Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


DECONSTRUCTING SAMMY. Matt Birkbeck. Amistad; 2008.

I started this book and lapped it up until the wee hours -- what a read! Instead of writing yet another biography of the great and talented Sammy Davis Jr., Birkbeck follows the efforts of African-American lawyer Albert "Sonny" Murray to disentangle Sammy's widow, Altovise Davis, from the IRS and other entanglements and to free up the rights to Sammy's recordings, name and image for her and Sammy's children. Along the way there emerges fascinating portraits of Sammy, Altovise, and Tracey, Sammy's daughter by May Britt, as well as her adopted brothers. After awhile the book takes on the tension of a thriller. Just as Sonny seems on the verge of brokering a terrific deal for Altovise, the chase is on to find the master tapes of Sammy's recordings -- without them, no deal! Suspense is generated over wondering whether or not Sonny will ever untangle all the legal messes left behind by the irresponsible Rat Packer, and if his widow won't ruin it all at the last minute by once again turning into her own worst enemy. Ultimately the book is a sobering study of lost glory, missed opportunities, neglectful parents, and innocent children caught up in a sorry wake that was not of their own making. If that weren't enough, there is also an interesting portrait of Sonny's father, a judge who opened a resort for the African-American community and wanted to keep it that way. Sonny felt the resort would close down if it didn't go after a wider clientele, but his father's Black Pride felt otherwise. Touching. NOTE: To read about other books on Davis, click here.

Verdict: Fantastic! ****.

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