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AMERICAN MASTERS: Sammy Davis, Jr. - I’ve Gotta Be Me

Airs Friday, May 22, 2020 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 + PBS Video App

Sammy Davis, Jr. takes aim in a backstage photo with his dancers in a scene f...

Credit: Courtesy of The Estate of Altovise Davis

Above: Sammy Davis, Jr. takes aim in a backstage photo with his dancers in a scene from the documentary Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me."

AMERICAN MASTERS “Sammy Davis, Jr. - I’ve Gotta Be Me,” the first major film documentary to examine the performer’s vast career and journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America, premiered nationwide in February 2019 on PBS.

The broadcast also features 20 minutes of exclusive bonus performance footage spanning Davis’ 50-year career after the documentary.

Sammy Davis, Jr. - I’ve Gotta Be Me: Trailer

The first major film documentary to examine Sammy Davis, Jr.'s vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th century America.

Sammy Davis, Jr. had an indisputably legendary career that was vast in scope and scale. His life was also complex, complicated and contradictory. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory.

Norman Lear on how Sammy Davis, Jr. Broke Barriers on TV

Norman Lear talks about Sammy Davis, Jr.’s guest appearance on All in the Family and how it became an iconic television moment.

A veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions, he worked tirelessly to stay relevant, even as he frequently found himself caught between the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America.

In addition, Davis was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, tying his identity to that of another persecuted minority.

Sammy Davis, Jr.'s Close Call with Death

The devastating car accident that caused Sammy Davis, Jr. to reevaluate his life and change his religious beliefs.

Featuring exclusive interviews with Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, as well as never-before-seen photos from Davis’ vast personal collection and rare footage from his performances in television, film and concert.

Sammy Davis, Jr. on His Greatest Fear

Sammy Davis, Jr. reveals the reasons why the song “Mr. Bojangles” resonated so much with him as an entertainer.

AMERICAN MASTERS “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” explores the life and art of a uniquely gifted entertainer whose trajectory paralleled the major flashpoints of American society, from the Great Depression through the 1980s.

Photo credit: Courtesy of ©Warner Brothers/Photofest

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop pose in publicity photo for the film "OCEAN’S ELEVEN" (1960) from the documentary "Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me."


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This film will be available to stream on demand for a limited time through May 31, 2020. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

The film is available on DVD and you can pre-order it at

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Estate of Altovise Davis

Sammy Davis, Jr. backstage photo from the documentary "Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me."


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A production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’s AMERICAN MASTERS for WNET in coproduction with ZDF in collaboration with ARTE. Directed by Sam Pollard. Produced by Sally Rosenthal and Michael Kantor. Edited by Steven Wechsler. Written and co-produced by Laurence Maslon. Michael Kantor is executive producer.


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