It’s a Mad Men world and the influence of mid-20th century American popular culture is showing up in everything from music and television to design and fashion. And why not? They were simpler times, right? The country had not yet lost its innocence and there was civility rather than political correctness. People dressed sharp and worked smart. The Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop) in many ways epitomized the spirit of the period. Sandy Hackett, the son of famed comedian Buddy Hackett, grew up amid these cool cats, and he’s paying tribute to them with his critically praised Rat Pack Show, which opens in Thousand Oaks next week.

Hackett, who plays Bishop in the musical production, took a few minutes to answer our burning questions.

What is it about the Rat Pack that continues to fascinate people?
The past is always romantic. The Rat Pack smoked when it was cool and we didn’t know about cancer. They drank when it was cool and we didn’t know about alcoholism. They performed with ease and grace as if they didn’t have a care in the world! They hung out with presidents, senators, movie and TV stars, and lots of gorgeous women.  How could you not be fascinated?

Why did you leave Peter Lawford out of your tribute?
There was a Rat Pack-type show that ran in England in the West End. It was an English production of an American product. It was missing a lot — like Joey Bishop. So I left out Peter Lawford to get even.

What would you like people to know about your father, Buddy Hackett?
There is a lot I would love for them to know. I have written a new show about my father called My Buddy that we will be putting out on tour for the 2012-2013 season. It will all be told there.

Which one of the pack was most essential to the group?
They all contributed, but in the end, if there’s no Frank Sinatra, the guys don’t get together at his behest to make Ocean’s 11, and so the movie and the shows would probably never have happened.

What’s the greatest myth about the Rat Pack?
Dean didn’t drink on stage. He wasn’t much of a party guy. He didn’t like to stay up late because he liked to get up early to play golf. Some would portray Frank as a mean guy, and, sure, he had his moments, but he was a perfectionist and raised millions for all kinds of causes even if it came out of his own pocket. Sammy idolized and wanted to be Frank, but Frank considered Sammy the most talented performer he’d ever seen and wanted to be Sammy! Joey was considered the mouse in the Rat Pack but he wrote all the material and was the glue that held the show together, which is why it’s so much fun for me to portray him.   

The Rat Pack Show, Oct. 25-30 at the Fred Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks. For tickets, call 449-2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. For more information about the show, visit www.sandyhackettsratpackshow.com.

michel@vcreporter.com