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Samuel George Davis, Jr. was born December 8, 1925 into entertainment. His parents Sammy Davis, Sr. and his Puerto Rican (or Cuban depending who you ask) mother, Elvera “Baby” Sanchez were both vaudeville performers and who were a part of their “uncle,” Will Mastin’s act “Holiday In Dixieland.” By the age of three once Sammy parents went their separate ways, Sammy accompanied his father on the road and soon became the star of the show. Now the marquee read, “The Will Mastin Gang, featuring Little Sammy.” To get around child labor laws, Sammy was often referred to as “Silent Sam, The Dancing Midget.” Sammy relished in the adulation he received and sought to replicate it at any chance he got. He knew the only way to get that sort of attention he so craved was to be the best.

By the age of seven, Sammy talents had taken he and the ‘Gang’ all the way to appearing in movies. As a young boy on tour with the group as openers for Tommy Dorsey, Sam was able to meet watch a young man named Frank Sinatra. He was amazed by Sinatra’s command on and off the stage. Frank didn’t treat Sam as a little boy or more importantly as a little Black boy, he treated Sammy with respect that was rare coming from a person of Sinatra’s growing stature at the time. On the road Sam had only known the showbiz life where in many cases racism had not reared it’s ugly head because if you were good, your privileges as an African American performer were plenty and were able to shield you from the everyday oppressive life that the average African American experienced at the time.

Sam eventually went to the Army where he was slapped hard with the ugly stick of racism. He was mercilessly taunted about his appearance with the superlatives of “short, Black, and ugly.” His talent was is what made Sam stick out and kept him in good standing in the Army so much so that he was placed in the Special Services unit for entertainers. He also felt that the harder he performed that the more white people liked him, which was the ultimate form of acceptance for him. Sam eventually made his way out of the Army and back to the group, his comfort zone. Once he returned, they now rechristened themselves as the Will Mastin Trio. Sam worked harder and harder to gain that ultimate acceptance for the group and he eventually became so popular that he had to go solo.

Sam’s work ethic and crowd pleasing antics of singing, dancing, acting, and impressions, gained more and more of the acceptance and attention he so craved. It became like a drug to him. The more the crowds cheered the more of the euphoric feeling that came over him. This came to Frank Sinatra’s attention who eventually brought the massively talented Sam into his fold as a member of his close comrades. Sam tried to emulate Frank in every way. Walk, talk, dress, style are just some of the things the ultra cool Frank had that Sam so desperately wanted. Sam loved that Frank was a man of two worlds, the penthouse and the back alleys. Frank was just as adept at navigating the halls of Hollywood elites as he was the backrooms of the Mob’s illegal gambling joints. This was real power to Sam and he had to have it.

Sam sought to be “mobbed up” like his idol as well but didn’t take Frank’s advice and “stay away.” By the time Sam did become one of the biggest stars on earth, if not arguably the most talented, he made a very potentially life threatening error in terms of trying to become “one of the guys.” Thinking he would have power and cache similar to Frank’s, Sam literally sold his soul in terms of being “owned” by not one but TWO consecutive Godfathers. The latter of the two had to rescue Sam from being killed by the first because he failed to pay the first in order to pay the second.  Sam caused a huge stir in Hollywood circles when he secretly began to date well known movie star Kim Novack. Their inter-racial relationship was so taboo and if found out, would be hugely damaging to her image and the image of the studio she was signed to, Warner Brothers, that its head Jack Warner felt the need to step in. Jack when on to use his mob ties to scare Sam into leaving Kim alone and marry another woman with whom he was not at all in love with.  

In Sam’s quest to become like Frank he became the king of excess. Drugs and women are just some of the things Sam thought would put him on Frank’s cool status level. His life spiraled out of control so much so that Frank distanced himself, which caused Sam to fall into a further abyss. Sam converted to Judaism after his car accident that saw him loose an eye but in his latter years he went on to accept the Church of Satan’s membership from its founder and high priest, Anton LaVey. Sam also went as far as to give he and his wife’s body up to men or women in order to party or seal business deals, whichever came first. To gain an advantage in that department, he enlisted the help of the infamous, Linda Lovelace, star of the pornographic film, Deep Throat, to teach him her fellatio technique. All of this in the need to be loved and accepted by everyone.  

Sam eventually got himself somewhat together and Frank let him back in. As his health slowly got worse, Sam agreed to tour with Frank, Dean Martin, and Liza Minnelli. His excesses also began to come back. One thing he was never able to get a hold of was his uncontrollable spending habits, which lead to he and his family being in debt even in his untimely passing. Sam was told by many an accountant that if he did not get his spending under control he would run the risk of losing everything, which he eventually did. For the good advice and as a way to be loved, Sam would often gift those same very folks who told him to stop spending with and expensive gift, much to their chagrin.

At the time of his death, Sam was in so much debt to the IRS that they in turn took EVERYTHING! This is the reason that there is no Sam biopic because anyone that secures the rights has to pay The Internal Revenue Service off first. Sad that in order to be “The Man,” Sam left what should have been a rock solid legacy a very unstable one.

@ArtemusGordon on Instagram

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