bogart's death, that called itself "the summit" or "the clan," featuring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, who appeared together on stage and in films in the early-1960s, including the movie Oceans Eleven.
Despite its reputation as a masculine group, the Rat Pack did have female participants, including movie icons Shirley MacLeane, Lauren Bacall, Angie Dickinson, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland.

The fifties Rat Pack
The name "Rat Pack" was first used to refer to a group of friends in Hollywood, including the young Frank Sinatra. Several explanations have been offered for the famous name over the years. According to one version, the group's original "Den Mother," Lauren Bacall, after seeing her husband (Bogart) and his friends return from a night in Las Vegas, said words to the effect of "You look like a goddamn rat pack. "Rat Pack" may also be a shortened version of "Holmby Hills Rat Pack," a reference to the home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall which served as a regular hangout.
The name may also refer to the belief that an established pack of rats will belligerently reject an outsider who tries to join them ("Never rat on a rat"). So called "visiting members" included Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Mickey Rooney and Cesar Romero, however.
According to Stephen Bogart, the original members of the Holmby Hills Rat Pack were Sinatra (pack master), Garland (first vice-president), Bacall (den mother), Sid Luft (cage master), Bogart (rat in charge of public relations), Swifty Lazar (recording secretary and treasurer), Nathaniel Benchley (historian), David Niven, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, George Cukor, Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, and Jimmy Van Heuson. In his autobiography The
Moon's a Balloon, Niven confirms that the Rat Pack originally included him but not Sammy Davis Jr. or Dean Martin.

The sixties Rat Pack
Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra
The 1960s version of the group included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr., Joey
Bishop, Peter Lawford, and for a brief stint, Norman Fell. Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson, Juliet Prowse, and Shirley MacLaine were often referred to as the "Rat Pack Mascots", a title which reportedly made these ladies feel like "one of the boys". The post-Bogart version of the group (Bogart died in 1957) was reportedly never called that name by any of its members — they called it the Summit or the Clan. "The Rat Pack" was a term used by journalists and outsiders, although it remains the lasting name for the group.
The Rat Pack often performed in Las Vegas and were instrumental for its rise as a popular entertainment destination. They played an important role in the desegregation of Las Vegas hotels and casinos in the early 1960s. Sinatra and the others would refuse to play in or patronize those establishments that would not give full service to black entertainers, including Davis. Once Rat Pack appearances became popular and the subject of media attention, the Las Vegas properties were forced to abandon segregation-based policies.
Sinatra and friends had no idea this band of five would make entertainment history. The group was remarkable for its upbeat entertainment style and smooth musical and comedy routines, many of which were ad-libbed. Davis said when Sinatra called the initial gathering of the Rat Pack, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, French PresidentCharles de Gaulle, and Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev were planning a Paris Summit Conference. Not to be outdone, Sinatra observed, "We'll have our own little Summit meeting". The Vegas Summit did not draw diplomats, but it did draw high rollers, VIPs, celebrities, and entertainment buffs, who responded by the thousands.
Often, when one of the members was scheduled to give a performance, the rest of the Pack would show up for an impromptu show, causing much excitement among audiences, resulting in return visits. They sold out almost all of their appearances, and people would come pouring into Las Vegas, sometimes sleeping in cars and hotel lobbies when they could not find rooms, just to be part of the Rat Pack entertainment experience. The marquees of the hotels at which they were performing as individuals would read, for example, "DEAN MARTIN - MAYBE FRANK - MAYBE SAMMY" as seen on a Sands Hotel sign
Peter Lawford was a brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy (dubbed "Brother-in-Lawford" by Sinatra), and the group played a role in campaigning for him and the Democrats, appearing at the July 11, 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Lawford had asked Sinatra if he would have Kennedy as a guest at his Palm Springs house in March of 1963, and Sinatra went to great lengths (including the construction of a helipad) to accommodate the President.When Robert Kennedy advised his brother to sever his ties to Sinatra due to the entertainer's association with mafia figures such as Sam Giancana, the stay was cancelled. Kennedy instead chose to stay at rival Bing Crosby's estate, which further infuriated Sinatra. Lawford was blamed for this, and Sinatra "never again had a good word for (him)" from that point onwards. Lawford's role in the upcoming 4 For Texas was written out, and his part in Robin and the Seven Hoods was given to Bing Crosby, beefed up with several songs added (this wasn't the first time Sinatra had treated a Rat Packer that way; Davis's role in Never So Few was given to Steve McQueen when Davis badmouthed Sinatra over the radio).
On June 20, 1965 Sinatra, Martin and Davis with Johnny Carson as the emcee (subbing for Bishop who was out with a bad back) performed their only televised concert together during the heyday of the pack at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis, a closed-circuit broadcast done as a fundraiser for Dismas House (the first halfway house for ex-convicts). After being thought lost for thirty years Paul Brownstein tracked down a print of the show that had been sitting in a closet in St. Louis. It has since been broadcast on Nick at Night (in 1998) as part The Museum of Television & Radio Showcase series and released on DVD as part of the Ultimate Rat Pack Collection: Live & Swingin.
Although the Rat Pack members remained close (with the exception of Peter Lawford), the Rat Pack began to fade in popularity with the rise of the 1960s counterculture, which sent their form of sophisticated "Establishment" entertainment into decline While its individual members remained popular with the public, the Rat Pack, as such, had ceased to exist by the end of the 1960s.
Many years later, Martin and Davis appeared together in the movie Cannonball Run, and were joined by Sinatra in the movie Cannonball Run II. This would be the last time that the three would appear in a movie together. (Shirley MacLaine also appears in the latter film).
Peter Lawford died on December 24, 1984 of cardiac arrest complicated by kidney and liver failure at the age of 61. Sammy Davis, Jr. died at the age of 64 on May 16, 1990, of complications from throat cancer. Dean Martin died at home on Christmas morning 1995, aged 78. Frank Sinatra died on May 14, 1998, at the age of 82. Joey Bishop, the last surviving and longest-lived (89) male Rat Pack member, died on October 17, 2007.

In December 1987, at Chasen's restaurant in Los Angeles, Sinatra, Davis, and Martin announced a 29 date tour, called Together Again, sponsored by Home Box Office and American Express. At the press conference to announce the tour, Martin joked about calling the tour off, and Sinatra rebuked a reporter for using the term "Rat Pack," referring to it as "that stupid phrase".
Dean Martin's son, Dean Paul Martin, had died in a plane crash in March 1987 on the San Gorgonio Mountain in California, the same mountain where Sinatra's mother, Dolly, had been killed in a plane crash ten years earlier. Martin had since become increasingly dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs. Davis had had hip replacement surgery two years previously, and been estranged from Sinatra because of his usage of cocaine. Davis was also experiencing severe financial difficulties, and was promised by Sinatra's people that he could earn between six and eight million dollars from the tour.Martin had not made a film or recorded since 1983, and Sinatra felt that the tour would be good for Martin, telling Davis, "I think it would be great for Dean. Get him out. For that alone it would be worth doing. Sinatra and Davis still performed regularly, yet had not recorded for several years. Both Sinatra and Martin had made their last film appearances together, in 1984's Cannonball Run II, a film which also starred Davis. This marked the trio's last feature film appearance since 1964's Robin. Martin expressed reservations about the tour, wondering whether they could draw as many people as they Robin and the Seven Hoodsthe lack of black
musicians in the orchestra , the tour began at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on March 13, 1988.
To a sold-out crowd of 14,500, Davis opened the show, followed by Martin and then Sinatra; after an interval, the three performed a medley of songs. During the show, Martin threw a lit cigarette at the audience; this, coupled with his increasingly blasé attitude to the tour and his frustration with Sinatra's anger over hotel accommodation in Chicago, led to him leaving the tour after only four performances. Martin cited 'kidney problems' as the reason for his departure. Eliot Weisman, Sinatra's representative, suggested replacing Martin with his client, Liza Minnelli. With Minnelli, the tour was called The Ultimate Event, and continued internationally to great success.
Davis's associate recalled Sinatra's people skimming the top of the revenues from the concerts, as well as stuffing envelopes full of cash into suitcases after the performances. Eliot Weisman had already been convicted of skimming, the act of taking money before it has been accounted for taxation purposes, after a series of Sinatra performances at the Westchester Premier Theatre in 1976, eventually being sentenced to six years in prison for the offence. In August 1989, after Davis experienced throat pain, he was diagnosed with lung cancer; he would die of the disease in May 1990. Davis was buried with a gold watch that Sinatra had given him at the conclusion of The Ultimate Event Tour.
A 1989 performance of The Ultimate Event in Detroit was recorded and shown on Showtime the following year as a tribute to the recently deceased Davis. A review in The New York Times praised Davis's performance, describing him as "pure, ebullient, unapologetic show business."

Interest in the "Sin City" era of Las Vegas has spawned a number of Rat Pack "tribute" acts, which feature celebrity impersonators performing on stage with musical accompaniment. One such show, "The Rat Pack Is Back: The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey and Dean", performs nightly at the Plaza Hotel & Casino, Plaza Theater in Las Vegas.
Concerning the group's reputation for womanizing and heavy drinking, Joey Bishop stated in a 1998 interview: "I never saw Frank, Dean, Sammy or Peter drunk during performances. That was only a gag! And do you believe these guys had to chase broads? They had to chase 'em away!