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U.S. Census Bureau History: The "Rat Pack" and Las Vegas, Nevada

Rat Pack members Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra courtesy of the Library of Congress

In the 1960s, Frank Sinatra (right) led a "Rat Pack" of celebrities including Sammy Davis, Jr. (center), Dean Martin (left),
Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford.

The close-knit group of friends socialized and performed together in Las Vegas, NV, and Los Angeles, CA, and supported
each others show business careers.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Entertainers often form close friendships through their work in television, movies, theater and at recording studios. Not only do these trusted friends socialize together, they often help support each other's show business careers. One of the most famous of these groups during the 1950s–1970s consisted of performers Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and others. Known as the "Rat Pack," these actors and recording stars worked together to become international stars and helped make Las Vegas, NV, the "entertainment capital of the world."

The core members of the "Rat Pack" consisted of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford. With the exception of Lawford, these entertainers got their start in show business at small nightclubs and theaters while singing with orchestras, dancing in vaudeville acts, and performing stand-up comedy routines. Sinatra sang with "big bands" headed by legendary band leaders Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman and topped the charts crooning popular tunes of the 1930s and 1940s. Sammy Davis, Jr., was born into show business in 1925. The son of a performing father and dancing mother, Davis toured the United States with his father's vaudeville troupe and received his first movie role in 1933's Rufus Jones for President when he was just 8 years old. Dean Martin began his singing career in Cleveland, OH, and New York City, NY, before touring with comedian Jerry Lewis in 1946 as part of the Martin and Lewis vaudeville act. Joey Bishop served in the U.S. Army during World War II before touring nightclubs as a stand-up comedian. He got his "big break" into show business when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 28, 1950. Unlike the other "Rat Pack" members, Peter Lawford had little show business experience when a talent agent "discovered" and cast him in the 1938 film Lord Jeff. Born in London, England, his British accent made him a natural selection for the many English soldier, sailor, and officer roles he played in World War II-era films.

These entertainers were enjoying successful careers into the 1950s when Frank Sinatra recognized that the recording industry and show business world that made him famous was witnessing a dramatic shift. The audience for the "big band" and "swing" music that featured his crooning ballads was aging. Radio stations, music venues, recording studios and their teenaged audiences were increasingly interested in the energetic, guitar-infused rock and roll music of emerging stars like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Chuck Berry. In response, Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Bishop, and Lawford formed a entertainment alliance—a "Rat Pack" of show business stars—who performed together in live shows and collaborated on music and movie projects.

Individually, the "Rat Pack" entertainers were already regular performers at the casinos, nightclubs, and concert halls in Las Vegas, NV. By the late 1950s, Sinatra encouraged the group to perform together and make "surprise" guest appearances at shows to draw larger audiences. When not in Vegas, Sinatra lobbied directors to cast the group together in movies. In 1958, Sinatra and Martin starred in the movie Some Came Running with close friend Shirley McClaine. That same year, Peter Lawford bought the movie rights for a story about a series of Las Vegas casino robberies. Adapted to a screenplay, the movie Oceans 11 starred Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Lawford, and Bishop. Released in August 1960, the film earned $5.5 million dollars—equivalent to more than $52 million in 2022. [More recently, a 2001 remake of the film starring the "New Rat Pack" actors George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts grossed more than $450 million.]

The "Rat Pack" starred in two more movies together before Sinatra and Lawford ended their friendship in 1962. The split came after Sinatra planned to host President John F. Kennedy at his home during a 1962 California visit. The president's brother and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy convinced the president to change his plans because of Sinatra's supposed association with Las Vegas mafia bosses like Sam Giancana. Sinatra was furious that Lawford—the president's brother-in-law—did not intervene.

Between 1962 and 1984, members of the "Rat Pack" appeared in more than a dozen movies including comedies (Come Blow Your Horn, 1963), musicals (Robin and the 7 Hoods, 1964), and westerns (Texas Across the River, 1966). The "Rat Pack's" most successful films came late in their careers with the release of The Cannonball Run starring Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin in 1981, and Cannonball Run II in 1984 starring Martin, Davis, and Sinatra. The two movies had a combined box office gross of more than $216 million.

Although the majority of the "Rat Pack's" films received mediocre critical response and limited box office success, the entertainers received numerous awards and accolades for their film, music, and charitable work. Of the five "Rat Pack" members, Frank Sinatra was the only Academy Award-winning actor. He received an honorary Academy Award in 1946 for The House I Live In, the "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar for the 1954 film From Here to Eternity, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Academy Award in 1970. Sinatra continued performing at sold-out shows in Las Vegas, NV, until 1994, and won multiple Grammy Awards, including one for his album Duets II released 2 years before his death in Los Angeles, CA, on May 14, 1998.

Following his "Martin and Lewis" act with comedian Jerry Lewis and solo singing career, Dean Martin used his "Rat Pack" fame and talent for slap-stick comedy to help launch The Dean Martin Show in 1965. Featuring a variety of comedy and musical acts, the show earned Martin a Golden Globe Award in 1966 and nominations in 1967, 1968, and 1969. Segments of the Dean Martin Show inspired a hit comedy series known as the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts between 1974 and 1984. The roasts featured athletes, entertainers, and politicians taking good-natured jabs at prominent friends like Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Muhammad Ali, and Betty White. During his career, he recorded dozens of albums, had roles in nearly 100 movies and television productions, and appeared in hundreds of Las Vegas shows between 1949 and 1991. He even hosted the Professional Golfers' Association Dean Martin Tucson Open in Tucson, AZ, from 1972 to 1975. He died at his Beverly Hills, CA, home on December 25, 1995.

During more than 6 decades in the entertainment industry, Sammy Davis, Jr., appeared in dozens of movies, television series, and theatrical productions. Between 1950 and 1990, he released hundreds of albums, single recordings, and music compilations that earned him Kennedy Center Honors in 1987 and a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Davis died at his Beverly Hills, CA, home on May 16, 1990.

Peter Lawford maintained a hectic acting and producing schedule during his show business career. Between 1930 and 1983, he appeared in more than 100 movies, radio shows, and television series. Despite the end of his friendship with Frank Sinatra in 1962, Lawford continued to work with Martin, Bishop, and Davis, last appearing in a "Rat Pack" movie role alongside Sammy Davis, Jr., in the 1970 comedy One More Time. Peter Lawford died on December 24, 1984, in Los Angeles, CA.

Like Dean Martin, comedian Joey Bishop was able to turn his "Rat Pack" fame into a gig hosting his own variety show—The Joey Bishop Show—that competed against Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show between 1967 and 1969. Unlike Martin, Sinatra, and Davis, Joey Bishop was not known as a talented actor or singer, but frequently collaborated with his friends to write material for their live performances. Bishop appeared in more than a dozen movies and numerous television series, game shows, and variety shows between 1958 and 1996. He was the last surviving member of the "Rat Pack" when he died in Newport Beach, CA, on October 17, 2007.

Although the "Rat Pack" era may have ended, the impact Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Bishop, and Lawford had on the American entertainment industry and Las Vegas, NV, remains strong today. Following each of their deaths, the Las Vegas casinos, hotels, and concert venues honored the entertainers with memorials that included dimming of lights on the Vegas Strip, tribute concerts and musical productions, and the renaming of city streets. Their friendship, dedication to their careers, and "Hollywood glamour" continue to inspire actors and musicians today.

You can learn more about the "Rat Pack" and their beloved Las Vegas, NV, using census data and records. For example:

  • Show business "Rat Packs" consisted of groups of entertainers and friends who frequently worked and socialized together. Before the "Rat Pack" consisting of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop became famous for their films and Las Vegas, NV, variety shows, an earlier group of friends was known as Hollywood's "Rat Pack." The group included movie stars and musicians like Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Mickey Rooney, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Cesar Romero, and Frank Sinatra. They usually gathered at the Los Angeles, CA, home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Following Bogart's death in 1957, the group moved its parties to Sinatra's home, added to its membership, and became an informal "union" of entertainers who worked and socialized together and formed an informal production group to support each others' entertainment careers.
  • The "Rat Pack" of motion picture, music industry, and other show business stars led by actor Humphrey Bogart was centered in Los Angeles, CA. When Los Angeles incorporated in 1850, it had a population of 1,610. By 1900, 102,479 called Los Angeles home. In 1920, the city became the tenth largest urban area in the nation with a population of 576,673. At the "Rat Packs'" height of popularity, the city of Los Angeles, CA, had a population of 1,970,358 and 2,479,015 in 1950 and 1960, respectively. In 2020, Los Angeles is the nation's second largest urban area with a population of 3,898,747.
  • Following Humphrey Bogart's death in 1957, Frank Sinatra began hosting the "Rat Pack's" social gatherings at his Los Angeles home and later in Las Vegas, NV. The city of Las Vegas was founded in 1905 along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks that passed through the area connecting Salt Lake City, UT, and Los Angeles, CA. Five years after its founding, the 1910 Census found the city had a population of 945. As the city grew into a gambling and entertainment destination following World War II, the city nearly doubled its growth each decade—24,624 in 1950; 64,405 in 1960; and 125,787 in 1970. More recently, the 2020 Census found that Las Vegas, NV, was the 25th largest city in the United States with a population of 675,592.
  • Opening in 1906, the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino Link to a non-federal Web site was the first casino in Las Vegas, NV. The city outlawed gambling from 1909 to 1931. In 1941, the El Cortez Hotel and Casino Link to a non-federal Web site opened, and is now recognized as the oldest continuously operating casino in Las Vegas, NV. Today, Las Vegas is a popular destination for domestic and international travelers thanks to its variety of gambling, entertainment, dining, and accommodation options. The U.S. Census Bureau collects data about the nation's gambling establishments, including Casino Hotels (NAICS 721120); Casinos, except Casino Hotels (NAICS 713210); and Other Gambling Industries (NAICS 713290). The 2017 Economic Census found that the United States was home to 419 Casino Hotel establishments, with sales of nearly $65.7 billion; 255 Casinos (except Casino Hotels) establishments, with sales of almost $16 billion; and 2,783 Other gambling industries—including Bingo halls and off-track betting establishments—that had sales of more than $9.6 billion in 2017. More recently, data from the Census Bureau's County Business Patterns series for the pay period that included March 12, 2020, found that Nevada was home to 147 Casino Hotels employing 170,134 people; 39 Casinos (except Casino Hotels) employing 5,003; and 219 Other gambling industries that employed 4,672.
  • Many people visit Las Vegas, NV, to get married, including "Rat Pack" leader Frank Sinatra and actress Mia Farrow in 1966. Included among the city's 237 personal services sector (NAICS 812990) establishments are its famous hollywood-themed, traditional, and drive-thru wedding chapels. Wedding officiants can even include one of Las Vegas' Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, or Frank Sinatra impersonators! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these "artists and related workers" earned a median annual wage of $61,580 in 2021.
  • President John F. Kennedy refused to stay at Frank Sinatra's home during a 1962 visit to California because his brother—Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy—believed the crooner was too closely associated with the mafia in Las Vegas, NV. Included among these mobster were: "Bugsy" Siegel who used the proceeds of his alcohol smuggling during Prohibition to open the famous Flamingo Hotel and Casino Link to a non-federal Web site in 1946; Chicago, IL, mob boss Sam Giancano who Sinatra befriended in the hope of gaining his support for John F. Kennedy during the 1960 Presidential Election; Meyer Lansky who financed casinos in Las Vegas, NV, Cuba, and the Bahamas; Charles "Lucky" Luciano who befriended Sinatra following a performance in Havana, Cuba; and Al Capone's counsin Rocco Fischetti who accompanied Sinatra on trips to Havana, Cuba. Sinatra denied any relationship with the mafia other than the passing acquaintances he may have made when meeting fans.
  • Did you know that in addition to drawing crowds eager to see legendary entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, and Elvis Presley, Las Vegas, NV was also a tourist destination for atomic blast spectators! Between 1951 and 1992, the United States detonated more than 1,000 nuclear devices at the U.S. Department of Energy's Nevada National Security Site located just 65 miles northwest of the city. Of these tests, 100 atmospheric and 828 underground tests were announced beforehand, allowing "atomic tourists" to watch mushroom clouds rise into the sky from their hotels and feel the detonation's seismic tremors while playing in the city's casinos. The largest of the atmospheric tests ever conducted within the continental United States—Operation Plumbbob on July 5, 1957—had an energy yield nearly five times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. Learn more about the development of the United States' atomic weapons program at our Manhattan Project webpage.
  • The "Rat Pack" of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and their close friends made more than a dozen movies in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. In 1940, 80 million Americans attended the movies and spent $735 million every week. In 1950, 60 million people spent nearly $1.4 billion weekly. Weekly attendance fell to 40 million and spending dropped to $951 million in 1960. More recently, total movie attendance exceeded 1.3 billion in 2010. Despite COVID-19 restrictions and closures, the Motion Picture Association of America reported that in 2021, approximately 168 million people went to the movies in the United States and Canada and spent $4.5 billion.
  • According to data collected by the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey (ACS), the city of Las Vegas, NV, has a total population of 675,592. Of that number, 295,594 people reported they were White; 7,318 were American Indian and Alaska Native; 46,398 were Asian; 82,485 were Black of African American; 4,662 were Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander; 109,045 reported "Some Other Race"; and 96,401 reported two or more races. Among the city's total population, 213,828 people reported they were Hispanic or Latino, and 24.6 percent reported speaking Spanish at home.
  • In 2020, 23.6 percent of Las Vegas, NV's civilian employed population aged 16 years and older worked in the arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services industry; 16.8 percent worked in the education services, and health care and social assistance industry; 12.6 percent worked in professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services; and 12.2 percent worked in retail trade. Median household income for the city's 237,308 households in 2020 was $58,377.

Las Vegas sign courtesy of the US Department of State

The city of Las Vegas was founded in 1905 along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks that passed through the area connecting Salt Lake City, UT, and Los Angeles, CA. Five years after its founding, the 1910 Census found
the city had a population of 945. As the city grew into a gambling and entertainment destination following World War II, the city nearly doubled its growth each decade—24,624 in 1950; 64,405 in 1960; and 125,787 in 1970.
More recently, the 2020 Census found that Las Vegas, NV, was the 25th largest city in the United States with a population of 675,592.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of State.

Citing Our Internet Information

Individual census records from 1790 to 1950 are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, not the U.S. Census Bureau.

Publications related to the census data collected from 1790 to 2010 are available at https://www.census.gov/library/publications.html.

Visit the National Archives Web site to access 1940 and 1950 Census records.

Decennial census records are confidential for 72 years to protect respondents' privacy.

Records from the 1950 to 2010 censuses can only be obtained by the person named in the record or their heir after submitting form BC-600 or BC-600sp (Spanish).

Online subscription services are available to access the 1790–1950 census records. Many public libraries provide access to these services free of charge to their patrons.

Contact your local library to inquire if it has subscribed to one of these services.

For the Record

Lena Horne Movie Poster from the Library of Congress

Several "Rat Pack" members and their close friends celebrate birthdays in June.

Actress Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, CA. She was romantically linked to Frank Sinatra and co-starred with Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse in the 1962 film Something's Got to Give.

Bernard Schwartz was born in New York City, NY, on June 3, 1925. A close friend of Sinatra and other "Rat Pack" members, the award-winning actor known as "Tony Curtis" enjoyed a show business career spanning 8 decades.

Dino Paul Crocetti was born on June 7, 1917, in Steubenville, OH. Using the stage name "Dean Martin," he performed with Jerry Lewis as part of the Martin and Lewis comedy duo. Martin was one of the most famous "Rat Pack" members performing alongside friends Frank Sinatra and Joey Bishop.

Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, MN. She received a juvenile Academy Award for playing Dorothy in 1939's The Wizard of Oz. Close friends Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra helped rejuvenate her career when they performed on television's The Judy Garland Show in 1962.

Legendary actor Errol Flynn frequented many "Rat Pack" social gatherings. Born on June 20, 1909, Flynn starred in Hollywood blockbusters of the 1930s and 1940s, including Captain Blood and Dodge City.

Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn, NY, on June 30, 1917. She costarred with Frank Sinatra in the 1940s and recorded duets with Sammy Davis, Jr., in 1988. Horne won multiple Grammy Awards, a Tony Award, and a NAACP Image Award during her 70 year career.

This Month in Census History

On June 22, 1983, former Census Bureau Associate Director Morris H. Hansen participated in an oral history interview about his life and career.

Hansen was one of the most influential statisticians of the 20th century and a pioneer in the development of statistical sampling methods in censuses and surveys.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: June 01, 2022