Friday, July 03, 2015

Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness and the Mob



A book's title is an important tool to attract the interest of potential readers. But, when a title is deceptive, readers feel slighted. That is how I felt after reading Matt Birkbeck's book "Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness and the Mob". I have always had an interest in the mega stars that were members of the legendary bunch of entertainers known as The Rat Pack. The group included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.

I expected this book to be all about the life and times of Sammy Davis Jr. I knew that he was a man of many talents, famous for his singing, dancing, acting, his impressions and his overall charisma. I had assumed that the book would tell behind-the-scenes stories about his many experiences in television, film, recording albums and performing all over the world. There is so much that could be covered about a life such as his.

Instead it was a book primarily about his financial indiscretions and how he left his family to clean up the mess he left behind after his death in 1990. Sammy made a lot of money, estimated to be $50 million over his career in show biz. But he also spent a lot, through his gambling, substance abuse, his divorces and his lavish lifestyle. He was known for his extensive collection of jewelry, his fancy homes and cars. He invested in some ill-advised business deals that ended up costing him millions. So, the book was largely about how his wife Altovise Davis tried to figure out how to repay Sammy's enormous debts to the IRS, which totalled $10 million. Everything was liquidated and it still was not enough.

Sammy wrote 2 books about his life himself, one called "Yes I Can" and one called "Why Me?" So, hopefully those will be more up my alley, with plenty of show biz stories.

For a much better book about old school entertainers, check out "Dean and Me: A Love Story" by Jerry Lewis. That book is filled with fascinating stories about Jerry and his deep friendship with Dean Martin. I would also recommend the book "Johnny Carson" by his longtime lawyer/manager/friend Henry Bushkin.
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