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Sammy Davis (Jr 1925-1990)

  1. Sidney Poitier, The Defiant Ones, 1957.    First thought: Sammy and Elvis as the escaped convicts!   E wanted it.  Colonel Parker didn’t want his boy handcuffed to a black man… 
  2. Steve McQueen, Never So Few,  l959.      When you fall out with Ole Blue Eyes - you hurt. Sam said he loved Frank but “I don’t care if you’re the most talented person in the world, it does not give you the right to step on people and treat them rotten. This is what he does occasionally.”  Like after hearing this radio interview..!  Sam got the bum’s rush and Steve got a hero's welcome -  for $75,000… a third of Sammy's salary.   Frank Sinatra told McQueen: “It’s a good movie, kid.” (Wrong). “And it's all yours.” (Right). Director  John Sturges agreed. When  he moved on to The Magnificent Seven, he took McQueen with him - for his first six-figure salary. $100,000.
  3. Jester Hairston, The Alamo, 1960.   It was going to be the then biggest Western of all time. And Sam The Wham - with sixguns as well as taps - wanted in. He got his hands on a script, discovered the role of a slave and offered his services to the producer-director, a certain John Wayne.  No go… “There were a lot of influential Texans investing in the film,”  recalled Sammy,   “and they didn’t like the idea that I was seeing [his future wife] May Britt.. They disapproved of a man of colour going out with a girl who was white. Duke was upfront with me about it and I respected him for it.”  Wayne gave Jethro to the actor-composer-conductor-singer-songwriter from  North Carolina.
  4. Charles Bronson, The Sandpiper,  1965.    An early notion from director Vincente Minnelli.   
  5. Geoffrey Holder, Dr Dolittle, 1966.     Producer Arthur P Jacobs tried to persuade Poitier to play Prince   Bumpo, by promising Broadway’s Gilbert Price would do his singing.  No thanks, said Sidney.  He’d been there before with Robert McFerrin   singing  for him in Porgy and Bess, 1958. Plus: “I'm an actor, not an entertainer." Sammy Davis was Jacob’s next pit-stop – but his titular doctor, the racially abusive Rex Harrison, refused to co-star with a mere “entertainer”!   The role was respun with the new name of William Shakespeare X  - and given to Holder,  the Trinidad-born London dancer-choreographer-actor Holder from, in fact,  Sidney and Sammy’s  Gershwin experience.
  6. Aubrey Woods, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 1970.     Sammy, like his mate Anthony Newley, was keen on being Bill, the candy shop owner… The Candy Man, in fact.   Davis knew the song, because his London mates, “Brickman and Newberg” (Leslie Bricusse and Newley) wrote the filmusical’s songs and score.   But no, director Mel Stuart said Sam was foo famous - and indeed, “too kitschy” for Bill. And the superstar was replaced by… but, of course, Aubrey Woods??? He sure didn’t sell as many Candy Man records as Sammy did!
  7. Antonio Fargas, Across 110th Street, 1971.   Harlem disliked producer Anthony Quinn’s first ideas - Davis, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, even John Wayne. Too Hollywood! Not street enough! Quinn switched invites to Fargas, Paul Benjamin, Yaphet Kotto and took over the top cop, himself, in the blacks v Mafia thriller, bloody enough for Scorsese or Tarantino.
  8. James Earl Jones, The Man,  1972.    The role?  The first  black US President - by  best-selling novelist Irving Wallace. 
  9. Miles Davis,  Dingo, France-Australia, 1991.    Sam's poor health ruled him out as the jazz singer stranded in the Aussie desert. The role  became a jazz trumpeter. Sammy  died soon after shooting wrapped.  And Miles Davis  followed before the film was released.
  10. Jerry Lewis, The King of Comedy, 1982. First director Bob Fosse proposed Sam The Wham as the TV talk show host kidnapped by aspiring comic James Woods. Fosse died and Martin Scorsese took over. So, naturally, Robert De Niro became the comic. When Johnny Carson wouldn’t play, well, himself, really, Scorsese thought of Frank Sinatra and his Las Vegas/Ocean’s 11 group - “I just love that crowd and their clothes.” He also saw Sammy, plus Joey Bishop, Dean Martin. “And then, of course, Jerry Lewis.”  Of course?
  11. Michael Keaton, Beetlejuice, 1987.    Life after death and all that jazz… There were early thoughts of stand-up comic Sam Kinison and the UK wit Dudley Moore for Betelgeuse.  DirectorTim Burton had only ever wanted Sam, a favorite star of his since childhood. Sammy loved horror. Even comic chillers.  But… the damned suits were horrified. “Sometimes my ideas don’t go down so well with the studios. But hey, you try.” Like when suggesting another title. Scared Sheetless.





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