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CULTURE

Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.

by Doug Black
on 13 May 2009
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Acting like a reverse paparazzo, Sammy Davis Jr. used his position within the Hollywood elite to collect images for his own personal viewing. Rarely without a camera at hand, Davis snapped pictures of his famous friends, as well scenes from his private life. Perhaps more significantly, he also captured huge historical moments from his role endorsing political campaigns and as a key figure in the Civil Rights movement. A portion of his extensive collection was released as "Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.," published in 2007 under the Regan imprint. Though not new, the book's images have an offhanded charm and palpable intimacy that make it a must-have for anyone interested in mid-century America.

Davis gives a entirely unique perspective from his position as a massive, A-list celebrity as well as an African American in segregated America, oftentimes leaving gala events with the Rat Pack to spend the night in all-black hotels. A social hybrid, the resulting images are part biography, part racial history and part popular tabloid. The book is separated by subject, the largest of which centers on his coterie of famous friends. Every marquee name from the sixties seems to make a candid appearance in his photos. Of course, Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack make frequent cameos, but names like Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman and James Dean all have show their million dollar faces captured by Davis' lens. A fervent proponent of Civil Rights movement, the book also includes images of his participation in events like the 1963 march on Washington, and up-close-and-personal images of figures like Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy (who he strongly supported before famously shifting his political sensibilities to the right in support of Richard Nixon).

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The book also chronicles Davis' family life, including his interracial marriage to May Wilkins, an occasion that got him dropped from JFK's inaugural ball in 1961. The light editorial breaks between images come courtesy of Burt Boyar (pictured below, and followed by Peter O'Toole and an early self-portrait) whose long friendship with Davis shines through in personal insight as well as a sometimes fawning portrayal.

You can purchase "Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.," from Amazon or Harper Collins. More images below.

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