Thursday, October 4, 2012

Photo by Sammy Davis Jr.

Photo by Sammy Davis Jr.
by Burt Boyar
ISBN 9780061146053
It Books
February 2007

"Jerry [Lewis] gave me my first important camera, my first 35 millimeter during the Ciro's period, early '50s... I met Milton [Greene]. He got me involved with serious photography and using available light." - Sammy Davis Jr.

We always see collections of images of the stars, captured by professional photographers for us to marvel at and enjoy. But it's very rare that we see images from the stars' perspective. Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. is a collection of photographs that the entertainer took of his friends, fellow Rat Packers, family and colleagues during the '50s and '60s. Sammy Davis Jr. had a way with a camera. He captured some of the most amazing people in the entertainment industry in the most intimate settings.

Burt and Jane Boyar were close friends of Sammy's. Jane helped Sammy with his autobiographies and Burt compiled this photo book after both Sammy and Jane passed away. However, the problem with friends writing about friends is that inevitably there will be some bias. Of course the author is going to want to portray Sammy Davis, Jr. in the best light possible. My husband didn't believe the author's claims that he left his family with a lot of money especially after he read from several other books and sources that Sammy had been in very deep debt at the time of his passing. The author pulls out figures and even bank names and deposit amounts to prove his point. Who do we believe? A friend, a family member or a third-party? It's hard to say.

The text of the book is not that great. The font is made to be pleasing to the eye to look at but it's actually hard on the eyes to read. The author discusses Sammy's relationship with some of the key figures in the book in one or two pages for each. The text rambles on, Sammy's words are paraphrased, quoted, sometimes both all at once. It's actually a bit boring and I found myself abandoning several sections of writing. Get this book for the images. Not the words.

Because the photographs are spectacular. Sammy had an eye for photography. And he was surrounded by some of the most fabulous people in show business and he captured them in both happy and vulnerable moments. His photographs give us a visual point-of-view that only a star like himself would have had during that time.

Stars include: 
Jerry Lewis (on the cover)
Kim Novak (lots of intimate picture of her from when they dated)
Kirk Douglas
Dean Martin
Lauren Bacall
Humphrey Bogart
Betty Grable
Shirley Maclaine
and many more

There are also pictures of Sammy's second wife May Britt, his daughter Tracey and his two adopted sons with May. There are photographs of Sammy's entertainer father, his mother, and a few of the girlfriends he's had a long the way. My favorite photographs are the self-portraits Sammy did with mirrors. Sammy Davis Jr. also liked talking photographs of people in everyday life but his celebrity made him too obvious to his subjects. So he often took photos from hotel balconies and windows or he went incognito into the streets to take pictures.

Sammy Davis Jr. was the epitome of a self-taught man. He never had any schooling and was raised in the entertainment business. Everything he learned he learned by himself or by the example of others. Including photography.

If you are a fan of Sammy Davis Jr. and of the stars of the 1950s and 1960s, get this book! It'll be a wonderful addition to your coffee table collection or to your home library.

Disclosure: I bought this book for my husband as a thank you present and he lent it to me for this review.

Image Source: Vanity Fair


  1. This is definitely on my wishlist, for the photographs alone. Thank you for the recommendation, Raquelle!


  2. You can find classics like these at the site below Great Stuff

  3. It's always great to find someone who dedicates their blog to great film classics! Keep it up Raquel! Cheers!


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