The Rat Pack was a group of actors originally centered on Humphrey Bogart. In the mid-1960s it was the name used by the press and the general public to refer to a later variation of the group, after Bogart’s death, that called itself “the summit” or “the clan,” featuring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, who appeared together on stage and in films in the early-1960s, including the movie Ocean’s 11. Sinatra, Martin and Davis were regarded as the group’s lead members.
The name “The Rat Pack” was first used to refer to a group of friends in New York. Several explanations have been offered for the famous name over the years. According to one version, the group’s original “Den Mother,” Lauren Bacall, after seeing her husband (Bogart) and his friends return from a night in Las Vegas, said words to the effect of “You look like a goddamn rat pack.” “Rat Pack” may also be a shortened version of “Holmby Hills Rat Pack“, a reference to the home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall which served as a regular hangout.
Visiting members included Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Mickey Rooney and Cesar Romero.
According to Stephen Bogart, the original members of the Holmby Hills Rat Pack were: Frank Sinatra (pack master), Judy Garland (first vice-president), Bacall (den mother), Sid Luft (cage master), Bogart (rat in charge of public relations), Swifty Lazar (recording secretary and treasurer), Nathaniel Benchley (historian), David Niven, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, George Cukor, Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, and Jimmy Van Heusen. In his autobiography The Moon’s a Balloon, David Niven confirms that the Rat Pack originally included him but not Sammy Davis, Jr. or Dean Martin.
The 1960s version of the group included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and for a brief stint, Norman Fell. Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson, Juliet Prowse, and Shirley MacLaine were often referred to as the “Rat Pack Mascots”. The post-Bogart version of the group (Bogart died in 1957) was reportedly never called that name by any of its members — they called it the Summit or the Clan. “The Rat Pack” was a term used by journalists and outsiders, although it remains the lasting name for the group.
Often, when one of the members was scheduled to give a performance, the rest of the Pack would show up for an impromptu show, causing much excitement among audiences, resulting in return visits. They sold out almost all of their appearances, and people would come pouring into Las Vegas, sometimes sleeping in cars and hotel lobbies when they could not find rooms, just to be part of the Rat Pack entertainment experience. The Rat Pack’s appearances were unprecedentedly valuable because the city would always become flooded with high rollers, wealthy gamblers who would routinely leave substantial fortunes in the casinos’ coffers. The marquees of the hotels at which they were performing as individuals would read, for example, “DEAN MARTIN – MAYBE FRANK – MAYBE SAMMY” as seen on a Sands Hotel sign.
Peter Lawford was a brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy (dubbed “Brother-in-Lawford” by Sinatra), and the group played a role in campaigning for him and the Democrats, appearing at the July 11, 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Lawford had asked Sinatra if he would have Kennedy as a guest at his Palm Springs house in March 1962, and Sinatra went to great lengths (including the construction of a helipad) to accommodate the President. When Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy advised his brother to sever his ties to Sinatra because of the entertainer’s association with Mafia figures such as Sam Giancana, the stay was cancelled. Kennedy instead chose to stay at rival Bing Crosby’s estate, which further infuriated Sinatra. Lawford was blamed for this, and Sinatra “never again had a good word for (him)” from that point onwards. Lawford’s role in the upcoming 4 for Texas was written out, and his part in Robin and the 7 Hoods was given to Bing Crosby.
On June 20, 1965, Sinatra, Martin, and Davis, with Johnny Carson as the emcee (substituting for Bishop, who was out with a bad back), performed their only televised concert together during the heyday of the Pack at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis, a closed-circuit broadcast done as a fundraiser for Dismas House (the first halfway house for ex-convicts) and fed live to movie theatres across the country. Thirty years later Paul Brownstein tracked down a print of the “lost” show in a St. Louis closet after someone noticed mysterious cameras onstage during a CBS documentary on Sinatra which filmed part of the show. It has since been broadcast on Nick at Night (in 1998) as part of The Museum of Television & Radio Showcase series and released on DVD as part of the Ultimate Rat Pack Collection: Live & Swingin.
Why they’re style icons
The 30-something circuit is familiar with the Brat Pack — the coming-of-age celeb set of ‘80s stars like Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall made famous by feel-good John Hughes films. And Generation Y is likewise no stranger to the Frat Pack of comedic heroes including Jack Black, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and Steve Carell. Both A-list crowds deserve a rousing laugh and their rightful place in cinematic history.
Long before any of them were around, however, there was the ultimate “in” crowd: The Rat Pack. The timeless troupe — consisting of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop — was led by the group’s public relations master, Humphrey Bogart, and it was the essence of entertainment. The Rat Pack lit up the Vegas strip in the 1960s and turned it into the star-studded playground it is today.
Gaining membership to this exclusive club took more than singing, dancing and acting, (and martini-downing, cigarette smoking and womanizing). The Rat Pack marked an era because of the fashions that defined the men who were fortunate enough to be a part of it. These were the last days of true Hollywood glamour, characterized by impeccable yet effortless tailoring. Sharkskin suits, slim ties and fitted dress shirts were hallmarks of the Rat Pack style.
Despite the stuffy sound of this silhouette, these men didn’t shop on the Champs-Élysées. Instead, Sunset Boulevard was home to the team’s tailors of choice. Sammy got his trousers pencil thin and Dino sought out shirts with French cuffs and a 3/8-inch pleated front. Each one in the group had his own distinct flavor, but there was a cohesive message they gave to everyone around them: Party like a rock star, dress like a gentleman.
Dress the rat pack way
A strategically undone bow tie is about as casual as the Rat Pack ever got. And for today’s upwardly mobile masses that currently tend toward Frat rather than Rat, it can seem like a nearly impossible and impractical sense of style to achieve. However, being buttoned-up doesn’t have to be difficult or unrealistic. Paying homage to Ocean’s Eleven (the original Rat Pack rendition, not the Pitt-Clooney cover) is easier than you’d think.
A shawl collar jacket and tuxedo shirt can be reinterpreted by paring them with dark, slim-fit denim. And if that’s still too much, deconstruct the dress code further by going for a simple signature pocket square and fedora — or perhaps that undone bow tie.
The Rat Pack: Style Icon – AskMen.com.