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Elijah Kelley to Play Sammy Davis Jr. in a New Hulu Series

The Disney-owned Hulu is teaming up with Lee Daniel (The Butler) to tell the story of legendary entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Hulu picked up the eight-episode limited series that will explore the life of the entertainer and told through the lens of his racial identity and relationship with the Black community. Elijah Kelley (Red Tails, Hairspray) will play Davis Jr., which also marks Kelley’s second time working with Daniels, having also appeared in The Butler.

The untitled series is based on Wil Haygood’s book, In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr., and will chart his rise from childhood stardom on the vaudeville stage where he became one of the most famous Black entertainers of the 1950s and ’60s (and the only Black member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack). At the same time, he spent most of his career surrounded by controversy and ridicule — over 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.

 Thomas Westfall will write the series. Daniels is set to exec produce as well as direct the first two episodes of the drama. Westfall, who served as an associate producer on The United States vs. Billie Holiday and was a writer on Empire and Star, will be credited as a co-EP. Kelley will produce alongside the author, Haygood. Marc Toberoff is also going to exec produce.

The Sammy Davis Jr. limited series hails from 20th Television, where Daniels is under an overall deal. He currently exec produces ABC’s The Wonder Years update, Fox’s Our Kind of People, and Hulu-turned-BET series The Ms. Pat Show for the Disney-backed studio. Daniels is repped by CAA and Hansen Jacobson.

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