In the current news is the official renaming of a Las Vegas street as Sammy Davis Jr Drive. It honors the great song and dance entertainer who starred in the city for many years. The event brings back memories about how my mom could never get Sammy’s name straight even after having dinner with him at the then-new Sands Hotel on the Strip.
The year was 1960, and Al Freeman, public relations director of the Sands, flew his mom and mine from their homes in Philadelphia to spend several days as guests at the hotel. The two women, then in their late 60s, were close friends for several decades.
Both had been widowed young during the Great Depression. Their sons, my older brother and Al, had spent ten years as classmates in Girard College, a boarding school for fatherless boys.
After she returned to Philly, I asked my mom who she met in Las Vegas. She correctly said Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. She added that she had dinner with Sammy Junior Davis. No matter how often I tried, I could never get her to say his name right.
Maybe it was because she was born in Russia, came to America at age ten, and spent only two years in school. Immigrant families struggled, and it was the custom then for pre-teen kids to get full-time jobs. While working in the sweat-shop garment industry with many Jewish, Polish and Italian immigrants, my mom learned English in her own way, and no one could change it.
Therefore, in memory of both my mom and the great entertainer, and despite what the new Las Vegas street sign says, I’ll always call it Sammy Junior Davis Drive.