- Historic Sites
Fly Me To The Moon
Reflections on the Rat Pack Everybody knows what they did. This is what they meant.
December 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 8
The Sands entertainment director agreed to a format for the Summit that fitted its improvisatory informality. For two shows each evening, at least one, perhaps two or three or four, sometimes all five entertainers, would appear on the Copa Room’s stage. The Sands would have its own gathering of top men. Although February was traditionally a slow month, the hotel received eighteen thousand reservation requests for its two hundred rooms. Word traveled fast about the Summit’s wildness—hijinks partially scripted and anchored by the emcee, Bishop, whom Sinatra called “the hub of the big wheel.” Between star turns by Martin, Davis, and Sinatra, and dance numbers with Davis and Lawford, they wandered off to the wings, parodied each other, did impressions, and poured drinks from a bar cart they rolled on stage.
They performed together, drank together, hung out together, and the press couldn’t get enough of them. At first they were called the Clan, over heavy protests. Sinatra said, “It’s just a bunch of millionaires with common interests who get together to have a little fun.” Bishop frowned: “Clan, Clan, Clan! I’m sick and tired of hearing things about the Clan. Just because a few of us guys get together once a week with sheets over our heads. . . .” Sammy Davis, straight-faced: “Would I belong to an organization known as the Clan?”
It was the sixties, and the resonances of clan were finally too disturbing given the growing awareness of the civil rights movement, so reporters reverted to the older name, and it stuck.
Like the Pony Express and the cattle drives, the Rat Pack’s legend seems all out of proportion to their fairly skimpy history. In 1960 there was the Vegas Summit, a Miami Summit at the Fontainebleau, a TV special featuring the much-ballyhooed first post-Army appearance of Elvis Presley, and the premiere of their first movie, Ocean’s 11 . That summer they sang the national anthem to open the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, and afterward they campaigned for Jack Kennedy. The movie finished the year in ninth place at the box office, behind Psycho , Spartacus , Exodus , La Dolce Vita , Butterfield 8 , and The Apartment . By 1962 Lawford was out, and a reduced Pack played Atlantic City and the mob-owned Villa Venice near Chicago. A second movie, Sergeants Three , opened. In 1963 came more shows at the Sands and the movie Four for Texas . In 1964 came the musical comedy-cum-gangster picture Robin and the Seven Hoods . That was pretty much it, except for a somewhat staid 1965 benefit for Father Dismas Clark’s halfway house for ex-cons, caught in a recently rediscovered kinescope, and a final 1966 “mini-Summit” at the Sands.
Nineteen sixty-one was the peak for the Rat Pack. Their pal was in the White House, Sammy got married, Sinatra and Martin were buying their own casino. They inspired a book and a television roundtable hosted by David Susskind. It was also the year Sinatra formed his own record company, Reprise, and brought the Pack over to it. In February, one month after Kennedy’s Inauguration, the first five albums were released, including Davis’s The Wham of Sam and Ring-a-Ding-Ding! , a great Sinatra record that captured the spirit of the era. The Rat Pack had their own argot: It was good to be Charlie or chicky baby , very bad to be a Harvey , and clyde was an all-purpose word, as in “Pass the clyde.” Ring-a-ding-ding was another Rat Pack phrase, which Sinatra first used in the 1961 song “Ring-a-Ding-Ding!” It was the sound, as Shawn Levy notes in his well-researched new book Rat Pack Confidential , of coins falling into the lap, of telephones bringing new offers of business or sex. It was the sound of brash self-confidence, of power, of the Rat Pack calling the shots, collecting the jackpot, of America reveling in its good fortune, its booming economy, and its sexy new world hegemony.