On stage and at the movies, The Rat Pack was the epitome of mid-twentieth century celebrity and the foregone era of glitz and glamour. As a crew, they represented wealth, fame, talent, and an unachievable lavish lifestyle devoid of the constraints of responsibility.
The Rat Pack was this self-contained variety show of sorts comprised of some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry during that era. There was just something so enchanting about seeing big names dressed in tuxes, often with a glass of scotch or cognac in one hand and a cigarette in the other, singing songs, making spot-on impressions, and exchanging playful jabs with each other.
Most people tend to think that the Rat Pack originated with Frank Sinatra and his old drinking buddies, but in reality, it got it’s start with actor Humphrey Bogart and his friends. The second, Sinatra-fronted incarnation of the Rat Pack made films together and performed at Las Vegas casino venues.
Ol’ Blue Eyes, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, and Joey Bishop were the most famous members of the ragtag group, but they weren’t the only ones that considered themselves proud Rat Packers. Stars like Errol Flynn, Mickey Rooney, and Nat King Cole regularly met up at the Holmby Hills home of Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the late 1940s and early 1950s and kicked it with the crew.
If you think you know all about the Rat Pack, chances are you don’t. Join Facts Verse as we take a little trip down memory lane to discuss lesser-known members of the Rat Pack who rarely are remembered.
The Filthy Five
Before we tackle some of the lesser-known Rat Pack members, it’s worth taking a moment to give a shout-out to the five celebs that are most often associated with the group. Infamous for chasing women, guzzling down ungodly amounts of booze, and living it up in the nightlife and gambling scene that Vegas had to offer, the most famous iteration of the Rat Pack was a supergroup of comedy, musical, and film stars who frequently appeared together in concerts, in films, and on TV.
They told jokes, did comedy sketches, sang songs, and most of all, had a blast doing it. The official roster of this incarnation of the Rat Pack consisted of Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, and the so-called ‘chairman of the board’, Frank Sinatra.
All five celebs appeared in Ocean’s Eleven, which was filmed in the Sin City. The group also regularly performed together at the Sand’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
While the group didn’t always perform together, whenever a member of the Rat Pack was scheduled to perform at a live event, there was always a chance that one or two other pack members would join them onstage.
Humorously, the marquee at the Sands would often read “Dean Martin – Maybe Frank – Maybe Sammy”.
Audiences would attend Rat Pack shows not only for the quality of the entertainment but to also get a glimpse into the world of show business’s most exclusive boys club. During performances, carts would be rolled out on stage featuring the entertainer’s drink trays. They would then tell stories, make impromptu jokes at each other’s expense, and casually drop names of other celebrities that were either their close friends or rivals.
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The Holmby Hills Rat Pack
As the legend goes, during one particularly loud and raucous night of partying in 1954, Lauren Bacall walked into the room to see Humphrey Bogart and his buddies enjoying themselves a little too much. She then reportedly stopped what she was doing and told them that they looked like a pack of rats. From that day on, the name just stuck.
Stephen Bogart, Humphrey and Lauren’s son, has provided us with a rather informative list of members of the original Rat Pack.
Frank Sinatra was the ‘Pack Master’, while Judy Garland was the ‘First Vice President’. Then you had Nicole Bassing, a woman that wasn’t involved in show business but still earned the title of ‘Den Mother’.
Sid Luft, a former boxer who worked in the film industry and was the husband of Judy Garland from 1952 to 1965, was the ‘Cage Master’.
Bogart himself was referred to as the ‘Rat in charge of public relations’.
Swifty Lazar, a Hollywood super-agent whose clients included both Bacall and Bogart, was the ‘Recording Secretary and Treasurer’.
Nathaniel Benchley, a writer and son of Algonquin Round Table co-founder Robert Benchley, was best known for penning Bright Candles: A Novel of the Danish Resistance. His son Peter Benchley would follow in his father’s footsteps, eventually writing the famous shark-hunt novel Jaws. Benchley’s role with the Rat Pack was that of the Pack historian.
Lesser-Known Holmby Hills Rat Pack Members
Besides the folks we just mentioned, there were several other members of the Holmby Hills Rat Pack that, while still considered official members, rarely get mentioned in the history books.
David Niven was a British actor and writer who won the Best Actor Academy Award for his unforgettable performance as Major Pollock in the 1958 film Separate Tables. Niven also appeared in films like 1946s Life and Death, 1956s Around the World in 80 Days, 1963s The Pink Panther, and 1967s Casino Royale.
Katherine Hepburn is another Academy Award winner who is considered to be one of the greatest female stars of the classic era of Hollywood cinema. Throughout her career, Hepburn took home the Best Actress Academy Award four times. She appeared in films such as 1933s Morning Glory, 1951s The African Queen, 1967s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and 1981’s On Golden Pond – just to name a few.
Spencer Tracy was an American actor who was the first to win two consecutive Academy Awards for Best Actor. He appeared in 75 films and developed a shining reputation for being one of Hollywood’s greatest screen actors. Some of his most memorable performances were featured in films like 1963s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1962’s How The West Was Won, and 1960s Inherit The Wind.
Cary Grant, much like the previous names we mentioned, was a star that needs little introduction. He was famous for his mid-Atlantic accent and for being one of the hottest leading men of his day. He had impecable comedic timing, a light-hearted approach to acting, and the perfect debonair demeanor. Some of Grant’s best films include 1940s The Philadelphia Story, 1944s Old Lace, 1937s The Awful Truth, and 1955s To Catch A Thief.
George Cukor, another Hoimby Hills Rat Pack member, worked with Grant as director during the production of The Philadelphia Story. He further worked with Judy Garland while directing 1952 A Star Is Born and Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison with 1964s My Fair Lady
Speaking of Rex Harrison, he too was a member of the Pack. As was composer Jimmy Van Heusen, who wrote numerous hit songs for Sinatra and his fellow crooners.
Mike Romanoff, the owner of the famed Beverly Hills restaurant Romanoff’s was also an official member of the pack.
Members of the Rat Pack Entourage
The following celebs, while not technically full members of the Rat Pack, were still certainly around whenever hijinks and shenanigans were going down.
Errol Flynn, Ava Gardner, and Nat King Cole all three have been called full-on Rat Pack members by some historians, but others have indicated that they were more so just closely associated with the crew. Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, and Tony Curtis were also frequently present whenever the Pack got together.
Mickey Rooney might have thought of himself as a full-fledged Rat Pack member, but it’s unclear whether anyone else considered him to be one.
Lena Horne loved to spend her free time with the pack, as did Jerry Lewis and Cesar Romero.
John F. Kennedy
While JFK wasn’t officially a member of the Rat Pack, he was related via marriage to Peter Lawford and often spent time hanging out with the boys whenever he visited Las Vegas.
Frank Sinatra was notorious for always cultivating friendships with powerful men and women – even those that were sometimes caught up in the seedy underbelly of society. After Kennedy started hanging out with the crew, Sinatra took to calling the group the ‘Jack Pack’.
In the late 50s and into the presidential campaign year of 1960, the Rat Pack supported Kennedy as he campaigned for the highest office in the American government. They also continued to back him for some time after the election.
Things took an awkward turn, however, after JFK’s brother, Bobby, who was then the US Attorney General, publicly declared war on the Mafia and organized crime. Frank, as we already implied, had deep ties to mobsters like Sam Giancana. As such, he was no longer the ideal drinking buddy of a sitting US President.
Lawford was able to convince Sinatra in 1962 to host the Kennedy’s at his home in Palm Springs, but the president decided to stay at his friend Bing Crosby”s home instead. It was at that point that the Jack Pack ceased to exist, and Lawford ended getting ousted from the Pack. Sinatra then replaced him in the next Rat Pack film, 1964s Robin and the 7 Hoods, with Crosby.
We’re just about out of time for this video, but we’d love to hear from you. Did you know that so many celebrities were members of the Rat Pack and that the group originally got it’s start at the home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the late 1940s? Let us know in the comments.
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