Reviews

Choice
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

This book appears at the same time as Gary Fishgall's Gonna Do Great Things: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. (2003). Haygood (a former feature writer for The Boston Globe and author of King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., CH, Jan'93) gathered extensive information on Davis's life and the numerous personalities often associated with him, but he allows too many details, informal writing, and harsh language to hamper the telling of the story. The notable stage productions of Mr. Wonderful and Golden Boy are lost amid the unnecessary name-dropping, chronicling of Davis's womanizing, and a generalized and almost trite cultural history that is more often distracting and irrelevant than enlightening in terms of Davis's many contributions to entertainment history. Perhaps the most valuable insights revolve around Davis's struggles with issues of blackness and wanting to be white, but Haygood's analyses lack depth (e.g., he writes: "Sammy did not bother with race, integration, or protest"). ^BSumming Up: Optional. Comprehensive academic collections only; appropriate for public libraries. E. C. Ramirez formerly, St. Philip's College


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

A journalist and biographer (e.g., King of the Cats) considers how Davis negotiated the no-man's land between blacks and whites. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Sammy Davis Jr. never went to school. His show business career began at age 5, with the Will Mastin Trio, and lasted until his death at 64. Davis' life story is all about the American Dream (he called his autobiography Yes, I Can!), but as Haygood tells it in this remarkably rich biography, it is dream mixed with nightmare, illusion with reality, the story of a black man with his face pressed against the white world. Did Davis want to be white? Haygood tackles this politically charged question straight on, delivering answers as complex as the history of race relations. Davis, Haygood argues, knew no world beyond the footlights; he created himself in the image of Hollywood stardom, and yes, that image was unquestionably white: Bogart, Cagney, Cooper (all of whom Davis would later impersonate on stage), and of course, Sinatra, Sammy's idol. (The women were white, too, and usually blonde, a fact not lost on the young Davis, who wooed Kim Novak and married Scandinavian Maei Britt.) While Haygood's psychosexual analysis of Davis' life is unfailingly perceptive, it doesn't overwhelm the book. He vividly re-creates the world of vaudeville, where Davis got his start, and he tracks the performer's career as tap dancer, impressionist, singer, and actor, emphasizing the remarkable talent of this child prodigy turned Vegas headliner. As he follows Davis from one unbridled enthusiasm to another (from black power to Richard Nixon, from Judaism to devil worship), Haygood never loses sight of Sammy the entertainer, indefatigable on stage and insatiable in his craving for adoration. A fascinating American life story, brilliantly told. --Ilene Cooper Copyright 2003 Booklist