Davis Jr.'s widow sues ex-partners


DALLAS -- The widow of Sammy Davis Jr. is suing two former business partners over the rights to the Rat Pack entertainer's life story and management of his legacy.

Altovise Davis says in a lawsuit filed in federal court that the two men exaggerated their show-business credentials and defrauded her into signing away some rights to her husband's estate.

The entertainer -- a fixture in Las Vegas with fellow Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Joey Bishop -- died of throat cancer in 1990 at age 64. He owed more than $5 million to the IRS, forcing his widow to auction many of his personal belongings.

Altovise Davis says she gave her intellectual rights to Sammy Davis Jr. Enterprises Inc., formed in 2004 by Barrett LaRoda and Anthony Francis, in return for a one-third share in the business.

She alleges the men hid the company's financial records from her.

Things came to a head, according to the lawsuit, during negotiations with a studio that wanted to make a biopic about Davis. The movie was to be partly based on two books -- "Yes I Can" and "Why Me?" -- that Davis wrote with the help of friends Judy and Burt Boyar. Altovise Davis and the Boyars held copyright interest in the books.

According to the lawsuit, LaRoda and Francis killed the movie negotiations by demanding a "substantial" fee and credit as executive producers.

The Boyars company, Dallas-based Boyar Investments LLC, joined Altovise Davis in suing the men. The lawsuit was filed last month in state court but was moved to federal court in Dallas because of copyright issues. Altovise Davis is seeking unspecified monetary and punitive damages.

In an e-mail to The Associated Press, LaRoda said he was trying only to get Mrs. Davis more money from the movie. Davis is "like a mother to me" but is being manipulated by Burt Boyar, LaRoda said.

"I think the movie should be made ... and 'Yes I Can' is a great source material," LaRoda told the AP. "The sad thing here is the tarnishing" of Sammy Davis' image.

In a court filing, LaRoda and Francis said Altovise Davis' royalties more than quadrupled after she signed up with them and that their efforts helped rebuild her husband's image.

LaRoda's company, The LaRoda Group Inc. of Reseda, Calif., is also a defendant.

Davis' lawyer, Michael Lynn, said the widow is devastated that LaRoda and Francis "have decided to hold this movie hostage to their own selfish interests." She hopes the lawsuit will clear the way for the movie to get made, he said.

On its Web site, the LaRoda Group has a picture of LaRoda, Francis and Altovise Davis with Larry King on the set of King's CNN talk show.