Before the Frat Pack of the 2000s and the Brat Pack of the 1980s, there was the Rat Pack of the 1950s and 60s. This was a group of musicians and actors who were the height of cool in their time, and their exploits have become a legendary part of Hollywood lore. They were as well known for their over-the-top lifestyle of partying and womanizing as they were for their movies and albums, but when you live a life as crazy as these men, what else would you expect? Check out these facts and decide for yourself.
The origin of the name “Rat Pack” stems from a moment where hard-drinking and hard-smoking movie star Humphrey Bogart came home with his friends after a long trip to Las Vegas. Bogart’s wife, actress Lauren Bacall, allegedly came downstairs and admonished the group, claiming that they looked “like a goddamn rat pack.” Sadly, Bacall’s efforts to straighten her husband out were overshadowed by her ability to make up cool catchphrases.
Despite the amazing story of Bacall tutting her head at her husband’s antics, another version of the Rat Pack’s name origin exists. Bacall and Bogart’s home in a neighborhood known as Holmby Hills was actually a constant watering hole for the group in the 1950s. Allegedly, they started being called the “Holmby Hills Rat Pack,” which was later shortened to “Rat Pack” because ultimately, it didn’t matter where they were, as long as you knew who they were.
As it turns out, there were two different Rat Packs, one being more prevalent in the 50s, with the other one (the one that most people think of as the Rat Pack) emerging in the 60s.
The three most famous members of the Rat Pack were Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr., but only one of those men—Sinatra—was one of Bogart's original group. Davis Jr and Martin didn’t join the group until the 1960s, yet they quickly became poster children for the crew.
The first Rat Pack consisted of Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Mickey Rooney, Jerry Lewis and Cesar Romero. Younger readers might have trouble placing some of these people, so try to imagine the Avengers cast if they dressed more formally and were even less woke.
The group that eventually emerged and would eventually eclipse that first Rat Pack was made up of Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin.
Fellow Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra andwere familiar with each other long before they ever joined the group. In the 1940s, Sinatra once rebuked Davis Jr. for not coming to see a show of his in New York. Davis Jr. promptly replied that he’d tried to attend, but racist policies had prevented him from getting in. Sadly, this was something that Davis Jr., along with nearly anyone who wasn’t white, had to endure on a daily basis in this so-called "glamorous" age.
Sadly, the 1990s weren’t a good time for the Rat Pack. Sammy Davis Jr. died of throat cancer in 1990, Dean Martin died of respiratory failure in 1995, and Frank Sinatra fell to a heart attack in 1998.
Amazingly, a member of the Rat Pack was behind the name of Scooby Doo! The cowardly cartoon Great Dane was named when his creator, Iwao Takamoto, listened to Sinatra’s hit song “Strangers in the Night.” Takamoto listened to Sinatra scatting (which came out sounding like “dooby dooby doo”) and decided that he finally had a name for his character.
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Before George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon decided to team up and make a franchise their own, the Rat Pack made a heist movie called Ocean’s 11. The movie came out in 1960 and starred all five of the Pack's members in lead roles (Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Dean Martin). It also featured Shirley MacLaine in a smaller appearance, which makes us hope she comes back for Ocean’s 8.
Interestingly, when Peter Lawford first acquired the rights to Ocean’s 11, he envisioned William Holden in the lead role of Danny Ocean. When he told Frank Sinatra about the movie, Sinatra allegedly quipped “Forget the movie, let’s pull the job!” Thankfully Lawford compromised by having Sinatra cast as Danny Ocean.
Despite his reputation with the rest of the Rat Pack, Dean Martin wasn’t actually a big fan of parties. In his own words, he was shy, and ashamed of the way he spoke. He was also a devout Catholic, never failing to say his prayers, presumably after rolling out of bed while keeping down the tenth martini of the night
Incredibly, the original Rat Pack (the one with Bogie) was much more sophisticated than one would have ever imagined. They had a coat of arms, and a motto which declared “never rat on a rat.” It somehow sounds like Tim Burton and Dr. Seuss teamed up to form a club.
In 1998, Joey Bishop was asked to comment on the Rat Pack’s reputation for womanizing and heavy drinking. Bishop promptly replied "I never saw Frank, Dean, Sammy or Peter drunk during performances. That was only a gag! And do you believe these guys had to chase broads? They had to chase 'em away!”
Joey Bishop was often considered to be the straight man of the group when it came to their antics and comedy. However, the irony is that Bishop was often the one who wrote their comedic material behind the scenes. Sometimes people are better at writing jokes than performing them!
Sadly, despite writing for them, Bishop allegedly felt like an outsider within the group, and would even wait for Sinatra’s invitation to sit with them before joining the rest of the Rat Pack at the table. This wasn’t lost on the others, leading Sinatra to quip "Goddammit, how long does he have to be with me before he knows he can eat with us?" For his part, Sinatra considered Bishop as essential to keeping the group together.
Aside from being the woman who was married to Humphrey Bogart and who allegedly gave the Rat Pack its name, acclaimed actress Lauren Bacall was also engaged to Frank Sinatra for a time, before Sinatra broke it off. Given all that Ol' Blue Eyes got up to during this time, it’s safe to say that Bacall dodged a bullet.
A small group of women were seen as "mascots" of the Rat Pack (ick). These women included Shirley MacLaine, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Angie Dickinson, and Juliette Prowse. MacLaine frequently appeared in the Rat Pack movies, while Sinatra was in relationships with Dickinson and Prowse at different points in his life.
One of the Rat Pack’s main watering holes in the 1960s was Las Vegas. The group often performed at the Copa Room in the Sands Hotel. Whenever one of them was booked to appear, the billboards would hint that the others might also make appearances during the evening, which only increased people’s interest in attending. If nothing else, it was a flawless marketing scheme!
The Sands Hotel and Casino tried to refuse service to Sammy Davis Jr., but they had to reckon with Sinatra. Sinatra would not only ensure that Davis Jr. would get a suite, he also invited other black friends like Nat King Cole to dine with him. If the administration had the gall to protest, Sinatra threatened to have the wait staff fired if they refused to serve their black and white guests equally.
Interestingly, the movies which featured all the main Rat Pack members in starring roles all had numbers in their titles: Ocean’s 11, Sergeants 3, and Robin and the 7 Hoods, though Peter Lawford was taken out of that film at the last minute (more on that later).
Would you believe that one of the Rat Pack members was arrested for sleeping with a married woman? In 1938, this was considered a felony in New Jersey, and a young Frank Sinatra was arrested when he was caught doing the deed with a woman wearing a wedding ring. The charges were dismissed, and Sinatra failed to learn his lessons about home-wrecking and sleeping around.
It turns out that Sinatra brought his sexual appetite to his years as a member of the Rat Pack. He spent the 1960s taking full advantage of his fame, to the point where he was organizing sex parties for his fellow Rat Pack members. These parties were held in the steam rooms of a casino’s health club, with prostitutes or 60s groupies being invited to join the famous crooners.
One honorary member of the Rat Pack was the young Canadian star Paul Anka (who would write “My Way” for Sinatra to sing). According to Anka, the Rat Pack all had their own special nicknames when they hung out together. Dean Martin was known as "Dino," Sammy Davis Jr. was "Smokey the Bear," while Anka was called "the Kid," as he was much younger than the rest of the group.
As it turns out, the Rat Pack never called itself the Rat Pack after Bogart’s death in 1957. The term was only used by the public and the media. The actual members of the group preferred to call themselves the Summit or the Clan. We’ll stick with "Rat Pack," thank you very much.
Rumors of the Rat Pack’s connection to the Mob, particularly through Sinatra, have always been around, but according to honorary Rat Pack member Paul Anka, at least some of them were true. Sinatra would perform favors for mobsters, and they in turn would provide him with thousands of dollars worth in chips to play in the casino.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, but some people handle it better than others. The Sands casino came under new management when it was purchased by the infamous billionaire Howard Hughes. Sinatra was furious when he first experienced the loss of his free gambling chips, throwing a terrifying tantrum inside the casino. Allegedly, Sinatra was urged to calm down and accept the new situation by Carl Cohen, the casino manager who was still tied to the Mob despite the new ownership. Sinatra responded to Cohen’s reasoning by splashing him with hot coffee! Cohen figured that was good justification to deliver a well-deserved fist to Sinatra’s teeth, reminding the pop star that he wasn’t powerful enough to throw scalding hot water in another person’s face.
The Rat Pack would call themselves the "Jack Pack" while they were campaigning for John F. Kennedy to become the next POTUS, or whenever Kennedy would hang out with them casually (given that Peter Lawford was his brother-in-law, this was more often than you’d think). Admittedly not that most original name in the world, but it did the trick.
Dean Martin’s son, Dean Paul Martin, was tragically killed in 1987 when the plane he was in crashed into San Gorgonio Mountain in California. What was especially chilling was that ten years before, fellow Rat Pack member Frank Sinatra had lost his mother in a plane crash on that very same mountain!
While filming Ocean’s 11, the Rat Pack would often ad-lib their lines instead of sticking to the script. Their camaraderie didn’t have to be acted at all, and they often figured they were funnier than the script.
Surprisingly, the Rat Pack only performed one televised concert, which took place on June 20, 1965. Three of the Pack—Sinatra, Davis Jr., and Martin—teamed up with Johnny Carson as their emcee. The event was screened live in cinemas across the nation.
Surprisingly, the presence of Johnny Carson, a giant of television, wasn’t the original plan for the Rat Pack’s televised concert. The group had originally meant for their own Joey Bishop to emcee the event, but he was unable to perform his duties due to severe back pain. It speaks volumes about the Rat Pack’s clout that Johnny Carson could be called up as a last-minute backup!
While all of the Rat Pack members were fans of the casino, one of them was more equipped for that setting than the others. Dean Martin was known to frequently deal blackjack whenever he was in Las Vegas.
For all the music that they made separately, the Rat Pack also made sure to collaborate on five albums as a group (presumably one for every member). One of these albums was The Rat Pack Live at the Sands in 1960.
Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra were inarguably the more famous members of the Rat Pack, and they would often cameo in movies together, or even star in them. The last film that all three worked on together was Cannonball Run II in 1984. Not exactly the most prestigious way to go out but hey, you play the cards you're dealt.
The last film to feature the big five 60s Rat Pack members (Sinatra, Lawford, Davis Jr., Martin, and Bishop) was Sergeants 3. Lawford fell out with the rest of the group when his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, snubbed Sinatra at the last minute before he was due to spend time at Sinatra’s home on the West Coast. Kennedy was discouraged from affiliating himself with the crooner due to Sinatra’s criminal connections, so he went to rival singer (and noted Republican) Bing Crosby instead. This infuriated Sinatra, who had done a lot of campaigning on Kennedy’s behalf during the election, and he cut Lawford out of the Rat Pack completely.
When it came time to make Robin and the 7 Hoods (yes, Hollywood has *never* been good at making Robin Hood movies), Lawford was originally cast along with his fellow Rat Pack members. The falling out over Kennedy changed that, however, and Lawford’s part was instead played by… Bing Crosby. Huh, that’s interesting. How exactly did Sinatra and the others come to that decision?
While the 1960s were a good time for Frank Sinatra to be in the Rat Pack, his career had hit a serious slump in the late 50s. Driven to despair because he believed his stardom was over, Sinatra attempted suicide at least four times, one of which was stopped just in time by his manager.
As a sign of how much the Rat Pack liked to party it up, they once ordered 300 Bloody Marys from room service over the course of a single event!
Filming the Rat Pack movie Robin and the 7 Hoods turned out to be a nightmare for everyone involved. First, Peter Lawford was removed from the project last-minute due to his close relations with John F. Kennedy and was replaced by Bing Crosby. Then, Kennedy was assassinated during the film’s production, causing a lot of mixed feelings on the set. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Frank Sinatra’s son was kidnapped in Lake Tahoe (thankfully, he was successfully ransomed back unharmed).
According to Anka, the Rat Pack would spend hours at a time in the hotel steam room, discoursing and joking together, naked as the day they were born. It should surprise nobody that showgirls would occasionally drop in to have some alone time with one of the members during these debating sessions.
John F. Kennedy was a close affiliate with the Rat Pack, but things became incredibly awkward when Sammy Davis Jr. married Swedish actress May Britt in 1960. Interracial marriages were a shocking thing for many Americans at the time (it was also illegal in many states), and the pair received death threats. Kennedy himself had actually tried to have them delay the marriage until after the election was done, as he was worried about his own chances of winning if his association with Davis Jr. and Britt alienated too many people.
Even after he won the presidency, however, Kennedy bowed to the pressures of dealing with a racist society and threw his friends under the bus as a result. Because of his race and his interracial marriage, Sammy Davis Jr. was not invited to a gala which was thrown in honor of JFK’s victory. Davis Jr. did not forget this insult, as he was not the only Rat Pack member not invited. Dean Martin refused to go, though whether this was because he disliked Kennedy or because he was boycotting due to Davis Jr.’s snub is unknown.
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