GENERIC USE: DEROGATORY APPELLATION FOR A GROUP OF PERSONS
1950: LOS ANGELES’S GANGS OF HOOLIGANS
1955: SELF-DESIGNATION OF A GROUP OF HOLLYWOOD CELEBRITIES
Literally denoting a pack of rats, rat pack is used as a derogatory appellation for a group of persons.
For example, in Chapter 17 of Malloy of the Mounted, by Charles Stoddard (Charles Stanley Strong – 1906-62), published in The Boston Daily Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) of Sunday 8th December 1946, a character named Otto Mulhause declares:
“I did serve in the German Navy in the last war. But that’s no proof that I’m not a loyal Canadian now. Many thousands of my countrymen have no love for Hitler or Goering or for Adm Raeder1 and the rest of the rat-pack.”
1 Erich Raeder (1876-1960) was a German admiral.
The term rat pack was similarly used in Eisler Is Only One: Pry Out the Rest!, an editorial published in The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) of Saturday 8th February 1947, about Gerhart Eisler (1897-1968), a Communist of German nationality who had been arrested in the USA:
He [= Gerhart Eisler] is only one of no one knows how many of the secret agents that Moscow has working for it in America today. What happens to Eisler is of relatively small importance—prosecution or deportation. […]
It is the others in Eisler’s rat-pack, those still undetected who are doing Stalin’s dirty work for him in this country, that matter to us and to Government investigating agencies.
In 1950, rat pack came to designate any of the gangs of juvenile delinquents who were then rampaging in Los Angeles, California.
The earliest occurrence that I have found is from an Associated Press report, published in several newspapers on Saturday 6th May 1950—for example in the Spokane Daily Chronicle (Spokane, Washington):
One Shot, Two Hurt in ‘Rat Pack’ Fights
Los Angeles, May 6. (AP)—One youth was shot and two policemen were beaten in two more “rat pack” attacks today. Nine youths, several armed with sharpened beer can openers, were booked on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
One of those arrested, Gene W. Chason, 19, got a load of buckshot in the left leg.
The second-earliest occurrence that I have found is from the Long Beach Independent (Long Beach, California) of Tuesday 9th May 1950:
Jack Magee, 71st assembly district candidate, yesterday said he will introduce legislation to curb youth “rat packs” now terrorizing Southern California citizens, if elected.
“We need legislation to nip this evil in the bud,” Magee said. “Parents must be responsible for the acts of minor children. Curfew laws must be rigidly enforced.”
Those rat packs were associated with Communism in the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) of Friday 12th May 1950:
Reds and Rat Packs
State Comdr. Joseph W. O’Sullivan of the American Veterans of World War II does not cite specific proof of his contention that the outrages of youthful hoodlums result from Communist influences, but his theory is tenable.
These outlaw outbursts are not confined to California. There seems to be a wave of them across the nation and the situation is tense in Germany. Such wayward actions may be purely coincidental with Red plans to create chaos in Western Germany this month, but they fit in very closely with Communist schemes.
It is an old Communist custom to cause disorder and confusion in a community which resists Red rule. The policy is carried to the point of creating scenes in courtrooms. Any scheme which brings discredit on law and order, which creates a situation where “martyrdom” may be shouted, is included in the Kremlin program for intended victims.
In the sense of a gang of juvenile hooligans rampaging in Los Angeles, rat pack superseded wolf pack—as mentioned by Harrison Carroll (1901-72) in his column Behind the Scenes in Hollywood, published in the Evening Herald (Shenandoah, Pennsylvania) of Saturday 13th May 1950:
Kirk Douglas is doing something about the wolf pack (Morgan Howard suggests changing the name to “rat pack”) kids who have been rampaging in Los Angeles.
Kirk went to a youth club meeting at a local high school, danced with the girl who drew the lucky number, helped cut the cake and then made a speech.
“I told them,” says Kirk, “that I was glad to see so many young people gathered together to have a good time in a proper manner. Then I brought up the subject of the wolf packs. I pointed out that it wasn’t so tough for a gang of six or eight boys to beat up one little guy or maybe a woman. I think the whole thing has been dramatized too much. I tried ridicule instead.”
Tige Clinton also mentioned both wolf pack and rat pack in the Wilmington Press-Journal (Wilmington, California) of Thursday 18th May 1950:
RIGHT LABEL — Newspapers finally have come up with the true brand and the right label for these young hoodlums who prowl the streets and five against one beat up innocent men, women and children: “rat packs”. . . .
First off these gangs were called “wolf packs”, a sort of glorified appellation, when as this column pointed out, members of these gangs were more the “sneaking coyote” type rather than having any of the real fighting trait of the wolf.
But the better description is “rat pack”, no question. The description fits them like a glove—only the glove in this case should be a strap with heavy iron bars!
Usually with capital initials, the Rat Pack is the name popularly given to a group of U.S. entertainers including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., who appeared together on stage and in several films in the 1960s.
Originally, the Rat Pack was the self-designation of a loose social group of Hollywood celebrities including, among others, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Frank Sinatra.
According to the author Shawn Levy (born 1961) in the U.S. documentary film Sinatra: All or Nothing at All (2015), by Alex Gibney (born 1953), the appellation originated in a remark made by Lauren Bacall:
There was a Rat Pack prior to the Sinatra Rat Pack. Humphrey Bogart and his cronies, including Sinatra, had been in Las Vegas for a kind of debauched weekend and Lauren Bacall walked in on them after they’d been partying for a few days, and said, “Jeez, you all look like a rat pack.” After Bogart’s death2, Sinatra drew on that energy and put together his own coterie of friends.
2 Humphrey Bogart died in 1957.
The earliest occurrence that I have found, in the form the Holmby hills3 rat pack, is from an Associated Press story about Lauren Bacall, published in several newspapers on Sunday 2nd October 1955—for example in The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington):
Lauren, however, fears that a western role might cost her the title of “den mother of the Holmby hills rat pack.”
That’s the weird label the Bogarts hung on their clique of friends in their West Los Angeles neighborhood. Other members of the pack include Judy Garland and her husband, producer Sid Luft; the David Nivens and Frank Sinatra. This is a group of fun-loving Bohemians who live the kind of life actors are supposed to live. And they don’t care who knows it.
The only time they take themselves seriously is before the camera. Bogart is the patriarch of the gang—and no group ever had a more fun-loving leader.
3 Holmby Hills is an affluent neighbourhood in western Los Angeles.
The second-earliest occurrence that I have found, in the form the Hollywood rat pack, is from an interview of Humphrey Bogart, in Earl Wilson’s column It Happened Last Night, published in several newspapers on Monday 10th October 1955—for example in the San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California):
Lauren Bacall swept into the room. I asked her if she’d tamed Bogie to this lamentable meekness.
“It’s age!” she said, tossing her head. “He’s just turned 56, and when he turns 65 . . . oooooooh, boy-eee! But,” she added, “we do have the Hollywood rat pack. I’m the den mother.”
“What are its aims?”
“Its aims are to drink a lot of bourbon and stay up late,” Miss Bacall said. “Sid Luft, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra are in it.”
According to Jimmy Fidler in his column In Hollywood, published in The Monroe News-Star (Monroe, Louisiana) of Monday 19th December 1955, the original Rat Pack had some sort of mock-organisation:
The Holmby Hills Rat Pack association has for officers: Frank Sinatra, pack-master; Sid Luft, husband of Judy Garland, cage-master; Humphrey Bogart, public relations, and Lauren Bacall, den mother.
Aline Mosby, United Press Staff Correspondent, described in detail the original Rat Pack in an article published in several newspapers on Wednesday 11th January 1956—for example in The Daily Notes (Canonsburg, Pennsylvania):
Hollywood’s latest organization is called “The Rat Pack,” a celebrated group devoted to poking a little fun into this sometimes lifeless community.
Some years the movie colony appears headed toward being everybody’s small town with Tony and Janet posing in aprons in the kitchen and glamor queens claiming they are the girl next door.
But a handful of senior citizens of the community are keeping some color in the plaster city. They have formed “The Rat Pack.”
In some communities a rat pack means a gang of juvenile delinquents, but this gang hangs around an old kidney-shaped swimming pool. Their “clubhouse” may be a member’s Palm Springs mansion and they roam around in Bentleys and Cadillacs instead of hot rods.
President Frank Sinatra
Members of this organization are Frank Sinatra, president; Judy Garland, vice-president; Humphrey Bogart, in charge of publicity (an art he knows well); restaurateurs Mike and Gloria Romanoff; composer Jimmy Van Huesen; agent Irving Lazar and Lauren Bacall, the den mother of the pack.
So far the rat pack has roamed in only two directions. Last summer members chartered a bus, (with a bar) and startled the citizens of Long Beach by showing up there to see Judy Garland’s stage show. Last fall the pack cheered en masse at Noel Coward’s opening in Las Vegas.
“The club is just for fun, sort of a gag,” explained Miss Bacall. “You have to breath a little life into this old burg now and then. We’re a jolly group of people and we like us better than anybody.
“This certainly has provided conversation around town, anyway,” she added.
Club Has Charter
The club has a coat of arms and a charter. Members, however, cannot release this information yet as they can’t agree on it. So far the club has one qualification for members: “You must be a true rat.”
The club’s slogan: “Never rat on a rat.”
The club’s full name is “The Rat Pack Of Holmby Hills,” as the Bogarts live in that elegant suburb. Other celebrities wish to join, but so far membership is closed. Coward recently was dubbed “our representative in Jamaica.”
“We may all wear blazers,” Miss Bacall said.