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The Disney-backed streamer has picked up an eight-episode limited series exploring the life of the entertainer and told through the lens of his racial identity and relationship with the Black community. Elijah Kelley, who has collaborated twice already with Daniels, will play Davis Jr.
The untitled series is based on Wil Haygood’s book, In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr., and will chart his rise from childhood stardom on the vaudeville stage where he became one of the most famous Black entertainers of the 1950s and ’60s (and the only Black member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack). At the same time, he spent most of his career surrounded by controversy and ridicule — over his affairs with white film stars, his 1960 marriage to Swedish actress May Britt, his conversion to Judaism, his closeness to the Kennedys (and later Richard Nixon) and his problems with alcohol and drugs.
Daniels and frequent collaborator Thomas Westfall will write the series. Daniels is set to exec produce as well as direct the first two episodes of the drama. Westfall, who served as an associate producer on The United States vs. Billie Holiday and was a writer on Empire and Star, will be credited as a co-EP. Kelley will produce alongside the author, Haygood. Marc Toberoff is also going to exec produce.
For his part, Kelley is a singer, dancer and actor who has previously teamed with Daniels on The Butler and Fox’s Empire offshoot Star. Kelley, who is expected to collaborate on some of the show’s original music, also counts New Line’s Hairspray, NBC’s The Wiz Live and BET’s The New Edition Story among his credits. He’s repped by Generational Entertainment and Ginsburg Daniels.
The Sammy Davis Jr. limited series hails from 20th Television, where Daniels is under an overall deal. He currently exec produces ABC’s The Wonder Years update, Fox’s Our Kind of People and Hulu-turned-BET series The Ms. Pat Show for the Disney-backed studio. Daniels is repped by CAA and Hansen Jacobson.
News of the Sammy Davis Jr. project first came out in mid-2019, when Daniels and Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone was poised to exec produce the series based on the same book.
A filming location and production start date have not yet been determined.
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