In the 1950s and ‘60s, there was a pack of guys who really made a name for themselves in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Everyone wanted to be part of this celebrity crew known as the “Rat Pack.” The most famous stars in the gang were Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr. But the group consisted of other actors too, including Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. However, these weren’t the OGs. The original members were led by movie star Humphrey Bogart.
They rose to fame through their movies and albums, but the Rat Pack certainly knew how to use fame and fortune to their advantage. They quickly became just as known for their over-the-top partying, lavish lifestyles, and womanizing. It was all fun and games for the most part, but political issues arose, and they also had to deal with racism directed at Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr.
From their movies to their antics, here is what you didn’t know about the infamous Hollywood Rat Pack squad.
Not a Compliment!
The name “Rat Pack” is associated with being an exclusive Hollywood VIP squad. However, the name Rat Pack actually stems from a moment where hard-drinking, hard-smoking movie star Humphrey Bogart came home from a long trip to Las Vegas with some buddies.
Allegedly, Bogart’s wife, actress Lauren Bacall came downstairs and reprimanded the group, saying that they looked “like a goddamn rat pack.” Maybe her efforts at straightening up her husband didn’t work, but she certainly made up one of the most memorable names from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Two Different Packs
In addition to the story of Bacall calling out her husband and his antics, there are other speculations of where the origin of the Rat Pack name comes from. In the 1950s, Bacall and Bogart lived in a neighborhood called Holmby Hills, and their home was a watering hole for the group. Apparently, people started calling them the “Holmby Hills Rat Pack,” which was eventually shortened to “Rat Pack.”
I guess it didn’t matter where they were for people to know who they were. But there were actually two different Rat Packs. One was more prevalent in the 1950s, and the other one emerged in the 1960s – the one most people think of when they hear “Rat Pack.”
The OG Rat Pack
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. were undoubtedly the three most famous Rat Pack members. However, only one of those celebrities was in Bogart’s original crew – Frank Sinatra. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Davis Jr. and Martin joined in. Even still, they quickly became the poster boys of the group.
The first Rat Pack included Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Mickey Rooney, Jerry Lewis, and Cesar Romero. Youngsters out there may not know some of these famous names, but just imagine the Avengers cast, only dressed more formally and less “woke.”
Eventually, the group transformed into the Rat Pack that is remembered to this day. The second Rat Pack was made up of superstars Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin.
Sinatra and Davis Jr. were pretty good pals long before they were fellow Rat Pack members. In the 1940s, Sinatra called out Sammy Davis for not coming to watch his performance in New York. Sammy replied, explaining that he had tried to attend, but he couldn’t get in because of racist policies. Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident. This was something that Sammy Davis (and almost everyone else who wasn’t white) had to deal with on a daily basis in this so-called “glamorous” age.
The Original Ocean’s 11
Long before George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon teamed up and took over the franchise, the Rat Pack made a heist movie called Ocean’s 11. The film was released in 1960, and all five of the members starred in lead roles: Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Dean Martin.
When Peter Lawford first obtained the rights to Ocean’s 11, he imagined William Holden playing the lead role of Danny Ocean. When he told Frank Sinatra about the movie, Sinatra apparently said, “Forget the movie, let’s pull the job.” Luckily, Lawford compromised and got Sinatra to cast as Danny Ocean.
Party but Not Always Hardy
Despite his exclusive Rat Pack membership and the group’s reputation, Dean Martin wasn’t a huge party fan. He was admittedly shy and embarrassed about the way he spoke. In addition, he was also a devout Catholic and always remembered to say his prayers when he rolled out of bed, trying to keep down his tenth drink from the night before.
In 1998, Joey Bishop was asked about the Rat Pack’s documented reputation of heavy drinking and womanizing. His prompt response was, “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 the broads? They had to chase ‘em away!”
The Lone Writer
Often, Joey Bishop was considered the straight man of the Rat Pack when it came to their comedy and antics. But as it turned out, behind the scenes, Bishop was the one who usually wrote the group’s comedic material.
Even though he wrote for them, Bishop apparently felt like an outsider within the Rat Pack. He would reportedly wait for Sinatra’s invitation to sit with them before he joined the group at a table. The others were well aware, and Sinatra quipped, “Goddammit, how long does he have to be with me before he knows he can just eat with us.” Sinatra actually considered Bishop an essential member of the Rat Pack who kept the group together.
Keep It in the Pack
Lauren Bacall wasn’t only the woman who was married to Humphrey Bogart. The talented actress was also engaged to Frank Sinatra for a while before he broke it off. Considering what Sinatra was up to during that time, I think it’s safe to say Bacall dodged a bullet.
So, there was a small group of women (kind of like groupies) known as the Rat Pack “mascots.” These ladies included Shirley MacLaine, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Angie Dickinson, and Juliette Prowse. MacLaine appeared in the Rat Pack movies quite often, and Sinatra was in relationships with Dickinson and Prowse (but not at the same time).
The Pack Takes Sin City
One of the Rat Pack’s favorite places to hang out in the 1960s was Sin City. The group loved Las Vegas and would frequently perform at the Copa Room in the Sands Hotel. Whenever one of them was booked for an appearance, the billboards hinted that the others might show up throughout the evening. Of course, this only increased the public’s interest in attending. If nothing else, it was definitely a clever marketing scheme.
Even though all of the Rat Pack members loved the casino, one of them was more equipped for that toxic setting than the rest. Dean Martin was known to often deal with blackjack whenever he was in Las Vegas.
Treat My Friend Equally, or You’re Fired!
When the Sands Hotel and Casino tried to refuse service to Sammy Davis Jr., they had Frank Sinatra to deal with. Not only did he ensure that Davis Jr. would get a suite, but he invited some other black friends like Nat King Cole to come to dine with him. If any employee had the guts to protest, Sinatra threatened to have the entire wait staff fired if they didn’t serve their black and white guests equally.
The most famous members of the Rat Pack were clearly Davis Jr., Martin, and Sinatra. The trio would often appear in movie cameos together or star in the films. The last movie that they all worked on together was 1984’s Cannonball Run II.
So Many Numbers
Remarkably, all the movies in which all the Rat Pack members starred in had numbers in their titles: Ocean’s 11, Sergeants 3, Robin and the 7 Hoods, even though Peter Lawford was removed from that movie at the last minute, but more on that later.
The members of the Rat Pack made music separately. However, the gang did collaborate on five albums as a group (presumably one for every member). The most memorable of these albums was The Rat Pack Live at the Sands in 1960.
Keep It Classy, Frank
Would you believe me if I told you that a Rat Pack member got arrested for sleeping with a married woman? Unfortunately, these days cheating is extremely common, especially when it comes to Hollywood. But in 1938, it was considered a felony in New Jersey. Young Frank Sinatra was arrested when he was caught doing the dirty with a lady wearing a wedding ring. The charges were ultimately dismissed, but Sinatra didn’t learn his lesson about sleeping around and home-wrecking.
When Sinatra joined the Rat Pack, he brought his sexual appetite with him. He spent the 1960s taking full advantage of his fame. It reached a point when he was organizing sex parties for the rest of the Rat Pack. These parties took place in the casino’s health club steam rooms, with prostitutes and groupies invited to join in on the festivities.
Paulie, the Kid
Young Canadian star Paul Anka was an honorary member of the Rat Pack (he wrote the song “My Way” for Frank Sinatra to sing). Anka revealed that each Rat Pack member had a special nickname that they would use when they hung out together. Dean Martin went by “Dino,” Sammy Davis Jr. was known as “Smokey the Bear,” and Anka was called “the kid” because he was a lot younger than the rest of the group.
What you may not know is that the Rat Pack stopped calling themselves that after Bogart died in 1957. However, the public and the media continued to use the term. The actual members of the Rat Pack preferred to go by names like the Summit or the Clan. Those names certainly don’t sound as cool as “Rat Pack.”
Hanging With the Mob
Rumors were swirling about the Rat Pack’s association with the Mafia, more specifically Sinatra’s connection to it. But according to honorary member Paul Anka, some of these allegations were true. Sinatra would do a few favors for mobsters, and they would repay him with thousands of dollars’ worth in chips to play at the casino.
You know what they say, all good things must come to an end. But some people handle it better than others. The Sands casino was under new management after the notorious billionaire Howard Hughes bought it.
When the Mob Tells You to Calm Down
Sinatra was aggravated when he first experienced what it was like not to get free gambling chips all the time. He ended up throwing a terrifying tantrum in the casino. Sinatra was reportedly urged to calm down and accept the new situation by Carl Cohen, the casino manager who was still tied to the Mob.
Well, Sinatra did the only logical thing. He responded by splashing Cohen with hot coffee. Cohen wasn’t going to let him get away with that and punched the pop star in the teeth reminding him that no matter how famous he is, he can’t just throw boiling water on another person.
The Jack Pack!
While they were campaigning for John F. Kennedy to become the next president of the US, or whenever they casually hung out with Kennedy, the Rat Pack called themselves the “Jack Pack.” They hung out with him quite often, considering that Peter Lawford was his brother-in-law. Jack Pack was admittedly not the most creative name in the world, but it did the trick. Don’t worry, we’ll get more into the JFK relationship later.
As a true symbol of the Rat Pack’s party animal reputation, the group once ordered 300 Bloody Mary’s from room service during one single event. They really knew how to enjoy their lives of fame and fortune.
Sad Times and a Tragic Decade
In 1987, Dean Martin’s son, Dean Paul Martin, tragically died when he was in a plane that crashed into San Gorgonio Mountain in California. What made this even eerier is that 10 years prior, fellow Rat Pack member Frank Sinatra sadly lost his mother in a plane crash on that same exact mountain.
Unfortunately, the 1990s wasn’t the best time for the Rat Pack. That decade was the end of the legendary squad. In 1990, Sammy Davis Jr. passed away from throat cancer. In 1995, Dean Martin died of respiratory failure, and, in 1998, Frank Sinatra fell to a heart attack.
Heeeere’s Johnny… and the Rat Pack
Shockingly, the Rat Pack performed just one televised concert throughout their careers. It took place on June 20th, 1965. Three of the members, Sinatra, Martin, and Davis Jr., partnered up with Johnny Carson as their presenter. The event was shown live in theaters all over the nation.
Believe it or not, having television giant Johnny Carson present wasn’t the Rat Pack’s original plan for their televised concert. Initially, the group wanted their own Joey Bishop to emcee the event, but unfortunately, due to severe back pain, he was unable to perform his duties. It says a lot about the Rat Pack that they could just call Johnny Carson as a last-minute backup.
Instead of sticking to the script, the Rat Pack would usually ad-lib their lines while filming Ocean’s 11. Their camaraderie didn’t involve much acting; they usually figured they were funnier than the actual script.
Believe it or not, a Rat Pack member was the brains behind the name Scooby-Doo! Well, sort of. The crime-solving cartoon dog got his name when the show’s creator, Iwao Takamoto, heard Frank Sinatra’s hit track Strangers in the Night. Takamoto listened to Sinatra singing to a tune that sounded like “dooby dooby doo” and decided it was the perfect name for his character.
JFK Turns His Back on the Pack
Sergeant 3 was the last movie, which included the big five ‘60s Rat Pack members (Sinatra, Lawford, Davis Jr., Martin, and Bishop). Lawford grew apart from the rest of the group when his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, insulted Sinatra shortly before he was supposed to stay at Sinatra’s West Coast home.
Kennedy was discouraged from associating himself with the singer because of Sinatra’s criminal connections, so he went to a different singer (and noted Republican) instead: Bing Crosby. Sinatra was infuriated that he went to his rival. After all, Sinatra did a lot of campaigning for Kennedy during the election. At that point, Sinatra cut Lawford completely out of the Rat Pack.
Replaced by Bing!
So, Hollywood was never really that good at making Robin Hood movies. When it came time to make Robin and the 7 Hoods, Lawford was originally cast, just like the rest of the Rat Pack members. But after the falling out over Kennedy, everything changed. Guess who Lawford’s part went to… Bing Crosby. Hmmm… interesting. And how exactly did Sinatra and the Pack come to that decision?
The 1960s was the perfect time for Frank Sinatra to be in the Rat Pack. In the late ‘50s, his career hit a serious slump. Depressed, Sinatra believed that was the end of star-power and attempted suicide at least four times. One time was thankfully stopped by his manager. So, the Rat Pack was almost like a revival for the plateauing actor.
This Was Supposed to Be Fun
Shooting the Rat Pack movie Robin and the 7 Hoods ended up being a complete nightmare for everyone involved. First off, Peter Lawford was removed from the project at the very last minute thanks to his close relations with John F. Kennedy and replaced by Bing Crosby.
Then, during the film’s production, Kennedy was assassinated, which naturally led to a ton of mixed feelings on the set. If that wasn’t bad enough, Frank Sinatra’s son was kidnapped at Lake Tahoe during that time. Luckily, he was ransomed back unharmed.
Steamy Hang Outs
Amazingly, the original Rat Pack was way more sophisticated than anyone would have ever thought. They had a coat of arms and a witty motto affirming “never rat on a rat.” For some strange reason, it kind of sounds like Tim Burton and Dr. Seuss partnered up to form a club.
According to Anka, the Rat Pack would spend hours hanging out in the hotel steam room. They would joke around together, all of them as naked as the day they were born. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that showgirls would randomly show up to have alone time with one of the members during these sessions.
Politics and Forbidden Love
John F. Kennedy was closely affiliated with the Rat Pack. But things got really awkward in 1960 when Sammy Davis Jr. married Swedish actress May Britt. At the time, interracial marriages were shocking for many Americans, as well as illegal in many states. It was considered pretty scandalous, and the pair received death threats.
Kennedy himself actually wanted to have them delay the wedding until the election was over. This was because he was worried that his association with Davis Jr. and Britt alienated too many people and might ruin his winning chances. Can you imagine a time when interracial marriage was illegal in America?!
You Can’t Sit with Us
Even after he won the presidential election, Kennedy stooped down to the pressures of dealing with a racist society. Unfortunately, he even threw his friends under the bus as a result. Sammy Davis Jr. was not invited to the gala honoring JFK’s victory because of his race and interracial marriage.
Sammy Davis Jr. was hurt and never forgot this insult. I mean, he was the only Rat Pack member not invited. However, Dean Martin decided not to go, either because he didn’t like Kennedy or because he was boycotting because of the low blow to his fellow Rat Pack member. It isn’t 100% clear which was the real reason.
Sammy seems to have had it the hardest because he was a Hollywood man of color in a racist society. This is the life of Rack Pack member Sammy Davis Jr.
The Beautiful Bromance
When it comes to the Rat Pack members, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. had the ultimate bromance. The two were best pals, but their life-long friendship started unconventionally. The stars mt when Sammy Davis Jr. was the opening act for Sinatra.
After getting released from the army, Davis went right back into show business. He performed with his original group, the Will Mastin Trio. He then dabbled in a solo career and started recording music and performing at nightclubs. Well, in 1947, the Will Mastin Trio got to open for Frank Sinatra at the Capitol Theater in New York City. This was major for Davis and ultimately changed his life.
Sammy Davis Was Embarrassed to Sign Autographs
Sammy Davis Jr. didn’t have a formal education, but he learned other skills. The only way you would know he didn’t go to school was because he never learned how to write. This was something he didn’t want people to find out about. Luckily, he managed to hide it because of his impeccable reading skills.
Sy Marsh, Davis’s business partner, admitted that Davis never personalized autographs because he was uncomfortable about his writing skills (or lack thereof). He revealed, “Till the day he died, he could sign his name, but he couldn’t write. He never personalized autographs to anyone because he couldn’t spell people’s names and was embarrassed.”
The First Teen Heartthrob
In the 1940s, Frank Sinatra, known as Frankie, became one of the first teen idols in America. Yes, he had an incredible singing voice and he had no problem exciting the women in the crowds. However, he had a little help starting the bobbysoxer craze (which got its name because the coed fans wore Catholic-school style bobby sox rolled down to their ankles).
Basically, Sinatra’s publicist, George Evans, would hold auditions for girls to see how loud they could scream. He then paid them five dollars to go into the audience and hype everyone up.
Davis Jr. Lost His Eye in a Car Crash
After his show with Sinatra at the Capitol Theater, Sammy Davis Jr. went on tour with Mickey Rooney. This was an amazing opportunity because he caught the attention of Decca Records, who signed him in 1954. Later that year, Davis went to Los Angeles, recorded music, and his life changed forever.
Sadly, it wasn’t the life-change you were expecting. Davis got in a serious cash crash on the way to the recording studio, and he lost his eye. He was forced to wear a glass eye for the rest of his life. But there was a silver lining; he managed to find his spiritual side.
Davis Converted to Judaism
Even though Davis was born Christian, he never practiced any kind of religion. That’s because, before the car accident, he wasn’t able to identify with a religion. But after the terrifying experience, Davis knew he was lucky to be alive and saw it as a miracle. He had a lot of time to reflect on life while he was at San Bernardino hospital recovering.
That’s when he met a Jewish Rabbi, and the two spoke about the crash and how he survived. He quickly realized that there were a lot of parallels between African Americans and the Jews – specifically, the history of oppression. He learned more about religion, and eventually, he converted to Judaism.
Sammy Still got the Ladies
Sammy Davis Jr. wasn’t your typical Hollywood Heartthrob. However, he was exceptionally talented, and the reason you should never judge a book by its cover. Sammy was often viewed as ugly because of his height and facial features. It was his charisma and talent that drew people toward him. But he got sad when people brought up his looks.
Bob Sylvester, a mean New York Daily News columnist, wrote: “God… hit [Davis] in the face with a shovel.” The singer was reportedly devastated because he couldn’t change his looks. Since he had no control over what he looked like, he started to look at his unique features more positively. He saw them as a gift as said, “It’s getting me where I’m going.”
Sammy’s Famous TV Kiss
As you can probably tell, Sammy was one to break down racial barriers and fight for equality, and at times, it caused quite the commotion. That’s what happened when the star puckered up for the most controversial and famous television kiss in history.
Davis made a guest appearance on the show, All in the Family in 1972 and played himself. Throughout the episode, Archie was making racist comments that Sammy tried to ignore. Right before he left, Sammy gave Archie a smooch on the cheek. That episode was such a hit and was nominated for two Emmys.
Marilyn Monroe Was an Honorary Rat Pack Member
It’s no surprise that a good-looking group of men always had beautiful women swooning over them. Hollywood starlets like Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine, Angie Dickinson, and Juliet Prowse have all been associated with the Rat Pack. Monroe and Sinatra were romantically linked in the past and were extremely good friends.
The Rat Pack played a significant role in some of Marilyn’s most iconic moments. Remember when she famously sang Happy Birthday to the president? Peter Lawford got her that gig. And Dean Martin helped her land the lead role in Something’s Got to Give. Unfortunately, she never got to finish the movie due to her untimely death. But reportedly, Lawford was the last one to speak to her before she died.
Changing the World One Venue at a Time
Sammy Davis Jr. got to experience the blatant racism going on in America during the ‘60s. After seeing the extent of discrimination in the army and in Hollywood, he became a financial supporter of the Civil Rights Movements. Sammy refused to perform anywhere that was racially segregated at the height of his popularity.
Because of his decision, venues from Las Vegas to Miami began to loosen their rules. Sammy’s efforts in racial equality got him a spot in the Hall of Fame of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He also earned honorary degrees from predominately black colleges.