EXCLUSIVE: After decades of disputes, legal fights and finally a court order last spring, the heirs to the estate of Sammy Davis Jr are now dancing to the same tune. They are joining with a producing team led by Lionel Richie, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mike Menchel in a rights deal to make a movie based on Davis’ extraordinary life and show-biz career.
The project will be based on the 1965 Davis memoir Yes I Can: The Story Of Sammy Davis, Jr., penned by Burt Boyar with Davis and his wife Jane.
Davis’ life is rich source material. Born in Harlem to a pair of vaudeville dancers, he joined the family act and continued to perform in the Army during World War II. He recorded blues albums and in 1956 starred on Broadway in Mr. Wonderful. By the late 1950s he became a member of the famed Rat Pack alongside Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. A string of movies followed. Davis was almost killed in a 1954 car crash in San Bernardino that cost him his left eye. During his recovery he began studying Judaism and he converted in 1961.
A prodigiously talented singer, dancer and instrumentalist, Davis’ career ran the gamut from Harlem nightclubs to Hollywood. Colleagues and friends included masters of tap dancing, recording stars from Nat King Cole to Michael Jackson, and the top arrangers across several decades. Davis headlined in Las Vegas with and without his Rat Pack pals; at the Frontier, he was forced to room offsite, as black artists weren’t allowed to stay at the hotels, gamble in the casinos, or use the dressing rooms. He later refused to work for companies that segregated.
Davis died in 1990.
“Sammy’s life story is an unparalleled tale of what can be achieved with unbridled perseverance and talent,” said di Bonaventura. “It is at its essence a uniquely American story of one man’s ability to use his talents to reach the pinnacle of his profession.”
Added Richie: “It’s an honor for me to bring the life of one of my idols and friends to the screen. I’m so grateful to be working closely with the Davis family on this and couldn’t be happier to be moving forward on this passion project.”
All of Davis’ heirs — his four sons and a daughter — are behind the biopic.
“I am happy to tell the whole entire world that my family and I look forward to working with everyone to educate audiences of all ages about our father’s incredible American adventure,” said his youngest son Manny, the estate administrator.