Sammy for Sale : Entertainer Davis’ Belongings to Be Sold at Auction


Memorabilia, jewelry and artwork belonging to the late Sammy Davis Jr. will be auctioned off in Los Angeles on Sunday to help pay millions of dollars owed by his estate.

The proceeds from the court-ordered auction are not expected to cover all the bills left behind when the renowned show business figure died of throat cancer in May, 1990, an attorney for the estate’s executors said Tuesday.

The attorney, Herbert D. Sturman, said Davis’ wife, Altovise, will probably have to sell her home on Beverly Hills’ swank Summit Drive.

Although Davis’ will listed $2 million in personal property and $2 million in real estate, documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court reveal that his debts far exceeded the value of his assets. He died owing $5.2 million in federal taxes, $2,000 for two tuxedos he never got to wear, $3,500 in groceries charged to a Vons account, a $118,000 mortgage on a shopping center in Virginia and at least $16,236 in smaller debts.


Court documents also describe months of dissension between the executors and Altovise Davis, who broke down in tears when she was told she had to part with some of the jewelry her husband left her in his will. “She told me she was quite upset about having to auction off Mr. Davis’ personal jewelry and was crying,” Nancene Cohen, a paralegal in Sturman’s office, said in a sworn affidavit.

Altovise Davis could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Her attorney was attending a funeral and did not return a reporter’s phone call.

According to the documents, executors were distressed when they were unable to account for all the items listed on an inventory prepared by Davis’ insurance company. “We were shocked to find that 185 items of Mr. Davis’ jewelry were missing,” Sturman wrote Altovise Davis last December.

He also said in the letter that he was “quite disturbed” that other items were missing, including five fur coats, an Andy Warhol painting of a Campbell soup can and a portrait of Davis by LeRoy Neiman.


Donald H. May, an official at Butterfield & Butterfield, auctioneers for the estate, said in court papers that he paid a visit to the Davis home in January and noticed “there are now blank areas on walls where I had seen artwork and memorabilia on prior visits.”

After executors Shirley Rhodes and John Climaco complained to the court that “a substantial and significant amount of (Davis’) property” was unaccounted for, Altovise Davis was ordered to appear before a judge to explain why various pieces of artwork and jewelry listed in the insurance inventory had not yet been made available for the auction. “Some of the questions were answered, some were not answered,” Sturman said, declining to provide a specific accounting of items.

However, the Warhol painting, valued at $20,000 to $30,000, has been recovered and will be offered at a separate contemporary arts auction on Oct. 24.

One possible explanation for the missing items, the lawyer said, is that the insurance inventory was prepared several years before Davis’ death and may not have been up to date. “He was a guy who was very gracious and loved to give things away,” Sturman said. “Mrs. Davis . . . did the best she could under the circumstances.”


According to the insurance estimate, Davis left an art collection worth $219,000 and jewelry valued at $1.4 million. Laura Smissaert, spokeswoman for Butterfield & Butterfield, said the items to be offered Sunday are worth about $250,000.

These include cuff links engraved with Davis’ likeness that were given to him by Pearl Bailey and are inscribed, “To Sammy from Mother Pearl,” 253 other pieces of jewelry, scrapbooks, photo albums, collections of hats, walking sticks and belt buckles, furs, medallions from the nightclubs where Davis performed and his gold record for the hit song “The Candy Man.”

Part of Davis’ gun collection was sold at auction Aug. 2 in San Francisco, bringing in $30,000. In his will, Davis left one weapon, which he described as his “Gary Cooper gun,” to Clint Eastwood, and the rest of the Western-style guns to the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum. The entire gun collection was valued at $137,210 for insurance purposes.

But charities lose out if debts remain unpaid, so the museum is out of luck. “It’s too bad (Davis’) wishes as expressed in the will couldn’t be carried out,” said James H. Nottage, the museum’s chief curator.


Sturman said Davis’ financial problems stemmed from his long illness.

"(Davis) didn’t realize his income from royalties and residuals, but from performing,” the attorney said. “When he got sick at the end of his career, he wasn’t able to perform.”