Happy 50th: Sammy Davis Jr., The Sammy Davis Jr. Show

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Happy 50th: Sammy Davis Jr., The Sammy Davis Jr. Show

50 years ago this month, the man they called Mr. Show Business released an album in conjunction with his then-new TV series, and to make sure no one missed out on the fact that they were companion pieces, they both bore the same title: The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. There's some great music on the album, make no mistake about that, but the more interesting story belongs to the TV series, owing to the weirdness tied to its premiere.

You can read the entire tale over on It's About TV, but here's the story in a nutshell. Sometime in the fall of 1965, Davis made a special for ABC called Sammy and His Friends and signed a contract with the network which said that he was legally prohibited from appearing on any other network show during the three weeks leading up to the broadcast of the special. In October 1965, Davis met with NBC about getting his own TV series, one which would start in January 1966. So when did ABC decide to air Sammy and His Friends? They scheduled it for February 1, which meant that after its critically-maligned debut episode on January 7, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show ended up being hosted by people other than Sammy Davis Jr. for the next three weeks.

Granted, the guest hosts were pretty darned great - first came Johnny Carson, then Sean Connery (!), and finally Jerry Lewis - and when Davis returned to the show that bore his name, critics reversed their opinion because NBC had backed off from micromanaging the show in favor of letting Davis be himself. Unfortunately, most of the viewers who tuned in for the first episode never came back to find out if Davis had gotten any better, and the show was cancelled.

Even more unfortunate, however, is the fact that the episodes themselves have become nearly impossible to find, and even when you can hunt one down, the quality is invariably pretty terrible, but it's worth checking this one if you can spare the time:

As for the album, its dozen songs are taken from five different sessions done by Davis between 1961 and 1966, but the material is incredibly strong, including compositions by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (“Feeling Good,” “This Dream,” “What Kind of Fool Am I”), Charles Aznavour (“Paris is at Her Best in May,” “Love at Last You Have Found Me”), and Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (“More Than One Way”). You'll also find Dean Martin joining Davis on “Sam's Song,” and both Martin and Frank Sinatra chiming in on a cover of Cole Porter's “We Open in Venice.”

Oh, and it must be mentioned that fans of bad TV will instantly recognize the album's second song, but leave it to Sammy Davis, Jr. to turn the theme to My Mother the Car into a number that absolutely swings, baby!