The Rat Pack Returns


The Pack is back.

No, not the Super Bowl champs. No driving fullbacks or power-armed quarterbacks in this gang. Booze was the juice that kept it cooking, humor was its team motto, and crooning was its signature talent. (Although, like the Green Bay Packers, it also had its share of cheerleaders.)

They called themselves the Rat Pack. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop. Frankie, Dino, Sammy and Joey: the ‘50s and ‘60s’ coolest, hippest, most ring-a-ding gang of show business cutups.

And they’re back, in all their glory, in a knock-’em-dead hour-and-a-half videotaped-at-a-concert performance in St. Louis in 1965. It is a prime Rat Pack presentation, with the members at their peak, flawed only by the absence of Bishop, out with a back injury. Amazingly, except for the audience at the event and a few lucky viewers who managed to catch it during a closed-circuit transmission to select locations, it has never been seen by the public.


Tonight at the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills, the surprisingly well-preserved “Rat Pack Recaptured” kinescope will receive its Los Angeles premiere. (The film opened at the museum’s New York branch on April 11.) Starting Friday, it will be screened at the museum Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through June 12.

Older viewers will be delighted to see these show business legends in prime-time form. Younger viewers will have the opportunity to experience what all the fuss was about. Although there are a few technical glitches here and there, notably in the then boyish-looking Johnny Carson’s opening monologue, the program otherwise is broadcast-quality black and white.

The program is sequenced to allow each performer--Martin, followed by Davis, followed by Sinatra, with a group wrap-up--to have a solo spot. But an open offstage microphone allows for kibbitzing during each individual stint. Halfway through Martin’s lineup of songs, for example, we hear Sinatra’s voice commenting, “If we’re lucky, folks, he might finish it!”

Martin returns the favor during Sinatra’s songs, harmonizing a line here and there, tossing in a comment or two, nearly causing Sinatra to break up.

Davis’ appearance is superb, recalling the extraordinary, and presently too little recognized, breadth of his talents. He sings beautifully (backed by the Count Basie Orchestra conducted by Quincy Jones), especially during a stirring rendering of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” performed with drum accompaniment alone. He dances a quick run-through of the steps of the moment--the Money, the Jerk and the Frug--and does an astonishing array of impressions from Fred Astaire and Nat King Cole to Mel Torme and Dean Martin.

But it is Sinatra who dominates. Singing as well as he ever has, he does his own brilliant rendering of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” adds “You Make Me Feel So Young” and fittingly transforms a line from “Fly Me to the Moon” into “Fill my heart with song, let me swing forevermore.”


Carson joins the others for the Rat Pack segment of the show, replacing Bishop, and providing some of the humor as the others break up when he blows a line and, especially, when he risks adding a vocal to “Birth of the Blues.” The bantering is sometimes bawdy, sometimes a bit over the top (especially in the references to Davis: Carson at one point, cracks, “Why don’t you sing a medley of race riots?”). But the interplay, even when it is obviously scripted--among the trio of Martin, Davis and Carson--is marvelous to watch. Martin does a pratfall or two; Sinatra and Martin upstage Davis when he attempts several impersonations; and the spontaneous, back-and-forth, quick-take gags between performers who clearly are fond of one another are the stuff of show business legend.

The original program was discovered by Paul Brownstein, a producer who specializes in the restoration, marketing and distribution of artist-owned television programs. How he located the show doesn’t quite match the intricate plots of some of Sinatra’s detective movies, but it was, according to the producer, “the thing that’s fun about what I do--[the] Columbo part.”

The search began when Brownstein was told by Sinatra’s former road manager, Tony Oppedisano, about a CBS News documentary called “Sinatra at 50.”

“He told me there was some interesting footage from a gig Sinatra and the Rat Pack were doing at a St. Louis benefit performance,” Brownstein says. “So I went to the museum and looked it up. The footage Tony was talking about had been shot from the audience in 16-millimeter film. But when I looked closely, I could see a television camera on the side of the stage. Somebody, obviously, was taping the whole thing.”

Brownstein began to call television stations for more information, but hit a dead end until he checked with the St. Louis Historical Society, which referred him to Dismas House, the first halfway house for ex-convicts and a favorite Sinatra charity.

“I found that they were still around,” he says, “and called them. And when I asked the secretary if she knew anything about the Sinatra program, she said, ‘Oh, yeah, I have the film of it in my closet!’ ”


The film turned out to be a kinescope of the program, which had originally been scheduled for pay-per-view closed-circuit transmission.

“They were planning to put it in theaters,” Brownstein notes. “But ultimately, it was only seen in a couple of cities--in New York, for example, at El Morocco.”

Brownstein has been unable to locate the original two-inch tape and is convinced that the kinescope has never before been available for viewing. He transferred the black-and-white print to digital videotape and deposited the original in the museum.

The version that will be screened over the next few months has been edited to focus on the Rat Pack performance. The uncut original, which also includes performances by the Count Basie Orchestra, the Step Brothers, Kaye Stevens and Trini Lopez, can be viewed privately at a museum console.