Review of Sammy Davis, Jr.: Me & My Shadow
by Xazmin Garza, Las Vegas Senior Press
Not long after Arthur Silber, Jr. met the legendary performer Sammy Davis, Jr., the two became inseparable. As Davis, fan base grew and his popularity soared, Silber was right there by his side, watching the evolution of his friend’s career. Always along for the roller coaster ride that was Davis’ famed life, the virtuoso was often heard telling doormen and the like “Don’t worry about him, he’s my shadow.” So came the title of Silber’s book Sammy Davis, Jr. Me and My Shadow, in which he recalls his days with Davis and the life of the only man to ever have the lights on the Vegas Strip turned out in his memory.
The two met in Hawaii, where Davis was performing in a variety show for troops that fought in World War II. At 15 years old, Silber was four years his junior, on his summer break and had come along with his father, a successful Hollywood agent. Being surrounded by nothing but show- biz adults, the two were immediately drawn to each other. “Sammy never had a childhood,” says Silber. “He was performing since the time he was six years old so he kind of relived his childhood with me.” Silber details their antics throughout Me and My Shadow and highlights their fascination with sword – fighting with pictures and stories. “Back then show business was all about performing at night, in night clubs and such,” says Silber. “So during the day there wasn’t anything to do. We found things, though.”
Silber and his best friend made the most of his belated childhood, but, as nature would have it, they inevitably had to grow up. Looking for a way to ensure Silber could be around to enjoy his flourishing career, Davis employed him as a production manager. Silber got to reap some of the benefits that came along with Davis’ fame. “We could let 10 girls in the door at any time and there were always 10 more waiting behind them,” he recalls. As great as the after-parties and glitz were that accompanied the only member of color in the Rat Pack, there were also serious struggles that Silber remembers just as well.
Considering the time of Davis’ rise and the racial tensions that set the tone during those days, the African-American performer soon learned that having his name on a marquee didn’t change his status with society. Although he may have been headlining a performance at a casino, Davis wasn’t allowed to walk through the casino or to dine there. He, along with all other performers of color, were to enter and exit through the back doors.
“The first color barrier he broke was when he decided he was going to walk through the casino he was performing at and eat at the restaurant there,” says Silber. Davis never got a chance to eat that day. Not because he was thrown out, but because he was mobbed by fans, asking for autographs. “He wasn’t recognized as a black man in a casino. He was recognized as the star of the show.”
From there, Davis triggered other controversies, one of which involved actress Kim Novak, with whom he shared a romantic entanglement that Silber refers to as “hot and heavy,” Others involved IRS troubles and drug and alcohol abuse, which Davis recovered from before his death in 1990.