When The Rat Pack Ruled Sin City

Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter and Joey

Posted by Sleazy Red

As spectacular as Las Vegas has grown to be over the years, with its grand casinos and themed hotels, very few could argue against it's coolest era were the days when The Rat Pack ruled Sin City.

Frank Sinatra had been a part of a Hollywood drinking group that hung out at Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's Hollywood home. After Bogart's death, Sinatra took over the group, introducing his own friends, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Shirley McLaine to the group, which he named 'the Clan'. The nickname was changed to the Rat Pack after Lauren Bacall saw the gang lying around like the living dead after a five day bender in Vegas. 'You look like a ...Rat Pack' she remarked, the name stuck.

Dean Martin was the first to perform in Vegas in 1949, with his then partner Jerry Lewis at the Flamingo Hotel. Although the rest of the pack frequented Vegas for pleasure, it wasn't until over ten years later, when the whole pack blew into town for work and pleasure.

Frank had decided to make Ocean's Eleven with parts for his entire gang in January 1960. Frank produced it and starred as Danny Ocean, the mastermind of a five-casino heist carried out with his World War II buddies. Vegas would never be the same again.

'We filmed by day,' actor Henry Silva recalled in an interview with Los Angeles magazine (October 2001) 'and Dean [Martin] and [Frank] Sinatra and Sammy Davis and Peter Lawford did their acts by night at the Sands.'

'There wasn't any sleep -- but who the hell needed to sleep? The whole town came alive -- everybody wanted to see these guys perform. The Sands' club only seated a couple of hundred, miniscule by today's standards. People lined up for hours to get in,' Silva said. 'They knew it was a moment that wasn't going to be repeated.'

During that time, the now vanished Sands was the place to be. Silva reminisced "If it wasn't the Sands, it wasn't happening. The Sands was the Mecca, the hotel." Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald - all the top singers of the day performed there. "The Sands was the magical point where everything began and ended," Silva recalled. 'It was the crown jewel of Las Vegas at that time."

Other times at the Sands, Frank, Sammy and Dean would get behind tables and start dealing. Not surprising, they were the most popular dealers in town, encouraging gamblers to hit on 20, and then paying them off when they went bust.

'There were no drugs,' Silva insisted. 'The drug of the moment was booze, and Frank drank Jack Daniels exclusively. But the guys didn't drink as heavily as you read in the press. They drank, but they weren't falling down drunks.'

According to people there at the time, their performances were so good you knew they weren't really drunk - they'd just play at being drunk. Frank was such a perfectionist that he kept a pretty strict reign to keep the show under control. If the Rat Pack were pretending to drink more than they actually did, they certainly weren't pretending when it came to sex. 'They had more sex than they drank,' Silva recalled. 'The place was full of beautiful women. Frank owned the town,' Silva said. "He was the King and we were the princes. It was a very special feeling. He was the Pied Piper."

It was not just his fellow celebrities Frank lead to Vegas. As the crowds flocked to Vegas to see their shows, the Rat Pack turned it from slightly seedy gambling Mecca to playground of the stars.

Shortly after Howard Hughes bought the Sands Hotel in 1967, Frank Sinatra had a falling out with the Sands management after they cut off his credit in the Casino. The very next morning, Frank drove his gold golf cart through the window of the hotel restaurant then stomped up to Carl Cohen, who'd been responsible for cutting him off. Cohen simply got up and punched Frank out. A miffed Frank moved to Caesar's Palace. It was expected that his friends would follow suit - especially Dean Martin, the Sands biggest draw. But Dean, ended up signing another year with the Sands - his friendship with Frank didn�t require such macho displays of loyalty. But without Frank and Jack Entratter, who soon also left, the Sands would never be the same. In 1969 Dean was persuaded to move to the Riviera, where tickets for his new show cost more than tickets for Sinatra's show's over at Caesars.

The Rat Pack continued to appear throughout Vegas over the following decades. Frank played Caesars into the 1970s, while Dean held court at The Riviera and later Bally's until he retired. Sammy Davis Jr. played solo at Caesars and occasionally teamed up with Jerry Lewis over at Bally's.

At 9:00 pm (PST) on June 30, 1996, under a full moon, the lights where switched off and the doors closed of the infamous Sands Hotel. It was subsequently imploded to make way for the Venetian, and the Dunes were swept away and replaced with the Bellagio.

The strip has changed beyond recognition since the days Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter and Joey packed them in. The Rat Pack personified and defined the concept of cool for the 'cocktail generation' - their children and now grandchildren. Long after the fiery volcanoes flicker no more, the Circus Circus leaves town, the Roman empire finally falls, and Wayne 'Fucking' Newton croons his last song, the music, style, vibe and glamour of the Rat Pack will continue to inspire and draw endless generations.

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