Sammy Davis Jr.'s Relationship With This Star Led to a Mob Threat on His Life
The entertainer was given a warning to marry another woman—or else.
In 1957, Sammy Davis Jr. was a popular entertainer and soon to become a member of the Rat Pack. Actor Kim Novak was about to star in her biggest movie, Vertigo. Depending on who you ask, around this time, Davis and Novak either kicked off an affair or a close friendship. Either way, the connection was kept secret due to both their fame and the fact that Davis was Black, and Novak was white.
But sneaking around wasn't all they had to endure. According to a Vanity Fair article about the stars, Davis was threatened by the mob due to his connection to Novak. Read on to find out who is said to have been behind it, how they were connected to Novak, and the shocking move Davis had to make in order to save himself.
Davis and Novak met in the late 1950s.
According to Vanity Fair, Tony Curtis set up Davis and Novak, who were reportedly both interested in getting to know one another.
"I said, 'I'm going to have a party at my house. Come on by, and I'll invite Kim,'" Curtis said, according to the magazine. "They both came over and they spent the evening together—deep in thought, deep in talk. I could see right from the beginning that they were getting along in an intense way, and that was the beginning of the relationship."
Novak, now 89, has told a different story. She explained to The Hollywood Reporter in 2021 that she met Davis when he asked to do a photography session with her. Then, she attended the party at Curtis' home, at which she believes she was drugged. She said that she didn't realize at the time, but now she thinks her drink was spiked and believes that it may have been Curtis who did it, because she only had one drink and then didn't remember anything else.
The relationship was revealed in the tabloids.
According to what Novak said last year, she was only ever friends with Davis. "I knew [Sammy] had this crush, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings," she told THR.
Still, gossip about Novak and Davis was published in the tabloids. According to Vanity Fair, this got back to Harry Cohn, an infamous executive at Columbia Pictures, who had shaped Novak's career.
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Davis was reportedly sought out by the mob.
The Vanity Fair article reports that Davis was threatened by the mob over his relationship with Novak. Supposedly, the gangster Mickey Cohen went up to Davis' father, Sammy Davis Sr., and said, "Listen. I got some terrible news for you. I just got a call from Chicago to hurt Sammy. I tell you what, there's one chance. I'll give him 24 hours. Sammy has to get married—to a colored girl."
Reportedly, the threat could be traced back to Cohn, who was heavily invested in Novak's success and didn't want her bankability to be tarnished by her association with a Black man, even a beloved entertainer. The studio executive supposedly had a connection to the mob. Davis' friend, Arthur Silber Jr., said, "When Cohn found out about Kim and Sammy, he put a contract out—not to kill him, really, but to break both his legs and to put out his other eye."
Another cohort of Davis', Sy Marsh, said, "Sammy was inches away from getting killed."
Davis did what he was asked.
Davis got married quickly to Loray White, a singer he already knew.
"He sat her down—he was sitting in a chair and I was sitting on the bed—and he made her a proposition, to marry him for a certain sum of money," Silber explained. "She would have all the rights that Mrs. Sammy Davis Jr. would have, but at the end of the year they would dissolve the marriage. She agreed to that, and that's what took the heat off."
Novak said that she heard about the threats. "That's when I, for his sake, thought, 'I'd better not see him,'" she told THR.
According to Vanity Fair, Novak said, "It was a very dangerous relationship then—a white woman and a Black man, no matter his status—it simply didn't mix publicly. I was suddenly in the eye of a hurricane … My agent told me my career would be over if I continued to see Sammy. Some of my friends wouldn't even return my telephone calls."
They saw each other again over the years.
After they went their separate ways, Davis and Novak both married more than once. According to Vanity Fair, they reunited when they attended the 1979 Academy Awards together with other friends. Reportedly, she later visited him in the hospital when he was dying in 1990 at age 64. Today, Novak is long retired. Her last movie was 1991's Liebestraum.