Only the hippest, coolest bunch of cats on either coast. The group originally sprung up around Humphrey Bogart, who’s wife Lauren Bacall first named them. Seeing Bogie, Frank and a few of their cronies come straggling in from a night of carousing, Lauren exclaimed “You look like a goddamned rat pack!” The name stuck.
After Bogie’s death, Frank became the group’s nominal honcho (“the Leader”). Sometimes called “the Clan,” Dean Martin (“Dag”) and Sammy Davis, Jr. (“Smokey”) were the other two full time members. Peter Lawford (JFK’s “brother-in-lawford”) and Joey Bishop rounded out the Pack, with occasional appearances by Shirley Maclaine as their honorary mascot and Girl Friday. (Frank never liked the name “Rat Pack.” When he called the group anything, he preferred “The Summit.”)
The Rat Pack made their home at the Copa Room in Jackie Entratter’s Sands Hotel and Casino on the famed Las Vegas Strip. Sadly, the Sands (and the Copa Room along with it) no longer exists. It was a casualty of Las Vegas’ expansion and the trend toward family entertainment. For a period of time in the early-to-mid sixties, though, it was the coolest spot in the Universe.
Surely these “Summit” meetings were the ultimate night club acts ever assembled. Frank, Dean, and Sammy carried the bulk of the show, singing, telling jokes, doing impressions, and cutting up. Fortunately, some of these routines have survived and they’re a riot to watch and listen to.
The Rat Pack also made a few films together that you can watch and share along in the obvious fun that they had. “Robin and the Seven Hoods” and “Ocean’s Eleven” feature the whole Pack. Of these, the latter is better, receiving my vote as the all-time best New Year’s Eve movie.
The Pack first gained national prominence with their work for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Sinatra and the others were visible supporters of the campaign, doing publicity and photo ops. Frank even recorded a new version of “High Hopes” that became Kennedy’s campaign song. (“So, if you vote for Kennedy, vote for Kennedy, we will come out on top…”)
As Kennedy campaigned, the Pack made “Ocean’s 11″ in Las Vegas. They filmed during the day and held court on stage at the Sands at night. Kennedy could sometimes be spotted at ringside, enjoying the spectacle of his new celebrity friends. At the opening of the Democratic National Convention that summer in Los Angeles, Frank, Sammy, Peter, and Shirley Maclaine sang “The Star-spangled Banner.” Thus, the bond between politics, entertainment, and celebrity was born, a trend that has continued in subsequent elections.
The carefree days of Camelot, however, didn’t last much longer. Even before Jack’s assassination, relations between the President and Sinatra had soured, leading to the breakdown of Frank’s relationship with Peter as well. After only a few short years, the Rat Pack was no more.
In the late 1980s, Frank, Dean, and Sammy tried to rekindle the magic with a much-hyped tour, but it wasn’t the same. Dean was forced to drop out due to illness and apathy after only a few dates. The years of fun-loving and high living had taken their toll. Sammy died in 1990 and Frank and Dean had little contact before the latter’s death in 1995. The Leader himself died in 1998.