GONNA DO GREAT THINGS: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.

Gary Fishgall, Author . Scribner/Lisa Drew $26 (448p) ISBN 978-0-7432-2741-4

When Sammy Davis Jr. died, the New York Times called him "an incandescent figure whose glow is still with us." In exhaustive detail, Fishgall, who has written biographies of Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster, traces the development of Davis's star as it rose luminously in the mid–20th century and burned out precipitously in the 1960s. Relying on Davis's autobiographies Yes, I Can and Why Me? as well as on interviews with Davis's family, friends and professional colleagues, Fishgall offers a remarkably honest, yet sympathetic, portrait of the performer's extraordinary life and work. From his birth to show folks in Harlem in 1925, Davis appeared destined for the stage and stardom. By the time he was four, Davis was already a part of his father's vaudevillian traveling show. Davis's own career eventually blossomed, and he found himself starring in Vegas shows, partying with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra and a host of others, and making a name for himself through a recording, film and television career that propelled him into the entertainment spotlight that he had always craved. Fishgall points out that Davis's neediness caused him to spend lavishly on himself and others, and his need for love led him to surround himself with women and other friends. Fishgall expertly chronicles Davis's life, including his stint in the army, his relationships with the Rat Pack, his several marriages, his deep involvement in the civil rights movement and his tumultuous descent into drug and alcohol addiction. While Fishgall's admirably candid biography presents Davis with all his shortcomings, it warmly reveals Davis's generosity, his exceptional talent and his remarkable legacy. (Oct.)

Forecast: With In Black and White by Wil Haygood coming in the same month (Forecasts, Sept. 8), these two excellent books will hopefully produce a synergy from which both will benefit.

Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
Ebook - 448 pages - 978-1-4391-3157-2
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-1-4516-4320-6
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