EXCLUSIVE: Lee Daniels and his Lee Daniels Entertainment have teamed with Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone to develop a miniseries about dancer-singer-actor-musician Sammy Davis Jr., I have learned.
The project, titled Sammy, is still in preliminary stages, but I hear the producers are circling the 2003 book In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. by
For Lee, bringing Davis’ story to the screen has been a longtime passion; in 2013 there were reports about him eyeing a movie about the former Rat Pack-er that was in the works at HBO.
Meanwhile, Playtone brings in a strong track record with a slew of Emmy-winning miniseries including Band Of Brothers, The Pacific, John Adams and Olive Kitteridge.
There have been multiple attempts at a Sammy Davis, Jr. biopic, most recently a project set at Paramount Pictures last year with producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Lionel Richie and Mike Menchel as well as Davis’ estate.
Davis was among the first entertainers to truly cross the white barrier in a racially charged America. He was born in Harlem and performed for troops during World War II. By the 1950s, Davis was recording albums and performing on Broadway. But it was when he joined Frank Sinatra in what was known as The Rat Pack — along with Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop — that he began to become a major celebrity. He then started appearing in 1960s Rat Pack films such as Ocean’s 11, Sergeants 3 and Robin and the 7 Hoods.
It was his love affairs with white actresses such as Kim Novak, however, that threw him into private and public controversies. Faced with a death threat from Columbia Pictures’ Harry Cohn after he found out that Davis and Novak were an item, the singer was forced to marry a black woman as a beard.
Then came his love affair with the Swedish actress May Britt, which really raised eyebrows during what was a time in America when interracial marriages were banned in many states. But Davis and Britt married, with their union lasting eight years and producing three children.
During a time in America when there were still segregated water fountains and black performers had to stay in black hotels separate from whites-only hotels, Davis — and others — continued to push through the bigotry. Davis later threw down the gauntlet and boldly refused to work for companies that segregated. He also marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
Davis broke down many barriers, played for the Queen of England and even was given his own network show in 1966 — unheard of for a black man at the time. In 1971, Davis enjoyed a major pop hit with “The Candy Man.“ Davis later got involved with porn star Linda Lovelace and fell in with even more strange bedfellows of drugs and alcohol.
In TV, Daniels, who is under a deal at Disney TV Studios’ 20th Century Fox TV, currently has Fox drama series Empire, heading into its final season, and Amazon pilot Good People.