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Sammy Davis Jr. Died Today... Which Of These 2 Projects On His Life Will We See First?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
May 16, 2013 12:19 PM
3 Comments
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Today in history... May 16th 1990, entertainer, icon, American treasure, Sammy Davis Jr's, died of cancer in Los Angeles at age 64. 

Recalling my 50+ Biopic Projects On Black Public Figures "In Limbo" post, there are 3 Sammy projects we know of that are in some stage of development - 1 a feature film; the other 2 stage works.

First, it was announced in December 2011 that Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios acquired rights to his life story from his daughter Tracey Davis, with plans to develop both a feature film AND a stage production.

On his deathbed, one of the last things my father told me as he put my face in his hands was: ‘Tracy, tell my story. Warts and all’,” said Tracey Davis, and, apparently, Byron Allen is the man for the job.

And, as a star of stage and screen (big and small), singer, dancer, husband (thrice), children, near-fatal accident, conversion to Judaism, hanging out in the White House with presidents, and much more... what a full, stirring life Sammy Davis Jr led, which could translate into one heck of a film... depending on who else is involved in putting it all together.

However, a year after the Byron Allen announcement, a $35+ million lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles, by independent producer Rick Appling against Byron Allen and his Entertainment Studios, claiming that he (Appling) owns the rights the Sammy Davis Jr's life story, not Allen, and that Allen screwed him over royally!

His 12-page suit (which you can read HERE) was asking for $35 million plus other damages, stating that Allen's interference has prevented him from advancing his plans for a film about Sammy. 

Apparently, Sammy's daughter, Tracey, may have sold the rights (whether accidentally, or not) to her father’s life story to two different production companies; although the lawsuit doesn't name her as a defendant or plaintiff in the case.

Where that suit stands at the moment, I can't say. There haven't been any reports on it since the initial reveal.

So it's anyone's guess at this point where the film stands.

And the second project is titled Yes I Can, a new musical inspired by the life and times of Davis Jr, was said to be in the works from producers Arlie Cone and Steven Hayes, with a possible Broadway run on the horizon. 

Sam Scalamoni of Disney's Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, was set to direct.

Yes I Can is also said to be simply inspired by Davis' life, and is intended as a musical fable featuring a charismatic, triple-threat song-and-dance man, in the same way that Dreamgirls featured a Supremes-like Motown girl group.

The show, which will feature music by Tony Award-winner Charles Strouse, is only the latest in a string of Davis-themed musicals, including the Old Globe Theatre's 2009 production of Sammy, and Eric Jordan Young's 2006 production, Sammy & Me.

And this won't be the first time he's been *represented* on screen; You may recall that Don Cheadle won a Golden Globe for his performance as Davis in the 1998 HBO film The Rat Pack; also worth noting is that several comedians/actors have impersonated Davis during their careers, like Eddie GriffinGarrett MorrisEddie MurphyTim MeadowsTommy Davidson and even Billy Crystal and others.

As already well-documented on S&A, there are a number of other biopics on the lives of black entertainers that have long been in development, and are still in limbo; Marvin GayeMiles Davis, MLK, James Brown and about 50 others. 

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3 Comments

  • ALM | May 20, 2013 7:53 PMReply

    Byron Allen's name mentioned in the same sentence as Sammy Davis Jr.'s name frightens me.

  • Miles Ellison | May 20, 2013 8:11 PM

    It should. Nothing good can happen when the black Sam Walton of television decides to make a film about an icon. This will not end well.

  • david | May 16, 2013 2:09 PMReply

    TOMMY DAVIDSON...PERIOD!

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