How much was Sammy Davis Jr worth?
|Net Worth:||$5 Million|
|Date of Birth:||December 8, 1925|
|Country:||United States of America|
Who Is Sammy Davis Jr
For 60 years, Sammy Davis Jr. sang, danced, acted, played multiple instruments, did impressions, told jokes, and made people laugh. He was a superstar, whose extensive career included seven Broadway shows, 23 films, 40 albums, and countless nightclub, concert, and TV performances.
- Dates: December 8, 1925 — May 16, 1990
- Also known as: Samuel George Davis; Sammy Davis; Smoky; Mr. Entertainment
A Star Is Born
On December 8, 1925, Sammy Davis Jr. was born to Sammy Davis Sr. and Elvera “Baby” Sanchez. African-American Davis Sr. and Elvera (of Cuban heritage) met as they performed in impresario Will Mastin’s vaudeville troupe. (It is believed that the two were married in a small ceremony, although only after she became pregnant.) The couple also had a daughter, Ramona, in 1927.
As his parents traveled around the country performing, little Sammy Jr. stayed with his paternal grandmother, Rosa Davis, whom he called “Mama.” For three years, Sammy lived with his adoring Mama.
Then, in 1928, Elvera left Mastin’s group to perform for a rival company; thus ending the romance between Davis Sr. and Elvera. Ramona went to live with Elvera’s sister and Sammy went on the road with his father. Although Sammy would occasionally visit his sister, his mother was never really a part of his life.
Sammy Davis Jr. was to spend most of his childhood with two men: his father and Will Mastin.
Walk Into the Limelight
Although Elvera and others would come and go in Will Mastin’s troupe, Davis Sr. was a constant and the two worked together for decades. Mastin, who was successful as both a show producer and a dancer, was well known for working hard to keep his performers employed. To keep his show seeming fresh and new, he was always on the lookout for interesting and innovative entertainers.
At first, Sammy Jr. didn’t fall into this category. He was just a little boy who hung out with his dad backstage during the day and then waited in rooming houses for hours and hours for his dad to get home from a night of gambling and carousing. It was often Mastin who looked after little Sammy, even bathing and feeding the toddler. As a result, Sammy developed a close bond with “Uncle Will” that lasted a lifetime.
Then one day in 1929, three-year-old Sammy began acting out parts of the show. One of the dancers saw him and left to find Davis Sr. and Mastin. As they watched, Sammy proceeded to perform the entire 1 1/2 hour act — including all the dances, gags and songs. It was soon discovered that little Sammy Davis Jr. could absorb and later mimic nearly anything he saw.
Mastin, of course, decided to put little Sammy into the show, which marked the beginning of a 60-year career. Davis Jr. was so well-liked that the group soon became “Will Mastin’s Gang, Featuring Little Sammy.” Sammy was a hit.
By the time Sammy was four, he had traveled to ten states and performed in over 50 cities — giving three shows a day. By the time he was 15, they had crossed the country 23 times.
A grueling schedule of train rides, practice, and performances prevented Sammy Davis Jr. from receiving a formal education. His father and Mastin hired tutors on the vaudeville circuit, but it did not compare to a formal education and thus truant officers were often on their case. Another constant problem was that Sammy Jr. was legally too young to work.
To add to their problems in the 1930s, there was a waning interest in vaudeville (due to the success of “talkies”) and the Great Depression dried up many people’s spending money. In response, Mastin concluded that since the times were changing so must he. Mastin let the rest of his entertainers go and kept just Davis Sr. and Davis Jr. and then renamed his group, “The Mastin Trio, featuring Sammy Davis Jr.”
It was Sammy Davis Jr. whom the audiences loved.
By 1940, the popular act acquired larger bookings. This was largely because Sammy, who had been amazing at three, had spent the last decade perfecting his art. He was constantly working hard – not only to practice but to improve his act. He would often watch other performers and adapt their shows into his own. He started to add impersonations and loved to tap dance.
In 1941, the Trio was booked to be the opening act with Tommy Dorsey at the Michigan Theatre, when a young man came over to shake their hand, introducing himself as “Frank,” a vocalist in Dorsey’s orchestra. “Frank” turned out to be 25-year-old Frank Sinatra. Sammy and Sinatra would often talk show business over sandwiches between shows; it was the genesis of a 50-year friendship.
On December 7, 1941, an announcement came over the radio that Pearl Harbor was attacked. Sammy was celebrating his 16th birthday a day early, as America went to war.
Two years later, in 1943, the Trio was performing in Reno when Sammy received orders to report to the induction center in San Francisco. The news was a hard blow to all three in the Trio.
You’re In the Army Now
Eighteen-year-old, 5′ 4″, 120-pound-Sammy Davis Jr. was drafted into the newly-integrated United States Army. Until then, Davis Jr. had never experienced racial hatred face-to-face, and it devastated him. He soon realized how much his father and Mastin had shielded him from racism.
Because he would not answer to “boy,” “Sambo,” or other derogatory names, Davis was constantly harassed, spat on, and beaten bloody by white soldiers. His nose was broken twice during vicious fights, “coon” was written across his forehead with white paint, and he was goaded to drink a “beer” that turned out to be urine.
It was Sergeant Williams who saved Sammy. Williams told Davis to use his mind to counter prejudice, instead of his fists. Williams also taught Davis how to read and write, since Davis had only a cursory knowledge of both.
Eventually, Davis was transferred to an entertainment unit and discovered he could use his talent to rise above the racism and make the bigots acknowledge him. Thus began Davis’ obsession with gaining acceptance, which caused great disillusionment years later.
Pick Up Where You Left Off
On June 1, 1945, Davis was discharged from the Army and then rejoined his father and Mastin. It was a very happy reunion.
Once Sammy was back, the Trio could once again be a success. To start, the Mastin Trio forged their way onto the nightclub scene. Sammy was something special and people began to talk. With the beginnings of his own fan base, Sammy felt like he had a really good chance at a successful solo career. But that was not to be, at least not yet. Sammy owed everything to Mastin and his father and so he remained tethered to them for as long as they needed him – another 15 years.
Being tethered, however, didn’t stop Sammy from honing his skills. In addition to dancing, impersonations, and playing a number of musical instruments, Davis worked on singing. And in 1946, Davis recorded “The Way You Look Tonight” with Capitol Records.
Despite their burgeoning success, the Trio still faced racism. For instance, when the Trio arrived for their $500-a-week debut performance in February 1946 at Las Vegas’ El Rancho hotel, they found “coloreds” could not book a room, gamble, dine or drink in any facility. The Trio paid twice as much to stay in a segregated boarding house made of wooden crates, the only place available to blacks.
Davis would spend much of his career trying to break through these kinds of racial barriers.
Davis gained his first national recognition on a six-month tour with Mickey Rooney in 1947. The Trio was Rooney’s opening act. After working with Rooney, the Trio then became the opening act for such big names as Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton.
Then came the opportunity to work with the now intensely famous Frank Sinatra. As Sinatra’s opening act, the Trio played a three-week engagement at Manhattan’s Capitol Theatre for $1,250 a week. While on stage, Sinatra, who had been bullied as a youth for his Italian background, put his arm around Davis in both friendship and solidarity.
It was Sinatra who, behind the scenes, began to play a large role in helping open doors for Davis in the entertainment world.
Hitting the Big Time
By the early 1950s, the Mastin Trio had been successful as the opening act in numerous famous venues, but they still hadn’t become famous themselves. In March 1951, that changed when the Trio was hired to be the opening act at the prestigious Ciro’s in Hollywood.
Ciro’s was a coveted booking and one that Davis had dreamed of for years. Davis recognized this as his big opportunity and gave it his all. The audiences loved Sammy’s energy, talent, skill, charm, and charisma. The eight weeks at Ciro’s made Davis an overnight sensation and gained the Trio regular appearances on many popular shows and venues.
In 1952, Sinatra secured a solo engagement for Davis at the newly-integrated Copacabana in New York. After this stunning success, Decca Records signed Davis to a contract in 1954. He released two albums for Decca, topping the charts.
The Car Accident
By 1954, Sammy Davis Jr. had made it big. He was hobnobbing with superstars at parties, being visited backstage by Vice President Richard Nixon, and had become the owner of his very own car. Only months after being given the 1954, lime-green, convertible Cadillac by his father and Mastin, Sammy took what was supposed to be a quick trip from Las Vegas to Hollywood.
On November 19, 1954, 28-year-old Sammy was driving near San Bernardino (with his valet, Charlie Head, asleep in the backseat) when he swerved to avoid a woman making a U-turn on the highway. Sammy, an inexperienced driver, lost control of his car. The resulting accident caused an injury to his leg, cuts to his face, and a burst left eye. A doctor removed what was left of the eye; Davis wore an eye patch for several months and a glass eye for the rest of his life.
While recuperating, Davis discussed philosophy with a Jewish rabbi on the hospital’s staff and was struck by similarities between the oppressive experiences of blacks and Jews. After reflecting on his life, Davis converted to Judaism. However, the Jewish community never truly embraced him as a member.
After the car accident, Davis (and everyone else) wasn’t sure he would ever be able to perform again. After practicing in secret, Davis returned to the stage at Ciro’s, a booking made by Sinatra, on January 11, 1955. This time, Sammy (with his dad and Mastin) was the leading act, and all the most famous entertainers of the time were in the audience. With eye patch on, Sammy wowed them with singing, dancing, instrument playing, and impersonations. The audience, many with tears in their eyes, realized that not only could Sammy still perform, he was truly amazing.
Sammy Davis Jr. had become a star.
Broadway, Movies and the Rat Pack
After his comeback at Ciro’s, Davis’ phone kept ringing with offers. For instance, in 1956, with Davis Sr. and Mastin, Sammy made his Broadway debut in Mr. Wonderful, a musical comedy made for him — starring in over 400 performances.
In 1958, Davis had his first, big starring film role in Anna Lucasta, opposite Eartha Kitt. The next year, Davis played the impish character Sportin’ Life in the screen hit Porgy and Bess. The film won an Oscar and Golden Globe Award.
A year later, Davis became an official member of the high-profile, Sinatra-led “Rat Pack” — a raucous clan, who frequently performed together in Las Vegas. Doors previously closed to Davis as a black performer immediately swung open when Sinatra, a shareholder in the popular Sands Resort, made it clear that racism towards Davis would not be tolerated.
Davis’ inclusion in the Rat Pack was seen by many whites as a discerning career move. However, blacks labeled him a sellout. Beginning with his conversion to Judaism, Davis’ becoming a member of the Rat Pack merely confirmed to blacks just how desperate Davis was not to be black.
There was another reason that Sammy Davis Jr. was controversial. At a time when interracial relationships were both taboo and dangerous, Davis was attracted to white women.
Davis had a number of dalliances and a few girlfriends that were white, but it was his relationship with starlet Kim Novak in 1957 that first got him in trouble. Although the couple tried to keep their relationship secret, all good secrets leak out. When Novak’s producer found out about the relationship, he threatened Davis’ career. Others, thought to be part of the mob, threatened Sammy’s life.
Extremely worried, Davis tried to save himself by hurriedly marrying Loray White, a black lounge singer that he barely knew, on January 10, 1958. A few months later, he paid her $10,000 for an annulment.
In 1960, Davis fell in love again; this time to Swedish actress May Britt. As interracial marriage was still outlawed in 31 states, the union provoked hate groups to demonstrate wherever Davis performed.
Worried that Davis’ controversial marriage to Britt would hurt John F. Kennedy’s presidential hopes, Sinatra begged Davis to postpone the wedding. Davis acquiesced and married a week later, on November 13, 1960, amidst a deluge of racial backlash.
Davis’ intermarriage was so controversial that his name was scratched from a list of performers at the Sinatra-hosted inaugural party, despite the fact that Davis had campaigned untiringly to get Kennedy elected. Davis was very upset at being excluded.
Despite his success, Davis continued to chase the spotlight, being away 40 weeks a year from his family. Still, Davis and Britt had one daughter together, Tracey, who co-wrote Sammy Davis, Jr.: A Personal Journey with My Father, based on conversations with Davis on his deathbed. The couple also adopted two sons (Mark and Jeff). Partly because he was away so often and partly because there were rumors of affairs, Davis and Britt divorced in 1968.
Two years later, 44-year-old Davis wed 27-year-old Altovise Gore, a black dancer he met while filming Golden Boy. The couple adopted a son, Manny, and remained married 20 years, until Davis’ death in 1990.
The Golden ’60s
For years, it had been obvious to everyone except Davis Sr. and Mastin that the two old men should quit and let Sammy go solo. But the two men hung on, tied as much to show business as to Sammy and couldn’t seem to let either go. Then, in 1956, physical ailments struck Davis Sr. and he was out for long-term illness. Mastin, however, still tapped on, despite how strange it looked with one old man dancing behind Sammy.
Finally, in 1960, 60-year-old Davis Sr. and 81-year-old Mastin officially retired. Sammy was finally solo.
Also in 1960, rumors surfaced of the Rat Pack’s heavy drug and alcohol use — Davis especially. His white-Hollywood lifestyle contradicted his ardent support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Davis participated in the historic 1963 March on Washington, and his philanthropy within the black community is well-documented. Years later, Davis was inducted into the NAACP’s Hall of Fame.
In 1964, Davis returned to Broadway in the powerful and long-running Golden Boy, earning him a Tony nomination — and tons of hate mail for his interracial love scenes. However, Davis temporarily shut down the show to march with King during his Montgomery crusade.
The insidious mores of the era dictated to Davis “no you can’t,” but in 1966 he countered in his exceptionally candid best-seller, Yes I Can. Also in 1966, Davis co-starred with Sinatra and Louis Armstrong in the melodramatic film A Man Called Adam.
With acts like The Beatles and Rolling Stones ascending rock-n-roll’s throne, Davis defied expectations with his stirring rendition of I’ve Gotta Be Me in 1968. He also appeared in numerous TV shows, including a favorite All in the Family episode on which Davis kissed bigot Archie Bunker.
The Candy Man Can
As Davis’ fame grew, he refused engagements at venues that practiced racial discrimination. Many of them changed their policies. As a result, future generations of black performers were spared the indignities he and others suffered.
In 1970, Davis was reluctant to sing “The Candy Man,” but it landed his only No. 1 hit and put him back on top. Consequently, Davis made many TV appearances.
Despite his success from “Candy Man,” Davis once again alienated blacks when he was photographed hugging the Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon. Many blacks, who deemed Republicans the bane of their existence, considered it the ultimate betrayal. Years later, Davis conceded disillusionment over associating with the disgraced former president, who he believed failed to advance civil rights.
Davis continued performing well into the 1980s, despite his lifelong four-pack-a-day smoking habit, heavy drinking, and a serious cocaine addiction – all of which contributed to a plethora of physical ailments.
In 1980, Davis and wife Altovise hosted the “party of the century.” It was a lavish affair with a whopping $100,000 price tag. But Davis’ famous partying stopped in 1983 when an enlarged liver forced him to quit drinking. Then came two painful hip surgeries, which allowed him to continue dancing but to a much lesser degree.
At the End
Davis, having reconciled with Sinatra after a three-year schism, teamed with him and Dean Martin for a highly-anticipated comeback tour. Although advanced age hampered their performance, fans delighted in seeing the legends share a stage once again.
In January 1989, Davis’ third memoir was published entitled Why Me?, in which he reflected on his life. Also, Davis proved he still had it in reminiscent film Tap with Gregory Hines. At the Sammy Davis, Jr.’s 60th Anniversary Celebration the following year, Hines kissed the entertainer’s feet in tribute.
Refusing a life-saving operation at the cost of losing his voice, Davis died of throat cancer on May, 16, 1990 at the untimely age of 64. Sammy Davis Jr. reportedly earned more than $50 million over the course of his career, yet died nearly destitute.
In tribute to one of the most beloved entertainers of all time, the Las Vegas Strip dimmed its lights for 10 minutes. The Mastin Trio came together again when Davis was interred beside his father and Uncle Will in Forest Lawn Cemetery’s Garden of Honor.