They never used the name. Sinatra really hated it. Ever modest, he preferred "The Summit," but somehow that never stuck. Back in the early '60s, when the Chairman and a few of his best show-biz pals gathered in Las Vegas to do a movie and have a few laughs, they came to be known for all time as The Rat Pack.
The flick was a little quickie caper comedy called Ocean's Eleven, and it starred Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop along with Ol' Blue Eyes himself. In between shooting the film, this collection of some of the biggest show-business stars of the pre-rock era took over the town and made it their own. Onstage nightly at The Sands, there were no prisoners taken -- at a time when no one had ever heard of the concept of political correctness, these five broke all the rules, including a lot that hadn't even been written yet.
The shows were a nonstop barrage of booze, broads and gambling jokes. Mix in some "good-natured" racial humor (which maybe doesn't seem quite so good-natured in retrospect), plus a saloon song or two, and it was some party. When talk gets around to the glory days of Vegas, this was the real thing. Through a haze of cigarette smoke and one too many martinis, the Rat Pack ruled the world. At least the corner of the world built in the middle of the desert especially for the high rollers. And this echo of long-gone swingin' times past will come alive once again when Rat Pack Encore hits town for two shows this coming Thursday and Friday nights.
The show, which is to be presented at both the Celebrity Theatre and out west at the Sundome, focuses on Frank, Dean and Sammy. Sinatra is portrayed by Michael B. Levin, a Vegas regular with his "Tribute to Frank Sinatra" show for more than six years. Our Dean Martin for the evening is Robert Ensler, who has put in four years in the lounges of America portraying the tipsy crooner.
The best name of the group has to be Johnny Davis Jr. (he swears this is his given handle!) as Sammy Davis Jr. He's been doing Sammy for better than 20 years now, including a long stint in the U.S. Air Force Band. Who knew you could join the armed forces to learn to be a Vegas song and dance man?
Rat Pack Encore is scheduled to be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 9, at Celebrity Theatre, 440 North 32nd Street; and again at 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 10, at the Sundome, 19403 R.H. Johnson Boulevard in Sun City West. Tickets for the Celebrity show are $34.50; for the Sundome show, they range from $11 to $20. For details call 602-267-1600 (the Celeb), 623-975-1900 (the 'dome) or 480-503-5555 (Dillard's).