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Sammy Davis Jr Risked Losing Career & Life to Have Forbidden Interracial Romance with Kim Novak

Daniella Segell
Jul 28, 2022
10:20 A.M.
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There are many things that people will do for love, but not many will risk losing lucrative business deals and worldwide fame for the person they love. Sammy Davis Jr. and Kim Novak were not some of these people.

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Sammy Davis Jr. and Kim Novak were both Hollywood rebels when they met. Davis had made a name for himself as a Black musician but had broken color barriers almost everywhere he went because of his talent.

Novak was one of Hollywood's newest starlets, but she was not one to be told how she should look or act. Instead, she went with her instincts and didn't listen to what directors or talent agents told her she should be doing.

Portrait of singer Sammy Davis Jr. taken in Australia, 1960 | Source: Getty Images

Portrait of singer Sammy Davis Jr. taken in Australia, 1960 | Source: Getty Images

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These traits in both Davis and Novak caused the pair to become outsiders. However, this title never bothered them. Novak once

said

that in Hollywood, you have to "fight to keep some aspect of yourself."

Davis and Novak first met in 1957 at Chez Paree, a nightclub in Chicago. On stage was "the greatest entertainer in the world," Davis, and sitting at a table next to the stage was Novak, who Davis sang to all night.

While the feeling in the club that night has been described as electric because of the tension between Davis and Novak, that was the first and last time the couple was seen together in public.

Kim Novak portrait session on the set of "Vertigo" on October 12, 1957. | Source: Getty Images

Kim Novak portrait session on the set of "Vertigo" on October 12, 1957. | Source: Getty Images

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Although their love story began that night in front of many people, they had to hide their love for one another after that because Davis was Black and Novak was white.

DAVIS AND NOVAK HAD A FORBIDDEN LOVE STORY

After the pair's meeting at Chez Paree, rumors began swirling. However, it was not the usual dating rumors that frequented Hollywood tabloids; this gossip had the potential to ruin both their careers.

Picture shows legendary performer, Sammy Davis Jr., singing in a gun-slinger's outfit circa 1950s. | Source: Getty Images

Picture shows legendary performer, Sammy Davis Jr., singing in a gun-slinger's outfit circa 1950s. | Source: Getty Images

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In 1957, interracial relationships were condemned in America because of the laws at the time. In half the states, interracial marriage was illegal, and only a handful of Americans supported interracial relationships.

While Davis and Novak dating would have been a scandal no matter who they were, it was even more of a scandal because Novak had just become America's sweetheart and risked losing her career over Davis.

A portrait of American actress Kim Novak. 1962 | Source: Getty Images

A portrait of American actress Kim Novak. 1962 | Source: Getty Images

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When Davis heard all the gossip about their relationship, he phoned Novak to apologize for putting her in a compromising position with Columbia pictures. Novak replied:

“The studio doesn’t own me!”

After that phone call, Novak invited Davis to her home for dinner, and the pair began their romantic relationship. However, they went to great lengths to hide it from the press to try and keep their careers.

 Sammy Davis Jr, wearing a Beatles t-shirt, performs on stage at The Talk of The Town in London, England in 1967. | Source: Getty Images

Sammy Davis Jr, wearing a Beatles t-shirt, performs on stage at The Talk of The Town in London, England in 1967. | Source: Getty Images

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While the night they met was filled with passion and tension, Davis mentioned that the pair never thought much of each other until it was clear that the public did not want them to be together.

After that, Davis said that it made their relationship much more exciting because they knew the risks of what they were doing. Davis even revealed:

“Then we became conspirators, drawn together by the single thing we had in common: defiance.”

A portrait of American actress Kim Novak, circa 1965. | Source: Getty Images

A portrait of American actress Kim Novak, circa 1965. | Source: Getty Images

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They ensured they could have a relationship and keep their careers. Davis and Novak rented a beach house in Malibu, where Novak's chauffeur would drop them off and pick them up unseen.

To ensure that Novak was never seen in the car with Davis, he would lie on the floor of the vehicle under a blanket to remain hidden. However, these were not the only measures the couple took.

Davis had a private phone line installed at the hotel he worked at so that he and Novak could have conversations without the hotel switchboard overhearing and catching them. A friend of Davis', Arthur Silber, also helped.

A portrait of Kim Novak circa 1954 | Source: Getty Images

A portrait of Kim Novak circa 1954 | Source: Getty Images

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Silber would drive Davis to Novak's home and drop him off in front of it. They would then set up an exact date and time when Silber would come back to pick Davis up without being seen by anyone.

When Novak returned home to Chicago in December to visit her family, Davis found a replacement for his act at the club and met her there so that he could spend time with her and meet her family.

HARRY COHN HAD A HOLD OVER NOVAK

Producer Harry Cohn, President of Columbia Pictures, circa 1935. | Source: Getty Images

Producer Harry Cohn, President of Columbia Pictures, circa 1935. | Source: Getty Images

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Harry Cohn was the studio head at Columbia Pictures and was much feared and hated by the people he worked with. He began working with Novak because he wanted to find a replacement for Rita Hayworth.

Cohn had grown weary of working with Hayworth and decided that he needed a fresh new person to bring his films to life. He chose Novak as his next blonde bombshell and stopped casting Hayworth.

When Davis and Novak became a couple, the infamous Cohn stood in their way more than anybody else. Cohn had quickly gained a reputation as the meanest person in Hollywood and flaunted the title with pride.

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A portrait of Kim Novak taken in 1965 | Source: Getty Images

A portrait of Kim Novak taken in 1965 | Source: Getty Images

Cohn was keen on being feared and used a riding crop to terrify employees while he found pleasure in hiring people often. Hollywood reporter James Bacon said that Cohn enjoyed firing people on Christmas Eve.

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Because Cohn viewed Novak as property he owned, he became infuriated when he found out that she was in a relationship with a Black man. This rage began a series of heart attacks that eventually killed him.

Soon, Davis was given an ultimatum. A hit had been placed on Davis, but he was lucky enough to be informed about it and given the option to marry a Black woman within 24 hours to stay safe.

Kim Novak. Portrait taken at the Deauville American Film Festival in September 1989. | Source: Getty Images

Kim Novak. Portrait taken at the Deauville American Film Festival in September 1989. | Source: Getty Images

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Davis chose to marry Loray White, a singer he had gone out with a handful of times. He offered white a lump sum to act as his wife, and when she agreed, they made a show of a big wedding.

While the photos of their wedding looked like they were happy as could be, Silber revealed this was not the case. He said Davis drank heavily all night and told Silber he didn't want to go on living if he couldn't be with Novak.

Actor Sammy Davis Jr. and Altovise Davis pose for a portrait in 1988 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Actor Sammy Davis Jr. and Altovise Davis pose for a portrait in 1988 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

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The marriage was not what Davis wanted, and he was so upset that he cried as he ripped Silber's coat apart while asking:

“Why won’t they let me live my life?”

Novak was still in love with Davis and continued to see him secretly for a few months, but she eventually retreated entirely. Her agent warned her that her career was at stake, and she mentioned that her friends had stopped returning her phone calls.

Reception following wedding of May Britt and Sammy Davis, Jr. on November 13, 1960. | Source: Getty Images

Reception following wedding of May Britt and Sammy Davis, Jr. on November 13, 1960. | Source: Getty Images

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At the same time that Novak was thinking of her career, Davis was thinking about how to get out of his sham marriage. Six months into their marriage, Davis paid White $25000 to divorce him, but he would only leave the marriage completely three years later.

Although Davis and Novak were in love, their circumstances did not allow them to be together, and eventually, they broke it off for good. However, the pair both had happy endings as they found love again.

Davis married twice more, to May Britt from 1960 to 1968 and then to Altovise Davis from 1970 until his death in 1990. Davis had three children with May Britt and one child with Altovise Davis.

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Kim Novak and Richard Johnson attend Moll Flanders Ball on May 7, 1965 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. | Source: Getty Images

Kim Novak and Richard Johnson attend Moll Flanders Ball on May 7, 1965 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. | Source: Getty Images

Novak also married twice. Once to Richard Johnson from 1965 to 1966 and then to Robert Malloy from 1976 until his

death

in 2020. Novak never had children with either of her husbands.

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