When Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn helped launch Kim Novak’s career by landing her a role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. She seemed to be everything he had hoped she would be. She appeared poised to be the next big blonde bombshell to take the world by storm. But in 1957, she fell madly in love with Sammy Davis Jr; who used his soaring popularity to issue a blow to the age-old race barrier that had segregated the entertainment industry for decades.
While these two stars ‘forbidden love’ was a momentous breakthrough and step in the right direction for societal advancement. A whirlwind of scandal would ultimately bring about it’s end. There’s an incredible amount of backlash against their relationship – so much so that it’s even been alleged that Cohn ordered a mob hit against Davis; which forced him to marry black singer Loray White.
Join FactsVerse as we take an in-depth look at the scandal-ridden, polarizing, and sensational love affair between Kim Novak and Sammy Davis Jr – a relationship that essentially doomed from the get-go and sadly couldn’t survive the controversy that it inspired.
Kim Novak Was Harry Cohn’s Pet
Kim Novak was essentially Harry Cohn’s way of getting his revenge on Rita Hayworth. But Sammy Davis Jr was Novak’s way of getting her revenge on the feared and reviled Harry Cohn. What started as a just another headline in the pages of the gossip rags of the day became a national scandal during the nation’s long and arduous battle for civil rights.
It all began in 1957 at Chez Paree, one of Chicago’s most famed nightclubs. Davis Jr, who known as the greatest entertainer in the world, performing on stage with a cigarette in hand. He looked like something straight out of the movies. And as the spotlight shined on him, he started singing a song to Kim Novak, who’s sitting at a table enjoying a cocktail. Fresh off the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo which just finished filming.
That evening would prove to be the first and last time that Sammy Davis Jr and Kim Novak would seen together in public.
At the center of their scandalous love affair was one of Tinseltown’s most notorious and powerful figures, Harry Cohn.
It’s been said that Cohn put more people six feet under than all the other moguls and magnates of his era combined. He’s the head of Columbia Pictures, and he ran the studio with an iron fist – almost as if it were a family business. And in truth it seeing as how he managed to clinch control of the studio out of the hands of his brother, Jack Cohn.
Cohn had transformed Columbia from a second-rate, B-film studio headquartered along Hollywood’s infamous ‘Poverty Row’, into one of the most prominent players in show biz. Cohn desired to be feared. He wanted the reputation of being one of the most brutal and ruthless media moguls in Hollywood.
His employees terrified of him. He kept a photograph of one of his biggest heroes, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, displayed proudly on his enormous desk and decorated his office like the Italian tyrant’s.
James Bacon, a reporter from Chi-town, assigned to cover Hollywood for the AP in 1948 had previously covered Al Capone. But after observing Cohn, he found him to be far meaner than any mob boss. He’d keep close tabs on all of his employees and writers. He’d fire half a dozen people at a time without batting an eye. And for added impact, he’d even do it on Christmas Eve.
Cohn made his fair share of enemies in Hollywood, but he liked it that way. To him, it’s far better to be hated than loved, as it proved that he’s powerful, and power all that he cared about.
Director George Sidney, who had made the films Pal Joey, The Eddy Duchin Sotry, and Jeanne Engels with Novak at Columbia, had become one of Cohn’s closest allies. While people used to speculate that he would someday take Cohn’s job, Sidney told reporters that no one could ever beat Harry because he’s far too smart to superseded like that.
Cohn was extremely proud of creating Rita Hayworth. While he took full credit for turning her into the star that she became, he’s also fairly obsessed with her. Even though she’s Columbia’s big sexpot during that era, she had the habit of getting married. Her first husband, Edward Judson, a 40-year-old car salesman, said to be controlling and abusive, while her second husband, Orson Welles, Novak called the ‘great love of her life’. After their marriage fell apart, however, Hayworth went on to marry the heir apparent to the Ismaili Muslim Throne, Aly Khan, only for that marriage to eventually break down as well. After Khan, Hayworth married Dick Haymes, a noted singer.
While married to Khan, a notorious philanderer, and playboy, Hayworth forbidden by her controlling husband to appear in pictures for more than two years. This drew the ire of Cohn and alienated her fans.
After returning to Hollywood in 1951, Harry Cohn wanted Rita to appear in one of his pet-project films, an epic Biblical drama named Joseph and His Brethren. But when Haymes, her husband at the time, waltzed into his office and demanded that he be cast as Joseph. Cohn threatened to have the Argentinean native deported back to Argentina.
To get back at Hayworth, Cohn, who was still reeling from letting Marilyn Monroe slip out of his clutches after initially being less-than-impressed by her beauty. Decided that he would make the next girl that stumbled into his office the next-big Columbia starlet. He wanted someone that wouldn’t give him any trouble – someone that would do exactly what he wanted and wouldn’t leave Holywood until he and the viewing public done with her.
That next girl to walk into his office was Marilyn Novak. A 20-year-old, busty aspiring star from Chicago with next to no acting experience but had looks to kill. Since there already was a blonde bombshell going by Marilyn. The first thing that they had to do was change her name. After toying around with the name Kit Marlowe, they eventually settled on Kim Novak.
The studio then pressured her into dropping 15 pounds to contour her figure. Then they dyed her hair several different shades of blonde; brought in house designer, Jean Louis, to remake her wardrobe, and installed her at the Studio Club . A dormitory for young starlets that imposed a curfew and kept them under strict surveillance. Here, no men allowed, which meant that Cohn could keep his brand-new prized possession under his complete control.
But after starring in films such as 1954s Pushover and 1955s 5 Against the House. She had firmly established herself as a serious player in show business. She went on to star in films such as 1956s The Eddy Duchin Story, 1957s Jeanne Eagels, and Pal Joey later that year.
With increased fame, Novak was able to weasel her way out of Cohn’s complete control by not only leaving the Studio Club. But also by publicly airing out her salary complaints with the studio. By the time she starred in 1958s Vertigo; she had seized back a great deal of control over her image, leaving Cohn livid.
After Sammy Davis Jr met Novak at that nightclub that we mentioned at the outset of this video. A gossip ran that indicated that the two had a budding relationship in the making. This created outrage among the public, and Cohn was furious.
Davis read the article and called up Novak to apologize to her for putting her in such a compromising situation with the studio. But Novak replied by saying that the studio didn’t own her and instead invited him over for spaghetti and meatballs. Soon enough, the two were dating.
Kim Novak’s Relationship With Sammy Davis Jr.
In the late 50s, inter-racial marriages and relationships were rare and often required people to pay a heavy societal price. For Sammy Davis Jr, this price was far more than he anticipated before giving his heart to Novak.
Turning a blind eye to to the racial divide, Kim Novak and Sammy got together in 1957. But as much as they tried to keep their blissful romance alive, Harry Cohn, determined to destroy it.
The two strived to keep their relationship away from Cohn and his media associates. They would enjoy intimate dinner dates together in their respective homes and exchange secretive messages, but that wasn’t enough. Cohn quickly learned of their secret love affair while attending a memorial dinner in the Big Apple. In fact, he’s infuriated by the discovery that he had a mild heart attack.
The couple kept their relationship alive as an open secret for several months. In the meantime, they endured scathing remarks and jabs from their peers, associates, and the press. Eventually, rumors of their upcoming wedding, which was in the works, hit the media after a clerk filing applications for marriage licenses leaked the news.
Davis then allegedly threatened out of his relationship with Novak by a band of mobsters that affiliated with Mickey Cohen; an infamous Westcoast gangster. Davis learned of a hit against him when the thugs approached his father and notified him that they had received a contract to hurt him. It later revealed by Arthur Silber, one of Davis’s assistants, that Cohn had ordered that hit.
Specifically, they had ordered to break his legs and blind his second eye – the other had already previously injured in a car accident years prior. Their orders were to hurt him but not kill him.
Cohen offered Davis an ultimatum. If he married a woman of color in two days, the hit would be called off. Davis proceeded to take the lifeline and subsequently married dancer Loray White, whom he had dated previously.
During the marriage ceremony, Davis reportedly drank excessively to cope with his emotions. While en route to the wedding suite after they exchanged their vows; Davis turned on his new wife and attempted to strangle her.
Fortunately, his assistant, Silber, stepped in and stopped him. Hours later, Silber would save Davis’ life after wrestling a gun out of his hands while he was trying to take his own life.
Davis and Loray’s marriage doomed from the start. Not only did they never live with each other, but after a year, they divorced.
After his marriage to Loray, Davis and Novak’s love affair apparently ended. They remained good friends, but Cohn had ordered her to avoid him at all costs. In 1960, a year after divorcing his first wife, Davis married Swedish actress May Britt, who was also white.
Even though their marriage likewise generated racially-related scandal, unlike his previous union, it didn’t result in any violence. The two ended up having a daughter together, Tracey Davis, and adopted two sons before they two divorced in 1968.
While Sammy Davis Jr previously loved by the public, his decision to date a white woman – particularly a beloved star, nearly ended both of their careers.
Well, we could dive into all of the details of what happened to Davis Jr and Novak after their relationship came to an end, but that’s a story for another video.
Did you already know about these two stars’ scandalous relationship? And do you think the public would even bat an eye if they had gotten together today? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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