A class act stands the test of time and none more so than Frank Sinatra and his immaculately-dressed pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. Their great tunes and swinging antics cemented them into popular culture forever. Decades on, the team are celebrated as icons of sophistication.
Yet the collective name for the group — the “Rat Pack” — is far from classy. Why was that?
The truth of the matter is Sinatra and co. were known by that title but it wasn’t their idea. As with any showbiz legend, accounts vary. That said, the most famous details are these. Originally the pack was a gathering of Tinseltown’s finest, of which Sinatra was just an element. As for the leader, well that was none other than screen icon Humphrey Bogart.
For some this image appeared unlikely. In his 1995 book Bogart: In Search Of My Father (with Gary Provost), Stephen Bogart wrote, “Another seeming contradiction… is that he was a guy who supposedly wanted nothing to do with Hollywood ‘in’ groups and yet he was the leader of the most in group of all, the Holmby Hills Rat Pack.”
Holmby Hills is a wealthy area in West LA. The company Bogart and wife Lauren Bacall kept contained some truly notable names. David Niven, Judy Garland and Angie Dickinson were just some of the celebs in the mix.
A 2017 article for The Rake says, “Their aims were simple, as Bogart told one journalist: ‘The relief of boredom and the perpetuation of independence.’” Few knew about being independent better than “Bogie,” who stood up to the Hollywood establishment.
People were ascribed different roles in this exclusive club. “Pack Master” was Ol’ Blue Eyes. “Vice President” was Garland and Bacall was referred to as “Den Mother.” The Rat Pack may have gone on to be associated with boys, but girls played an important role also.
In fact “Rat Pack” was Bacall’s invention. In 1955, after some serious partying, she surveyed the human devastation. “You look like a goddamn rat pack,” she declared to her drink-sodden friends. She probably didn’t intend for the insult to stick. But when she delivered it, the effect was as devastating as any of her classic movie lines.
The “Rat Pack” became a badge of dishonor — actually it was a coat of arms rather than a badge. Bogart’s crowd had one specially-designed, depicting a rat chewing a hand.
Related Video: Vintage Celebrity TV Commercials
Their motto read: “Never rat on a rat.” While it isn’t clear just how extensively that rule was put into practice, it helped form a strong bond between the group’s various individuals.
When Sinatra assembled his own gang of friends the brand followed him, though he wasn’t keen on the “Rat Pack” name. A 2016 Mental Floss article says that “during a 1987 announcement of a reunion tour called ‘Together Again,’ Sinatra chided a reporter for using ‘that stupid phrase.’”
For him “the Clan” was a better description. It summed them up pretty nicely. They shared a brotherly love that lasted through the years, belting out tunes, making movies (such as Sixties classics Ocean’s 11 and Robin and the 7 Hoods) and generally ensuring everyone was having a good time.
Some see a deeper meaning among the fun and games. The Rake writes that the Pack “achieved much more than their own success, helping to establish the transformative new world of the sixties every bit as much as the rock ’n roll generation that came after them, expressing the thought that there might be more to life than work, family and duty.”
Sinatra’s pack were explored in a 1998 TV movie starring Ray Liotta. And tribute acts have captured the magic of these independent spirits around the world.
So whatever the view of them, be they dirty rats or swinging cats, the legacy endures over half a century later.