Elijah Kelley and Lee Daniels Team up for Sammy Davis Jr. Series

The life story of comedian-actor Sammy Davis Jr. is coming to Disney-owned streaming service Hulu in an upcoming eight-episode limited series. Red Tails actor Elijah Kelley has been cast in the lead role as Davis Jr. and will also help produce the series. Empire creator Lee Daniels has been selected to co-write the series along with frequent collaborator Thomas Westfall. Daniels will also direct the first two episodes, and serve as executive producer alongside Marc Toberoff.


Elijah Kelley - Photo Courtesy of Instagram

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the currently untitled series will be based on Wil Haygood’s book, In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr., and will follow his journey from childhood stardom on the vaudeville stage where notably he became one of the most famous Black entertainers of the 1950s and ’60s. Davis Jr. was also the only Black member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack. While being celebrated, Davis Jr. also battled a number of challenges and controversies in his personal life and career such as 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. Haygood will also be credited as a producer of the series.



Kelley and Daniels previously worked together on Daniels’ film The Butler as well as his television series Star. The update regarding the Sammy Davis Jr. limited series comes three years after news regarding the project first came out in mid-2019, when Daniels and Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone were set to executive produce the series based on Haygood’s book. The Sammy Davis Jr. limited series comes from 20th Television, where Daniels is under an overall deal. Daniels is currently an executive producer on ABC’s The Wonder Years reboot, Fox’s Our Kind of People, and Hulu-turned-BET series The Ms. Pat Show.