The cause of an incident

I bought Sammy Davis Jr.’s autobiography Yes I Can at a charity sale for $1, and it has far exceeded my expectations.  I had no idea of the hell he went through on his way to becoming a headliner.

In this excerpt he has just begun to have some success as an entertainer, but is acutely aware of the racism that surrounds him.  He has been turned away from clubs and motels in the past because of his race, and was once severely beaten for a friendship with a white woman:

I finished my main course and asked for a check. Pete the headwaiter came over. “Compliments of Mr. Danny (Stradella).” On the way out I thanked him but he brushed it off. “Cut it out, willya? Thank you for coming in.” He put his arm around my shoulders and walked us to the door. “Now, don’t be a stranger. Please, I want you to think of this as your home away from home– y’know what I mean?”

Danny and Marty Mills caught the late show that night and drove me back to New York. Marty said, “How about a sandwich?”

The last thing I wanted was to be the cause of an incident somewhere. Especially in front of Danny. He thought of me as a winner…

He was saying, “Let’s go over to Longchamps, at 59th and Madison. They’re open all night. Most of the kids from the shows drop in. We’ll have some laughs.”

As we reached the East Side I asked them to let me out at 61st Street. “I’ll meet you in a little while. There’s something I’ve gotta do.”

“We’ll wait for you in the car.”

“No, please. You guys go ahead. Everything’s fine, no problem.”

They had to think I was crazy but they dropped me off at Fifth Avenue and 61st. I started walking toward a dark building as if I really had something to do there. When they were out of sight I looked for a phone so I could call Longchamps and leave word I couldn’t make it. But I was repulsed by the indignity of backing away. It was the defeat of everything I wanted. I killed twenty minutes walking around the block, and headed for the restaurant. At least if it’s a turn-away maybe nobody’ll see it.

I looked through the plate-glass window. Marty was sitting at the table talking to someone, but his eyes were glued to the entrance. By the time I went through the revolving door he was at my side, leading me to our table. Four showgirls from the Riviera were sitting there with Danny. I pointed to a table for two right next to it. “Let’s you and me take this one.” I didn’t wait for him to answer. He shrugged, not understanding, but he sat with me.

Danny gaped at us. “What the hell are y’doing?”

I gave it a Jack Benny reading.  “I hope you won’t take it personally but I can’t sit with those girls. They’re only in the chorus and I’m a star! I mean, you understand–” The girls laughed and I played it like I had something private to tell Marty and somehow I got lucky and Danny wasn’t insulted. Or, maybe he understood.


Part Of Me Still

Blueberry Hill was written in 1940, the music by Vincent Rose and the lyrics by Larry Stock and Al Lewis.  Louis Armstrong had a hit with it in 1949– seven years before Fats Domino’s version went to number one.

Pretty Pretty Pretty Pretty

In her autobiography Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue? ©2008, Peggy Sue Gerron– the inspiration for the Buddy Holly song “Peggy Sue“– writes of the reverse-discrimination The Crickets endured during their first tour in 1957:

Jerry had told me about some of the problems the four Crickets had encountered on the tour. There was no set show. Acts came and went depending on their availability and the location. On this particular leg of the tour, The Crickets was the only white band riding the bus, which meant that Jerry, Buddy, Joe B., and Niki Sullivan had to become part of the black entertainers’ world.

A busload of blacks couldn’t stop in a white neighborhood to eat at a white restaurant or stay at a white hotel, and the black part of town hadn’t treated the white Crickets much better. Restaurants had refused to seat them, and hotels had refused to allow them to spend the night. If they could, they’d catch a ride to the white side of town, but if they couldn’t, they had to sleep on the bus and rely on their fellow musicians to bring them food. Sometimes, the black headliners had pretended The Crickets were their white valets just to get them into a hotel.

They were touring with acts like Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, so I imagine the learning experience of being with those two greats more than compensated for the inconveniences of their life on the road.

I’d love to know what Domino and Berry thought of the situation.  Did they enjoy seeing the tables turned?  Or did it just hurt in a new way?


Yet another excerpt from Eddie Cantor‘s autobiography The Way I See It, © 1959:

“Lack of communication is the big problem in marriages today… I’d much rather see a husband and wife argue, even heatedly, than see one of them go silent and walk out of the room.”

Note those quotes? This is the opinion of Dr. Robert G. Foster, who directs the marriage counseling training program at the Menninger Clinic. He said it first– but I sure will second it! In fact, I’ll go even farther and offer a suggestion. Why can’t a couple plan for conversation exactly as they plan a picnic or a shopping trip to town? As for where’s the time to come from, they can take it from TV. Instead of blankly tuning in to something neither really wants to see, they might map an evening this way! “Nine to ten p.m. … Turn off set… talk.”

There are some rough spots in the book, some attitudes and opinions that  (although common at the time) would be considered coarse and backward today, but overall he was surprisingly progressive for someone who came to fame as a vaudeville performer in the 20s.

Not Fade Away

We all know now how their stories ended, but when this was filmed nobody knew:

This colour clip was shot silent in 1955 in Oklahoma City while Holly and Elvis Presley were working the two bottom slots on a country package tour headlined by Hank Snow — and apparently represents not only the earliest film footage of Holly but that of Elvis as well (he’s dressed in a neon-bright green shirt).