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.