Sammy Davis, Jr. and an unidentified woman on Chicken Bone Beach, Atlantic City, NJ

Credit Line
John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

Samuel Davis, Jr. (1925–1990), known as Sammy, began his stage career at the age of three, performing in vaudeville with his father, Sammy Davis, Sr., and Will Mastin. An actor, musician, and comedian, Davis would become known as “Mr. Show Business” for the popularity of his lavish Las Vegas shows. He was part of the “Rat Pack,” appearing in film and on television with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. After a car accident in 1954 in which he lost an eye, Davis converted to Judaism. He performed throughout the rest of his career with a glass eye.

Throughout his career, Davis acknowledged that he had experienced the trauma of racism, and he contributed financially to Civil Rights causes. In 1957, his public romance with white actress Kim Novak caused a Hollywood stir and it was thought that the studios forbade the relationship and forced him into a (short-lived) marriage with a black dancer, Loray White.

In 1960, while performing on Broadway in New York, Davis married the white actress May Britt, and this too was controversial. Mixed race marriages were legal in New York, but were illegal in 31 states. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that laws against mixed-race marriages are unconstitutional.

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