Peter Lawford makes the pitch to Frank - he bought the script for a movie about a guy and his former Army guys. They served together as a commando unit. Well, they get together 15 years later in Vegas, but not to visit - to knock over 5 of the casinos on Highway 91 on New Year's Eve.
Frank liked it. And that was it.
He got his guys together, there was a part for Dean, even for Sammy (At this point, Sammy was having a difficult time in the press because of his relationship with a white model, May Britt. Keep in mind, it was 1959 and interracial relationships weren't looked upon well at all.) as a singing garbage man, who sang the title song. Joey Bishop would be in it, even Peter Lawford for two reasons - one, because he found the script and two, because he's related to John F Kennedy.
I'm not entirely sure as I've not been able to find any written verification, but my educated guess would be that BEFORE Ocean's 11 came along, Frank, Dean, Sammy and Peter all got together for a fund raiser for Jack Kennedy. One of Sinatra's songs from a prior album was "High Hopes" featuring children singing the chorus about an ant moving a rubber tree plant and various odd things. Well, they reworked the lyrics and performed the Presidential version of High Hopes (Everyone wants to back Jack, Jack is on the right track. Cause he's got High Hopes, High Hopes. 1960's the year for his High Hopes) so they had worked together on stage before and done well as well as had a good time doing so. At this point, the Senator had just announced his plan to run for President and Frank would have done ANYTHING to get him in office. And if Frank supported Kennedy, then his friends did too.
Fast Forward to the planning for the movie in the fall of 1959. Frank and company decide to film this, but to do it a little differently. They decide to film in 5 of the Strip casinos (The Sands, The Flamingo, The Desert Inn, The Riviera and The Sahara). They film during the day, late afternoon they take a steam in the Sands steam room and in the evening, they perform at The Sands in the Copa Room. Since Sinatra was close friends with Jack Entratter, who was the manager of all entertainment at the Sands as well as one of the owners, they very easily got away with just about anything. Obviously it was GREAT business for The Sands, but it was also personal for the two of them. Back in New York, Entratter was the manager I believe of the Copacabana or another very popular club back in the 40's and early 50's. Even when Frank had hit rock bottom and his career was almost over, it was Entratter who always stuck by him and helped him get a gig. That loyalty didn't go unnoticed by Sinatra and the two remained close for years.
Now some report, and the legend of The Rat Pack (or The Summit as Frank preferred it be called) was that it was originally decided that they all perform together from the beginning. I've come across information from a gentleman named Ed Walters, who was a dealer and Pit Boss at The Sands for years and years - including the time Frank and the boys held court. He remembers the beginning of The Rat Pack -
As I remember it, Frank opened the first night and all went well. Dean did the second night and did both shows. On the 3rd night, Sammy was doing a long show and Frank came on stage and did some talk with Sammy and ended the show. "He's got to to to bed - we're doing a movie all day. Sammy, say good night." Sammy says goodnight. Frank takes him by the hand and tells the crowd "I've got to get him to bed." They both walk off to a big round of applause.
I think the very next night, Frank is doing his show and out walks Dean and tells everyone Frank has to go to bed. The audience is shocked at first. Remember this is Sinatra in the Copa Room in full tux, doing his usual very professional job.
The crowd doesn't know if Dean is serious or not or if Dean is drunk or not (yes, Dean did drink a lot at the time). Frank would start a song and half way through it Dean would cut in. "Frank that's enough. - Frank that song's too long - sing something shorter." Frank is saying he is going to sing all night for the people. Dean is telling him that he made the rules and everyone must go to bed early. Now I know, in 1999 we all know that this stuff would be come legend, but I'm telling you at the time it was a shocking thing to see. Yes there was a agreement for Dean to come on at the end of Frank's show and help get him off stage early. But everyone thought each star would do his regular act and use one of the other guys to get him off stage.
As Dean would tell years later, "I know I was supposed to come on at the end of his act but Frank likes to fool around a lot so I would fool with him. See if he could handle it - and he did. We had a lot of fun."
This "fooling around" between Dean and Frank was a thing to see. They both did it well. Remember, Dean did this for years with Jerry, so none of this was new to him. But it was all new to Frank. This undisciplined, joking around, horseplay was not what he did well. The audience just loved it and broke out in spontaneous applause. That show ended with the audience going out and raving about what they saw. Everyone in the casino talked about it. Dean and Frank were funny together.
I believe that night changed Frank's life and I will discuss that in another story.
So the crowd loves it and Frank loves it and it is decided that from then on, whoever was doing his show that night will be interrupted by one of more of the others. Frank decided "so let's just have some fun." That decision by Frank started it all.
By the end of the first week it was almost certain that at every show , no matter who was doing his show that night, all three, Frank, Dean and Sammy, would be on stage. The "fooling around" became the talk of the strip and then the city and then it spread to LA and NY.
They were all talking about how Frank and the guys were breaking it up on stage and it was a happening. People were flying in from all over. Frank's friends from LA all wanted to be here. Douglas, Grant, Roz, Peck, and all his buddies came in and saw a show or two and went home raving about it.
Remember this was a shocker at the time.
The rumors were flying all over town: "Dean was drunk and stopped Frank from singing." "Frank and Dean were so drunk they couldn't remember the words so they yelled at each other." "You can't believe it, Sinatra was interrupted tight in the middle of his act by Dean Martin and Sammy Davis who told Sinatra to stand aside while they showed him how to do his act."
This spread to the papers, which in those days covered a lot of the night club scene. Some Eastern press, mainly one woman who had a column, put it out as "Frank Sinatra and his pack of regulars all up all night drinking in Las Vegas." Another day she writes: "Sinatra and his rat pack are up all night drinking and partying in Las Vegas."
Of course, as Ed said, this was spreading EVERYWHERE. Celebrities were all over the place - in fact, some of the celebrities that came to the shows were offered cameos in the film. Red Skelton, for example, was a famous comedian who was given a role in the film - as himself, who was performing at The Sands, and tried to cash a check at the casino cage to play some games in the casino but the cage clerk wouldn't cash the check - Red had threatened him before and told him not to cash any more of his checks. He was implying a gambling problem. I'm not entirely sure if he actually did have a gambling problem, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Another actress who was at one of the Summit performances was Shirley MacLaine. She had a ball watching the guys, so they gave her an uncredited role in the film. If you've ever watched the film, toward the big stroke of midnight when everything is taking place - One of the characters is going around to each casino to do some rewiring. Outside the Sahara, a pair of women, one drunk off her tushie and one not, pull up right outside the door that he needed to go in. Around that time, Dean Martin's character walks up and starts attempting to distract, move and eventually kiss this random drunk woman - Shirley MacLaine. One of the funniest moments in the film. One of her jokes, "I'm so drunk I don't think I could lie down without holding on" was a play on something that was usually used in Rat Pack performances by Frank or Dean. She didn't accept any payment for her role - she just wanted to join in the fun with the guys and have a good time. But the studio felt that she should be compensated somehow, so they gave her a brand new car.
Some other celebrities that were in attendance were Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and John F Kennedy. This did not go unnoticed by Sinatra and any performance that Jack was at, Frank gave his endorsement to "The Future President of the United States".
Back to the guys - So here you have Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Peter Lawford - all of whom can sing and act, and Peter and Sammy obviously dance as well. A lot of people have wondered where Joey Bishop came into play - he was sort of the odd ball out. He didn't drink, he didn't sing. He was a comedian, so that was an advantage. Here's another reference by Ed Walters -
1960, they're filming the movie "Oceans Eleven" at the Sands. At night the regular guys would do their shows. First up was Sinatra, and he would invite others up and introduce people from the audience. Next night would be Dean, and he would do the same thing. The Sands marquee would say Frank Sinatra (or whoever was on that night) and special guests. By the third night it was apparent that something special was starting to happen. Word was reaching L.A. and everyone was coming up to see this.
So Jack Entratter realizes this is taking a life of its own and it was decided that all the guys would be going on stage and let what ever happened, happen. This is what would become "The Summit."
The Casino pit bosses were amazed with what was taking place. Our question was, alright there's Frank, Dean and Sammy but what are the others going to do. Joey Bishop, he doesn't sing or dance or tell stories, he's not a swinger or a clown. He will get massacred. I know it sounds silly now but the casino guys thought the show would be formed around the big 3 tearing up the others. We thought Joey would get slaughtered.
That didn't happen. After the first few nights it was real clear to everyone that Joey Bishop could handle anything and more.
I saw a lot of the shows. Joey would assume the submissive role to Frank, Dean and Sammy. But during the shows he came off with some of the most brilliant lines that have been heard in The Copa Room. His come-back lines to Frank were sharp and funny. I can remember Frank looking over at Joey with surprise and yet be so pleased to see just how good he was.
Think about this compliment Dean said about Joey. A bunch of us in the casino were talking to Dean about those early days and how we thought Joey would be destroyed. Dean said "We destroy him? Hell, he destroyed us!"
Joey was actually credited with writing most of the Rat Pack jokes and quips - a lot of people assumed it was all ad-lib material, but most of it was written. One of the jokes credited to Joey was one involving Dean and Sammy, and actually one of the only jokes to ever actually bother Sammy in terms of his race. Again, this was a very discriminatory time. Dean walks over, picks up Sammy and says "I'd like to thank the NAACP for this wonderful trophy!" Sammy then jumps out of Dean's arm, laughs and moves on. May Britt, who would later become Sammy's wife, was also bothered by most of the material making fun of Sammy. In the 1998 HBO film "The Rat Pack", she is depicted as saying that the other guys are laughing AT him and not WITH him, as he defends, that they're making fun OF instead of WITH Sammy. I don't know how true that is (They obviously didn't check all of their facts - that film shows The Sands Hotel in 1960 for the Ocean's 11 filming and they show the Sands tower, which wasn't built until 1965-1966).
Another fun thing to realize is that at this time in Las Vegas, 1960, it was very racially divided. Sammy, being a black performer, could perform at the casino, but as soon as the performance was over he had to leave. He couldn't go to the casino floor, couldn't go to the lounges or anywhere on the property. It wasn't just The Sands, but all of the properties. Blacks were not allowed to stay or play on any of the properties. It has been said numerous times that Frank Sinatra was furious about that and at one point told the owners of The Sands that either Sammy stays in the hotel or Frank and the boys leave. This didn't happen right away, but it has been credited to Frank Sinatra the desegregation of Las Vegas.
The filming was difficult to say the least. Frank had an attitude while making movies - one take and that was it. He felt it was the best way to capture an honest reaction to a situation. He rehearsed privately, but wasn't a fan of doing several run thrus. And that one take policy, that was how he did things. Of course, he could get away with it on this picture as it was his company producing the film. He basically viewed this film as a way to play - to goof off, have a good time with his friends all while doing something that he loved - entertaining. So mid morning they would film a few scenes, then they'd head down to the steam room to relax and the show would go on that evening. After the show is when the real partying would start and it wasn't rare for the guys to get to bed around 4 or 5 in the morning, if not later.
I THINK I've gone on enough.... this is a VERY long entry, and I don't want you all to hate me. I hope you enjoyed this - and of course, ( I have PICTURES!!!!Collapse )
THANK YOU for your patience! I'll try to breeze through the rest of the 60's before Christmas, then it should be relatively easy to finish up before January 1. Remember to VOTE here for the subject of January's posts if you haven't already. Your choices are the 5 hotels featured in Ocean's 11 - The Flamingo, Sands, Desert Inn, Sahara and Riviera. So far with 2 votes, The Sands is in the lead.... so make your opinion heard!