Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen and Gina Lollobrigida
In 1959, Sammy Davis Jr. was set to act in a war movie alongside Frank Sinatra, when Sammy apparently made some negative remarks about Frank in a radio interview. Frank wasn’t too pleased, and as a result, Sammy was dropped from the cast, which also happened to include Rat Pack member Peter Lawford. The movie, for which Frank had purchased the film rights, was Never So Few, and the role would have paid Sammy $75,000. To replace Sammy, rising star Steve McQueen was given the part, although at a considerably lower fee of $25,000, according to McQueen biographer Marc Elliot. At the time, McQueen was also starring in the TV western series Wanted: Dead Or Alive.
McQueen and Sinatra hit it off right way, and became playful pals on the set. It’s been reported that they engaged in some pranks on each other involving firecrackers and prop machine guns. They admired each other and bonded strongly. According to Marc Elliot, Steve was even invited into Frank’s tight-knit circle of Rat Pack friends. Frank was generous with Steve during the filming, often calling on the director to give the close-ups to McQueen.
After filming Never So Few, Frank wanted Steve to appear in the Rat Pack film Ocean’s Eleven, but Steve was advised that he would not reach the individual stardom he sought if he was perceived as one of Frank’s group. So Steve turned the film down, and Frank never asked him to appear with him on film again. It didn’t stop Steve however, from going on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
For a look at the life of Steve McQueen, the biography by Marc Elliot is highly recommended. And for more stories of Frank Sinatra that you might not have heard, visit the Frank Sinatra Tribute website.
One thing everyone would probably agree on is that the Rat Pack definitely had style. And in the movie Robin & The Seven Hoods, they even sang about it. In that 1964 film, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are joined by Bing Crosby for a rousing song and dance number on the subject of class, charm and. . .Style. The song, written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen makes the point that it’s not just what you wear, but how you wear it. Or, as the lyrics say, “a flower’s not a flower if it’s wilted, and a hat’s not a hat till its tilted”. In that regard, Frank Sinatra certainly lived his life with style.
In the movie, the song is performed when Frank and Dean’s characters Robbo and Little John decide to give Bing Crosby’s character Allen A. Dale a musical lesson on looking good. First, Bing samples some outrageous outfits to the disapproval of Frank and Dean. Then, Bing, Frank and Dean are transformed from their 1930’s era Chicago gangster wardrobe into sharp black tuxedos with canes and white straw hats. . .at a tilt, of course. And it’s all taken in by an appreciating audience consisting of Sammy Davis Jr.’s character Will, and four other cast members.
Many years later, Style was used as the theme music for a reunion tour featuring Frank, Sammy and Liza Minnelli who was filling in for an ailing Dean Martin. And today, the song is still performed occasionally when the Rat Pack is re-created by Rat Pack Impersonators in Los Angeles, also seen often in Las Vegas and other cities around America.
Showgirls of the Moulin Rouge Casino in Las Vegas
Back in the 50’s, great performers like Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong were not allowed to stay at the Las Vegas hotels where they performed because almost all the casinos on the Strip were segregated. One exception was the Moulin Rouge, which became the first integrated hotel casino in Las Vegas when it opened in May of 1955. It was located in West Las Vegas, where the black population was forced to live.
It soon became a popular late night hangout for many white performers including George Burns, Jack Benny, and Frank Sinatra, who would drop in after their shows to relax, gamble and perform. After a while, the Moulin Rouge became so popular, they had to add a 2:30 AM show for the late night crowd.
The Moulin Rouge was launched by white investors but was later owned by the first African American woman to hold a Nevada gaming license. And as a model of integration, it was instrumental in advancing the Civil Rights movement in Las Vegas. Many of the people associated with the Moulin Rouge were activists and supporters of civil rights. In fact, when a crucial meeting was held to arrange the desegregation of all Strip casinos, it took place at the Moulin Rouge. Unfortunately, the Moulin Rouge had a short lifespan, closing its doors less than a year after it opened. Nevertheless, it remains a significant, although little-known part of Las Vegas history.
Now, as the Rat Pack is remembered through Rat Pack Tributes, it’s hard for today’s performers and Rat Pack Impersonators alike to imagine a time of segregation in Las Vegas, and elsewhere for that matter, but it existed.
While the Rat Pack threesome of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. performed at a nightclub in Chicago one night in 1962, Frank created an unintentionally humorous moment. Someone requested Nancy with the Laughing Face, the song written for Frank’s daughter in 1944 by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by a Sinatra friend, comedy star Phil Silvers.
Frank agreed to perform the special request. But once into the song, instead of singing the lyrics “she takes the winter and makes it summer”, he accidentally reversed it and sang “she takes the summer and makes it winter” which is not exactly the message. You can hear him hesitate slightly, but he chose not to call attention to it so it went pretty much unnoticed, except maybe by some observant Rat Pack fans, and those of us known as Rat Pack Impersonators who try to re-create those great Rat Pack shows for today’s audiences.
If there was a Rat Pack record label, it would have to be Reprise Records, created by Frank Sinatra in 1960. As it’s known to both Rat Pack fans and Rat Pack Impersonators, Reprise was founded on the principle that each artist would have creative freedom and the ownership of their work. Initially, Reprise was home to Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Count Basie, Trini Lopez, and of course, Frank himself. Frank recorded over 30 albums for the label, the first of which was Ring-a-Ding-Ding. And Dean Martin’s number one hit Everybody Loves Somebody was with Reprise. Nancy Sinatra also scored a number one for the label with These Boots Are Made For Walking.
Frank sold the label to Warner Brothers just three years later in 1963, at which time it went in a different direction, signing acts like The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Neil Young, and even Alice Cooper, and its focus was rock and progressive through the late 60’s and 70’s
Today, Reprise is home to acts including Green Day, Depeche Mode and Michael Buble, and has continued to release some great Frank Sinatra collections.