The History of the Rat Pack

The name "Rat Pack" was first used to refer to a group of friends in Hollywood first informally organized around Humphrey Bogart, a group that included the young Frank Sinatra. 1960s version of the group included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford (brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy). Angie Dickinson, Juliet Prowse, and Shirley MacLaine were often referred to as the "Rat Pack Mascots", a title which reportedly made these ladies feel like "one of the boys". The post-Bogart version of the group 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.


As a result of Lawford's relation to Kennedy and Sinatra's connections to the Mafia, and the role the group played in campaigning for Kennedy and the Democrats, the Rat Pack had not only influence in entertainment and social circles but some influence politically as well.


The Rat Pack often performed in Las Vegas, Nevada, and were instrumental in the rise of Las Vegas as a popular entertainment destination. They played an important role in the desegregation of Las Vegas hotels and casinos in the early 1960s. Sinatra and the others would refuse to play in or patronize those establishments that would not give full service to African American entertainers including Davis. Once Rat Pack appearances became popular and the subject of media attention, the Las Vegas properties were forced to abandon segregation-based policies.


Sinatra and friends had no idea this band of five would make entertainment history. The group was remarkable for its upbeat entertainment style and smooth musical and comedy routines, many of which were ad-libbed. Davis said when Sinatra called the initial gathering of the Rat Pack, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, French President Charles de Gaulle, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev were planning a Paris Summit Conference. Not to be outdone, Sinatra observed, "We'll have our own little Summit meeting." The Vegas Summit did not draw diplomats, but it did draw high rollers, VIPs, celebrities, and entertainment buffs, who responded by the thousands. 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 amongst 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's entertainment experience. The marquees of the hotels at which they were performing as individuals might read "DEAN MARTIN - MAYBE FRANK - MAYBE SAMMY."


Although the Rat Pack members remained close (with the exception of Peter Lawford), the Rat Pack began to fade in popularity with the rise of the 1960s counterculture, which sent their form of sophisticated "Establishment" entertainment into decline. While its individual members remained hugely popular with the public, the Rat Pack, as such, had ceased to exist by the end of the 1960s.