Similar hats on similar heads: uniformity and alienation at the Rat Pack’s Summit Conference of Cool

Article English OPEN
Calvert, Dave
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Subject: E11 | HT | M1

This article considers the nightclub shows of the Rat Pack, focussing particularly on the Summit performances at the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, in 1960. Featuring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, these shows encompassed musical, comic and dance routines, drawing on the experiences each member had in live vaudeville performance. The discussion outlines these individual histories, and draws attention to a shared fascination with impersonation, which forms an explicit and implicit part of the act, as the performers’ stage personas are already emulatory. In addition to the influence of vaudeville, the construction of the Rat Pack also draws on the structures of blackface minstrelsy, with the interactions of the five members being patterned on a fluid variant of the interlocutor-endmen relationships. The interweaving of these influences and performance styles underpins a dominant concern of the troupe, as the comic material frequently negotiates the racial, national and religious identities of the individual performers. In particular, this deals with their shared status of having immigrant ancestry, a status which I term as being ‘hyphenated-American’, suspended between historical, public and aspirational identities.
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