Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fighting Through Some of the Racism

Growing up in today’s society, thinking of Sammy, a black man, as a musical icon, doesn’t bother us. This is because we see African Americans everywhere in every field; as journalists, news broadcasters, stock brokers, doctors, actors and actresses, musicians, entertainers. However, back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, seeing an African American, such as Sammy, as an entertainer wasn’t exactly common. Yes, there were black entertainers, like his father, Sam Sr., and his adopted uncle, Will Mastin, who were Vaudeville performers, but there weren’t “famous” black entertainers; there weren’t blacks at the level Sammy was dreaming of. After realizing that the Vaudeville acts the Trio had been performing were becoming outdated, Sammy always attempted to try new things in hope to take it where it hasn’t been before. He began doing that the evening of the Academy Awards in 1951. The trio was asked to be the opening act at Herman Hover’s Ciro’s, a nightclub on Sunset Boulevard where all the stars hung out, for an after party of the Academy Awards. The trio went through their normal routine, ending with Sammy doing some impersonations, and as they were exiting the stage, the crowd continued hootin’ and hollerin’ and Sammy felt the need to go back and give them more. Normally, he was only supposed to tap dance, but instead he broke out of this box and the audience couldn’t seem to get enough of Sammy’s sensational dancing and hilarious impersionations. Sammy left the crowd in such an up roar that the main attraction, Janis Paige, was timid to walk on stage. As Sammy became more creative and the other two became more tired and finding it hard to keep up with young Sammy, the title of “The Mastin Trio” added on “starring Sammy Davis, Jr.” which allowed Sammy to perform new things such as mimicking acts, impressions, and solo numbers. Sammy always shined when he was on stage. When he was on stage, nothing could stop him. Contrary to Sammy feeling inferior to the white entertainers, no matter what the conditions, when Sammy took the stage, he lit up the room. The difference in race between regular entertainers and Sammy was helpful at times because some enjoyed that he was excelling in a white man’s territory, but it also caused a great deal of difficulties later down the road.

One of the people that were taken back with Sammy’s showmanship on the stage was Jess Rand. Rand, a publicist to musicians, caught the Trio in Madison Square Gardens after recently hearing of the group. Rand immediately was amazed at the energy being displayed by Sammy, and ended up bumping into him later on the streets, after the show. Even then, Rand was amazed at the energy and drive Sammy had about his career. Sammy’s drive was so strong that he convinced the others to chip in 15 dollars a week to pay Rand to be their publicist and immediately put him to the test. The only directions to Sammy’s test was stated when he said. “My grandmother won’t believe I’m in show business until I have my name in Walter Winchell’s column and my picture in Lindy’s window.” Rand starting working on both of those tasks instantly, and even though they might have been hard, Rand completed both of them. The harder one was getting their names into Winchell’s column because he had pre-existing ideas of Sammy and didn’t like them, but after submitting to the pleas of Rand, Winchell attended the show at Bill Miller’s Riviera across from Manhattan and was amazed by Sammy, and mentioned the whole Trio in his column.

As the Trio traveled with Rand, the difficulties began to rise. Seeing three Negroes with one white man wasn’t very common which gave Rand a new insight on things. Rand would get angry when they would get turned down for gigs to less entertaining people because of their race. One common occurrence while driving through the Midwest completely changed Rand’s view. Especially through Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, they would get pulled over by cops who would ask Rand why he’s with these men, and he would have to explain that he works for them, and they still would make subtle derogatory comments about them. Cops would even ask Mastin and Sam Sr. for their wallets and would steal money from them, in front of their own eyes. It was also hard for Rand to become accustomed to only being able to eat at certain diners, or having to sleep in motels where it took a quarter to turn on the television. One thing that touched Rand was when he would witness Mastin pawning off jewelry to help pay for things, and see him sacrifice big meals, and new clothes, so Sammy could have the best. Although they had some rough times, they stuck together, but it still wasn’t enough for Sammy.

In February of 1952, Sammy and the trio was introduced to The Colgate Comedy Hour, a new variety show on NBC featuring stars such as Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, and the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis duo. The trios act was great for the show as Eddie Cantor, the host, was always looking for new and different talent. Although Sammy’s amazing tap dancing skills outshined those of Mastin and Sam Sr., they invited the trio back for more performances, however, Sammy began getting more attention on and offstage. Sammy’s presence onstage was so fluid and energetic, as compared to Mastin and Sam. Sr.’s mechanical like behavior. His hilarious impressions he would do off camera made everyone laugh and caught Cantor’s eye who enjoyed laughing as he requested Sammy to impersonate other people. Cantor continued to invite Sammy back and slowly Sammy slipped back into his habits of imitating people, such as Sinatra, but now, he was imitating white minstrel singers and even Cantor himself. The trios television performances on The Colgate Comedy Hour would land them a pilot television series about a traveling trio, much like themselves. Sadly, the pilot didn’t catch on to be a show, but it didn't bother them. They didn't need more than a mic and an open stage to entertain, so the the trio again, was back on the road!

Works Cited
Haygood, Wil. In Black And White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2003.




Blogger violinbrunetka said...

Wow! That was really a good bio on Sammy.. when i finished reading, it made me think back to that time and wonder how it felt. Good job on describing the time and date...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 4:08:00 PM  
Blogger SuzyGreenberg said...

The beginning was a good set up to the black/white conflict and how it would effect musicians like sammy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 6:54:00 PM  
Blogger gfunk5 said...

Thank you for addressing the race issue in your introduction- it is an important part of his life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 7:24:00 PM  
Blogger TheloniusFunk said...

The discussion of racism and how it affected his life is great...the title could be a little better; maybe a little more serious.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger hollywoodhottie said...

I liked how you narrowed this to just cover Sammy's problems due to race...it made it a much more focused and better biography segment.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger dbu_us said...

Well, some people might not have a problem with Sammy being black but believe me some still would. Great job though. It had a lot of substance and focus.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

I really loved what you wrote, but I had only one problem. The print you used was way too small!!! It hurt my eyes. Other than that, I thought it was very clever to talk aboiu the racism issue.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger maroonbox25 said...

I agree with Anna; my eyes arent used to STRAIN!!! AAAHHHH!!! anyway, good job with your review for the most part.

Thursday, November 24, 2005 8:06:00 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

Sorry-- I dind't realize the had come out so small!!

Monday, November 28, 2005 2:29:00 PM  
Blogger Scott Spiegelberg said...

Too many clauses in the first sentence. You need an "and" after "musicians," in the second sentence. Remove the commas in the third sentence after "American" and "Sammy". Many of your sentences need revising to clarify and create better flow. Also, break this into paragraphs. First paragraph on the thesis of uniqueness of Sammy's position. Second paragraph on the history of the Mastin Trio (which you need to explain more). The last several sentences of this, describing Sammy's abilities, would be better in the first paragraph rather than here.

Your second paragraph: repetition about amazement at energy, drive, etc. What is Sammy's test? Clarify this. Be careful about pronouns. Who didn't Winchell like? That last sentence is too long. Break it into smaller sentences.

Revise the sentences in the third paragraph. You already said they were driving in the Midwest, you don't have to specify Ohio, Illinois and Missouri.

Your last paragraph is unfocused. Describe the Colgage Comedy Hour stuff, leave the stage presence out. The description of the imitations is confusing. Why is Sinatra mentioned now (never before), and suddenly careening off to white minstrel singers.

It would be good to have a final boundary to this, saying when Sammy left the trio.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005 12:08:00 PM  

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