Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.   2 comments

Sammy Davis, Jr. was widely considered to be the best entertainer of his generation.  No one — not even Sinatra — would follow Sammy on stage.  He was admired not only as a singer, but also as a dancer and actor.  As we approach the 21st anniversary of his 1990 death from throat cancer it is a shame that he is remembered by most for “The Candy Man” — a song he initially resisted recording and later grew to hate.

What even fewer knew or remembered about Sammy is that he was a talented and tireless photographer.  The depth and breadth of his work was brought to light in recent years thanks to a book published by his long-time friend, Burt Boyar.  With permission from Davis’ widow, Altovise, (who died in 2009) a portion of Sammy’s extensive photographic collection was published in a 300+ page volume titled “Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.”.  Initially priced at $49.95, I acquired a like-new copy on eBay earlier this year for less than $20.00.

What makes Davis’ photos so exceptional?  In a word, access.  Entertainers and politicians are always on guard when a camera is present, always anxious to present and preserve a certain image.  Those same people in Sammy’s sphere — a Who’s Who of the powerful and famous — were at ease with Davis snapping away.  Take, for example, the above photos.  Betty Davis, Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe together backstage (wow!).  Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin getting ready to go on stage.  Sonny and Cher on the set of Sammy’s variety show.  Just a few examples of the hundreds of photos in the book.

Sammy was also an incurable ladies man (womanizer would probably be a better characterization).  At 5′ 4″, 130 pounds and homely, maybe he wasn’t a threat.  But he somehow was able to talk beautiful women into posing for him.  Some — like Lola Falana and Marilyn Monroe, above — clothed.  Others, less so to varying degrees.

Sammy Davis, Jr.’s story is a sad one and full of contradictions.  Loved and protected by his friends (Shirley MacLaine reportedly told a photographer who took a picture of Sammy’s body in the casket that Sinatra was going to have him killed unless he handed over the negative), Sammy was a poor business man and worse father and husband.  But as a photographer with access to the Hollywood and political elite of his generation, he was unmatched.  If you have a chance to page through “Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.”, don’t miss it.

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Posted May 15, 2011 by ~ Bruce in Off Topic, People

2 responses to “Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.

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  1. Never knew that about Sammy Davis. Thanks for the education!

    Kathleen Roberts
  2. I didn’t know that. Thanks for sharing.

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