A Loss and a Gain

By Brad Dison

Sometimes a person can have talent, ambition, take all the right steps, and make all the right moves, but is unable to achieve success. It usually takes an act beyond their control to reach their goal. It can be a chance meeting or just being in the right place at the right time. Oftentimes, it can be a coincidence, and other times it can be as the result of an accident. George’s life changed as a result of one such accident.

Shortly after 3:30 a.m. on Friday, November 19, 1954, George and Charles left Las Vegas, Nevada, en route to Universal-International Pictures at Studio City, Los Angeles, California. George was going to the movie studio to record the theme song “Six Bridges to Cross,” for the motion picture of the same name. George agreed to record the song because he was good friends with Tony Curtis, star of the picture, and Jeff Chandler, the song’s lyricist and narrator for the picture, and because it was a good professional move to have his voice heard during the opening credits. George had made some television appearances, but most of his work was on the nightclub circuit. This was to be George’s first credited recording for a motion picture, and he hoped this recording would elevate his career to new heights.

The trip should have taken them just over four and a half hours to complete. George and Charles left Las Vegas following one of George’s performances as part of the Will Mastin Trio at the Last Frontier Hotel. Unable to sleep from the adrenaline the show had produced, George told Charles that he could get some sleep. He, George, would drive. Charles climbed into the back seat of George’s convertible and quickly fell asleep.

Just after 7:00 a.m., with about an hour left in their trip, George drove down Kendall Drive in San Bernardino, California. Up ahead, a car operated by 72-year-old Helen Boss was stopped in the middle of the road. She and her passenger, 69-year-old Bessie Ross, had missed their turn and were preparing to turn the car around. George saw no brake lights, nor did he see a blinker. Once he realized the car was stopped in the highway, he slammed on the brakes. It was too late. George’s convertible slammed into the stopped car. Mrs. Boss suffered a back injury and Mrs. Ross suffered a broken leg. Charles was thrown from the back seat into the rear of the front seat and broke his jaw. The force of the impact slammed George’s face into the hard-plastic and metal steering wheel. George received several cuts on his face, but the most damaging was a severe gash to his left eye.

Paramedics rushed George, Charles, and the women from the stopped car to the hospital. Dr. Frederick H. Hull, a well-known San Bernardino eye specialist, examined George’s eye. Later that evening, Dr. Hull operated on George, but, unfortunately, Dr. Hull was unable to repair and save George’s left eye. As a protective measure, Dr. Hull covered both of George’s eyes with bandages.

Entertainers and movie stars called the hospital to check on George. So many of them called that the switchboard jammed. George received hundreds of telegrams from entertainers, some he knew, most he had never met. He received hundreds of letters from fans wishing him a speedy recovery. In addition to telephone calls, telegrams, and letters, George received flowers and gifts from famous people, many of whom were not personal acquaintances. Well-wishers included such notables as Judy Garland, Louella Parsons, Jack Benny, Mary Livingston, Jeff Chandler, Will Mastin, Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Cantor, and Red Skelton, just to name a few.

Some of his friends even offered to give George one of their own eyes. However, whole eye transplants were, and remain, medically impossible. During the operation, Dr. Hull repaired George’s eye socket so that he could eventually use a false eye, and the false eye would move in unison with his good eye.

George was in good spirits throughout his recovery. When George awoke from surgery and realized his left eye had been removed, he quipped to nurse Iona Smith, “Thank God it was my eye and not my leg.” He would not allow the loss of one eye hinder his career as a nightclub entertainer. Three days after the operation, Dr. Hull removed the bandages from both of George’s eyes. Nurse Smith said George “was very happy that he was able to see again.” “God must have had His arms around me,” George said, “Otherwise, I would be blind today.” “This can’t hurt me,” George said bravely, “I can still dance as well as I could before. I can still sing as well. Nothing has changed.”

Just as George had predicted, his return to the stage was triumphant. In fact, he reemerged as a larger star than he had been before. Suddenly, people with more clout in the entertainment industry started paying attention to George’s many talents. Before the accident, George only appeared in three Hollywood “short” films. Following the accident, however, George secured nightclub bookings in multiple cities for the Will Mastin Trio. George received offers to appear on Broadway, television, and in movies. He eventually starred in more than seventy television and film productions in a career which lasted until his death in 1990.

Following his accident, he also began a ten-year recording career with Decca Records, followed by another ten-year contract with Reprise Records, and shorter recording contracts with companies such as Verve Records, Motown Records, and MGM Records. Although he had many hit songs, his only number one single came in 1972, some eighteen years after his accident.

Had George not lost his left eye as a result of an automobile accident, we might never have seen him in “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Robin and the 7 Hoods,” and, “The Cannonball Run.” We might never have heard him sing “Candy Man.” The omission of Junior behind Sammy Davis’s name in the list of well-wishers was no accident. You see, it was Sammy Davis’s son who lost his left eye in the car crash. George was the middle name of Sammy Davis Jr.

Sources:
1. The Napa Valley Register, November 20, 1954, p.1.
2. The San Bernardino County Sun, November 20, 1954, p.19.
3. The San Bernardino County Sun, November 21, 1954, p.17.
4. Daily News-Post and Monrovia News-Post, November 22, 1954, p.14.
5. Oakland Tribune, November 23, 1954, p.24.
6. Pasadena Independent, November 23, 1954, p.16.
7. The San Bernardino County Sun, November 23, 1954, p.26.
8. Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California), December 1, 1954, p.4.
9. The Sacramento Bee, December 4, 1954, p.11.
10. The San Bernardino County Sun, December 4, 1954, p.29.
11. Valley Times (North Hollywood, California), December 7, 1954, p.2.
12. The Folsom Telegraph, December 16, 1954, p.11.
13. The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California), January 10, 1955, p.2.
14. IMDb.com. “Sammy Davis Jr.” Accessed August 3, 2020. imdb.com/name/nm0002035/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1#actor.
15. YouTube.com. “The Candy Man.” Accessed August 4, 2020. youtu.be/o5vFvt3fJpw.


7 thoughts on “A Loss and a Gain

  1. Got to see him in Houston! One of the greatest all around entertainer! He was even great during impressions!

  2. Thank you for another great story. For the first time I guessed correctly before the end of the story. But that didn’t make it any less great.

  3. Always enjoyed Sammy Davis, Jr. TV appearances, on the Dean Martin Show and his memorable portrayal of a judge on Roman & Martin’s Laugh-in “here comes the judge!”

    The golden age of television, the variety shows like Carrol Burnett’s when it was all fun and everyone laughed at themselves.

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