SAMMY DAVIS JR & LIONEL HAMPTON, LAS VEGAS, DECEMBER, 1963

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David Steen recalls: “The night I heard President Kennedy had been assassinated I was at Milan Airport with a troupe of 100 showgirls and dancers from the Casino de Paris who were booked to appear at the Dunes Hotel, Las Vegas. We were travelling on a chartered flight direct into Vegas. It was my first trip to America. I was assigned to photograph the show, the lifestyle and the glitz of the Dunes for advertising and publicity. Major Riddle, owner and top man at the Dunes, had hired my services for three weeks, a long time for anybody to spend in Vegas. I kept expecting him to give me some money at least to fund my day-to-day expenses but he didn’t offer and my requests were fobbed off. I had a sinking feeling that I was being stitched up and knowing that the whole town was Mafia culture this could be tricky. In the meantime he had arranged with every hotel on the Strip that I could eat anywhere and see every show, which I did. It also enabled me to meet and photograph Sammy David Jnr. Sammy Davis Jnr was appearing at the Sands Hotel. He was one of those guys along with other Rat Pack pals Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin who enjoyed life to the full. They had their own jets to fly around the world doing whatever they wanted to do, and they drank a lot, too much, and sometimes were drunk on stage, well, certainly Dean Martin was. It was a life of wine, women and song. I don’t know how they lasted as long as they did.
When I had finished my work at Dunes, I was packed and ready to leave, I went to Major Riddle’s office to say goodbye (still no mention of money) and he pressed a bundle of hundred dollar bills into my hands. He hadn’t paid me earlier, he explained, because he reckoned I’d gamble it away, and most of them did. He’d seen it all.
Location: Las Vegas
Year: 1963
Biography: ‘Rat Pack’ member, actor, singer, dancer, entertainer; was there anything Sammy Davis Jr couldn’t do? Born in Harlem in 1925, Davis started out as a child vaudeville star and graduated to Broadway and Hollywood meeting close friend Frank Sinatra also the way. As a member of the ‘Rat Pack’ he starred in several films including Ocean’s Eleven (1960) and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964), and released many hit singles, including ‘That Old Black Magic’ and ‘Too Close For Comfort’. Truth be told, his many talents were often squandered on screen; on stage his natural, fast wit, his legendary tap skills and superior singing voice were much more obvious. No stranger to controversy, Davis married the white actress Mai Britt when mixed-race relationships were still frowned upon, converted to Judaism in the Sixties and later admitted a penchant for pornography. But as a one-eyed, black Jew, he faced down the most awful bigotry with unflappable humour and sheer raw talent. He once said, ‘Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to get insulted.’
Print Type: Fibre-based Harman Galerie Digital
Printed by: Metro Imaging, London
Limited Editions: All prints are limited editions, no further prints are produced once sold
Bespoke: All prints are bespoke and printed to order, stamped and numbered
Presentation: Prints are supplied to clients flat in an acid-free box or rolled in a tube
Watermark: Watermarks will not be present on an original print
Tags: sammy davis jr, american entertainer, junior, lionel leo hampton, dancer, singer, actor, 20th century, 1963, 60s, 1960s, the sixties, legend, famous, fame, movies, hollywood, rat pack, film, oceans eleven, 11, screen, impersonations, impersonator, broadway, golden boy, the candy man, las vegas, comedian, tap dancer, frank sinatra, dean martin, jazz musician, vibraphonist, percussionist, pianist, swing, big band, new york blues
Copyright: © David Steen / The David Steen Archive