Sammy Davis Jr. & May Britt’s Wedding Certificate
Wedding Certificate, from the Archives of Western States Jewish History
In 1961 Sammy Davis Jr. and May Britt decided to marry. Their courtship was intense and controversial.
Sammy Davis was black, American and known as a Jew.
May Britt Wilkins was white, Swedish and known as a Christian.
Sammy Davis Jr. and May Britt went to Rabbi Dr. Max Nussbaum of Temple Israel of Hollywood and May Britt presented herself for conversion.
Sammy Davis Jr. had conversations and showed his knowledge of Judaism in conversations with Rabbi Alvin Fine of Temple Emanu-El of San Francisco in 1955. However, there was no real life conversion at that time.
In 1961 Rabbi Nussbaum arranged with a colleague in Las Vegas, Rabbi Harry Sherer, to do a formal conversion of Sammy Davis, after instruction.
The wedding ceremony was to be held at Temple Israel in November, 1961.
“The temple office was bombarded with obscene and threatening phone calls. The temple trustees became frightened. There were fears of a race riot if the wedding took place in the synagogue. Rabbi Nussbaum was asked not to officiate. The Rabbi was on the horns of a dilemma. –Joys of Jewish Folklore, by David Max Eichhorn
Rabbi Nussbaum was suddenly called out of town.
His assistant, Rabbi William Kramer was asked to cover for him at the ceremony which was to be transferred out of the temple into Sammy Davis’ home in the Hollywood Hills.
Rabbi Kramer was delighted.” He was a great fan of Sammy Davis Jr.
Rabbi Kramer’s wedding talk is recorded in Sammy Davis’ autobiography, Yes, I Can.
After their divorce, following about eight years of marriage, May Britt Davis confided to Rabbi Kramer that Sammy had remained a good father to their children, concerned with their Jewish education, and involved himself in the bar mitzvah training of their son, Mark.
The three witnesses on the certificate are Frank Sinatra, Frank Entrata, & Peter Lawford.
More information can be found in the following issue of Western States Jewish History:
- How I got to Officiate at the Wedding Ceremony of Sammy Davis Jr. & May Britt, by William M. Kramer, Vol. 42, #3/4.