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Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me

American Masters – Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me is the first major film documentary to examine the performer’s vast career and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America. Sammy Davis, Jr., had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, vast in scope and scale. And yet, his life was complex, complicated and contradictory. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was a veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions and worked tirelessly to stay relevant, even as he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America. Davis was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to that of another persecuted minority. In Duke Ellington’s words, he was “beyond category.”

Featuring exclusive interviews with Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection and rare footage from his performances in television, film and concert, American Masters explores the life and art of a uniquely-gifted entertainer whose trajectory paralleled the major flashpoints of American society, from the Depression through the 1980s. The PBS broadcast also features 20 minutes of exclusive bonus performance footage spanning Davis’ 50-year-career after the documentary.

American Masters is thrilled to share Sammy Davis, Jr.’s incredible story with a wide national audience on PBS,” said Michael Kantor, American Masters Executive Producer. “He was revered as the consummate entertainer, but it is not well known that he was the first African-American to be invited by a president to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House, and shared the first interracial kiss in a Broadway play. He was a pioneer.”

Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, was shown at numerous film festivals including DOC NYC and garnered multiple awards, including the Jury Prize and Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, the Audience Award at the Nashville Film Festival 2018 and Best Documentary Feature at the Louisiana International Film Festival.

Transcript Print

♪♪ Major support for Sammy Davis Jr. 'I've Gotta Be Me' provided in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, bringing you the stories that define us.

-I got to catch a train soon, are you going to... -What are you complaining about?

I got to go to a Bar Mitzvah in a minute.

♪ They heard the breeze through the trees ♪ -There was a time when Sinatra, Davis, and Martin were the most popular entertainers in the country.

-The Rat Pack was an entertainment force.

They put Las Vegas on the map.

-I'm colored, Jewish, and Puerto Rican.

When I move into a neighborhood, I wipe it out.

-Sammy was a one-eyed Negro Jew.

Appearing together on the same bill, on the same stage, was a pretty powerful statement of inclusion.

He's one of the boys.

♪♪ -Sammy Davis, Jr. could act, he could dance, he could sing, he could move, he could do anything.

-Hanging out with Sinatra and those guys increased his cool factor.

-These guys became the act to see, the place to be.

They did movies together, they were friends at home, they were friends on the road, they performed together, they were everywhere together.

-♪ Not a soul can bust this seam in two ♪ ♪ We stick together like glue -I'd like to thank the NAACP for this wonderful trophy.

-The way Sammy was being used as kind of the comic butt of a lot of the humor, that's what stood out.

-Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to try to -- -Sammy, why don't you sing a medley of race riots?

-That's right.

-Sammy saw himself as somebody who was breaking new ground, trail-blazing new paths for black people in the 1950s, which he was, but there was definitely the perception that he was a sell-out.

-If all the women in Texas were as ugly as your mama, the Lone Ranger's going to be alone for a long time!

-You're a black person, you're seeking white approval, what is it that you're willing to do to get that approval?

-[ Chanting ] One more year!

-I want you to know that we're grateful for the celebrities who have stuck their necks out, stuck their necks out, taken the chance, as they have, that they might lose some support because they realize it's important to get into a campaign that affects their future and the future of their country and the future of their children.

You aren't going to buy Sammy Davis, Jr.

by inviting him to the White House, you're guying to buy him by doing something for America.

[ Cheers and applause ] -Sammy hugged everyone he ever met.

He didn't realize the impact that I'm sure it would have.

-It went viral.

The media all over the world had that picture.

-There were moments when he behaved like what we call 'the house negro.'

It's an egregious moment given the politics of the time.

-In a way, that photograph came to haunt you as Richard Nixon became more and more unpopular and particularly haunt you with the black audience.

How do you feel about that shot? -Let me tell you, Bill.

It will never go away if you keep picking at it, and the only person I hurt was me and it was an honest hurt.

-Yeah, but the point is -- -No, no, no, no. Let me finish.

-You didn't even hurt yourself... -Yes, I did hurt myself. -You did?

-'Cause anytime you walk down the street at a given period in your life and your own people will not speak to you and your own people turn you away, then all the money, the diamonds, the fame, the fortune, mean absolutely nothing.

-This one night, Jesse introduced Sammy, and they just had the picture out of him hugging Nixon.

And it's a black audience, man.

They tore his ass off.

-Disagree if you will with my politics.

-[ Booing ] -Good. Good!

Good. But don't -- I will not allow anyone to take away the fact that I am black.

[ Cheers and applause ] And I can only add that it wasn't easy to come here, but being... trying to be a brother... it would have been very easy to avoid it, but I had to face this.

-I think Sammy Davis saw himself as having arrived in some way, 'Here I am with the President, I have his ear, he's listening to me.'

I think he saw himself as an insider, and in the end, he was deeply hurt that he was seen as an Uncle Tom.

-He couldn't be accepted in the white community, in the black community,but he had a vision for himself that was bigger than white or black, right.

He was a Universalist.

-I have gone through some changes and that's it.

Now, that's all I can say except that I would like to sing, if you would like for me to sing.

If you don't want me to sing, then I won't.

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪ Whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong ♪ ♪ Whether I find a place in this world ♪ ♪ Or never belong ♪ I gotta be me ♪ I gotta be me -Sammy is such a unique blend of talent and insecurity and anger and perseverance.

What he went through to get to where, you know, being accepted.

-He was a complicated black man in a society where race and culture have always posed certain challenges.

There were things about him that would infuriate you.

There were other things about him that would make you stand up and applaud him.

-♪ I'll go it alone ♪ If that's how it must be ♪ I can't be right for somebody else ♪ ♪ if I'm not right for me ♪ I gotta be free ♪ And I'm gonna be free ♪ Daring to try, to do it or die ♪ ♪ I gotta be ♪ Me And at the end of 'I've Gotta Be Me,' they stood and cheered.

Same people who, 8, 10 months prior, booed, but it stayed with me.

It's still with me.

I don't ever want to be in that position again, to suddenly find yourself being booed after being in the business for 45, 50 years.

♪ Gonna build a mountain from a little hill ♪ -Sammy Davis worked in every medium that there was -- television, motion pictures, nightclubs, concert halls, Vegas casinos.

-His gift was his talent, the curse was being black in America.

-He was the man of a thousand faces in a thousand places.

-♪ Yeah, yeah -♪ Gonna build me a daydream -A jack-of-all-trades and a master of all.

-♪ Yeah, yeah -Sammy was conscious of being a non-conformist or a kind of rebel.

-He, again and again, will say, 'I'm not going to do it your way.'

-♪ ...daydream ♪ I'm gonna see it through -The way he danced and the way he moved --it was electric.

It was his total being.

-He was a diminutive man but a giant on the stage.

-Sammy didn't sing a song, he owned a song.

-The talent came from his soul.

-He was Mr. Entertainment, Mr. Show business.

-He was the total professional.

-He lasted long enough that he became timeless.

-He was one of a kind.

He did it all.

-♪ And Heaven will be waiting there ♪ [ Cheers and applause ] -♪ When the great day comes -♪ Hallelujah!

♪ Hallelujah!

-I'll do something!

-Alright, honey, come on, step down here and show us.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -I was born in the Harlem hospital in 1925, and I lived most of my young adult life at 140th Street and 8th Avenue.

2632 8th Avenue on the first floor.

-Harlem was a community that was burgeoning, had an incredible outpouring of cultural life.

You have the clubs in Harlem.

You have great music, Fletcher Henderson is there, followed in by Duke Ellington and then Cab Calloway.

All these really talented artists are going to be part of your world.

-♪ I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal you ♪ ♪ I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal you ♪ ♪ I'll be standing on the corner high ♪ ♪ When they bring your body by ♪ I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal you ♪ I won my first amateur contest at the age of 3, and I sang '(I'll Be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You.'

[ Laughter ] I won $10.

My mother was in show business, David.

My father, the man that I call my uncle but who really in actual point of fact was not -- Will Mastin --was my godfather, but I called him my uncle.

Actually, I could have called him a father 'cause he couldn't have been closer.

They were in show business.

In those days, it was Will Mastin's Holiday in Dixieland, that was the name of the act.

Big --what they used to call -- give us a good, colored flash act, it was 20 -- and they did numbers like 'Shake Ya Feet,' things like that, you know, and ♪ See them shuffling along And it was tradition, you know?

If someone had a kid, you brought them on 'cause that's the proving -- that was the proving ground.

-While the Will Mastin Trio in its early days was touring, they caught the attention of a short subjects producer at Vitaphone, and they put Sammy in, certainly, one of the greatest all-black short subjects.

It was a two-reel musical starring Ethel Waters.

As great as she is, Sammy pretty much steals the show from her as a young, black tap-dancer.

He's just phenomenal.

♪♪ ♪♪ -Yeah!

I'm going to say a line now that's going to probably cause a great deal of laughter and some consternation.

I appeared in blackface.

[ Laughter ] That means burnt cork, right, with the thing, and I had a little chocolate cigar, and they would dress me in long pants, and I was about the same size I am now, so... [ Laughter ] So, actually, I got away with it, and they said I was a 44-year-old midget.

-Black entertainers would do this whole circuit across the country to arrive at these major places.

So it was a hard life.

You had to be really on your toes all the time.

-They were on the Chitlin' Circuit, which meant it was an all-black circuit, but they had to negotiate racism.

-We stayed at the black hotels, ate in the black restaurants, socialized with the other blacks within that community because it was part of belonging and feeling comfortable.

-Sammy crossed the country 10 times by the time he was 10.

He never spent one day in school in his entire life.

-I resent the fact that I never got an education.

I'm talking about the basics -- I never went to grade school, I never went to any kind of schooling at all, and I resent that because sometimes I feel so inadequate, and I'm not talking about verbalizing, I'm talking about just sitting down writing.

I write like a second or third or fourth grader, you know, and I can't spell properly.

When I'd see kids bicycling and roller-skating and playing ball, my dad would never let me do that 'cause I was being a dancer, and I missed that.

-He was a child, child performer.

I was a child performer, and we don't have a childhood.

-Ol' Sinbad Johnson sure is gonna be sorry when he find out what a great man you is.

-Is I gonna be a great man, mammy?

-You sure is. You's gonna be... president.

-Being a child star is a huge weight.

The cost --emotionally and physically --is enormous.

-He was always trying to please, and he never thought that he lived up to that... ever.

And I think that that stemmed from the time he was a tiny, little boy.

-♪ And no harm will come to you ♪ -I wonder if someone now would please be kind enough to bring me over my shoes, please.

I want... One day, my uncle -- Will Mastin -- and myself were walking down in front of the Palace Theater, and we ran into Bill Robinson.

He was such a gracious man, he started teaching me a few steps.

He gave me an insight.

I always wanted to, like, kind of pattern myself, dance-wise, after Bill Robinson.

He was a great man.

He had a kind of a style that was so unique.

Well, he used to sing this song.

It goes like this -- 1, 2, 3, 4.

♪ I gotta do that crazy thing again ♪ ♪ I gotta do that crazy fling again ♪ ♪ High-ho! Doing the... ♪♪ ♪ Oh, boy, just listen to the taps ♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Sammy's dancing -- he dances on air.

♪♪ That's the essence of tap -- it's just light and it's feathery.

-♪ 2, 4, 6, 8, we don't want to integrate ♪ [ Laughter ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -The rhythms, the math of what goes on in a genius brain is beyond any of our comprehension.

When you think of rhythm that way and it just flows, what is that?

Where does that come from?

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ It's not taught, it just is, and then it's practiced and honed and improved and becomes this incredible statement of who you are.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Fall in! Forward!

Hup, hup, hup, hup, hup.

Pick it up. Pick it up.

-When Sammy went into the army, he had the bad luck to be drafted into the first integrated infantry and it was murder.

They treated him horrendously.

-Everybody in the infantry was bigger than I was, and every other word was a curse word, and they all seemed to start with 'mother.'

[ Laughter ] And, uh, I had never been cursed at, so the first day I got in, Francis E. Warren, Wyoming, I'll never forget it, and the man said to me, 'Hey, you little mother, mother, mada, mada, ma, move your mother-bada-bada-ba and get your mother-bada-bada-ba and move it into that mother-mada-mada-ma over there.'

-I know Sammy told me how the guys all jumped him and six G.I.s all urinated on him.

-They painted you white, they poured urine in your beerth things of that nature.

I mean, did these things really happen?

-Yes, they really happened.

They needed to say, 'Hey, man, get that nigger now. Stop him.'

physically, I got my nose broke three times, man.

-Sammy took the hurt, he took the pain, he took the beatings, he took all those things that are so degrading to any human being.

-And the guy said, 'Where I come from, niggers don't go in front of white people.'

I could think about was just to turn, and I turned and hit him, and he got up, and I got two Sundays in.

He hit me a shot -- I got up, ducked, and got him a Sunday, man.

The cat fell to the ground, his mouth was bleeding, and he looked up at me and he said, 'Well, you beat me, but you're still a nigger' I said, 'There's got to be another way to fight this 'cause, physically, just getting out there and beating the guy -- even if you win, you don't win.'

-And I think what he wanted to do in his life was feel as though, 'maybe I can become so big that I can transcend all those humiliations, and if I'm able to do that in some way, I'm doing something good for the race if I'm able to achieve that.

These people are going to love me no matter how much they hate me.

They're going to love me as an entertainer no matter how much they may hate me as a black.'

-So I started doing impressions in the Army, and guys would laugh, and I was fascinated by doing other people.

-Sammy said that when he was a kid working in the Will Mastin Trio, he started to do impressions, and at that point, it was considered okay for him to do impressions of famous black celebrities and black actors like Stepin Fetchit, or musicians like Louis Armstrong.

-[ As Louis Armstrong ] Now I think I'm ready, daddy!

Look out!

♪ Won't you stay [ Singing indistinctly ] ♪ You're not seeing things too clear ♪ ♪ You look like old Satchmo ♪ You just too far gone, you hear ♪ ♪ Is it all going in one listener ♪ [ Scatting ] ♪ Ohm, yeah I was 18 years old.

I step up and I say, 'Thank you very much.

It's nice to be out of the Army.

I got something that my dad and uncle don't know that I can do and we talked about it, but I never got a chance to do it for them.

I'm going to do it for you nice folks tonight.'

Dee dee dee dee dee.

I got up to the microphone and I said... [ As Humphrey Bogart ] 'Alright, if you played it for her, you can play it for me, you understand?'

[ Normal voice ] And Will Mastin -- the man who was my godfather who I affectionately call my uncle, but he's my godfather -- he'd looked at me... in shock, like this.

And I'm looking at him for approval, and he's looking at me like this.

Now, the audience applauded, 'Yay. Yay. Yay. Yay.'

I said, 'Okay, if you like that one, how about this?'

[ As James Cagney ] You dirty rat.

You're the guy that gave it to my brother in the back.

[ Normal voice ] They applaud.

Alright, so I said, 'How about Jimmy Stewart?'

You know.

[ As Jimmy Stewart ] Well, gee whiz, I'd really like to say that it really is a pleasure to be back among my own folk.'

[ Normal voice ] And well, they went, 'Rah!'

We got off the stage, people were standing, we got into the dressing room, my father said, 'If you ever do that again, I'm going to kill you.'

[ Laughter ] 'But why, Dad? They stood up, they cheered, they loved it.

You heard the applause on that.'

And Will is sitting in the corner going, 'Mm-hmm.

Mm-hmm,' rubbing his legs like this.

So I said, 'Well, why would you be upset?'

'Don't you know that ain't no colored person got no business impersonating white people.'

-For a black guy to be able to imitate these popular, white movie stars and it be so convincing was incredible.

-[ As Dean Martin ] Which way is the audience, pally?

[ Laughter ] ♪ That's how it goes [ Singing indistinctly ] ♪ Oh, yeah -You think about the tradition of performance -- the minstrel tradition -- you had white guys putting burnt cork on their face and then black guys putting burnt cork on their faces, Sammy's like, 'I'm going to flip this because I'm a black guy, but I'm going to imitate a white guy.'

This was, I think, really ground-breaking at the time he did it.

-[ As Edward G. Robinson ] Now, listen here, Mugsy.

You know what this is, wise guy?

This is Robinson, that's right.

-Sammy was crossing racial lines, and that felt like an incredible sleight of hand.

-He didn't want to be seen as a black entertainer, he wanted to be seen as an entertainer.

-[ As Humphrey Bogart ] Alright, the lot of yous, up against the wall.

Nobody get smart, you understand, because I'm running this mob and I really mean that.

Anybody makes a move, they're going to get a .45 slug right between the eyes.

[ Applause ] [ Normal voice ] There's Humphrey Bogart.

Wow.

He said...[ As Humphrey Bogart ] 'I saw the show the other night.'

[ Normal voice ] And he did this... And I went, 'You really do that, don't you?'

[ Laughter ] 'They didn't -- They didn't lie to me.

You really do it, don't you? Like this...' So he said, 'Come on,' And he took me to his little den, and he said, 'Let me show you what I do.'

He said, 'Because you're not doing it right.'

I asked him some questions -- 'Why do you do this?'

He said, 'Because I take salts.'

You know, he had a bad stomach, and he used to -- and white would always come in the corners of his mouth from the pills and the stuff he had to take, and he always did that to wipe it... always, that move.

-He was a constant student of the business.

And then I would watch him in a rehearsal and I would see him doing all my [bleep] That son of a bitch is stealing my act, for Christ's sakes.

-[ As Jerry Lewis ] Now, listen, Victor, look at me.

because I'm going to give you the -- It's not definite you see. I haven't been too well.

Would you please? Here we go!

Ow!

♪ I can smile just because of you ♪ -It's not just the singing and the dancing and the acting, it's the ability to absorb something -- see it and make it work for yourself.

And you don't have to take years to do it, it just is natural, and Sammy, he was like a river.

It just flowed into him and he floated back out.

-♪ Then from a jail ♪ There came a whale ♪ From a down-hearted frail ♪ And they played that ♪ As a part of the blues -As a performer, Sammy was lots of people.

I think he took what he needed from everyone he met.

He was a composite character.

-♪ It's quarter to three ♪ There's no one in the place ♪ Except you... -♪ Except you and me ♪ Set 'em up, Joe ♪ I got a little story you oughta know ♪ ♪ I'm drinking, my friend ♪ To the end of a brief episode ♪ ♪ So make it one for my baby and one more for the road ♪ ♪ The long, long road -As a singer, Sammy was in the right place at the right time.

He had come along in the wake of Billie Eckstine and Nat King Cole, and before them, there were only certain kinds of songs that black vocalists were allowed to do -- usually, rhythm songs or things like that or dance numbers, but for a black singer to do a number from a regular, white mainstream show like 'The Pajama Game' was a new idea at that point, and Sammy really broke through with 'Hey, There.'

♪♪ -♪ Hey, there, you with the stars in your eyes ♪ ♪ Love never made a fool of you ♪ ♪ You used to be too wise ♪ Hey, there ♪ You want that high-flying cloud ♪ -He's a great essayist of song, and to also do it with great phrasing, singing, with an emotionalism.

-♪ Better forget her -When you listen to his covers of Anthony Newley songs like 'Who Can I Turn To?,' these epic kind of emotional portrayals of insecurity and defiance and power, he had that ability to illuminate the truth in his singing in a way that he couldn't in everyday life.

-I was booking the shows at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip, which was in a very famous nightclub.

Ciro's was it because the stars came to Ciro's, and they were all dressed up at that point in tuxedos and gowns, and all the studios would arrange for their young leading men to date the young leading ladies, so it was a glamorous, exciting, café society.

And Janis Paige was the biggest star on Broadway, and it was a big opening night for Janis Paige, and she was to do the last half of the show, and Sammy Davis and the Will Mastin Trio were opening.

And he went out and saw this audience, which was a lot of celebrities, and he went nuts.

He opened with a 30-foot knee slide.

He then went into a fast tap dance with his uncle and his father.

From the tap dance, he sat down and played instruments.

He played everything but his coat, and then he did impressions.

He did an hour and 15 minutes.

He had a boundless energy and great focus.

-♪ You're the lover I have waited for ♪ ♪ You're the mate, you're the mate ♪ ♪ You're the one that I was created for ♪ ♪ And every time your lips meet mine ♪ ♪ Baby, down and down I go ♪ 'Round and 'round I go -He felt that the audience was special.

He was bringing his own love of doing what he was doing for them.

His sense of timing electrified to the audience that came to see him.

-I cannot tell you what kind of help Jerry Lewis gave me, in terms of sitting night after night in Ciro's with a pad and writing like this... Making notes for me.

'Cause he said, 'I want you to avoid all the mistakes I made.

Some of them I want you to have 'cause you've got to learn.'

I can't begin to tell you what he did.

-The Colgate Comedy Hour!

♪♪ -The other night, I saw the Will Mastin Trio and one of the greatest hunks of talent I've ever see in my life, Sammy Davis, Jr.

-Eddie Cantor was a major star of the 19-teens, '20s and '30s.

When Eddie Cantor invites the Will Mastin Trio onto his show, he knows what a hit they will be, but he also knows that this is crossing a line -- that he's boundary breaking by inviting black performers on to white television.

-If somebody African-American came on TV, people would, 'Hey!

There's...on television!'

-Everybody would phone everybody else and say, 'Sammy Davis, Jr.'

or 'Lena Horne are going to be on the 'Colgate Hour' tonight.'

These were some of the only places where we were visible as part of an exciting, thrilling, you know, scene -- the entertainment scene that every American admired, looked up to, worshipped, wanted to be a part of.

It made us feel, yes, special, and by feeling special, we could, for a time, feel equal.

-In my 20 years of going around these cafés, this is the greatest act I have ever seen, and so, for you, here is the Will Mastin Trio and Sammy Davis, Jr., okay?

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -After a performance, Cantor came over, put his arm around Davis, and mopped his brow.

-This was seen as being too personal, too intimate to have this kind of physical connection with him was just seen as distasteful to many whites at the time.

[ Cheers and applause ] -And then he brings them out on stage after their act to stand with him in front of the cameras, slings his arm around Sammy Davis as if he's his own son.

-Ladies and gentlemen, am I right?

Is this the greatest hunk of talent you've seen in years?

[ Cheers and applause ] -I don't think it's too far of a stretch to suggest that Eddie Cantor becomes a kind of father figure to the young Sammy Davis, Jr.

Eddie Cantor representing that tradition of getting out of the ghetto by being fantastically entertaining, by being emotional to the max.

The emotionalism of those performers was what marked them.

And the ability to sing, dance, tell jokes, do it all.

[ Horn honks ] [ Vehicles passing ] -♪ Look down ♪ Look down ♪ That lonesome road... -He was driving down the road and two women coming in the other direction rammed into him, and he fell and hit the post and knocked his eye out.

-You know, Sammy's in this horrible car accident and he gets out of the car and his hand -- he has his eye in his hand.

And he wakes up in a hospital and his eyes are both covered.

-Well, I got a call at 3:00 in the morning, and I hired a plane and flew there fast.

And all I did was sit with him for seven days.

Never left his room.

-Sammy, as he relates in his autobiography, had a number of conversations with various rabbis.

One was serendipitous, was a rabbi visiting in the hospital after his accident.

-After I had the accident, I came out and I needed something desperately to hold on to.

And I found myself being more and more convinced that Judaism was it for me.

I know that there is a -- kind of a kinship between the plight of the Negro and the plight of the Jew.

The oppression, the segregation, the constant trying to survive and the trying to achieve dignity.

My mother was a Catholic, my father was a Baptist.

And then I became sort of nothing for a while.

And I looked around, I was really shopping for something to believe in because I -- See, when you're a performer, you deal in such intangibles that you need a religion to hold on to.

You really do.

-He lost an eye in the accident, and I think it was very traumatic.

-It was a tough period, tough.

You have to learn to rebalance your whole life, no less, what's happening here in your brain.

-How do you recalibrate the way you see, the way you move?

-Frank, I'd had him come down to the house in Palm Springs and he worked with him on how to get his balance back.

He would have him practice pouring water in a glass.

-You know, it's like -- For instance, let me show you.

You know how long it took me to do that?

Took me two years to learn how to pour water like that.

-He got hundreds of telegrams from all over the world when people found out that he had been in a serious, serious accident.

-♪ I'll begin again ♪ I will build my life -To come back from that and to get on stage and to perform and to be as good as he was before is just an amazing feat.

-After Sammy got over the eye accident, his first engagement was at Ciro's and he had a patch on one eye.

The anticipation for Sammy's return was just breathtaking because everybody was waiting for Sammy to come back.

I mean, it was just phenomenal. They went crazy.

The audience just went absolutely nuts.

-When all of those people stood up when I walked on the stage, you can't buy that.

You can't buy that affection.

And the people just stood and just applauded a performer -- forgetting color, race, religion, everything else.

Hey, he was good tonight.

♪ To begin again ♪ She gets too hungry ♪ For dinner at 8:00 ♪ She loves the theatre but never comes late ♪ -Sammy loved women.

He loved gorgeous women.

-Well, Sammy probably had too many women in his life.

He was always covered in women.

And the idea that he liked white women, it was -- of course he liked white women.

He liked every woman.

And if she was beautiful, he liked her.

Kim Novak was probably the first woman he really loved.

-Sammy had such a warm, sensitive, genuine, sort of boyish quality that had such an innocence about him that I remember.

He came and wanted to do a photo shoot, and so I said, 'Sure, that's fine.'

And so he started taking pictures and I noticed he had the lens cover on.

I said, 'Are you going to take the lens cover off?'

I realized that he had a crush on me.

I felt a closeness to him.

We just had the best time.

I loved Sammy.

♪♪ And then, of course, it all broke out in the press.

And then it became a whole thing at the studio.

I had no idea the prejudice was the way it was, I was always colorblind.

Anyway, it was so ridiculous, the whole thing.

At that time, the world was not ready for that change.

-'Confidential' magazine did stories on Sammy, and Harry Cohn heard about it.

And he decided that he had to break them up because, at that time, an interracial relationship would be death at the box office.

-I mean, Harry Cohn was like a dictator at the studio.

And he's telling me I must never see him again.

I didn't want it to end, really.

-Harry Cohn was so mad at Kim.

He had private detectives following her wherever she went.

-By seeing him, it put my career in jeopardy, and it put me in jeopardy, too.

-We all knew it was delicate.

And he was [bleep] with poison.

Harry Cohn took good care of that.

-The message was, marry a black girl within 48 hours or you're dead.

-He married a girl that he used to go out with, Loray White.

He said to her very candidly, 'I need to get married publicly,' and he paid her $10,000.

She was very sweet, she was very kind, and she understood that it was just temporary and just for the publicity.

And they had a big ceremony, Harry Belafonte was there and Joe E. Lewis was there, and it was very well-publicized.

And Harry Cohn withdrew the contract.

-That was probably one of the worst day-- I will have to say, other than maybe the loss of his eye or something -- was the worst day in Sammy's life.

♪♪ ♪♪ -That's a picture produced by Samuel Goldwyn.

The music you hear, that's Gershwin -- typical Americana.

And it stars, ladies and gentlemen, Sidney Poitier as Porgy, Dorothy Dandridge as Bess, Pearl Bailey, and Johnny Mathis.

Seriously, it's a great opportunity for yours truly to be a part of this great undertaking in motion-picture history.

I play a character called Sportin' Life, which is kind of the heavy of the piece.

-Samuel Goldwyn announced that he was making 'Porgy and Bess,' and Davis was very excited about the prospect.

He wanted to be Sportin' Life, he pursued the role.

-He was determined, 'I'm going to get this role.'

And so there was a party in Hollywood at Judy Garland's house and Leonore Gershwin, Lee Gershwin, was there -- the wife of Ira Gershwin.

And so was Sam Goldwyn, so Sammy Davis, Jr. did an impromptu, full-out audition right there at this party.

-He just said, 'I'm going to be in this huge musical with this big-time director with these high production values.

I'm going to be singing the music of Gershwin!'

Who could ask for anything more?

-♪ It ain't necessarily so -♪ It ain't necessarily so -♪ Dey tells all you chillun de debble's a villun ♪ ♪ But it ain't necessarily so ♪♪ ♪♪ -When he was shooting 'Porgy and Bess,' they had him booked to play on Yom Kippur.

And he went up to Sam Goldwyn's office, and he said, 'Mr. Goldwyn, I can't work on Yom Kippur.'

-The movie was behind over a million dollars, and Goldwyn said to him, 'What's this?

I understand you're not working on a Jewish holiday.'

And Sammy says, 'I'm sorry, Mister, it's in my contract.

I don't work on the holy days.'

-He said, 'I can deal with directors.

I can deal with writers.

But a black, Jewish, one-eyed guy, I can't handle that.'

-As Sammy put it, I'm quoting him, 'This little schwasser is making him lose another million dollars.'

-Here's this giant of a guy speaking Yiddish.

You know, he had converted to Judaism and he had great knowledge.

And he would talk to me like one of my uncles.

-♪ What kind of lips are these ♪ That lied with every kiss ♪ That whispered empty words of love ♪ ♪ That left me alone like this ♪ ♪ Why can't I fall in love -Sammy was having lunch in the commissary at 20th Century Fox, and May Britt is making 'The Blue Angel.'

And she was gorgeous, absolutely ravishing.

And she walked in, and Sammy just -- he went all flutter.

I don't know how you describe it when you see someone for the first time that you -- he just fell in love with her right then and there.

-It was an extraordinary sight, this short, little black guy, and this very tall Swedish beauty.

-I found it very intriguing.

I can remember articles in Ebony, 'Sammy and May.'

-Sammy Davis, Jr. marries May Britt in 1960.

Part of, I believe, him marrying May Britt was to really push back at the establishment and say to them, 'I've made it.

I'm accomplished, how dare you determine who I marry, who I sleep with.'

-In many states in the country, it was illegal to have mixed-race marriages.

So this is really, in many respects, an act of defiance at the time.

-He wanted to be accepted on his own level.

He didn't want to be defined by color.

He wanted to just be who he was.

And I think that was his biggest struggle, probably.

-It's no fun, after you're married, to be threatened every day of your life.

To walk into a place you're going to play and be told that, 'We've had 14 bomb threats.'

It's no fun to walk on the stage and know that there are two FBI guys here and two FBI guys on either side looking at the audience to see if someone's going to come up and shoot you.

And to be picketed by the American Nazi Party every time you go to play a place.

-When Sammy fell in love with May Britt, Frank Sinatra fell in love with Jack Kennedy.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Jack Kennedy's association with the Rat Pack was a huge asset to him during his presidential race against Richard Nixon.

They campaigned for him, and in many ways they represented, as an image, the progressivism that Kennedy embodied.

♪♪ -John F. Kennedy settles into office as the 35th President of the United States.

-After Kennedy won the election, Sinatra put together one of the inaugural parties.

And, of course, Davis was going to be invited.

-He'd already had a new tuxedo made just for the occasion.

May had gone out and bought a Valencia gown.

-Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you all enjoy yourselves tonight.

We have some of the finest older talent in the country to entertain you.

-Kennedy personally said he did not want Sammy Davis, Jr. there, and he was uninvited.

So it's not like he was just not invited, he was invited and then uninvited.

-As a man who campaigned for him, and I saw the list of people who was going to be there, Sinatra's putting on a show -- how come I can't be there?

And of course that hurt!

It hurt, that broke my heart!

-♪ Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry ♪ -His rejection by Jack Kennedy hurt him very, very deeply.

He was shunned by the Democratic Party.

They could not afford to alienate their Southern constituency because of his interracial marriage with May Britt.

-I mean, he didn't take Harry Belafonte off the list, and Harry Belafonte had a white wife as well.

But there's something about Davis.

I think he just seemed to be more of a lightning rod for controversy.

-I'm confused as why Frank Sinatra didn't stand up for him.

I am.

Why?

Wrong on so many levels.

And he was desperately hurt.

-I have fears about myself in terms of selectivity.

I'm afraid of friends.

Not afraid of friends, but those that you acquire, so I am very, very judicious in that I just don't -- I'm pleasant, nice, but nobody's going to get inside to hurt anymore.

I can't afford that luxury.

-I don't think that he let himself really, totally trust anyone.

Except, maybe he trusted Sinatra and lotally trust anyone.

Except, maybe he trusted Sinatra and look what happened.

-♪ Me and my.. -Sammy wanted to be greatest performer who ever lived.

The only thing he would have rather been than him was Frank Sinatra.

-And, of course, Sinatra, who was Sammy's great friend and inspiration, was a guy that always was trumpeting, you know, equality between the races, you know, every chance he could get.

There was a quip that some of the columnists used to say, 'Sammy Davis isn't sure if he wants to be the black Frank Sinatra or the Jewish Frank Sinatra.'

-♪ When it's 12:00 ♪ -♪ We never knock -♪ 'Cause there's nobody there -♪ Just me and my shadow ♪ All alone and feeling blue -♪ And when it's 12:00... -Sammy Davis, Jr.

had always been a fan of Frank Sinatra.

He met him in the early '40s.

Sinatra was by this time a big star.

He saw Sinatra as somebody that he could really model himself after, that he admired.

In many ways, the relationship between Sammy Davis, Jr.

and Frank Sinatra was Sinatra kind of mentoring him.

-♪ All alone and feeling blue ♪ -Sammy with the Rat Pack.

I mean, these guys acting like big kids.

These guys, I mean, running around doing these antics and drinking and, you know, Dean Martin's jokes and carrying Sammy and all this stuff.

Now, it was a lot of fun, I mean, in ways, it was like it personified what Vegas was about.

-Here, why don't you have a little snack?

-What is it?

-Alright, folks, put on your sheets and we'll start the meeting.

-Oh, come on!

-Go bore a few holes in that and be somebody.

-With Sammy performing in the Rat Pack, it gave the illusion that integration was occurring in the United States.

It gave the illusion that Hollywood was integrated.

It gave the illusion that Las Vegas was integrated.

-I remember, as you remember when you first were at Vegas, a black performer could not live on the Strip.

-Yeah, couldn't live in the hotel, couldn't walk through the casino.

-Couldn't live in the hotel. No, couldn't play in the casino, couldn't go in to have a sandwich after the show.

-Black people couldn't stay where they were performing You drove, basically, until the road turned to dust and then made a left.

And that's where black people stayed.

They weren't hotels per se, they were rooming houses.

There was nowhere to hang out on the Strip afterwards for people of color.

-When Southern guests complained at the Sands that Sammy Davis was using the pool, the management agreed to drain the pool.

This is in the '50s.

In 1960, a mixed-race act in show business, even though everyone was a star, was a bold statement.

Here was a show that featured one black, one Jew, two Italians taking to the stage and laying claim to American tradition and the right to define what it meant to be cool.

-May I say what a tremendous thrill it is for me to represent the ethnic groups.

I know you're colored and Jewish and this is ridiculous, baby.

-Sammy embodied the kind of harmony that we wished for and we imagined, at least in those early days, was just over the horizon.

-Being in this integrated setting and that he was given this platform with them, I think, broke new ground.

-Did you see two coloreds pass by here?

[ Laughter ] -He not only changed his religion, he changed his sex.

-I think the problem was, was that when you started doing any kind of comedy bits, like with the black person and some whites, people are going to start looking back and thinking, 'Oh, this is sort of like Will Rogers and Stepin Fetchit.'

And I think that that's what made people feel -- some people feel uncomfortable about the whole thing.

Even if the guys on stage all loved each other, which I don't doubt that they did love each other.

-Keep smiling, Smoky, so everybody knows where you are.

-Why don't you be yourself and eat some ribs?

-Sinatra and Joey Bishop and Dean Martin began to do these outrageously racist jokes with Sammy Davis, Jr.

as the brunt of that ill-advised humor.

-♪ I'm not much to look at -You're Goddamn right.

-I hate that.

That some people would probably think that he was a mascot, or, you know, a Stepin Fetchit thing, some racially subservient...human to Frank and Dean and those guys because he wasn't.

He was being in show business, and he loved those guys.

-Whoa, hold it!

What is this?! -If he calls me 'pale face' one more time!

-It was different times, though.

You know, it was different times.

That was part of the thing.

He was a good sport about it.

-They made Italian jokes, they made alcohol jokes.

I mean, they went hard on everybody.

They made Jewish jokes, you know, everybody got hit.

-By 1964, the culture had outrun The Rat Pack.

[ Laughter ] -I'd like to thank the NAACP for this wonderful trophy.

-Put me down!

-The Rat Pack, and its members, no longer represented the cutting edge of progressive cool.

-And you say, 'Wow!

Man, it sure was nice to be in the company of all them big names and the movie stars.'

On one hand, I loved being with my friends.

But I became so involved with that lifestyle.

When you're hungry and you're trying to get there, not trying to get my own identity, it was submerging me as a human being.

♪♪ -Sammy wanted to be an actor.

He felt as though his musical credentials, his dancing credentials were all there.

And what he wanted was to work in the theater.

♪♪ -♪ Stick around, things are going to happen ♪ ♪ Fireworks, stick around and see ♪ ♪ Watch me in the arena, eat Cracker Jack ♪ ♪ While I'm smacking some hack for a fee ♪ -The original Clifford Odets play, 'Golden Boy,' was about a tough fighter, a young kid who was trying to prove himself, but he was a white kid.

-The musical version of 'Golden Boy' was about a very young, wonderful, talented black man who lived in Harlem, and he was a good boxer.

And they wanted to make him a star, and he wanted more out of life than that.

So he strove to become a better man, as well as a better boxer.

He fell in love with me, but I happened to be white.

-When Sammy was in 'Golden Boy,' Arthur Penn took over as director.

-And Arthur Penn said, 'Sam, I want you in your dressing room at half-hour, and I want you to prepare.'

And Sam went, 'Okay.'

He said, 'Mr. Penn, I want you to know that I am willing to prepare, I will do whatever you say to prepare, I just would like to know how you do it.'

And Arthur Penn looked at him and he went, 'Oh, my God!

I've got the most expensive show ever put on Broadway, and my star doesn't know how to prepare.'

-Arthur, you know, tried to approach me as a guy who had studied acting for 20 years, you know?

I didn't know what the hell but what?

'Prepare!' 'Prepare what?

I put my makeup on, I put my uniform on, and I go out, I'm ready.'

He said, 'Look, take whatever you walk into the theatre with and play the part the way you feel that day.'

He said, 'The other actors will be supportive of you.'

He said, 'So if you're up that day, play up!

And play it that way.

And if you're down, play it tougher.'

♪ I want to be with you [ Applause ] ♪ I want to be with you -The duet, 'I Want To Be With You,' was probably the most important song we had written, really, in our lives because it was a moment which had never happened in the American cinema, television, or on the stage.

-♪ Lying there, loving you, hating you... ♪ -A white woman and a black man did not touch -- never really touched.

They never touched even hands.

-When we first did 'I Want To Be With You,' we never even touched each other 'cause everybody was so Goddamn afraid of it, and so was I.

And one of the first things Arthur Penn was saying, 'I've never seen a love scene in my life where people don't kiss, or hold each other's hands or embrace or something.'

-He said, 'Paula, they tell me I have to kiss you.'

And I said, 'Well, is that such a chore?

You know, come on!'

He said, 'You know, it's never been done And I said, 'Yeah, so?

Let's do it!'

And he said, 'Are you ready for the aftermath?'

And I said, 'What aftermath?'

-At the end of 'I Want To Be With You,' we grabbed each other and kissed, and it was the first time a man and a woman of different races had done that on the stage -- full on-the-mouth embrace, in Detroit, Michigan, scared [bleep] -You could hear them go... [gasps] And there was this mumbling about -- I don't even know if I should say this on-air, but it happened.

They said, 'She's the one that kissed the nigger' How's that grab you?

It was awful.

-We got threats, we got letters.

Paula Wayne, she had threats from the time the show opened.

It was constant. Lead off was no better.

So badly begrudged, she had a bodyguard with her.

You knew you were in something important.

It was daring and trying to do some things that had never been done in a musical -- a dramatic musical of any kind.

I was on top of the world.

As the new boy in town, there was no door that wasn't open to me.

I was the prince of Broadway, man.

♪ Every time we say goodbye ♪ I die a little ♪ Every time we say goodbye ♪ I wonder why a little ♪ Why the gods above me ♪ Who must be in the know ♪ Think so... -The problem with being Sammy Davis, Jr.

and being a husband, they don't mix.

Like being a father and Sammy Davis, Jr. -- He's too busy being Sammy Davis, Jr., which he has to be.

-He didn't have roots.

Even when he had the roots of a home here, he was never here.

He was a gypsy.

That's why May Britt couldn't stay married to him.

It was just too much of a constant upheaval and partying.

That's the only life he knew, so I don't think he'd ever settle.

-That's when May said, 'That's enough, I can't handle it anymore.'

And she took the kids and went back to California.

-And the gap was getting wider -- indiscretions, yes, but no infidelity.

There was no racket, there was nothing, you know?

There was a great deal of sadness.

The worst offense that had been perpetrated had been perpetrated on the kids because I was on that theatrical roll, and it was hot and heavy.

All of the clichés that surround the beginning of a marriage, suddenly you turn the record over and you hear it at the end of the marriage -- it's the other side of the same cliché. -In the middle of the 'Golden Boy' run, Martin Luther King came back, and, um... I've never seen Sammy so moved.

You knew you were in the presence of greatness.

It was an honor to meet him.

-Martin Luther King came twice to see the musical.

He told me how much he particularly liked the song called 'No More,' which was about -- that said, 'I ain't bowing down no more.'

-I really belive that Sammy lived those words, 'I ain't bowing down no more' every single day of his life.

So much was happening at that time -- Martin Luther King, the marches -- and he was involved in every single aspect of it.

-Martin Luther King fell in love with the song 'No More,' and it became his anthem.

As a matter of fact, I think I heard it the other day -- somebody singing it.

It's a great song.

♪ I ain't bowing down no more -♪ Keep your eyes on the prize ♪ -My friends, the people who have gotten me involved with the Civil Rights struggle and the Negro revolution starting back some 10 years ago, were Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, Ossie Davis and his wife, Ruby Dee -- 'cause I went to them and said, 'I realize that I want to -- I'm a Negro and I want to commit myself.

What can I do?'

-One thing that celebrities can do was draw attention to the Civil Rights Movement.

They had the ear of mainstream publications, they had a lot of fans -- both black and white fans, mainstream fans.

And they were able to reach audiences that movement organizations and movement activists couldn't necessarily do.

-Ladies and gentlemen, I can only say that this should prove, once and for all, that my leader is your leader -- Martin Luther King.

-December of 1963, Sammy is in Washington for the March on Washington with Martin Luther King and becomes more and more a committed Civil Rights activist.

-Sammy Davis, Jr.

did the walk from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial.

I consider him sort of the benefactor of the movement.

He raised about $750,000 for movement organizations, which is about $5.5 million in today's terms.

-A lot of people forget that Sammy Davis, Jr.

won the Spingarn Medal in 1968 from the NAACP.

They do not give out that medal lightly.

And he was very taken by the heroism of those young Civil Rights workers going out there doing what they were doing.

-He said, 'But I'm never going down south.

You're not going to get me down south.'

And Dr. King said, 'We'll see.'

-And I was scared.

I was petrified, 'cause first of all, they didn't like me.

They didn't like me because I was black, they didn't like me because I was a black Jew, and they didn't like a black Jew who was also, at that time, married to a white lady.

-Harry Belafonte, when Sammy was in 'Golden Boy', said, 'You've got to come to Selma with us.'

And Sammy said he couldn't leave the play because it would close, and so Harry said 'I'll buy the house,' and did, and Sammy went to Selma.

I think that removed his fear and then he became ferociously involved.

-He did a lot of things for Dr. King and for our movement.

His commitment was never really fully recognized historically.

He stepped to the table, and not only gave money, but got a lot of his friends in Las Vegas involved.

-One of the things that I think is so profound that Sammy Davis, Jr. says is that, you know, 'I was a member of the black race, but I was not a member of the black community.'

Meaning that he never really felt accepted by black people throughout his career.

-There were people who said Sammy wanted to be white, and I think, in a perfect world, he would have had no color.

Color wouldn't have had existed, and I think that's the world he would have loved to live in.

-Direct from our newsroom in Washington, this is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

-Good evening.

Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of non-violence in the Civil Rights movement, has been shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee.

There was shock in Harlem tonight when word of Dr. King's murder reached the nation's largest Negro community.

Men, women, and children poured into the streets.

They appeared dazed.

Many were crying.

-All over America, black ghettos exploded in rage and grief.

-I would simply say to all young people -- but particularly my black brothers and sisters -- that the man stood for something very special in a world of violence.

He was struck down by violence.

Our adding to it, no matter what our frustrations, no matter what our anger, what our justifications might be, it becomes fevering when the carnival atmosphere that Mr. Wilkins talks about does prevail.

And I don't see sad faces mourning the tragic loss of this great American.

I see people laughing and giggling.

I somehow want to disown those people.

I don't want to call those people who are laughing less than 48 hours after our leader died and stealing... Those are not really brothers.

Those cannot be the people who are striving for the dignity that we should have at this point.

[ 'Hail to the Chief' plays ] -The President of the United States and Mrs. Nixon.

[ Cheers and applause ] -Ladies and gentlemen, when we think of Sammy Davis, Jr., we remember that he began as a relatively poor boy.

We remember, too, that he overcame the poverty and the prejudice and went clear to the top.

We refer to him as 'our golden boy.'

We could refer to him as 'our candy man.'

We could refer to him and introduce him as 'Mr. Wonderful.'

-I have not had as many hits as a lot of people would like for you to believe.

I've only had a couple million sellers.

I'm going to do one of them to open the show.

I don't feel now, under normal circumstances, you're supposed to keep your hits until the end of the show so the people in the theater or the nightclub can say, 'Oh, I wonder if he's ever going to do it,' you know?

But I ain't taking no chances.

I'm opening up with the heavyweights.

That's it.

Because as they used to say on the corner, 'This as far uptown as I'm ever gonna get.'

[ Laughter ] Look out.

1, 2, 3, 4.

[ 'The Candy Man' playing ] ♪ Who can take a sunrise ♪ Sprinkle it with dew ♪ Cover it with chocolate or a miracle or two ♪ ♪ The Candy Man ♪ Yeah, the Candy Man can -'The Candy Man' is a song that was from 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,' the movie from the late 1960s.

-'The Candy Man' arrived at a time when the hippie generation was in the ascendant, and I think it had the other connotation of the drug culture.

♪ The candy man I didn't know what 'candy man' meant, and then a guy said, 'You know what candy man is?'

And I said, 'No.' He said, 'He's the guy that sells all the pills and the booze and the stuff in the neighborhood.

They call him the candy man. 'Give me the candy, man'.' And that was certainly not the connotation that I tried to imply.

♪ Satisfying and delicious -He told me he thought it was a terrible song.

People liked it, to be sure.

I think it surprised him, and he was amused by it.

-And they would call us every week and say, 'It's Number 17.

It's Number 14.'

And it went to Number 1, the only Number 1 he ever had in his life.

-♪ The candy man can -When you listen to it, it really is beneath Sammy Davis in a lot of ways in terms of melody, in terms of sophistication.

-And that song, in anybody else's hands, it really would not have been a hit.

I'm just saying.

-Alright, who's going to do it?

Am I going to do it or are you going to do it?

-Well, I thought you should do it.

After all, you had the hit record.

-Yeah, but you wrote the song, Tony.

-Mm, perhaps you're right. Perhaps I should sing it.

-No way. Are you joking?

♪ Who can take a sunrise ♪ Sprinkle it with dew ♪ Cover it with chocolate or a miracle or two ♪ ♪ The candy man -♪ The candy man -♪ The candy man can -And these Nixon people, when they needed something, and they needed a foothold in the black community, I think... And what they were selling Sammy was, 'You know what, Sam?

You're not going to be a performer forever, and you know where we think you should be after 'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen'? An ambassador.'

And they were pitching him that load of [bleep] -I think Nixon was truly fascinated by Sammy Davis, Jr.

and truly admired him.

-Nixon made a point of reaching out.

Bob Brown was there and was deeply involved in outreach to minorities.

-I asked Sammy, I said, 'What do you want to do?

What do you want to do?'

Sammy said, 'You know, I was in service, Bob.'

And he said, 'I had some bad experiences in service.'

He said, 'Those white boys beat me up and all this.'

And he said, 'I understand there's a lot of stuff going on in Vietnam.'

And he said, 'I'd like to go there and entertain the troops and just see how they're doing.'

-One of the concerns that Sammy has is that he is hearing that the soldiers are using drugs, but as a result of the soldiers using drugs, black soldiers were being discharged dishonorably, but white soldiers were not.

He spent a considerable amount of time with the soldiers, talking to them about their conditions there.

I really think he wanted to make a difference, he wanted to make change.

-By going to Vietnam, Sammy ended up, you know, cosigning something that people on the left, student radicals, black power advocates, and others really were rejecting.

It's not cool to be in support of the war.

-That's about as close as I'm going to get to it, baby.

Peace. -Sammy's tone deaf.

He misread what was going on in society, and in some ways, is just like him hugging Nixon.

He has associated himself with the wrong side.

-You don't see it as a political stand, then?

-No, I do not. I see it as -- They're a bunch of Americans. What do we do?

Because we do not like Vietnam and our involvement in it, do we forget the hundreds of thousands of kids that are over there?

That's the point of you that the entertainer must assume, at least I do.

And I cannot forgot that our guys are over there.

I can't make believe they ain't dying every day, and if I can bring them 20 minutes or an hour of meager enjoyment -- 'Hey, there's old Sam, you know?

I didn't like him before. I still don't like him.'

But at least get their minds off that, then I've accomplished something as an entertainer.

-The Nixon Administration did not take advantage of Sammy Davis, Jr.

Sammy Davis, Jr. was a man of his own.

He had a mind of his own.

-Nixon connected with him personally.

Nixon talked to him.

Nixon invited him to the White House.

Nixon did these things for him and gave him high regard as a person.

I just think that that had a lot to do with his embracing Nixon and his supporting Nixon.

-Sammy was actually the first black man to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom, and it had a tremendous meaning to him.

I mean, he'd read everything about Lincoln, book after book.

-We realized, 'Now you're living in the White House and you got a clean slate.'

And now we finally made it on a social level, you know, President of the United States.

Damn!

That's awfully uptown, you know?

It's very thrilling to be in the Lincoln Room, you know, and all the Lincoln memorabilia that they got in the room, you know?

-And Sammy was absolutely off the charts.

And he was laying up there in the bed with his feet crossed laying up on a pillow, sitting up in the bed.

He said, 'How do you like me now?'

-Incidentally, we had Sammy Davis here last night, and he was just great.

Absolutely great. And he spent the night.

-Oh, did he? -Yeah, yeah.

I didn't know it, 'cause I thought with the Kennedys and the Rat Pack, this is the first time he had ever performed at the White House and the first time an American black has ever stayed overnight in the White House.

-Isn't that great?

-I didn't announce it, of course.

I didn't say it, and I said, 'I think you'd -- And he said, 'Yes. Yes, I know.'

I said, 'I don't want to exploit it.'

He says, 'I know.'

-Once they saw that Sammy had kind of fallen out with the community -- with his community -- I think they lost a little interest in him.

They kind of faded away.

I think they got what they wanted.

-But I think in his mind, this was the patriotic thing to do.

He had not evolved.

It was like he was stuck in that World War II moment, even though society had changed drastically by this point.

♪♪ -You know, through the years, I've always believed in change because it's healthy, and if you don't keep up with what's happening, man, you can become old-fashioned, which is the worst thing that can possibly happen to any performer.

But I also believe in being your own man.

For instance, I never let all of these crazy new fashions influence me.

I think you should wear whatever makes you comfortable.

Clothes have never been that important to me.

A simple, basic wardrobe is all a guy really needs.

It's what's inside that counts.

-Sammy tried to be cool in the '70s, but now the definition of 'cool' is blaxploitation or funk or, you know, what Richard Pryor's saying on stage, and you're looking at people like this, and you compare Sammy Davis, it's clear he's not only not cool, he's old.

-My name is Sammy Davis, Jr., and I'd like to thank you for coming this evening, and you folks at home for tuning in.

What do you think of my outfit?

♪♪ ♪ I am a lineman for the county ♪ ♪ And I drive the main road -My parents wanted Sammy singing great, old standards.

They didn't want to hear Sammy Davis, Jr.

doing Richard Toleiman.

If you're one audience, you've got Glen Campbell.

If you're another audience, you've got Isaac Hayes, so... -I think by the 1970s, already people had moved to a different model.

R&B was extremely popular.

Rock 'n' roll was popular.

There was a different energy.

There was a different drive for assimilation, not just in music and entertainment, but also in politics, and I think for some, Sammy Davis, Jr. was an anachronism.

He represented a different time, and a time that a lot of people didn't want to remember.

-♪ Here come the judge, here come the judge ♪ ♪ Here come the judge, here come the judge ♪ I plan to run in Mississippi. -For what?

-The state line. -Oh.

-I suppose you're all wondering why I asked you here.

Sock it to me!

-Television at the time was still a very conservative medium, and there weren't that many shows at the time addressing racial issues.

-Guess what famous and important personality I carried as a passenger in my cab today.

-Oh, tell us! -Oh, no, no.

You ain't gonna get it out of me that easy.

Come on, you gotta guess for this one.

-Oh, alright. Let's try.

I'll go first.

Living or dead?

-Sammy was a great fan of the show, and he hounded me.

He just had to do the show.

He loved the show.

And I said to him, 'We don't do guest stars.

There are no guest stars.'

-Mr. Bunker?

-Once we had a good reason why he would be in the show, I was comfortable with it.

-Come on in, Mr. Davis. Come on.

-Oh, Mr. Davis, it's an honor!

-I should tell you that a lot of what occurred was the result of Sammy.

-Hey, you being colored, well, I know you had no choice in that... [ Laughter ] ...but whatever made you turn Jew?

-He was as much a writer as he was a performer, and the kiss was his idea.

-1, 2, 3.

[ Laughter ] Goodbye, Mrs. Bunker. Peace and love to you.

-Well, to the extent that that kiss is an iconic television moment -- a black man putting his lips on a white cheek.

Now, as silly as that sounds that that should be a national incident, it was then and because nobody had ever seen that before.

-♪ He could jump so high ♪ Jump so high -He always said that for him, the two keys were walking in a room and walking out.

The rest is gravy.

So, how do you come in and how do you go out?

The rest, you know what to do.

-I guess when you're a major, major star -- a superstar -- you can't imagine how long it'll last.

It was an irrational fear to him, but it was there.

You always fear when you're up at the top that there is a bottom.

-♪ I knew a man Bojangles -'Mr. Bojangles' was the story of an old entertainer who drank a lot and wound up in jail.

-♪ Worn out shoes -He's so connected in that performance.

Sammy is singing about that washed-up dancer, but you know through the way that he performs that he's also singing about himself and the way that he was perceived at the time.

-♪ Soft shoe ♪ He could jump so high ♪ Jump so high That's my fear, that I'll wind up like Bojangles, the Bojangles in the song.

That culmination of different black performers -- minstrels that I've known -- performers who got hooked on junk, who got wiped out by alcohol, got wiped out by the changing of times.

I've seen them disappear -- great dancers, great stylers.

And when I do that number, some nights I said, 'Oh, my God.

That's me.

That's how I'll be when I'm 70 years old, man.

I'll still be working, and I'll be working little joints and I'll talk about what I used to be and that'll be the end of it.'

♪ That man talked of life ♪ Laughed, slapped his leg, and stepped ♪ -I think it was Frank who said, 'You're like two characters in the same play.

Your talent is the hero and your excess is the villain.'

-Sammy was the epitome of extravagance.

'We're going to go from 56th to 49th and we're going to walk down.'

So, in between 56th Street and 49th Street, walking with Sammy Davis down the street, he managed to spend $50,000.

Now, that's $50,000 in 1966.

We stopped at every store along the way and bought... 'You don't have a...? Get one for him, too!'

-He was ostentatious in that way.

He was larger than life in that way.

-I started with a pinky ring, and as I got other rings that were given to me, I started putting them on my hands.

I must tell you that now I love the rings, because they're theatrical.

It's bigger than life.

I have no desire to be the boy next door.

I want to be, you know... If I could have lived in the '20s with Valentino, I would've had the leopards on a leash, you know, walking down the street, because that's show business.

That's what we're about.

-The first time I saw Sammy Davis, Jr., and he walked into this café where we had tuna fish sandwiches and roast beef sandwiches, and he said, 'Wine!'

Wine for all my friends!'

And we all knew we were in the company of a wonderful madman.

-He had a joke.

He said, 'If I'm not going first class, the boat ain't leaving the dock.'

-I went bananas, and I really went bananas in terms of clothing, I went bananas in terms of my lifestyle, and I did it all, 'cause I had to experience it.

-He was always in financial trouble because he spent money like it was water.

-Because one wasn't enough.

'See this? I can buy 20.

I don't want a Ford car.

I drive a Rolls-Royce 'cause I can.'

That was him proving to himself that he had made it.

Would you believe this?

The biggest entertainer in the world, and he didn't believe it.

-Sammy had a party every night. Sammy was Sammy.

He was bigger than life and he was funny, he was smart, he was curious, he was loving, he was self-destructive.

-And he looked like a man who was having a middle-aged crisis and wasn't handling it very well.

He became addicted to cocaine.

Sinatra didn't want to be around him.

-Drugs was just something, because it seemed to be everybody was doing it and I wanted to be in with everybody.

But, man, to really get a nice buzz, you know, give me a little bourbon, give me a little vodka.

I miss booze, see? I don't miss the other stuff.

But I miss not drinking.

-And why did you stop drinking?

-Because the doctor said, 'You gonna die.'

[ Laughter ] -Where he came from, the leap was light-years, 'cause he grew up on the streets.

He grew up a little black kid dancing for nickels and stuff and doing his step dance in saloons.

And to go from there to royalty, to Presidents and First Ladies and starlets and everything was just such a phenomenal leap.

-Money never worried him.

He didn't have any, and he knew there was a never-ending supply coming in.

He was on, like, a perpetual allowance to enjoy his life.

-Will Mastin managed them.

He took 20% off the top, and Sammy told me one day, until he was 45, they split his income three ways.

-And he continued to pay them for years after they were no longer even an act and he was out there by himself.

-He didn't control any of his music.

He didn't really control any of his, uh... any of his assets.

-Uncle Sam wants his money, and he could care less that you can tap dance and imitate Cary Grant.

He wants his money, and if you don't have it, you know, that's a problem.

You have some fun, you make some money, but at the end, you're broke and you're sick.

It's kind of unfortunate.

-You had throat cancer, right? -Yes.

-And how are you? -I am fine.

I thank God every day.

May I take one moment just to say this has been the straightest period of my life, taking care of myself.

-No drugs. No booze.

-No booze. No nothing.

I'll never smoke cigarettes again, of course.

Never.

-And I was there in the studio and I was so proud of Sammy, and after that I went back to see him to tell him how proud I was that he had really turned a corner and was over it.

And he was smoking a Pall Mall and sipping brandy.

I said, 'Sam, what did you just tell Larry King?'

He said, 'Well, it's temporary.'

I said, 'No, you said you'd given it up.'

He said, 'Well, I'm going to.'

-I think he was one of those performers that was worried that, 'If I didn't have all of these gifts, who the hell would I be?'

And I think that actually factored into his choosing not to have surgery when he got sick.

-He was going to have to decide between having his cancer removed, which would destroy his voice, or having radiation, and Sammy chose radiation.

-And I think he decided, 'What can I do?

I can't sing, and then I can't be me.

It's the opposite of the song. I can't be me.'

-Tonight, the United Negro College Fund is honoring a very special man on his 60th anniversary in show business.

Ladies and gentlemen, our guest of honor -- Mr. Sammy Davis, Jr.

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ -The 60th anniversary show came about as a result of George Schlatter convincing the network that if anyone deserves a tribute for a lifetime of entertainment, it was Sammy Davis.

-I had sold ABC a one-hour special with Sammy, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Murphy hosting.

-And we went to convince Michael -- who, by the way, hated to do television -- and I said, 'Michael, you must do this show.

This is the only opportunity you have to say thank you to this man.'

He says, 'I'll be there tomorrow.

What time you need me?'

-♪ You were there before we came ♪ ♪ You took the hurt, you took the shame ♪ ♪ They built the walls to block your way ♪ ♪ You beat them down ♪ You won the day ♪ It wasn't right, it wasn't fair ♪ ♪ You taught them all ♪ You made them care ♪ Yes, you were there, and thanks to you ♪ ♪ There's now a door ♪ We all walk through -We all knew that he didn't have much longer to live at that time.

He'd been diagnosed, and he knew that the time was short.

[ Cheers and applause ] -Got a shoe horn?

-When the audience saw those shoes, I mean, they just went nuts.

So, Greg gives Sammy the shoes, Sammy starts putting the shoes on, and Greg says, 'Do you want to do a little shine?

Shine on your shoes?'

And Sammy, in a voice that Greg could hardly hear, said, 'Make it easy on yourself.'

-Nice and light.

♪♪ A little faster.

♪♪ ♪♪ Gah!

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ ♪♪ Now stop-time. Stop-time.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Laughter ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -I was always convinced he was going to die on stage, 'cause that was the only place he was safe.

No bull[bleep] -Shh.

♪ He said 'I dance now ♪ At every chance in honky tonks ♪ ♪ For my drinks and tips -Sammy was show business from the tip of his toes to the top of his head.

-♪ 'You see, son, I drinks a bit' ♪ -When he went on the stage, he owned it, I mean, there's no question.

-♪ Lord, as he shook his head -He was a man who fought the odds all his life, and mostly won.

-♪ Mr. Bojangles ♪ Mr. Bojangles -I think Sammy Davis, Jr.'s whole life was about confronting obstacles.

-♪ Mr. Bojangles, come back and dance ♪ -He is somebody who paved his own way.

He carved his own path.

-♪ Please dance ♪ Mr. Bojangles -He broke the door down everywhere he went -- everywhere he went.

-♪ Mr. Bojangles -Sammy was controversial, he was prolific, he was profound, he was complicated.

-The breadth of Sammy's career should make people realize who he was.

I don't know if we'll ever see that again.

-♪ Come back and dance ♪ Mr. Bojangles -He was a wonderful, wonderful, one-of-a-kind comet that flew past the Earth way too quickly.

-[ Whistling ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -To order Sammy Davis Jr. 'I've Gotta Be Me' on DVD, visit ShopPBS or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

This program is also available on Amazon Prime Video.

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