Kings Of Cool: Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr's relationship explored

Bruno Cooke November 19, 2021
Kings Of Cool: Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr’s relationship explored

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Dean Martin: King Of Cool, Tom Donahue’s new documentary celebrating the “ultra-laidback, ultra-elusive” crooner-cum-comedian Dean Martin airs today (November 19) on Turner Classic Movies, having premiered five days ago at DOC NYC. The doc explores, among other things, Dean Martin’s relationship with fellow Rat Pack star Sammy Davis Jr – what do we know about their friendship and each of their families?

How did Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr meet?

Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr became friends in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as Martin’s solo career was growing. 

He and Frank Sinatra formed the Rat Pack with Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr. The group owed its name to the Holmby Hills Rat Pack of which Sinatra had been a member. 

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Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

They made films together and, via Lawford’s marriage to Patricia Kennedy, sister of John F Kennedy, were politically influential.

Sammy Davis Jr married three times: first to singer Loray White, although their marriage lasted only a year; second to Swedish actress May Britt, from 1960 to 1968, with whom Sammy Davis Jr shares three children; and finally, and most enduringly, to American entertainer Altovise Gore.

May Britt and Sammy Davis Jr had three children together: Tracey, Jeff and Mark (adopted). Davis Jr then went on to have one further child, Manny, with Altovise.

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Where is May Britt now?

Born Maybritt Wilkens in 1933, Swedish actress May Britt is now 88 years old.

She married Davis Jr in 1960; their marriage lasted eight years. She later married Lennart Ringquist, an entertainment executive and thoroughbred breeder who died in 2017.

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Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Today, May Britt now resides in California. She acted throughout the 1950s, and then sporadically up until the late 1970s. There was a 12 year gap between her penultimate role – Ingrid in American psychological horror film Haunts (1976) – and her final performance, in science fiction series Probe (1988). 

In the 1998 television film The Rat Pack, British-American actress Megan Dodds portrayed Britt. Don Cheadle played Sammy Davis Jr, Ray Liotta played Sinatra, and Joe Mantegna played Dean Martin.

Why didn’t Dean Martin attend JFK’s inauguration?

King Of Cool also reveals why Dean Martin didn’t attend John F Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. 

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Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra at the Cedars of Lebanon charity dinner, 8th July 1961.

He refused to attend out of protest, and out of loyalty to his friend and fellow Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. Kennedy had refused to let Davis Jr perform at the event – at least, that’s what Davis’ daughter Tracey claimed in her 2014 book Sammy Davis Jr: A Personal History With My Father.

In his 1989 book Why Me?, Davis Jr claimed that the president-to-be had asked him and his wife May Britt not to participate out of fear that an interracial couple would anger Southerners. 

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Bruno is a postgraduate student studying global journalism, with research interests in the intersection of the media, storytelling, culture and politics. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Packs Light and Forge Press, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com. He is a Student Ambassador for Tortoise Media, a big fan of Freddie Mercury and a novelist – his debut novel, Reveries, is available on Amazon.