Every product was carefully curated by an Esquire editor. We may earn a commission from these links.
The original group didn’t include Sammy Davis Jr. or Dean Martin.
It doesn’t get more iconic than the Rat Pack—a.k.a. a group of performers that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford. Their Old Hollywood charm, scandalous behavior, and partying lifestyle made them the “bad boys” of the late ’50s and ’60s. With their good looks and plenty of talent to go around, they sold out Las Vegas crowds on a nightly basis. They also took their acting chops to the big screen, sharing credits on a handful of movies together. For an inside look at the Rat Pack and the true stories behind the group, keep reading.
It was actress Lauren Bacall who coined the group’s moniker after seeing her then-husband, Humphrey Bogart, on a drunken night out in Las Vegas with pals, including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, David Niven, Angie Dickinson, talent agent Swifty Lazar, and restaurateur Mike Romanoff.
After Bogart’s death in 1957, Sinatra (who was known as “The Pack Master”) took over the group and added his closest friends, including Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Peter Lawford.
Being a Rat Pack member was taken very seriously. The group had its own coat of arms—an image of a rat biting a human hand—and their motto was “never rat on a rat.”
Sinatra reportedly hated the name the Rat Pack, and instead tried to call the group “The Clan” and “The Summit,” but neither caught on with the media.
Sinatra gave out embroidered bathrobes to the group. Nicknames were on each: Sinatra was “The Pope,” Davis was “Smokey the Bear,” and Martin was “Dino.”
Canadian singer Paul Anka was considered an honorary member of the group, and also received a robe. His nickname was “The Kid,” because of how much younger he was than the rest of the bunch.
The Copa Room at the Sands was considered the home base for the Rat Pack. Whenever one had a show, it was almost a guarantee that others would make a surprise appearance.
The party heated up at the Sands after a show wrapped. Once, the group reportedly ordered 300 Bloody Marys from room service in a single night.
While in Vegas, Martin would often deal blackjack at several casinos.
Not long after Martin and Davis joined, comedian Joey Bishop (pictured here with Sinatra and Eydie Gormé) was also invited into the mix. It was a natural fit for Bishop, who often opened for Sinatra and warmed up the crowd before his performances.
Bishop didn’t feel fully comfortable around the group, once saying he was “never a full-fledged rat.” He reportedly only sat at Sinatra’s table when invited—something the singer didn’t understand. Sinatra once said: “Goddamnit, how long does he have to be with me before he knows he can eat with us?”
Being in the Rat Pack followed Bishop throughout the rest of his life. “He resented the Rat Pack for overshadowing the other achievements he made in his career,” Richard A. Lertzman, the author of Deconstructing The Rat Pack: Joey, The Mob and the Summit, told Fox News.
The five main members collaborated on a total of five albums—one for every member of the group. The most famous was 1960’s The Rat Pack Live at the Sands.
Throughout the years, the Rat Pack was surrounded by women who were just as famous. Stars like Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine, and Juliet Prowse were called “mascots.”
The friendship between Sinatra and Davis (seen here goofing around in 1961) was history-making. During a time when discrimination ran rampant, Sinatra stepped in to defend his fellow entertainer. When a theater banned Davis because of his race, the singer tore up his contract and quit his performance there.
A 16-year-old Davis opened for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and Sinatra—and they became immediate pals. “I wanted to be like him, I wanted to dress like him, I wanted to look like him, I took my hair and had it all done up, Sinatra style, with the little curl here and all,” Davis reportedly said.
The duo never lost their love or respect for one another. After Davis’s passing in 1990, Sinatra—who was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral—told the Daily News: “I wish the world could have known Sam as I did. Sam never gave less than 100% when he was on stage, and he gave even more to those of us lucky enough to call him friend.”
In 1960, the five stars made Hollywood history by all starring in Ocean’s 11 together. They allegedly ad-libbed most of their lines.
Allegedly, Bishop was the only one who showed up on time to film Ocean’s 11—and Sinatra shot for 20 minutes at 3 p.m. each day before starting to drink. After 5 p.m., the group would call it a day, perform in Las Vegas, and party the night away.
Over the years, Martin and Sinatra’s children—including Tina Martin and Nancy Sinatra, pictured here—became friends. “We were close-knit and far more average than most people thought,” Tina told People. “The camaraderie between families started with the youngest and went to the oldest, and that’s really true.”
Sharing the stage with their sons, Dean Paul Martin and Frank Sinatra Jr., was always a special moment for both singers. “They loved seeing all their kids [performing together],” Dean’s daughter Gail Martin Downey, told People. “They were so proud of all of us, and I just loved that.”
Here, Martin and Sinatra’s families pose together following a taping of The Dean Martin Show. They often gathered for large dinners as a group, and the kids called the respective performers “Uncle Dean” and “Uncle Frank.”
Sinatra might not have been the best golfer, but he still loved the course. “Dean Martin was the only real golfer in the bunch,” Sinatra’s former valet, George Jacobs, told Golf Magazine. “Frank could hit it pretty well off the tee, but that was about it. He would hack it around, having fun, you know?”
If the man behind the camera shooting Sinatra and Lawford looks familiar, that’s because he’s a star in his own right. Actor Tony Curtis wanted to try his hand at photography and his first magazine assignment was on the set of Sergeants 3, a 1962 film starring all five Rat Pack members.
Believe it or not, Sinatra and Martin were very different. While Ol’ Blue Eyes loved a party, the King of Cool was quieter once he walked off the stage. “Dean was always the happy drunk. But in reality, he was sipping on apple juice,” author of Deconstructing The Rat Pack: Joey, The Mob and the Summit, Richard A. Lertzman, told Fox News. “If there was a party at Dean’s house, he would leave at 8 p.m., go up to his bedroom, get into his pajamas and watch Westerns. If the party became really loud, he would call up the Beverly Hills Police and report his own party.”
Martin, Sinatra, and Davis made up the core of the Rat Pack, and they performed together frequently. They even caught the attention of the FBI after performing at the 500 Club in Atlantic City for Paul ‘Skinny’ D’’mato, and later at the Villa Venice in Chicago for mobster Sam Giancana.
Peter Lawford was married to Patricia Kennedy and Sinatra grew close to the actor’s brother-in-law, John F. Kennedy. The singer even reportedly introduced the future president and Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana to the same woman, creating a tense love triangle between them.
In February 1960, Sinatra reportedly pointed to JFK in the audience at one of his shows and introduced him as “the next president of the United States.” The moment marked a years-long friendship—they partied together, campaigned together, and became incredibly close.
During JFK’s presidential campaign, the Rat Pack became the Jack Pack.
Jackie Kennedy wasn’t too thrilled with her husband and the singer’s bond. Not only was Sinatra introducing him to other women, but she also didn’t like rumors of Sinatra’s ties to the mob. In fact, she reportedly “despised” the rat pack member and wanted JFK to call off their friendship after winning the election.
Things got tense between Sinatra and Lawford in 1962, when Lawford and JFK were set to visit the singer at his Palm Springs home. After building a Presidential Suite and helipad just for them, they decided to stay at Bing Crosby’s estate instead—and Lawford had to break the news to Sinatra, who the actor claims never forgave him.
After Lawford was kicked out of the Rat Pack, him and Sinatra rarely, if ever, spoke. But that changed in 1963, when Sinatra’s 19-year-old son was kidnapped. “Frank woke me up with his phone call a few hours after they grabbed young Frankie,” Lawford later recounted in His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra. “There was no hello, no apology, nothing like that. He just said for me to call Bobby [Robert Kennedy] and get the FBI in on the case…”
In 1988, Martin, Davis, and Sinatra returned for the “Together Again National Concert Tour” with plans to hit 29 cities. Sadly, Martin had an especially hard time keeping up, citing health issues. After six shows, he bowed out.
Sinatra and Davis, eager to continue on, brought in Liza Minnelli. Reviews weren’t great, with some saying the old magic and “bad boy repartee” that fans loved just wasn’t there any longer.
Within the decade following their last tour, the Rat Pack would be gone forever. Davis died in 1990, followed by Martin in 1995 and Sinatra in 1998. With Lawford’s passing in 1984 and Bishop’s in 2007, it officially marked the end of an era. However, their legacy lives on as the stars who helped build Las Vegas into the entertainment destination it is today.