For many, the Rat Pack epitomise the Las Vegas of the 1950s and 60s. With their effortless cool and, probably inaccurate, reputation for hard drinking and wild nights.
The term Rat Pack was allegedly coined by Lauren Bacall when she saw her husband Humphrey Bogart and friends come back from a night in Vegas looking a little the worse for wear. This also led to the typical image that most of us have of the group with slightly dishevelled hair, creased tuxedo and undone bow tie hanging round the neck.
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Over the years the Rat Pack had a wide number of members including some very unexpected names including Cary Grant and the suave British actor David Niven but by the late 50s it came down to the hard core of Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Dean Martin, Sammy David Jr and Peter Lawford. Each one was an individual performer in their own right but whenever one appeared on stage at a Vegas venue like the legendary Sands there was a clamour for tickets as it was hoped that the whole gang would show – and often they did.
Frank Sinatra was widely acknowledged as being pack leader. After all he had by far the highest profile and was famous not just for his singing, but had starred in several movies too. His alleged connections with the mafia who controlled so much of Vegas in those days also added some edgy appeal.
However Sinatra always claimed that it was Joey Bishop who was the real leader and the “hub of the big wheel”. Born in the Bronx and brought up in Philadelphia, Bishop was primarily an actor and comedian who also had his own very popular talk show for many years. He and Dean Martin were said to be the only members of the group who could crack gags at Sinatra’s expense.
Martin was a singer and comedian who had a number of film roles to his credit. He was also one of the longest-serving members of the Rat Pack, going on to perform with Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr in a 1988 tour which, unfortunately, he had to pull out of because of ill health.
Of all of the pack it was Sammy Davis Jr who was perhaps the biggest outsider. As well as having a very successful screen and stage career he used his powerful position to fight for more tolerance and greater racial integration throughout the 1960s in reaction to the prejudice he suffered throughout his early life.
The final member, Peter Lawford, was an actor and brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy. But the Kennedy family’s disapproval of Sinatra’s mafia links meant that his involvement with the Rat Pack was short lived.
Together, they created a unique band of performers each with their own particular skill to contribute and their influence is still very much felt today – even Robbie Williams successfully channelled it in his act back in 2001. So why not slip on the tux, pour yourself a couple of fingers of your favourite drink and prepare to re-live the classic era for yourself?