The Legacy of Broadway's 'Golden Boy' Sammy Davis Jr.: An Interview with His Widow, Altovise Gore Davis
Altovise Gore Davis talks to BroadwayWorld.com about her late husband, Sammy Davis Jr. and "Mr. Bojangles, The Ultimate Entertainer", which has its World Premiere at Mohegan Sun's Cabaret on February 22, 2006. This tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. showcases the musical genius and explores the heartbreak and triumph of one of the world's greatest entertainers.
Altovise Gore Davis spoke to BroadwayWorld.com writer, Randy Rice on February 16, 2006:
Randy Rice: Mrs. Davis, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. As we begin I would like to tell you that I saw Sammy perform. I was 19 years old in 1988 when he toured with Liza and Frank.
Altovise Davis: You were 19? Really?
RR: Yeah. It was the Worcester Centrum. I was way up in the nosebleed section. But it was an incredible show. It lived up to its title "The Ultimate Event".
AD: Sammy was at his vocal peak during that tour. He loved touring with Frank and Dean. When Dean dropped out of the tour after his son died, Sammy went and got Liza to do it. I loved how he sang "Music of the Night" from "Phantom of the Opera". It was very theatrical. He also did a great version of Robert Preston's "Trouble" from "The Music Man".
RR: So... tell me about the show that you are producing, "Mr. Bojangles: The Ultimate Entertainer".
AD: Well, it has been in the works for years. After Sammy died I had to work very hard to get things in order. I now own and manage my husband's name and image and I am making sure that the legacy of Sammy Davis Jr. will continue. There is a great group of folks involved in the show including two great actors Ted Levy and Darrell Grand Moultrie. You see, it takes two men to hit the right notes and pay tribute to one Sammy. The songs are split between the two of them, one take the high ones and one the low ones. There is also a lot of footage of Sammy through the years. I don't want to give everything away.
RR: I read somewhere that Ted was on Broadway with "Black and Blue" and "Jelly's Last Jam".
AD: Yes. Both he and Darrell are really terrific.
RR: And the name "Mr. Bojangles"?
AD: Well, I thought about it for a long time, and thought it was right. Sammy was uncomfortable singing the song "Mr. Bojangles" for years, because he was afraid that he would end up that way, frayed sleeves and such. I think the song really fit who Sammy was, a survivor.
RR: Sammy didn't have any formal schooling, did he?
AD: None. But my husband was so smart. He loved to read and read constantly. He was always reading the newspaper in bed. He once asked me "Hey, who was the 22nd President of the United States?" and I said "I don't know." He replied, "What do you mean you don't know?" " You went to school".
RR: Sammy was very politically aware and active.
AD: He was always trying to make a difference. He was friends the Kennedy brothers, who were both civil rights pioneers. He marched with Dr. King. Sammy felt things deeply. He was a "huggy-feely" kind of guy, which sometimes got him in trouble. He thought that if you loved someone, you should let them know it. Sammy and Jimmy (James) Dean were great friends. They used to have lunch or dinner about once a week. It always bothered Sammy that the last time he saw Jimmy that he just said "See you next week" and didn't let Jimmy know how much he loved him and valued their friendship.
RR: Sammy was on Broadway twice, once with "Golden Boy" and once with "Mr. Wonderful". He was nominated for a Tony, but didn't win. In fact, he never won a TONY, GRAMMY or EMMY. Did it bother him that he never won any of the major awards?
AD: It did. He really put his heart and soul into everything he did. He gave his all as Sportin' Life in "Porgy and Bess" and was disappointed that it wasn't widely recognized. I don't know who he lost the "Golden Boy" TONY to.
RR: He lost to Zero Mostel in "Fiddler on the Roof". I guess if you have to lose to someone, it might as well be Zero Mostel.
AD: (laughs) I didn't realize that. I worked with Zero and Dom De Louise in the touring version of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum".
RR: The great entertainers of the twentieth century all point to Sammy as the "Greatest" Entertainer, what was it that made him so special?
AD: He never took anything for granted. He gave his heart, his soul and his life to people. And he was honest with his audience and fans, and it showed. I hope that I can be as honest about our life together, and the love my husband and I shared. I think that Sammy Davis "the man" and "the entertainer" come through in this show.
RR: You made the decision to market this show to casinos, as opposed to "legitimate", Broadway-bound theaters. Why?
AD: I would love to bring the show outside the casino circuit, but I think it fits really well in a showroom. When Sammy played a showroom, he owned it. He filled that room. He loved being on Broadway and always wanted to do more stage, but casinos are where he shined.
RR: I understand that when the show opens at the Mohegan Sun Cabaret next week there will be some memorabilia from Sammy's career there as well. What will be included?
AD: We will have some memorabilia in the showroom. There will be some holsters, boots, and some jackets that are still around.
RR: Congratulations on having all of the hard work finally come to fruition, and thank you for taking the time to talk.
AD: You're welcome, and thank you.
Mr. Bojangles, The Ultimate Entertainer has its world premiere on February 22, 2006. Performances are scheduled for February 22-26.