The Rat Pack
- Genres: Vocal Music
- Representative Albums: "At Villa Venice, Chicago, Live 1962,
Vol. 1", "At Villa Venice, Chicago, Live 1962, Vol. 2", "Live and
Swingin': The Ultimate Rat Pack Collection"
The so-called Rat Pack wasn't a group in the normal sense, but consisted
of a loose confederation of actors, comedians, and singers lumped
together by the media under that name in the early '60s. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin,
Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford formed the core of the
Rat Pack, and they appeared together in several movies, including Robin
and the Seven Hoods and the original Ocean's Eleven.
Sinatra, Davis, and Martin, the singing contingent of the group, all
managed long individual careers in the recording industry, and would
occasionally band together to do nightclub concerts, frequently in Las
Vegas, that were equal parts comedy and music, and heavy on caricature,
playing off of the trio's huge public personas. Several of these shows
have been released on CD, VHS, and DVD under various titles, and while
they conjure a kind of emblematic nostalgia for a particular time and
place in the mythic 1960s (a time when a martini and a tux were
seemingly all you really needed), Davis, Sinatra, and Martin are
musically much better served by the material on their individual albums.
~ Steve Leggett, Rovi
The Rat Pack was a group of actors 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, Joey Bishop, who appeared together on stage and in films in the early-1960s, including the movie Ocean's Eleven.
Despite its reputation as a masculine group, the Rat Pack did have female participants, including movie icons Shirley MacLaine, Lauren Bacall, Angie Dickinson, Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, 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, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, George Cukor, Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, and Jimmy Van Heusen. 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, Jr., 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.
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 President 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 1963, and Sinatra went to great lengths (including the construction of a helipad) to accommodate the President. When Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy advised his brother to sever his ties to Sinatra because of 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.
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). Thirty years
later Paul Brownstein
tracked down a print of the "lost" show in a St. Louis closet. It has
since been broadcast on Nick at Night (in 1998) as part of The Museum of Television & Radio Showcase series  and released on DVD as part of the Ultimate Rat Pack Collection: Live & Swingin.
In 1981, Martin and Davis appeared together in the film Cannonball Run, and were joined by Sinatra in the sequel 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).
All five members of the sixties Rat Pack are deceased:
- 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 HBO 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
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 first feature film appearance since 1964's Robin and the 7 Hoods.
Martin expressed reservations about the tour, wondering whether they
could draw as many people as they had in the past. After private
rehearsals, at one of which Sinatra and Davis had complained about the
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 lighted 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 his 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 throat 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."
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!"
 Rat Pack films
- Some Came Running (1958) (Sinatra, Martin, and MacLaine)
- Never So Few (1959) (Sinatra, Lawford, and initially Davis)
- Ocean's Eleven (1960) (Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Lawford, and Bishop)
- Sergeants 3 (1962) (Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Lawford, and Bishop)
- 4 for Texas (1963) (Sinatra and Martin)
- Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964) (Sinatra, Martin, Davis, and initially Lawford)
- Marriage on the Rocks (1965) (Sinatra and Martin)
- Texas Across the River (1966) (Martin and Bishop)
- Salt and Pepper (1968) (Davis and Lawford)
- One More Time (1970) (Davis and Lawford)
- The Cannonball Run (1981) (Martin and Davis)
- Cannonball Run II (1984) (Martin, Davis, Sinatra, and Maclaine)
MacLaine also had a major supporting role (and Sinatra a cameo) in the 1956 Oscar-winning film Around the World in Eighty Days. MacLaine played a Hindu princess who is rescued by, and falls in love with, David Niven,
and Sinatra had a non-speaking, non-singing role as a piano player in a
saloon, whose identity is concealed from the viewer until he turns his
face toward the camera. Maclaine also briefly appears in Ocean's Eleven.
The 1984 film Cannonball Run II marked the final time members of the Rat Pack shared theatrical screen time together.