LOST TV WEEK: Poor Devil (1973)

Sammy Davis Jr. battled racism throughout his career, even from the wings of the stage as his Rat Pack cohorts would call him racist names like smokey.

In an interview with Roots author Arthur Haley in Playboy, the entertainer talked about the first time he came up against his race: in the Army. He was beaten for looking at a white female commanding officer while she was giving him orders, with his body covered with anti-black graffiti and covered in turpentine. That night, as in every night he served, he was still asked to perform for the troops. That’s when David learned that he’d have to fight to be respected. And once he was in, he’d stay in by any means necessary — even coming off as insincere.

Despite being a member of the Hollywood in crowd, Davis still could never be a full member. His romance with white girls like Kim Novak rubbed people the wrong way. And even though he was a large financial supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, he still had a complex relationship with the black community.

For example, he earned plenty of ire when he supported Nixon in 1972.  He was originally a Democrat and supported JFK in 1960 and RFK in 1968, yet John F. Kennedy would go on to revoke an inauguration invitation to “Mr. Show Business”  due to him marrying white actress May Britt. So maybe his conversion makes sense, because Nixon invited him to be the first black guest at the White House.

Once, Jack Benny asked Sammy his handicap on the golf course. He answered, “Handicap? Talk about handicap. I’m a one-eyed Negro Jew.”

That said — it’s also believed that Davis was introduced to Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan at an orgy at the nightclub that he owned, The Factory. This also makes sense. There are plenty of stories about how Sammy loved the free-swinging sex scene of the 70’s, even learning how to deep throat from the woman who introduced it to the zeitgeist, porn star Linda Lovelace.

Anyways — I could go on about Sammy Davis Jr. He was a fascinating man — who could smoke four packs of cigarettes a day, draw and fire a Colt Single Action Army Revolver in a quarter of a second and was able to both be a parody of himself and parody himself seemingly at the same time. But today, we’re here to discuss a strange TV pilot that Davis was in, one that would lead to him accepting an honorary second-degree membership in the Church of Satan.

Originally airing on February 14, 1973 on NBC, Sammy would star as Sammy in this series pilot. He’s a demon who has screwed up for the last thousand or so years and now wants to succeed and prove himself to his boss Lucifer, who is played by Christopher Lee. If you don’t immediately stop reading this and go watch this show, allow me to share this photo of Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee CBE, CStJ with a gorgeous head of hair.

To win over his boss, Sammy has to convince Burnett J. Emerson (Jack Klugman!) to sell his soul. In return, he’ll get revenge on his boss (Adam West!) and gain wealth for seven years (and then go to Hell for eternity, which is a lot like Miami, only less humid). 

Davis would flirt with The Church of Satan for some time, painting one fingernail red, wearing the Baphomet medallion and flashing the horns from time to time before dropping out by the mid-1970’s (around the time that Anton LaVey went into seclusion).

One wonders where this show would have gone were it to become a weekly series. Would the Devil tempt a new celebrity every week? Would Klugman stick around? Would LaVey make a cameo?

All we have is this pilot — filled with Satanic imagery, a lack of a laugh track and plenty of early 1970’s strangeness. What a weird time to be alive, one that we’ll never truly comprehend today. Still, if all that came of this was Davis with LaVey and future Temple of Set leader Michael Aquino, then I’ll consider it a success.

 

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