Gonna Do Great Things: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.

Gonna Do Great Things: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.

by Gary Fishgall

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Overview

A major reappraisal of the life of legendary entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., Gonna Do Great Things is at once an intimate portrait and an exuberant celebration of a wholly American icon. Through his multifaceted talent and personality, Sammy became one of the most magnetic and contentious figures in modern entertainment history. His outstanding talents as a dancer, singer, actor, impressionist, and comedian, combined with his close association with megastars and his interracial marriage, made him a celebrity in the truest sense.

Born in Harlem in 1925, Sammy debuted onstage with Will Mastin's vaudeville troupe when he was only three years old. He was an instant hit, and his talent propelled him into one of the most luminous entertainment careers of his generation. No one could please a crowd like Sammy, whose overwhelming energy and infectious humor exhilarated audiences for sixty years. However, Sammy's life was not without hardship, and his high-spirited attitude often masked a fragile ego. From an impoverished, broken home, he lacked even a single day of formal education, and the rigors of his blossoming show business career denied him the traditional pleasures of childhood. Racism constantly affected his life, particularly when he joined the army in 1943. Because he refused to acknowledge any race-related restrictions, his very existence became a political statement. An active member of the Civil Rights movement and America's first African-American superstar, Sammy paved the way for other black entertainers.

As a charter member of the Rat Pack, Sammy spent the 1950s and 1960s basking in an image of "cool" and endearing himself to the public. But by the 1970s he was relying on cocaine and alcohol, flirting with Satanism, indulging in scandalous sexual behavior, and becoming the punchline of jokes on Saturday Night Live. Though his fans still adored him, his performances suffered. A four-pack-a-day smoker, Sammy succumbed to cancer when he was sixty-four, shortly after celebrating six decades in the spotlight.

Renowned biographer of Hollywood giants Jimmy Stewart, Burt Lancaster, and Gregory Peck, Gary Fishgall brings an actor's and director's understanding of the entertainment industry to Sammy's complicated existence. Meticulously researched and filled with insights gathered from interviews with those who knew Sammy best, Gonna Do Great Things reveals the fascinating and controversial life of this beloved entertainer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451643206
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 04/02/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 1,264,047
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Gary Fishgall is the author of Gregory Peck: A Biography, Pieces of Time: The Life of James Stewart, and Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster. He has been an actor, director, drama critic, and reporter. He lives in St. Louis.

Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction


Part One: Growing Up in the Country of Show Business

Chapter 1: Harlem and the Road

Chapter 2: The Forty-four-year-old Midget

Part Two: Breaking All the Rules

Chapter 3: Fort Warren

Chapter 4: "Hungry and Mad"

Chapter 5: The Big Time

Chapter 6: A Crucial Year

Part Three: Top of the Heap

Chapter 7: The Return

Chapter 8: Mr. Wonderful

Chapter 9: Kim, Harry, and Loray

Chapter 10: Big Screen, Little Screen

Chapter 11: Lovers and Friends

Chapter 12: The Rat Pack

Chapter 13: May

Chapter 14: "A One-man Band"

Chapter 15: Pallies

Chapter 16: Golden Boy

Chapter 17: "On the Seventh Day, He Works"

Chapter 18: A Book, a Film, and a TV Series

Chapter 19: That's All!

Part Four: An Aging Hipster from La-La Land

Chapter 20: Sad Times and Swinging Times

Chapter 21: Altovise

Chapter 22: Entering the Seventies

Chapter 23: The Candy Man and the Man in the White House

Chapter 24: An Open Marriage

Chapter 25: A New Showroom, a New Show, and an Old Musical

Chapter 26: Difficult Adjustments

Part Five: "Now I Like Me"

Chapter 27: "I've Never Felt Better"

Chapter 28: Turning Sixty

Chapter 29: "The Alternative Is Something Else Again"

Chapter 30: "I Don't Think This Is the Way

I'm Supposed to Go Out"

Epilogue

Afterword

Notes

Bibliography

Filmography

Discography

Index

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