When ordinary people pack suitcases they usually cram in all the necessities first, and then stick the extra little luxuries into the corners or inside shoes.
Then there are the people who can afford to pack a whole suitcase with nothing but luxuries.
Sammy Davis Jr. has done both. His first memoir, "Yes I Can!" is the crowded, overflowing suitcase of Davis'still overflowing life. Now in his new book, "Hollywood in a Suitcase," Davis simply has fun shooting the breeze, chatting up the stories and bitsof philosophy he probably has exchanged many times sitting around his bar with special friends. Davis loves Hollywood and films, and he loves being a part of both. He also adores being rich, famous, and a star. So, in his words, "this is an interlude piece," a warm, lively, affectionate salute to those friends, to that life, and to his 50 years as a performer.
Although the stories are spilled out rather haphazardly, Humphrey Bogart comes first in this book, literally and figuratively -- "Bogey . . . grabbed hold of my hand and led me gently through Hollywood. Whatever kind of p--- and vinegar I showed up front, Bogart spotted the inside of me as soon as he saw me." There is no doubt about his love and admiration for Bogey and Betty (Lauren Bacall), "big brother" Frankie (Sinatra), Liz and Richard, and Judy and Liza. But whenever the mood threatens to become maudlin, he always manages to inject something amusing to balance things out.
Davis writes as he speaks, in a zesty, pungent -- verging on the raunchy -- Las Vagas parlance. Most women are "broads," "chicks," or "dames"; breasts are "t---" (according to Davis, Cecil B. DeMille, who won many awards from the Legion of Decency, called them "knockers" and "loved it when they flopped out by mistake"); sex is "p----," and doing bad-quality work, or being a failure, usually is characterized by toilet references.
For Davis there is no greater relaxation than sitting around his projection room with a bunch of pals, watching great old movies. His love affair with the movies began at the age of 5 in a cold downtown Chicago theater. Davis was the tiniest member of the tapdancing Will Mastin Trio, and in between their vaudeville turns, while the movie was going on, he stayed in their upstairs dressing room. One evening, his father gave him a special warning not to go downstairs. Of course, Davis sneaked down the first chance he got. Watching from the wingsand wrapped in the curtain, his initiation to moving pictures turned out to be the original Bela Lugosi "Dracula," projected onto a huge sheet hanging right over the spot where the trio did its act. The movie terrified him, sent him into a state of shock -- and he avidly watched and shook through every subsequent showing until the end of its run. Years later, in Hollywood, when he built his own screening room, it was one of the first films he acquired for his still-growing film collection.
It is hard to tell which Davis relishes most, Hollywood people or the films they made. Several chapters are devoted to films he watched being shot, films he starred in, and those great cameo moments of acting and directing that film buffs enjoy collecting and arguing about.
The first 10 chapters make the best reading because of the time and detail he gives to each personality and incident. Here are the famous Holmby Hills Rat Pack, Ingrid Bergman and the making of "Casablanca," Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Christopher Lee and British horror movies, Otto Preminger, black cowboys in the Old West, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Gary Cooper's long legs and rumbling ulcer, and much more.
Even though there are some fascinating glimpses of Marilyn Monroe later on, the last few chapters give the feeling of being rushed and crowded, and several comments about Linda Lovelace and Richard Pryor are, by now, hopelessly out of date. The silliest portions, however, are those in which he expounds his political views and tries to explain away his involvement with then-president Nixon. As he says, celebrities are "thinking, taxpaying Americans with a say in the running of the government," just as the rest of us are. Unfortunately, he sounds exceedingly naive and misinformed.
But for the most part Sammy Davis Jr. has packed this suitcase just for the fun of it. It should be unpacked in the same vein.