From the pages of Rocktober

Comics and Music

“Special 1/2 Sammy Issue”

(1423 E. 53rd St. #2, Chicago 60615)

Sammy Moments

by Dave Hoekstra

Of the several encounters I had with Sammy Davis, Jr. few had the sudden electricity of our backstage meeting after his April 11, 1987 gig at the Chicago Theatre. (That was the Sammy-Sarah Vaughan package show where Sammy accented “I’ve Got To Be Me” by walking over to the piano and dipping his hand in a fish bowl. One by one, he picked out sparkling jeweled rings and placed them on his fingers. He stopped at six.)

As special guests, I invited Norman Jackson and his wife Deborah. Norman Jackson was a Sammy impersonator from Des Plaines whom I met judging a celebrity look-alike contest for the Chicago Film Festival. He even had a white wife!….I was able to get our Sammy backstage to meet the real Sammy and the real Sammy was real surprised. With a crooked smile bojangling out from under a black fedora the real Sammy grabbed the cheek of our Sammy. He looked at me eye to eye as he gently shaked Norman’s cheek and said, “You’re right (about the resemblance), but he’s (about skin color) a little lighter.” Norman loved it. I presume Deborah went home with her Sammy, otherwise we’re on to a Weekly World News scoop here.

In November, 1987 the story got better. Dean Martin was performing at the Chicago Theatre and Frank Sinatra happened to be in town. The real Sammy was undergoing a hip operation, and I was in New York on assignment for the Chicago Sun-Times, the newspaper for which I work.

I got an early morning wake-up call, figuring it was some bored editor making sure I was still alive. Instead, it was the Chicago Theatre people wanting to get in touch with our Sammy, who was a book packer at Follett Publishing in Chicago. Sinatra had gotten wind of our backstage meeting and he wanted to bring our Sammy along for a surprise walk-on for Dean. Wild, man wild.

I gave them Norman’s number and Sinatra hired him. That night Francis Albert and Norman (with rings on all fingers but thumbs) walked on in tandem, and while Dean didn’t fall for the Sammy bait, the reviewer for the Chicago Tribune did, writing that “Sammy Davis, Jr. was there too, looking, sadly enough, much worse for wear and not singing at all.” The mighty Trib had to print a correction, much to my delight. I only wish I had been in town.

So think of all the things you like in life. Jack McDowell. Arthur Alexander. Good sex. Charles Bukowski. Then double it. That’s what these Sammy moments are all about for me.