Just looking at these photos you can feel a foundational aspect of Las Vegas’ lore clicking into place — the louche glamor and freewheeling approach to good times that the Rat Pack injected into the city’s DNA. (Fun fact: Frank Sinatra preferred “The Clan” to “The Rat Pack.”) “With due respect to Elvis, Liberace, and countless other superstars,” writes local author Steve Bornfeld, “it was these guys who turned this town into THE TOWN.”
The Rat Pack, already famous for their gigs at The Sands, kicked their legend up a notch with the August 1960 release of “Ocean’s 11,” the plot of which you already know from the (cinematically superior) remake, and which hardly matters. The point here was the charm and sing-all-night, film-all-day vibe of its stars, set against the vibrant backdrop of Las Vegas. “In any other town,” the film’s tagline went, “they’d be the bad guys!”
That energy crackles in these shots from the downtown Las Vegas premiere of the movie — ordinary folks lit up by the combined wattage of Sin City neon, Hollywood klieg lighting, and pure celebrity. Everyone’s well-dressed, well-behaved — the social, political, and racial turbulence of the 1960’s are still beyond the far horizon.
Plenty of the Rat Pack’s shtick wouldn’t pass the cringe test now, of course. Nonetheless, this is classic Vegas — the effortlessly cool older sibling of that other strain of pop Vegas mythology, the wild bender as personified by “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “The Hangover” — and it’s what people usually mean when they lament the long lost ring-a-ding-ding of the Vegas that used to be.
Recommended: Bornfeld’s 2020 Rat Pack retrospective for Desert Companion is an insanely entertaining compilation of “Ocean’s 11” trivia, perspectives, and insights.
Sammy Davis Jr. with fellow Rat Packer Joey Bishop — who was downgraded to an “also starring” credit in “Ocean’s 11,” and was stuck playing a character named “Mushy.” (UNLV Special Collections and Archives)