Q: Why were they called “The Rat Pack”?
A: Who hasn’t heard of the Rat Pack?
Everybody knows who they were: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, best known for chasing women, filming “Oceans Eleven” in Las Vegas, and performing together in “the Summit at the Sands” while filming early in 1960. Except the Rat Pack wasn’t necessarily what you think — only one of the “big five” had anything to do with starting it, and he wasn’t exactly a key member at the outset.
That honor went to the Hollywood power couple of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who lived in Holmby Hills in western Los Angeles, near Beverly Hills. They liked to drink and entertain, especially with neighbors such as David Niven and his wife, agent Swifty Lazar, restaurateur Mike Romanoff and his wife, and Sid Luft and his wife Judy Garland (a Las Vegas connection, since she headlined here and performed at The Meadows, the earliest local posh casino). Sinatra joined them once he moved to Hollywood.
Bacall gave the group its name, although exactly how it came about is less clear. This much is known: A night of carousing ended back at the home she shared with Bogart. She looked at her friends in various stages of inebriation and mood alteration and said, “You look like a pack of rats.”
The name stuck, although Sinatra reportedly didn’t much like it, but he didn’t complain about it because he liked Bacall, whom he briefly dated after Bogart’s death. Martin and Davis apparently joined in the fun with Bogart, Bacall and company but weren’t full-fledged members until after Bogart died in 1957, when Sinatra became the head of the pack.
By 1960, members of the Rat Pack had occasionally filmed movies together, fought with one another and made headlines for some of their escapades (mostly Sinatra’s love life) when they came to Las Vegas to film “Oceans Eleven” and headlined at the Sands. Some began calling the group the “Clan,” which Sinatra preferred to the Rat Pack, but Davis was understandably sensitive about that word, so they remained the Rat Pack to their fans, and to us today.
(More on The Rat Pack and Las Vegas entertainers from The Las Vegas I Remember)