In 1960, an unlikely group of entertainers went to Las Vegas to shoot the film Ocean’s 11 and do two nightclub shows each evening while the film was in production. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop were first billed as “The Summit” at the Copa Room in the Sands Hotel and Casino on the famed Las Vegas Strip. The act, which was unscripted and casual in the beginning, started as a lark, but took off like a rocket leading to many more gigs at the famed hotel and around the country. Thousands of people flocked to catch the act. Frank, Dean and Sammy carried the bulk of the show, singing, telling jokes, doing impressions and cutting up. As time went on, only one of them would headline the show, however, at least one of the other members of the group would appear without notice, adding to its popularity. Their power and clout was exceptional, even for movie stars. Their all night parties became part of the legend. This group, of course, was “The Rat Pack.”
The iconic term Rat Pack was, according to legend, coined by Humphrey Bogart’s wife, Lauren Bacall. When “Bogie,” Frank Sinatra and a few of their cronies came staggering in after a night of partying and carousing, Lauren exclaimed, "You look like a goddamned rat pack!" The name stuck. After Bogie’s death, the group consisted of Frank Sinatra as the unofficial leader along with Dean, Sammy and Joey plus on occasion, Peter Lawford (John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law) and Shirley MacLaine as an honorary mascot and “Girl Friday.”
The Rat Pack was an unusual group for the volatile and racially divided 1960's America: Joey was Jewish, Sammy was both Jewish and African American, Frank and Dean were Italian, and Peter Lawford a “feckless Hollywoodized Brit”- - three of them second-generation immigrants, four raised during the Depression in urban neighborhoods. They boasted they were a new generation laying claim to American tradition and were determined to re-define “American Cool” - successful, self-assured, casual, occasionally vulgar; they were sign and symptom of the times. On the surface, The Rat Pack was a typical entertainment lounge act, but they were really a symbol of where American culture was headed - to a more tolerant and culturally integrated society where class and racial division were replaced by acceptance.
The Rat Pack gained additional national prominence for their support of John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign. They did a lot of publicity and were seen in many photos with the aspiring young politician. Frank Sinatra recorded a new version of "High Hopes" that became Kennedy's campaign song. The future President was occasionally spotted at the Copa, enjoying the spectacle of his new celebrity friends. At the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Frank, Sammy, Peter, and Shirley MacLaine sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," bonding political elections, entertainment and celebrity for the first time - a trend that continues to this day.
Over time the popularity of the “Rat Pack” waned. In the late 1980s, Frank, Dean, and Sammy tried to rekindle the magic with a much-hyped tour, but it wasn't the same. The years of fun-loving and high living were behind them. They continued to entertain audiences individually until their heath failed. In 2007, Joey Bishop was the last of the members to pass away.
Today, thanks to the award-winning tribute show, The Rat Pack is Back, audiences can once again experience all the swing, swagger and the very essence of cool that the original Rat Pack inspired. The popular show is still running in Las Vegas and has been traveling the globe, performing more than 5,000 shows in more than 40 states and three foreign countries over the past decade. In addition, this smash show and its cast were featured in the hit movie "Get Him to the Greek" starring Russell Brand and Jonah Hill. The Rat Pack is Back has been critically acclaimed and won numerous awards, including one from the Congress of the United States, but most importantly it immortalizes the original crew of cool for audiences who were fans in the day and for those who wish to experience it for the first time.