In 1954 the Cadillac Eldorado was the height of luxury, but it had a prominent design flaw.
“It has no functional purpose, just to look cool,” says Matt Anderson Curator of Transportation at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit referring to a conical protrusion that was in the center of the steering wheel standard in the Cadillac Eldorados at that time.
When fast-rising star Sammy Davis Jr got into a horrible car accident driving his own Eldorado in San Bernardino, California in the wee small hours on November 19th, 1954, Davis’ head hit the dangerous steering wheel hub. The car also had no seatbelts.
“He did not have time to react, get out of the way, so he went flying, His head came in and hit against that protrusion and it went right into his left eye socket,” says Anderson, of Davis. “In fact knocked the eye out of the socket.”
The accident nearly ended Davis’ career and could have changed the course of entertainment history. Mo Rocca talks with Davis’ many friends and colleagues to explore the life of the man many consider to be the greatest entertainer of the 20th Century in this week’s edition of CBS News’ hit podcast “Mobituaries.” The episode features interviews with Kim Novak, Dionne Warwick, Carol Burnett, Chita Rivera, and many others.
Rivera, who once dated Davis, talked to Rocca about his talents, “He was everything. He could play any instrument, he could sing, he could dance like a maniac.”
After that accident in San Bernardino Davis asked his surgeon Frederick Hull if his legs were okay, according to Hull’s daughter Nancy Golob. More than fearing that his life would be over, Davis feared his life in showbiz would be over. The thought of not pleasing audiences was unthinkable. "I would like to think of myself as the entertainer…whatever it takes to make the people happy,” Sammy Davis Jr told CBS News later in his life in 1985.
Entertaining was all Davis knew since he started on the Vaudville Circuit when he was three years old.
For over 60 years, Sammy Davis Jr thrilled audiences with his many talents – impressions, dancing, singing, acting. He was a quadruple threat, quintuple if you count his gun slinging routine. But more than his talents, he was a one-of-a-kind personality whose daring would open doors and sometimes cause controversy. His legacy is an incredible body of work and generations of performers that say Davis paved the way for them.
And singer/actor Ben Vereen tells Rocca,“If there was a black actor on TV in those days, we’d watch. Sammy would come on on The Ed Sullivan Show and do everything.”
And actor Levar Burton sums up what most say about Davis, “There will never be another performer in show business more talented than Sammy Davis Jr.”