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In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr. [Hardcover]

Wil Haygood
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

22 July 2004
Sammy Davis, Jr was one of the most recognisable showbiz entertainers of the twentieth century. But his story was also one of contradiction and compromise: a black man trying to make his name as a star during a time of racial prejudice and even segregation, Sammy Davis, Jr never came to terms with the complexities of his situation, as Wil Haygood's comprehensive new biography shows. He endured patronising humiliation from his fellow Rat Pack members; he marched with Martin Luther King while, notoriously, cozying up to President Nixon and conducting numerous affairs with white women. Above all, he made his name as a vaudevillian entertainer by arguably accepting the role of honorary white man. With the new stage show, Rat Pack Confidential, now playing in the West End, this new book offers the definitive portrait of the Rat Pack's most interesting and maverick member.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 518 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd; First Edition, First Impression edition (22 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845130138
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845130138
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.6 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,150,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Haygood writes with such headlong energy as well as novelistic insight and compassion about this tortured song-and-dance man. -- Christopher Silvester, Sunday Times 1 August 2004

One of the best, and sometimes one of the saddest, show-business biographies I have ever read. [A] sad, illuminating book. -- Charles Spencer, Sunday Telegraph, 15 August 2004

About the Author

Wil Haygood is a staff writer on the Style section of the Washington Post. He is also the author of The Haygoods of Columbus, Two on the River and a biography of the black politician Adam Clayton Powell.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Wonderful 22 Feb 2008
By S. Bentley VINE VOICE
This is a very well-thought out and researched biography of Sammy Davis Jnr, who was probably the greatest entertainer of his generation. Not just dealing with Sammy's life and the complications of his heritage (Cuban and African American, he was raised on the road by his father and Will Mastin, who had put him in their act), his religion (he converted to Judaism), and his hero worship of Frank Sinatra, but also with the social upheaval taking place in Sammy's lifetime and how he participated in it. Along the way we get intriguing mini-biographies of important figures in Sammy's life and summaries of the big political events taking place at the same time. The figures include the likes of Martin Luther King, Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte, Jerry Lewis, Richard Nixon, JFK and Robert Kennedy, Kim Novak and more. Truly a who's who of celebrities and social movers in mid-Twentieth Century USA.

As someone who hadn't been around long when Sammy died, and who knew him primarily through things like the Cannonball Run, documentaries and his songs being used in advertisements, and being British to boot, I hadn't realised just how connected Sammy had been, how big a part he had played (albeit somewhat reluctantly) in the African Americans' movement for equality and respect. What makes it all the more intriguing is that the evidence in the book points to the fact that Sammy was happier with, and felt a greater desire to be with, the mainstream white culture of the time, and that was reflected in how he was perceived. Had Sammy been born into a less volatile society, perhaps there wouldn't be so many seemingly judgmental comments in the book about how Sammy "wanted to be white".
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INTRIGUING BIO AND CHRONICLE 13 Feb 2004
By Gail Cooke TOP 500 REVIEWER
Sammy Davis, Jr., the true "I Gotta Be Me," man was not only a topnotch entertainer but also a tortured individual according to this exhaustive biography by journalist Wil Haygood. More than simply a comprehensive biography "In Black and White" is an intriguing chronicle of black entertainment in our country.
Trained by his father and uncle Sammy had no classroom education but a world of stage smarts. As a small child he mastered soft shoe and tap to become the star of the vaudeville threesome "The Will Mastin Trio." There seemed to be nothing the youngster couldn't do whether it was singing, dancing, playing an instrument or miming other performers.
This energetic bundle of talent couldn't be contained. He burst upon the television screen and was soon a member of Hollywood's celebrated "Rat Pack" paling around and joking on stage with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Joey Bishop.
Nonetheless, Sammy was black and they were white. He was very aware of the difference - where he could stay and where he could not. Once married to a black girl he later started dating blond white actresses and eventually wed May Britt, a union that shocked.
He survived a 1954 car accident which caused him to lose an eye, and his face with the black eye patch soon became familiar. For reasons unknown and only surmised he converted to Judaism. When he told Jerry Lewis of his plan, Lewis asked, "Don't you already have enough problems?"
Problems were to dog him for all of his life. Beneath the happy veneer was a wellspring of anguish.
"In Black and White" is a memorable biography of a one-of-a-kind entertainer and an eye-opening glimpse of the world of entertainment as it once was.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An important book about race and entertainment 21 Oct 2007
A vital read for anyone interested in the history of race, civil rights and the entertainment industry. It is a hefty tome. To be honest, I found the background, the 'lesser' character - even more interesting than SD Jr himself!
The story of Will Mastin I found particulalry affecting. His story is intriguing. He lived 100 years and maintained his dignity throughout the trials and triumphs of the showman's life. Something that can not be said for Sammy, really, talent though he was.
Wil Haygood writes with authority and feeling. The book is literate, thought-provoking yet not pretentious. I first came across it in my local library and plan to buy it via Amazon.
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