The Sammy David Jr. biopic is set up at Paramount Pictures and it will be produced by Transformers producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. According to Deadline, the project is on the fast track and they are in the process of hiring a writer and director to take on the life of the iconic entertainer who could do it all.
The movie will be based on the 1965 memoir Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr. that he penned with Jane and Burt Boyar. Davis’ heirs are also joining a producing team, which will also include Lionel Richie.
Apparently, Richie was the key to getting all the right deals done to be able to bring Davis’ story to the big screen. In a statement, he said:
“I cannot tell you how excited I am about the signing of the Sammy Davis Jr. project with Paramount. I knew and loved Sammy dearly.
"He was so kind to me at the beginning of my career and gave me advice that helped me become the artist that I am today. I am so happy for his kids that we can bring his story to the screen."
The Memoir details Sammy Davis' personal conviction, and the "view of success that both propelled him to stardom from ghetto obscurity and served as his armor against racism." Here's the description from the book:
YES I CAN is the self-portrait of one of the extraordinary men of our time, who became a figure of controversy because he dared to live his life not as a Negro but as a man. "I've got to be a star like another man has to breathe," write Sammy Davis. "I've got to get so big, so powerful, so famous that the day will come when they'll look at me and see a man, and then somewhere along the way they'll notice he's a Negro."
Davis truly did live a great life and I'm sure Hollywood could make multiple films out of it. But for now, this is the one we are getting.
The film is said to follow him from "Vaudeville with his dad and uncle in the Will Mastin Trio to the integrated infantry with Southern whites in WWII to his big break in the short film Sweet and Low in 1947 and his chance meeting with Sinatra."
Davis was among the first "entertainers to truly cross the white barrier in a racially charged America. Thanks in large part to his champion Frank Sinatra, Davis — who even as a child in Vaudeville was entertaining with his incredible tap-dancing repertoire –truly was able to thrive." Here are some additional details on Davis' life. There's a lot of stuff here that I wasn't aware of before:
He was born in Harlem and performed for troops during World War II. By the 1950s, Davis was recording albums and performing on Broadway. But it was when he joined Sinatra in what was known as The Rat Pack — along with Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop — that he began to become a major celebrity.
The guys ruled the Las Vegas Strip, often staying at The Sands. He then started appearing in 1960s Rat Pack films such as Ocean’s 11, Sergeants 3 and Robin and the 7 Hoods.
It was his love affairs with white actresses such as Kim Novak, however, that threw him into private and public controversies. Faced with a death threat from Columbia Pictures’ Harry Cohn after he found out that Davis and Novak were an item, the singer was forced to marry a black woman as a beard.
Then came his love affair with the Swedish actress May Britt, which really raised eyebrows during what was a time in America when interracial marriages were banned in many states. But the two were deeply in love, and Davis proudly announced the engagement to the world. Sinatra was concerned and said not to marry Britt, but the two lovebirds were determined. It was a marriage that lasted eight years and produced three children.
During a time in America when there were still segregated water fountains and black performers had to stay in black hotels separate from whites-only hotels (like the Frontier and the Desert Inn in Vegas and the South), Davis — and others including Eckstine, Lena Horne, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Bobby Tucker, The Mills Brothers, etc. — continued to push through the bigotry. Davis later threw down the gauntlet and boldly refused to work for companies that segregated.
The marriage to Britt was not without backlash from the black community as well. Davis, however, continued to push for civil rights even though some in the black community saw him as a sellout; even though he was scared, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Davis broke down many barriers; played for the Queen of England and even was given his own network show in 1966 — unheard of for a black man at the time.
In 1971, Davis enjoyed a major pop hit with “The Candy Man,“ which was written by others specifically for the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. That song held onto the No. 1 spot for three weeks.
Davis, who was tirelessly devoted to his work, was almost killed in a 1954 car crash in San Bernardino. That’s how he lost his left eye. During his recovery, he began studying Judaism. He converted in 1961. So did Britt.
Controversy hit again when he backed (and hugged) then-candidate Richard Nixon in 1972. But Sinatra loved the politician, too — eventually even helping out VP Spiro Agnew financially with his legal woes behind the scenes). Davis later got involved with porn star Linda Lovelace and fell in with even more strange bedfellows of drugs and alcohol.
It will be interesting to see who the studio hires to write and direct the movie. They will have a big responsibility on their shoulders to tell this story right. Davis had a bigger than life personality and whoever they end up casting in the role is going to have a big job ahead of him. Who do you think should play Sammy Davis Jr.?