Skip to main content

Who’s Who In The Rat Pack

June 2024
4min read

SAMMY—Hip, Sensitive, Careful

On the night JFK partied with the Rat Pack at the Summit: “I was also told there were four wild girls scheduled to entertain him and I didn’t want to hear about that either and I got out of there.Some things you don’t want to know.”

Booed at the Democratic National Convention: “I focused on a flag in the back of the hall and clung to it, standing there, torn to shreds inside, hurt and naked in front of thousands of people, in front of the world.”

The Kennedy Inauguration: “I wondered what the people would be thinking looking at me onstage in Camden, knowing that the rest of the Rat Pack was in Washington. It hurt like a motherf——.”

In the fall of 1960 Davis called his best man, Sinatra, to announce the postponement of his wedding to May Britt, citing problems with the banquet room and the rabbi’s schedule:

Sinatra: “You’re lying, Charlie.”

Davis: “Look, what the hell, it’s best that we postpone it ‘til after the election.”

Sinatra: [ Long silence. ] “You don’t have to do that.”

Davis: “I want to. All the talk . . .”

Sinatra: “Screw the talk.”

Davis: “I know, but it’s better this way.”

Sinatra: [ In a whisper. ] “I’ll be there whenever it is. You know that, don’t you?”

Davis: “I know that, Frank.”

Sinatra: “You know that I’d never ask you to do a thing like this. Not your wedding. I’d never ask that!”

Davis: “That’s why it’s up to me to be saying it.”

Sinatra: “You’re a better man than I am, Charlie. I don’t know if I could do this for you, or for anyone . . .”

—As reported by Davis in Yes, I Can.

SINATRA—Generous, Volatile, Charismatic
“God, he looked like a star. He had the aura of a king as he sat signing autographs with a solid-gold pen."—

Davis, on glimpsing Sinatra in Hollywood in 1944

In 1958 Sinatra tapped Davis for a role in the World War II picture Never So Few . When producers complained that there were no Negroes in the Burma Theater, Sinatra replied, “There are now.” Then Davis told an interviewer that Sinatra would occasionally step on people. Furious, Sinatra called him a “dirty nigger bastard,” wrote him out of the movie, and banished him. Davis begged for forgiveness. After months of Davis’s groveling, Frank signaled that all was forgiven by publicly embracing him at a benefit concert, just in time for Davis to get a role in Ocean’s 11 —as the driver of a garbage truck.

“When Sinatra was in a good mood, the clan seemed warm, generous, philanthropic, but when Sinatra’s lips narrowed and that charming smile dissolved into a frown, the clan could turn as vicious, vindictive and unforgiving as any other gang.”

Mike Mallowe, “The Selling of Sinatra,” Philadelphia magazine, September 1983

“I don’t discuss his girl with Frank or who he’s going to marry. All I discuss are movies, TV, golf and drinking.”

—Dean Martin “

He had reached the point where he would tear handfuls of pages out of the script and allow the director only one take of a scene.”

—Peter Lawford, on Sinatra’s movie acting in the 1960s

“Only two guys are left who are not the boy next door
—Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra."

—Sammy Davis, Jr.

“I couldn’t stand [Sam Giancana], but Frank idolized him because he was the Mafia’s top gun. Frank loved to talk about ‘hits’ and guys getting ‘rubbed out.’”

—Peter Lawford

“I guess I like the guy. Shit, it’s not his fault that the Kennedys are assholes. But if I didn’t like him, you can be goddamned sure he’d be a dead man."

—Sam Giancana

DEAN—Languid, Amused, Fearless, Detached

On seeing Sinatra’s outfit for the Kennedy Inaugural, including tails and inverness cape: “You would have figured it was him, not the f—ing mick, who was being inaugurated.”

To a reporter on his friendship with Sinatra: “Frank is my dearest, closest friend. In fact, we slept together last night.”

“Dean’s a damn good actor, but he also is a fellow that floats through life. He has to be urged. He has to get some kind of a hint, something going; otherwise, hell, he won’t even rehearse in some of his shows. He wants to get on and play golf.”

—Howard Hawks

On acting: “They say this is hard work, this acting. What bullshit. Work? Work my ass.”

“I’m the only singer around who has ten percent of four gangsters.”

—At the Sands show

“He was a bastard: all wine and candlelight, then a pat on the ass in the morning.”

—A conquest of Martin’s

On stimulants: “ On your way out, please buy a copy of my latest book, The Power of Positive Drinking .”

“Hey, look. This cigarette doesn’t have any writin’ on it at all!”

And, in response to a reporter’s questioning whether his and Sinatra’s onstage smoking might provide a bad role model for children: “We don’t care who smokes.”

On his repertoire: “I’d like to do some more for you, but I’m lucky I remembered these.”

PETER LAWFORD—Debonair, Dissolute

On the origins of Ocean’s 11 : “I was sitting on the beach at Santa Monica one day when a fellow told me this story. It was dreamed up by another fellow who worked at a gas station nearby. The plot sounded terrific to me, and I asked him to put it down on paper.”

“I was Frank’s pimp and Frank was Jack’s. It sounds terrible now, but then it was really a lot of fun.”

To the reporter Stephen Birmingham on the Rat Pack’s growing fame abroad: “Like,we were getting off the boat the other day in Le Havre, and this French dame—this French reporter—comes up to me and says, ‘Êtes-vous un Rat?’ Luckily, I speak French, but I don’t dig ‘Êtes-vous un Rat?’ She’s asking me, am I a Rat? I don’t dig. Then I dig. She’s asking me about the Rat Pack, you dig? But there’s no word in French for Rat Pack, you dig?”

Birmingham: “I told him I dug.”

JOEY BISHOP—Unassuming, Practical

Johnny Carson, as the substitute emcee, on why Joey Bishop couldn’t make it that night: “He slipped a disk backing out of Frank’s presence.”

“One guy wrote that I worked with the Rat Pack occasionally. Occasionally! Another talks about how I kissed Frank’s ass. That hurt me a little bit. I know I sound bitter, but I have a right to.”

“I was always a go-homer. When we were doing the Summit Meeting shows in Vegas, the other guys would stay up until all hours, but I went to bed. I may rub elbows, but I don’t raise them.”

8220;Do it how Joey says or get the f— off the show.”

—Sinatra to Lawford, who was balking at dressing up as a busboy for a comic bit

“I’m writing my own book: I Was a Mouse in the Rat Pack.”

At the Florida Summit: [Show opens in darkness.]

Announcer: “What’s the action tonight?”

Voice of Joey Bishop: “Dean Martin is drunk. Peter Lawford’s out campaigning for his brother-in-law. Sammy Davis had to go to the Temple.”

Announcer: “What’s Frank doing?”

Voice of Bishop: “We lost him. He went down to the beach this morning and a dog ran off with him. Not a dog, bow-wow, but a dog, a broad.”

Announcer: “Somebody has to go on and entertain the customers.”

Voice of Bishop: “O.K.”

[Lights go up.]

Joey Bishop: “Sometime I want to work in a room where there’s a Jewish orchestra and Spanish people are dancing.”

With thanks to Shawn Levy’s Rat Pack Confidential and Nick Tosches’s Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams.

—M. R.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.