Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bobby was the drummer

Wherein he has nothing to say about Reagan, Johnson, Ford, or Eisenhower

Over here, while talking about a number of things, XWL quotes wikipedia about Sammy Davis, Jr.: "Although Davis had been a voting Democrat, he had felt a distinct lack of respect from the John F. Kennedy White House. He had been removed from the bill of the inaugural party hosted by Sinatra for the new President because of Davis's recent interracial marriage. Davis had married Swedish actress May Britt (pronounced "My Brit") on November 13, 1960."

Sammy Davis, Jr. died in 1990 and the autobiography Sammy: The Autobiography of Sammy Davis, Jr. was published in 2000. From the comments at it's essentially a melding of his two previous autobiographies. Doesn't come highly recommended, but should be fine for my purpose. Since I don't own the book, I used's "Search Inside" feature for the following clips. Sounds like interesting reading and I'll keep an eye out for a copy.

The wedding is covered in Chapter 35 and it was Sammy's decision to postpone the wedding:
Fair or not, my wedding was giving the Nixon people the opportunity to ridicule Kennedy and hurt him at the polls. I could imagine the pressure Frank must be under: eighty guys telling him, "Don't be a fool. You've worked hard for Kennedy, now do you want to louse him up?" And it was understandable. If he stood up for me at a controversial interracial marriage only a few weeks before the election there would be votes he'd lose for Kennedy. And the innuendo and publicity so far was only a hint of what would happen after he appeared at the wedding and they had a piece of hard news to work with.

page 379, Sammy tells Frank:

I hesitated, but it was pointless. "Look, it's best that we postpone till after the election."

There was silence. Then: "You don't have to do that."

"I want to. All the talk..."

"Screw the talk."

"I know, but it's better this way."

When finally he spoke again, his voice was almost a whisper. "I'll be there whenever it is. You know that, don't you?"

"I know that, Frank."

"I'd never ask you to do a thing like this. Not your wedding. I'd never ask that."

"That's why it's up to me to be saying it."

page 388:
It was Evelyn Lincoln, JFK's personal secretary, whom I knew from the campaign. "Mr. Davis...Sammy...the President has asked me to tell you that he does not want you to be present at his inauguration. There is a situation into which he is being forced and to fight it would be counterproductive to the goals he's set."

page 389, Peter:
"Bobby argued for you, 'That's bullshit! The man campaigned.' But he was overruled. He got so angry he walked out of the rest of the discussion."

page 395, lunch at Ethel Kennedy's house:
"Sammy, that business about Jack's inauguration, I hope you know we had nothing to do with it. Bobby was outraged by what they did."

page 396, Bobby Kennedy:
When ever you plan to appear in public at anything controversial, anything to do with civil rights, be sure to call me a day or two in advance and at least I can have a couple of men there looking out for you."

page 400, Sammy Davis, Jr.:
Bobby was a humanist. He was not a do-gooder, but a good-doer, a knight of old in a button-down-collar shirt, a man who wanted to right wrong. I wanted Robert Kennedy as a senator making my country's laws, and then to run for President. Bobby had been the strength in the Kennedy family. John was always "raised eyebrows," thinking about the next advantageous move; the "piano player" who sat out front with the spotlight on him. The other cat who kept time was the drummer, who never got the spotlight, never took the solos, but kept time, he kept the beat going. Bobby was the drummer.

pages 455-456, Bob Brown is asking Sammy to be a member of the National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity in the Nixon White House:
I was astounded. "Bob, I'm a Democrat. I'm strongly associated with the Kennedys, with Democratic goals."

"Understood, but don't close the door on Nixon. Use his power to accomplish the things you and I believe in. Accept the post on Ec-Op. Later, if you feel he should be reelected, then become a Democrat for Nixon. Or if you don't believe in him, then walk away. But won't it be better to judge him by your own experience firsthand. That's what I did and I say that he feels a commitment to causes you and I believe in. If I'm not right, then why has he got me there? The Nixon White House has more black people in high positions than any President has ever had, including JFK..."

I got Jesse Jackson on the phone and he said, "I'm not a Nixonite, but there's no question that's he's carrying on the civl rights programs, he's not scrapping them he could have." I spoke to others within the civil rights structure, leaders of the NAACP and the Urban League, and the consensus was positive. "If we could get you in there, to have the President's ear...we could get some things done."


While I was in town I called Ethel to say hello, to ask about the children. "Mrs. Kennedy isn't in at this moment, but if I can have your number she'll get back to you."

The days and evenings were filled with meetings. Only when I returned a few weeks later did I realize that I hadn't yet spoken to Ethel.

"One moment, please. Who may I say is calling?"

"Sammy Davis, Jr."

She was out. She would get back to me.

But she didn't. I tried once again. Blank wall. Silence.

Nor had Harry Belafonte returned my call as he always had. Nor Sidney Poitier. All of the liberal Democrats, people who had marched for what we all believed in -- when I went to work for Nixon they stopped talking to me. Nobody said, "Hey, give me a reason..."

During the next six months I was in Washington often. I always went to John's and Bobby's graves. But I didn't call Ethel again. It was an ache. I thought she was wrong, I thought Harry and Sidney were wrong. But I could get sick over it and weep for cherished relationships I'd lost, or I could do what I had to do and say "Fuck it," and kid myself that I meant it.


Blogger XWL said...

I did throw in the 'grain of salt' warning with regards to relying on Wikisummaries on something like that.

But the inaugural and wedding are different events, and after Sammy delayed his wedding, he may have been a bit put off by being denied a place at the inaugural after helping get JFK elected.

Sounds like he stayed loyal to the Kennedys, and would have never supported Nixon had RFK not been killed, but he was more concerned with what he felt was necessary legislation rather than whether it was signed by a president with an R or D after his name.

The response of his friends follows the familiar 'liberals look for apostates, conservatives look for converts' pattern.

Too bad most of the 'fixes' for the problems of the urban poor made the suffering worse. So many dumb ideas were tried from 1968-1980, so much damage was done.

Those programs people like Sammy advocated and Nixon passed, eviscerated poor families, and created strong disincentives for poor men to be active in the raising of their children. All poor were screwed by welfare more than they were helped, but black urban families were especially disrupted by the various programs designed to help them. All it did was help them stay poor and model worse and worse behavior.

And yet Obama still seems to want to take us back to 1968.

2/14/2008 01:28:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

It's the 'grain of salt' that made me go look. Sounded like an interesting story.

And I'm not using this as a Democrat versus Republican argument as I've seeing shunning from both sides. The reactions, especially those of Ethel, Harry, and Sidney, reminded me of the Havel section I just quoted about not raising the party above civil society; or even politeness.

2/14/2008 07:16:00 AM  

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