When the Rat Pack Owned Las Vegas

Some might say that one group of five musicians were largely responsible for making Las Vegas the success it is today. During the 1950s and 60s, fans were queueing round the block and sleeping in their cars, desperately hoping to see one or more of their musical heroes in action. The Copa Room at the Sands Hotel and Casino became their base, and they were friends with some of the biggest names in showbusiness. They starred in movies, released records together and pulled in the crowds to Las Vegas, night after night. Although they called themselves the Summit or the Clan, to the rest of the world they were known as the Rat Pack.

Who Were the Rat Pack?

Officially, the Rat Pack was made up of five male musicians, already famous in their own right. Their names are instantly recognisable, and their fame has endured through the years well into the 21st century. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr. were widely regarded as the leaders, with Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop making up the numbers. It’s thought that the group originally formed under the benevolent eye of infamous Hollywood couple, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. The married pair often hosted social gatherings at their home, inviting household names to rub shoulders with one another like Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland and, of course, Sinatra. Out of this network, the Rat Pack formed with Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine swelling the ranks as official ‘mascots’.

The defined Rat Pack of the 1960s not only socialised together, but also starred in movies together, released music together and, of course, appeared on stage together, most often in Las Vegas. The desert city became synonymous with the group and their names would adorn the billboards every night. People travelled to Vegas simply to catch a glimpse of the musicians performing, before moving on to sample some of the city’s other entertainment.

What’s the Connection to Las Vegas?

The five friends and bandmates liked to socialise in Las Vegas together, following on from the stylish partying locations of the Pack’s forerunners, Bogart, Bacall, David Niven, Cary Grant, etc. The city was certainly one of the ‘in’ places to see and be seen, and the celebrity that followed the group increased Sin City’s status considerably. Whereas before Vegas was seen as a bit of frivolous fun full of glitz and glamour, the Rat Pack and their stint at the Sands brought some class to the Strip. The group’s fusion of jazz music, pop, rock’n’roll and other popular musical styles was a hit across the board. Their success came from their collaboration; whereas people were more than happy to see one member perform, they became ecstatic when another one or two would join their friend on stage. People would book to see one of the Pack headline but added to the excitement was an expectation that at least one ‘special guest’ would show up too. This attitude added to the overall perception of Vegas as a place of excess and magic.

The Legacy Lives On

The Rat Pack were at their peak during the swinging Sixties, working hard and playing hard but all in it together. By the end of the decade, the Las Vegas Rat Pack has disbanded. Although the members still worked with one another sometimes on an individual basis, the golden heyday of the group was over and done with.

Of course, they made such an impression upon the world and on the city of Las Vegas that their legacy still continues today. The way that people enjoy Sin City may have changed a little bit, with the advancement of online casino sites like Skyvegas and live shows streamed on Vimeo, but the spirit of Sinatra and friends lives on. You’ve only to look at the enormous success of the rebooted Ocean’s 11 film franchise to see that the formula still works. People still want to watch on screen the comedy, wit and daring of the original five, as well as get a feel for the thrill of the casino through playing themselves.

Las Vegas is its own phenomenon but who’s to say what it would have been without the Rat Pack calling it home for a decade. The enormously successful residency shows of artists like Celine Dion, Britney Spears and Cher might have looked different without the legacy of the Pack to follow. You may not come across Dean Martin dealing blackjack in the Sands anytime soon, but you can still share in the magic of those times by visiting the city where it all happened. There are many sightseeing spots to tour around whilst you’re there like the house of Antonio Morelli where the Rat Pack used to rehearse, the Sinatra restaurant, Caesars Palace and the Golden Steer Steakhouse. You can even see a Rat Pack tribute show to get a real feel for the atmosphere and excitement of the golden age.