Q. So many articles about Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin use the term “Rat Pack,” What’s the story? Where did the term originate? Did they fight racial segregation?
A. The Las Vegas Resort Bureau describes the Rat Pack as a “supergroup” of actors and jazz musicians. In the middle of the 1960s it was used by the press and the public to refer to a group featuring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. They appeared together on stage and in several films in the early 1960s, such as the Ocean’s Eleven.
The “Rat Pack” name was firstly used to refer to a group of friends in Hollywood together with the young Frank Sinatra. Regarding the origins of the name, there are several explanations for it. According to one of them, the group’s original “Den Mother” Lauren Bacall, said to the following words to her husband and friends returning from a nigh in Las Vegas, “You look like a damn rat pack”. The name “Rat Pack” might also be a short version of “Holmby Hills Rat Pack”, a reference to the home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
According to Stephen Bogart, the initial members of the Holmby Hills Rat Pack were: Sinatra, Garland, Bacall, Sid Luft, Bogart, Nathaniel Benchley, Swifty Lazar, Katharine Hepburn, David Niven, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, George Cukor, Rex Harrison and Jimmy Van Heusen. The group originally did not include Sammy Davis Jr. or Dean Martin.
The Rat Pack group of the 1960s included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and for a short period of time, Norman Fell. Marilyn Monroe, Juliet Prowse, Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine were often mentioned as the “Rat Pack Mascots” that made them feel like “one of the boys”. The members of the group never used this name; they called it the Summit or the Clan.
The Rat Pack frequently performed in Las Vegas and greatly influenced Vegas becoming a popular entertainment destination. Sinatra and the others refused to perform in Las Vegas hotels and casinos that had segregation policy and as the group became more and more popular, the Las Vegas hotels and casinos abandoned their policies based on segregation.
The group was amazing with their entertainment style, musical and comedy routines that would eventually make entertainment history. Very often, when a member of the group was due to give a performance, the rest of the members would show up for a spontaneous show that increased their audience and resulted in return visits. All their performances were sold out and people would rush to Vegas just to take part in the remarkable Rat Pack experience. The marques of the hotels where they were to perform as individuals would show, “Dean Martin – Maybe Frank – Maybe Sammy.”