An Evening With Sammy Davis Jr. and Jerry Lewis (1988)
Just two years prior to his death at the age of 64, Sammy Davis Jr. took to the stage headlining this HBO special along with his friend and hero Jerry Lewis.
“I do the best Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis. Both my idols.” while Jerry pipes in on Sammy, “I’ve loved him for forty years.” Once they take the stage the hi-jinks begin as both try to emcee this show taped at Bally’s Casino in Las Vegas. As they begin a tap dance, Jerry launches into his goofy alter ego and I can’t help but suspect it’s because he can’t keep up with Sammy.
The cheap shots and put downs commence as Jerry attacks the straight man. Short jokes. When Jerry picks up Sammy he proudly states, ‘I’d like to thank the NAACP for this award. Eye jokes. “Take out your glass.” as opposed to the word glasses in reference to Sammy’s one eye.
“And he’s one of the best friends I have.” proclaims Sammy as Jerry leaves the stage to let us be floored by the singing and ball of talent that is Mr. Davis. Sammy launches into “For Once in My Life” he imitates Michael Jackson and recalls the music and dance of Fred Astaire with a couple numbers. The Candy Man makes an appearance before he belts out “What Kind of Fool Am I.” He closes out his half of the program with a stirring rendition of Mr. Bojangles that brings the crowd to their feet.
Enter Jerry with his latest observation. “He’d make a perfect hood ornament.” he tells the crowd as he bows to Sammy. Exit Sammy.
Jerry’s turn to dig into his bag of jokes before doing a bit of tap dancing and singing of his own. All this while bickering with the piano man of the orchestra. Lewis is Lewis. He goes back and forth from being an adult to his well known”kid.” The voice goes goofy and he picks out an audience guest with his loud, “Lady!” as if he’s spotted Kathleen Freeman in the audience.
He does this wonderful bit on trying to twirl and fool with a cane minus the top hat. You just know it’s going to work by the end of the show and he keeps the bit moving even if the canes he has piled up don’t always co-operate.
“You wanna lock up when your thru?” says Sammy as he moves from the shadows to the center stage and the crowd’s delight.
Joining in song the two close the show with ‘Rock-a-Bye You’re Rock-a-Bye-Baby.”
I happened across this concert on a dusty VHS tape sometime ago and after picking up a collection of songs that included Sammy on CD I was reminded of it and went rummaging through my collection to find it. Glad I did as Sammy knocks “it” right out of the park when Jerry leaves him alone to dazzle the crowd. Within minutes I’m wishing I had been just a bit older than I am so that perhaps I would have seen him perform live somewhere over the years playing solo. Not that I would have passed up a Rat Pack concert either!
It’s also interesting to think about Sammy playing with Jerry. Jerry for obvious reasons isn’t associated with the “Pack” yet he maintained a friendship and working relationship with one of it’s iconic foursome. It’s impossible not to watch this and not think aloud that, “It seems like Sammy is subbing in for Dino.” Who cares and I’m sure that’s not really the case behind the scenes. That’s just history acting up. Jerry actually served as a director on the Sammy feature One More Time in 1969 that also had Peter Lawford in a leading role.
Let’s not forget that Sammy was a regular feature every year on Jerry’s Telethon. Or so it seemed looking back.
Both gentlemen excel at what they do and while Lewis may be considered a comedy genius that I grew up watching on Saturday afternoon television, it’s Sammy that stirs my emotions watching this one hour concert.
If you’d care to take a look at the concert it is available on youtube. Have fun.