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S33 Ep2

Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me

Premiere: 2/19/2019 | 00:02:36 |

The first major film documentary to examine Sammy Davis, Jr.'s vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th century America.

About the Episode

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 He was a veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions and worked tirelessly to stay relevant, even as he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste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.

Also available on DVD.


Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC’s American Masters for WNET in coproduction with ZDF in collaboration with ARTE. Directed by Sam Pollard. Produced by Sally Rosenthal and Michael Kantor. Edited by Steven Wechsler. Written by Laurence Maslon. Michael Kantor is executive producer.

About American Masters
Now in its 37th season on PBS, American Masters illuminates the lives and creative journeys of our nation’s most enduring artistic giants—those who have left an indelible impression on our cultural landscape—through compelling, unvarnished stories. Setting the standard for documentary film profiles, the series has earned widespread critical acclaim: 28 Emmy Awards—including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special—two News & Documentary Emmys, 14 Peabodys, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, an Oscar, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of more than 250 masters past and present, the American Masters website offers full episodes, film outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the podcast “American Masters: Creative Spark,” educational resources, digital original series and more. The series is a production of The WNET Group.

American Masters is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. PBS station members can view many series, documentaries and specials via PBS Passport. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; and newsroom NJ Spotlight News. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for nearly 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.


Major support for Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support for this film is provided by The Leslie and Roslyn Goldstein Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Seton Melvin, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, and Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment.

Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judith and Burton Resnick, Seton J. Melvin, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen, Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Marc Haas Foundation and public television viewers.


I'm colored, Jewish, and Puerto Rican. When I move into a neighborhood, I wipe it out.

Sammy Davis, Jr's whole life was about confronting obstacles.

(singing) His gift was his talent, the curse was being Black in America.

It's no fun to walk into a place you're going to play and be told we've had 14 bomb threats.

Even if you win, you don't win.

He said, 'These people are going to love me as an entertainer no matter how much they may hate me as a Black.'

If I could have lived in the '20s, with Valentino, I would have had the leopards on a leash, you know, walking down Sammy was show business from the tip of his toes to the top of his head.

If you played it for her, you can play it for me, you understand?

Sammy's like, 'I'm a Black guy, but I'm gonna imitate a White guy.'

You dirty rat.

This was really groundbreaking at the time he did it.


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

He's one of the boys.

(singing) Sammy saw himself as somebody who was breaking new ground for Black people, but there was definitely the perception that Any time you walk down the street, and your own people turn you away, then all the money, the diamonds, the fame, the He couldn't be accepted in a White community. He couldn't be accepted in the Black community.

But he had a vision for himself that was bigger than White or Black.

Now I would like to sing, if you would like for me to sing.

And the kiss was his idea.

One. Two. Three!

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

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

(singing) I was always convinced he was gonna die on stage, because it was the only place he was safe.

(singing) There were things about him that would infuriate you.

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

He was a wonderful, one of a kind comet that flew past the Earth way too quickly.



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