Mr. Haygood provides often gripping accounts of Davis's experiences...and writes with an informed appreciation of the performer's varied gifts. He does not dwell on Davis's decline in his last decades...But he does not shy away from documenting Davis's relentless need to ingratiate himself with celebrities and his spasms of self-doubt...he does a vivid, immediate job of conjuring the many worlds the performer traversed, and shows how the issue of race, in his own mind and in the minds of his fans and detractors, shaped his career and life.Michiko Kakutani
Taking us back to vaudeville's racially charged origins in minstrelsy, [Haygood]'s brilliant at pegging his subject's forerunners, from dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson -- a great star in his day, and no relation to the pathetic "Mr. Bojangles" of Davis's later hit -- to the tragic Bert Williams, a black performer who, in a gruesome stylization that persisted into Davis's own childhood, appeared in blackface.
Haygood is also a vivid and provocative writer, with a knack for setting the scene and making atmosphere double as analysis.
In this moving, exhaustive life of one of America's greatest entertainers, Haygood (King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell Jr.) casts Sammy Davis Jr. as a man shifting between identities, between the worlds of black people and white people. Born into vaudeville and raised by his grandmother and vaudevillian father, Davis (1925-1990) never knew the world off the stage, never experienced a loving mother and never experienced racism-until his stint in the army during WWII. Sammy spent most of his life before the army above the Mason-Dixon line in the protective bosom of the Will Mastin Trio (of which he and his father were two-thirds) and experienced his first love with a white woman in Montreal. From here, Haygood makes clear, Sammy wanted to be white-he had mostly white friends and courted ivory-skinned, blond women. As his career-and his determination to be accepted by white America-grew, so did problems with the media, including death threats from angry Southerners and Hollywood moguls not wanting the reputation of their white starlets (e.g., Kim Novak) to be tainted by Davis. Haygood shows how Davis desperately needed love and attention, so much so that he switched allegiances, first backing Kennedy and marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson, then, years later, being seen on national TV giving a hug to Archie Bunker (while doing a cameo) and Richard Nixon (while campaigning for him). Haygood's reporting and powerful prose reveal Davis's career against the backdrop of the swinging '60s and the Rat Pack (with Sinatra as a mighty presence in Davis's life) and Davis as a tragically complex man. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In contrast to Haygood's title, this is a many-hued treatment of the life of one of America's finest entertainers, a richly researched book worthy of Davis's contributions to the world of entertainment. As implied, Haygood (King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.) treats the matter of race and its oft-nuanced influence on Davis as a key to understanding what motivated him throughout his long life as a comedian, dancer, mimic, singer, and actor. It's often forgotten that Davis began his career as a vaudevillian youngster, as part of the Will Mastin Trio, with his father as the third part of this team. This Depression-era trio toured heavily, developing one of the better music and dance units in America. Of most value to the book is Haygood's research into Davis's family and these formative years-something Davis didn't evoke in his autobiography, Yes I Can. This is a fascinating history of the world of minstrelsy and the complicated development of a true black identity among its purveyors. Another aspect of this is Davis's dealings with Republican politicians (and the reactions of the public to Davis's choice to be seen with them). Special people deserve special treatment, and Haygood has delivered a wonderfully fulfilling book on this one-of-a-kind man. Excellent! [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/03; see also Gary Fishgall's recent Gonna Do Great Things: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.-Ed.]-William G. Kenz, Minnesota State Univ. Moorhead Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Robust update and emendation of the entertainer’s well-known autobiography. Sammy Davis Jr. (1925–90) wasn’t black inside, wasn’t white outside, writes Haygood (The Haygoods of Columbus, 1997, etc.). He was simply a performer. He never spent a day in a classroom. Soon after Sammy learned to walk, he learned to work. Under the aegis of his father and adoptive uncle, veteran vaudeville hoofers, he mastered flash dancing and the soft shoe. The hardscrabble life was exhausting and exhilarating, but the prodigy of "The Will Mastin Trio starring Sammy Davis Jr." had energy to burn. He danced, sang, played various instruments, and did spot-on mimicry. Life on the road in the biz wasn’t life on the streets or the ghetto. Sammy’s buddies were Jerry Lewis, Tony Curtis, Jeff Chandler, and Eddie Cantor (without blackface) as well as the Step Brothers and the Nicholas Brothers. Color meant little until a quick stint in the Army brought a new awareness that he was not white, as many who knew him thought he wanted to be. Though he had previously married a black showgirl at the strong behest of the Mob, he preferred white women, especially blonds like Kim Novak and May Britt, whom he married. Throughout, he had a complex relationship with generous, arrogant Frank Sinatra. Sammy’s insatiable need for approval brought him to Richard Nixon, but he was no handkerchief-head, asserted friends like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier (fighting popular black opinion). Haygood uses "Negro" consistently until the time in his narrative when "black" becomes favored as the story advances from Bill Robinson and Marcus Garvey past the Rat Pack to porn stars at the Davis Hollywood home. The movies, the clubs, theBroadway shows, the spending, the devastating results of bad driving, and the demons are all covered perceptively. An American life considered with art and understanding in a major work of biography. (40 photos in text) First printing of 60,000. Agent: Esther Newberg/ICM