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The real story behind Rat Pack, Ocean’s 11

Dec 24, 2001 6:47 AM

After reading several dozens reviews, as well as listening to interviews and the hype surrounding the current “remake” of Ocean’s Eleven, I believe the same phenomenon is taking place that took place in 1977. That’s the year Elvis Presley died and people came out of the woodwork claiming they knew Elvis personally or were at his last concert or his funeral or were given gifts by him. Most of it was just people believing their own fantasies.

Several out-of-town columnists have written recently as though they were in the Copa Room the night the “Rat Pack” first appeared on the Sands stage in 1960.

A columnist for a newspaper syndicate wrote a nice piece of partial fiction, garnished with fact, about how Frank got the “Rat Pack” together for the movie and then to get onstage together. The column was replete with stories of the writer’s own escapades of getting boozed up after hours with his pals, just like “the real cool cats.” He conveniently covers his feigned “expertise” by writing: “I would like to regale you with the details of the Rat Pack performances attended, but the truth is, I didn’t remember much about them the next day.” So readers are left to believe that he was too drunk to recall a single detail of a show with three of the greatest entertainers of their time! (Just like most of those who supposedly saw Elvis’s last performance can’t recall what song he closed the show with!)

Twenty years ago, the woman who was closest to the boss of the Sands (Jack Entratter), Eleanor Grasso (as his assistant), as well as two of the most respected Vegas columnists, Joe Delaney and Ralph Pearl, all gave me the same info about what really went down. And, Hollywood showbiz columnist Jim Bacon told me in 1978 and others have confirmed, the “Vegas” Rat Pack didn’t even exist when Ocean’s Eleven was planned. Hollywood was home to the original Rat Pack and was so-named by Lauren Bacall, wife of the leader of that pack, Humphrey Bogart.

And, it was Peter Lawford, who had the connections on the film and helped sell Frank on doing it. The rest of the casting was done by others.

It wasn’t until shooting in Vegas was underway that Entratter and his great publicist, Al Freeman (he of the famed “floating crap game” in the hotel pool), came up with the ingenious promotional idea of surprising Frank by having many of the cast of the film, including Dean, Sammy, Joey, Peter, comedian Buddy Lester, et al, interrupt him onstage. (Al had seen a 1959 Sinatra TV special on which Sammy and Joey also appeared with Peter Lawford, unannounced in the opening credits, interrupting Sammy’s performance. Dean was not on that show and no mention was ever made of Vegas or a “Rat Pack.” If you want a copy of that special, I might sell you one.)

Frank, the only one scheduled to be performing in the Copa Room at the time, was totally surprised by what took place that first night! Most have since forgotten, or never knew, he was under contract and working onstage with the famed Copa Girls at the time.

The mystique of the ultimate in Vegas cool was born. The idea was carried over for a period of less than four years, officially with just Ol’ Blue Eyes, Ol’ Red Eyes and Ol’ One Eye, referred to thereafter, as “Three Coins in the Copa” by the hotel.

Historically, the group was actually known first as the “Clan” and the get-together was originally called the Summit at the Sands, which some have referred to as the Summit Meeting of the Board at the Sands with, guess who, as the Chairman of the Board? (Thus the spawning of Frank being called “The Chairman of the Board.”)

The desire by many to have others think they are really cool will continue to spawn yarns; while, the detached remake passes through the theaters and rapidly onto video store shelves.