Tags: Sammy Davis Jnr. Celebrities. Actors. Actresses. Famous people
THE NIGHT SAMMY DAVIS JNR LAUGHED AND CRIED
With Helly Kemp
It’s a September London night in 1969 I will never forget. But what I am not expecting is that I would write about it nearly 50 years later. Dating one of Sammy Davis Jnr’s Managers at the time and so being “one of the family” as Sammy describes it, I am privy to attend many of his private parties and functions. Having only recently relocated from Sydney to London, my first ever attempt at a celebrity profile interview moves me to tears, never imagining it could make cover story in the 1969 December ‘SHE MAGAZINE. ’
And yes, you guessed it, it’s on Sammy. But back to September. In tonight’s performance Sammy is introduced to the audience – not that the red-hot box office attraction needs an introduction – by his close friends, Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris. It’s the opening night and 10 years since ‘The Entertainer of the Year’ performed at London’s top Theatre Restaurant, creating such a magnetic response from the public, that the atmosphere is highly charged electricity.
The audience go wild with applause, cheering, clanking their cutlery on the tables, stamping their feet and whistling endlessly, demanding more and more and more encores. Pow! The man also selected in America as ‘The Personality Of The Year’ and’ The Man Of The Year’ sings, dances, gives devilishly good impersonations, leaps around the stage like a yo-yo, joking, buffooning, teasing and pushing forward his chin farther and farther with each new burst of unpretentious laughter, till his lower teeth extend a good inch in front of his upper ones. Simply: Sammy is a ball of fire.
And the 43-year-old New York born phenomenon not only gives the people everything they want, but loves every minute of it, performing an unprecedented two and a half hour s straight, instead of the advertised scheduled 50 minutes. It is difficult to judge who is more elated, the public or Sammy himself, or as he put it earlier , “If this don’t turn you on, man, you ain’t got no switches!” After the performance, the fun continues with the lithe comedian’s private party of some 30 people upstairs.
This time, for the rest of the evening, Sammy’s teasing is directed straight at me, actually some relief after the shock of my upstairs entrance. Wanting to look smart for this special evening, I buy a fabulous designer evening slack suit just before the event. Made of white brocade with authentic silver thread embroidery throughout, it is the most stunning and expensive outfit I have ever bought. A two inch wide open slit from neck to navel, but demurely covered with crisscrossed rows of spaced out pearls, makes this suit very sexy without being provocative.
So, like a proud peacock spreading his feathers I enter the party room and there she is – why oh why out of hundreds of people at the show, was she invited to this small party – an older woman, wearing my identical white brocade suit! Immediately the elated Sammy leaps towards me, twirling me around, whispering in my ear, “I know someone who is not going to wear an outfit again!” Yet as distraught as I am, I can see the funny side of it. But I never have a photograph taken in that suit.
And then it happens. A show business writer from a daily London paper starts harassing Sammy, bombarding him with a barrage of accusations, claiming Sammy only gave such a long performance tonight because of religious, political and other ulterior business motives. I have never seen Sammy like this before. Within minutes he is reduced from the triumphant success of the evening to a deflated balloon, head and shoulders drooping, his hands between his knees.
And I am moved by the tears swelling in Sammy’s eyes. Sammy stays silent. But the man keeps on and on, until finally Sammy has had enough. He sits up straight and blasts out. “I’ll tell you unabashed. It was therapeutic. I was hungry for their approval and their fantastic applause. I’ve been making movies. It’s a long time since I‘ve worked with a live audience. I’m a performer. I need the audience.
This was my party tonight. It was just for me. I didn’t do it for money or any of the other silly reasons you gave.” Sammy receives more money for one night in Las Vegas than he does here in London for 10 days. “Yes, I know,” he confirms, “I’m supposed to hate talking to my fans. I’m supposed to hate giving autographs. It’s supposed to be so boring. Well man, let me tell you, I love it, all and every bit of it.” The man leaves and Sammy soon returns to his joyous self, circling around me, whispering amusing suggestions of what to do with my fated white brocade suit.