Born in Harlem, New York to Black
vaudeville star Sammy Davis, Sr., and the Puerto Rican dancer, Elvera "Baby"
Sanchez. When he was two, Davis' parents divorced and he was raised by his
father. A multi-talented performer, Davis recorded forty albums and made countless
film, television and Las Vegas appearances in his lifetime. Davis began his career
in vaudeville, tap dancing and singing at the age of four with his adopted uncle in an act
they called "Will Mastin's Gang, featuring Little Sammy." When authorities
threatened to close down the act due to child labor laws, Mastin gave the tiny Davis a
cigar to hold and billed him as "Silent Sam, the Dancing Midget,"
Davis made his film debut by tap dancing
in the 1932 short, "Rufus Jones For President," After continuing to
perform with Mastin throughout the 1930s, at age eighteen Davis was drafted and served in
Special Services in World War II. When the war ended, he resumed dancing with what
was now the Will Mastin Trio, after Davis' father joined the troupe. In 1946, Davis
recorded "The Way You Look Tonight" for Capitol Records, which was chosen
by"Metronome" magazine as Record of the Year. In the late 1940s, Davis
(still with the Will Mastin Trio) opened for Frank Sinatra at the Capitol Theatre in New
York, which ignited a friendship that would last a lifetime.
He toured for six months with Mickey
Rooney and performed in a Bob Hope benefit show. Through Jack Benny, the trio won a
booking at Ciro's in Hollywood and an appearance on the "Colgate Comedy
Hour." After an appearance at the Copacabana in New York, Decca Records signed
Davis in 1954 and released his first albums, "Starring Sammy Davis Jr.", and
"Just for Lovers." The 1950s brought Davis into the spotlight for both
personal and professional reasons. In 1954, he made headlines when he lost his left
eye in a near fatal car crash while driving back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas.
During his recovery in the hospital, he converted to Judaism, which was bruited about by
the press, Davis continued treading on socially-controversial ground by carrying on a
series of interracial romances, most notably with actress Kim Novak, and with the Swedish
actress May Britt, whom he married in 1960. But even in these racially
backward times, Davis came into his own on a professional level.