SAMMY DAVIS JR.: AMERICAN MASTER

February 20, 2019 at 4:45 am

In honor of Black History Month, we look at the life and career of “Mister Entertainment,” the legendary performer Sammy Davis, Jr.

For more information on “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” click here.

Aired on February 19, 2019. 

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>> SAMMY DAVIS JR. HAS BEEN
DESCRIBED AS A
JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES AND A MASTER
OF ALL.
DAVIS BROKE RACIAL BOUNDARIES IN
THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY AND
RULED A CULTURAL LANDSCAPE AS
THE EPITOME OF ELEGANT GLAMOUR
AND COOL.
AS AN ENTERTAINER, DAVIS WAS ONE
OF A KIND AND LESS KNOWN WAS HIS
ROLE AS A CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER.
FOR EXAMPLE, HE SHARED THE FIRST
INTERRACIAL KISS IN A BROADWAY
PLAY AND HE WAS THE FIRST
AFRICAN-AMERICAN INVITED BY A
PRESIDENT TO SLEEP IN THE
LINCOLN BEDROOM OF THE WHITE
HOUSE.
SURPRISINGLY, THIS AMAZING
ENTERTAINER HAS NEVER BEEN THE
SUBJECT OF A MAJOR DOCUMENTARY,
THAT IS UNTIL NOW, WITH THE
PREMIERE OF "SAMMY DAVIS JR.,
I'VE GOT TO BE ME ON THE PBS
SERIES "AMERICAN MASTERS," HERE
IS A PREVIEW.
>> I'M COLORED, JEWISH AND
PUERTO RICAN.
WHEN A MOVE INTO A NEIGHBORHOOD
I WIPE IT OUT.
>> HIS LIFE IS ABOUT OVERCOMING
OBSTACLES.
>> HE WAS BIGGER THAN WHITE OR
BLACK.
>> ONE, TWO, THREE.
>> LOOK FOR THE LEGENDARY SAMMY
DAVIS JR. ON "AMERICAN MASTERS."
§
>> AND JOINING US NOW IS THE
DIRECTOR OF SAMMY DAVIS JR.,
I'VE GOT TO BE ME, SAM POLLACK.
WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.
>> THANK YOU, RAFAEL.
GOOD TO BE HERE.
>> THE FIRST QUESTION HAS TO BE
WAS SAMMY DAVIS JR. A GENIUS?
NOT A GENIUS LIKE ELTON JOHN,
PAUL MCCARTNEY.
BUT A GENIUS LIKE MOZART.
>> HE WAS A MULTITALENTED MAN
THAT GREW UP IN HARLEM AND
TRAVELED WITH HIS BROTHER AND
HIS DAD FROM THE AGE THAT HE WAS
3 1/2 YEARS OLD AND HE WENT TO
BE A DANCER, AN IMPRESSIONIST, A
COMEDIAN AND AN ACTOR.
HE COULD DO EVERYTHING.
FOR ME IT WAS LIKE GOING BACK
INTO MY MEMORIES AS A YOUNG MAN
WATCHING HIM ON "THE ED SULLIVAN
SHOW" AND HOLLYWOOD PALACE AND
SEEING HIM IN "OCEAN'S 11" AND
SINATRA AND DEAN MARTIN.
IT WAS SO INTERESTING, TOO,
WATCHING HIM ON THE SHOWS LIKE
MIKE DOUGLAS AND DINAH SHORE,
YOU CAN SEE HE WAS A VERY
INTROSPECTIVE MAN.
>> EXACTLY.
>> VERY THOUGHTFUL ABOUT WHO HE
WAS AND WHERE HE WAS GOING AND
THE CHALLENGES HE HAD TO FACE IN
HIS LIFE.
>> THE TYLER DOCUMENTARY, "SAMMY
DAVIS JR., I'VE GOT TO BE ME."
WHO WAS SAMMY DAVIS JR. TO
HIMSELF?
>> I THINK AS AN
AFRICAN-AMERICAN MAN GROWING
WITH SEGREGATION, HE WAS ALWAYS
STRUGGLING TO SAY WHAT WAS MY
IDENTITY.
HE WANTED TO BE ACCEPTED AND
ALWAYS TRYING TO NEGOTIATE THE
CULTURAL AND RACIAL ISSUES THAT
HE HAD TO FACE EVERY DAY.
ONE DAY, HE COULD BE, HE WAS THE
GUY WHO LOVED MOVIES AND ONE DAY
HE THOUGHT OF HIMSELF THAT HE
COULD BE CARY GRANT.
ONE DAY HE COULD BE RONALD
COLEMAN.
ONE OF THE FASCINATING THINGS I
DIDN'T KNOW IS WHEN HE STARTED
DOING IMPRESSIONS OF WHITE
ACTORS THAT WAS A NO-NO.
HIS UNCLE AND HIS FATHER WERE
APPALLED BECAUSE NO BLACK --
PERFOMRER WAS DOINTG THAT.
>> THE FACT THAT HE WAS VERY
INVOLVED IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS
MOVEMENT IS SOMETHING THAT MOST
PEOPLE DON'T KNOW, AND I DIDN'T
KNOW THAT.
TALK ABOUT THAT.
>> YOU KNOW, HE WAS SORT OF AT
THE BEGINNING A RELUCTANT
ACTIVIST.
I MEAN, HE HAD TO BE PULLED INTO
IT BY BELAFONTE AND R.C. DAVIS
AND RUBY DEE, BUT HE WAS
CONSTANTLY FINANCIALLY
SUPPORTING THE MOVEMENT AND WHEN
HE WAS ASKED TO GO DOWN TO
SELMA, WHEN HE WAS A GOLDEN BOY
HE WAS VERY RELUCTANT TO GO
DOWN.
SO HE BECAME AN ACTIVIST AND HE
BECAME INVOLVED BECAUSE HE
UNDERSTOOD THE IMPORTANCE OF
WHAT DR. KING AND THEY WERE
DOING DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS
STRUGGLE.
>> I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THE
FAMOUS LITERAL EMBRACE OF SAMMY
DAVIS JR. OF NIXON.
HOW COULD A GUY WHO WAS SO
INVOLVED IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS
MOVEMENT AND CALLED MARTIN
LUTHER KING HIS LEADER END UP
LITERALLY EMBRACING NIXON?
>> SAMMY DAVIS JR. LOVED
ATTENTION, RIGHT?
AND HE WAS THE KIND OF MAN, THE
KIND OF ENTERTAINER, HE WOULD
HUG ANYBODY, AND I THINK WHEN HE
WAS ON THAT STAGE IN FLORIDA AND
NIXON WAS HAVING THE CAMPAIGN
AND HE INVITED SAMMY OUT AND HIS
INITIAL REACTION WAS TO HUG
NIXON.
SAMMY HAS SAID, YOU KNOW, YEARS
LATER WHEN HE WAS INTERVIEWED IF
HE EVER HAD THAT SITUATION
AGAIN, HE NEVER WOULD HAD HUGGED
HIM.
>> I WAS TALKING TO OLDER
COLLEAGUES IN GENERAL 13 LOOKING
AT THE DOCUMENTARY AND SO GOOD
THIS IS BEING MADE BECAUSE YOUNG
PEOPLE, AND THAT CAN'T BE TRUE
AND I WENT AND ASKED MY YOUNGER
COLLEAGUES AND THAT WAS TRUE.
IS THAT ONE OF THE REASONS THAT
YOU MADE THIS FILM?
>> ONE OF THE REASONS WAS TO
BRING HIM BACK TO LIFE.
HE WAS THIS PHENOMENAL
ENTERTAINER.
PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW WHO HE WAS.
>> WELL, THEY SEE THE FILM,
THEY'RE GOING TO KNOW AND
THEY'LL LOVE IT WHILE THEY'RE
GETTING EDUCATED.
THANK YOU.
>> THANK YOU.
>> AMERICAN MASTERS, SAMMY DAVIS
JR., I'VE GOT TO BE ME PREMIERES
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 19th ON PBS.
FOR ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES YOU
CAN VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT
METROFOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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