Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Sammy Davis, Jr.
He was born in Harlem, New York City to Elvera Sanchez, a Puerto Rican, and Sammy Davis, Sr., an African-American, who were vaudeville dancers. As an infant, he was raised by his paternal grandmother. When he was three years old, his parents split up. His father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour.
As a child he learned how to dance from his father, Sammy Davis, Sr. and his "uncle" Will Mastin, who led the dance troupe his father worked for. Davis joined the act as a young child and they became the Will Mastin Trio. Throughout his long career, Davis included the Will Mastin Trio in his billing.
Mastin and his father had shielded him from racism. Snubs were explained as jealousy, for instance, but during World War II, Davis served in the United States Army, where he was first confronted by strong racial prejudice. As he said later, "Overnight the world looked different. It wasn't one color anymore. I could see the protection I'd gotten all my life from my father and Will. I appreciated their loving hope that I'd never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they were wrong. It was as if I'd walked through a swinging door for eighteen years, a door which they had always secretly held open."
While in the service, however, he joined an entertainment unit, and found that the spotlight removed some of the prejudice. "My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man's thinking," he said.
After he was discharged, he rejoined the dance act and began to achieve success. He suffered a setback in 1954, when he almost died in an automobile accident and lost an eye. While in the hospital, his friend Eddie Cantor told him about the similarities between the Jewish and black cultures. Davis converted to Judaism after reading Paul Johnson's A History of the Jews in the hospital. One paragraph about the ultimate endurance of the Jewish people intrigued him in particular: "The Jews would not die. Three centuries of prophetic teaching had given them an unwavering spirit of resignation and had created in them a will to live which no disaster could crush." The next year, he released his second album.
In 1960, Davis caused controversy when he married white Swedish-born actress May Britt. Davis received hate mail when he was cast in the Broadway musical adaptation of Golden Boy in 1964, but that did not bother his fans. The play was (at first) a success, but closed quickly. At the time Davis starred in the play, interracial marriages were forbidden by law in 31 US states out of 50, and only in 1967 those laws were abolished by the US Supreme Court. The couple had one daughter and adopted two sons. They divorced in 1968, after Davis had an affair with singer Lola Falana .
He died in Beverly Hills, California on May 16, 1990 of complications from throat cancer, a result of his many years of smoking. Davis is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
- Seasoned Greetings (1933) (short subject)
- Rufus Jones for President (1933) (short subject)
- Sweet and Low (1947)
- Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)
- Anna Lucasta (1959)
- Porgy and Bess (1959)
- Ocean's Eleven (1960)
- Pepe (1960) (cameo)
- Three Penny Opera (1962)
- Sergeants 3 (1962)
- Convicts 4 (1962)
- Of Love and Desire (1963)
- Johnny Cool (1963)
- Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)
- Nightmare in the Sun (1965)
- A Man Called Adam (1966)
- Salt and Pepper (1968)
- Sweet Charity (1969)
- One More Time (1970)
- (1970) (documentary)
- Save the Children (1973) (documentary)
- Gone with the West (1975)
- Sammy Stops the World (1978)
- The Cannonball Run (1981)
- Heidi's Song (1982) (voice)
- Cracking Up (1983)
- Broadway Danny Rose (1984) (cameo)
- Cannonball Run II (1984)
- That's Dancing! (1985)
- The Perils of P.K. (1986)
- Knights of the City (1986) (scenes deleted)
- Moon Over Parador (1988)
- Tap (1989)
- Yes I Can (with Burt and Jane Boyar) (1965) ISBN 0374522685
- Why Me? (with Burt and Jane Boyar) (1980) ISBN 0446360252
- Sammy (with Burt and Jane Boyar) (2000) ISBN 0374293554 Consolidates the two previous books and includes additional material.
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