Singer Dean Martin has achieved show-business success with an unlikely combination—romantic crooning and low-key comedy. A headliner in both television and movies for thirty years, Martin is admired today for his deep and easy baritone renditions of such favorites as “That’s Amore” and “Everybody Loves Somebody.” A Look magazine contributor explains that Martin has appealed to millions of fans in America and abroad because “they see him as a very fine person touched only by a few glamorous faults—that is, the reputation of a drinker, a woman chaser, a swinger—and nobody will say a word against him.”
That so-called “reputation” is more fantasy than fact; Martin long ago developed an onstage act of semi-drunkenness as a comic routine, and his personal life is less sensational than many of his fellow crooners. In Newsweek, a reviewer notes that whatever his private style, Martin’s “not-give-a-damn attitude in public is probably the quality that endears him to most fans.” Fellow actor Anthony Quinn offered a similar observation in Time.”All of us seem to be plagued by responsibility, hemmed in by convention,” Quinn said. “Dean is the symbol of the guy who can go on, get drunk, have no responsibilities.”
Martin was born Dino Crocetti on June 17, 1917. His father was an immigrant from the Abruzzi region of Italy who came to live with his brothers in Steubenville, Ohio. Martin grew up in Steubenville in what he describes in Look as a good measure of comfort. “These emigrated Italians were not skilled workers like pharmacists or lawyers, but they knew how to work hard,” he said. “My father did too. He worked hard as a barber, and he got his own barbershop…. He gave us a beautiful home, and a car, and good food, and good Christmases, and we never were poor, my brother and I.”
Martin was enthralled by Hollywood from an early age, and he spent most of his free afternoons at Steubenville’s movie theatres. He was particularly influenced by Bing Crosby, as he remembered in Look: “When a Bing Crosby movie ever came to Steubenville, I would stay there all day and watch. And that’s how I learned to sing, cause it’s true I don’t read a note. I don’t. I learned from Crosby, and so did [Frank] Sinatra, and Perry Como. We all started imitatin’ him; he was the teacher for all of us.”
Martin dropped out of school in tenth grade and drifted through a series of odd jobs in the Midwest. He earned the most money by dealing cards in gambling houses, but he also did stints as an amateur boxer, a steel mill worker, and a singer with the Ernie McKay Band in Cleveland. He adopted Dino Martini as a stage name at first, then changed it to the more American Dean Martin—for many of the early years of his career he was
Real name, Dino Crocetti; born June 17, 1917, in Steubenville, Ohio; son of Guy (a barber) and Angela Crocetti; married Elizabeth Ann MaDonald, 1940 (divorced, 1949); married Jeanne Bieggers, 1949 (divorced); married Cathy Hawn, 1973; children: (first marriage) Craig, Claudia, Gail, Deanna; (second marriage) Dino (deceased), Ricci, Gina.
Singer, 1940—; during 1940s also worked in a steel mill, as a croupier, and as a welterweight boxer; performed in comedy-musical team with Jerry Lewis, 1946-56; actor in numerous feature films, including “My Friend Irma Goes West,” 1949, “At War With the Army,” 1950, “Jumpin’ Jacks,” 1953, “The Caddy,” 1953, “Rio Bravo,” 1959, “Some Came Running,” 1959, “Robin and the Seven Hoods,” 1964, “The Sons of Katie Elder,” 1965, “The Silencers,” 1966, “Airport,” 1970, “Cannonball Run,” 1981, and “Cannonball Run “; star of television variety show, “The Dean Martin Show,” NBC, 1966-70; star of television specials, “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast,” 1976-78.
Awards: Academy Award nomination for best song, “That’s Amore,” 1963; Golden Globe Award, 1967, for “The Dean Martin Show”; holder of numerous gold records.
Addresses: Home— 2002 Loma Vista Dr., Beverly Hills CA 90210. Office –c/o Mort Viner, International Creative Management, 8899 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90048.
sensitive about his ethnic background. Martin moved to New York in the early 1940s to seek work as a club singer. He had several lean years during which he had to drive a cab to support his growing family.
Finally, in 1946, he earned a regular spot at the Rio Bamba club. In the summer of that same year he appeared at the Club 500 in Atlantic City, on the same bill with a young comedian named Jerry Lewis. After-hours, Martin and Lewis began to socialize. “We started horsing around with each other’s acts,” he told the Saturday Evening Post.”That’s how the team of Martin and Lewis started. We’d do anything that came to our minds.” Martin and Lewis tried out their new act on the customers at Club 500. They were a hit, so much so that they were invited to the prestigious Copacabana in New York, where they soon garnered top billing and salaries of $5000 per week.
Martin and Lewis went west to Hollywood as established stars. They signed a long-term movie deal with Paramount Pictures and subsequently made sixteen films for the company. Their film work reflected the same pattern as their stage show—while Martin played the suave, straight crooner, Lewis perpetrated noisy and disruptive antics. Inevitably both men looked like buffoons, but Martin was the partner who suffered most. “I sang a song and never got to finish the song,” Martin told Look.”The camera would go over [Lewis] doin’ funny things, then it would come back to me when I’d finished. Everythin’ was Jerry Lewis, Jerry Lewis, and I was the straight man. I was an idiot in every picture. And I was makin’ a lot of money, you know, but money isn’t all, is it, and I knew I could do so much better. And I proved it. Not to the public, not to the country or the world. To myself.”
Martin’s first solo film, “Ten Thousand Bedrooms,” was a critical failure. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther commented that, without Lewis, Martin was “just another nice-looking crooner…. Together, the two made a mutually complementary team. Apart, Mr. Martin is a fellow with little humor and a modicum of charm.” The ensuing years would prove Crowther’s judgment wrong. Martin’s film career blossomed in the 1960s, with major roles in works like “Rio Bravo,” “Some Came Running,” “Bells Are Ringing,” and the drama “Toys in the Attic.” By 1970 he was awarded the coveted role of the captain in the first “Airport” movie, one of the biggest films released that year.
Martin further confounded the critics by becoming one of the most popular television stars of the 1960s. His weekly variety hour, “The Dean Martin Show,” led the ratings from 1966 until the early 1970s. On that show, unencumbered by Lewis, Martin was able to sing—several songs each week—as well as pursue his affable drunk routine to comic perfection. A Time reviewer called “The Dean Martin Show” the “closest thing on the air to the free and easy spontaneity of old-fashioned live television.”
Martin was best known in the 1970s for his celebrity roasts, television specials in which a selected star would endure a string of good-natured insults from his or her peers. He also aired a series of Christmas specials, some of which featured his seven children. More recently Martin has returned to club work in California and Las Vegas; his films of the 1980s include “Cannonball Run” and “Cannonball Run II.” Tragedy struck Martin in 1987 when his son, Dean Paul, was killed in an airplane crash; the singer has kept a lower profile since that event.
Where once Martin was somewhat ashamed of being Italian—and ashamed of his poor command of English—he has come to value his heritage as it relates especially to his singing. “Italians are so talented,” he told Look. “Just take the singers here; 90 percent are Italian…. Cause they sing from here, from the heart, the stomach, not the throat. Anybody can sing from the throat, but then you just say words.” No one has ever accused Martin of singing from the throat—his rolling baritone seems to slide from beneath his ribs. Reflecting on his many years as a superstar of screen and stage, Martin told Newsweek: “I never have cared what New York or Hollywood or Las Vegas want. I always plays to de common folk. I guess it’s just that I seem to have a good time, and I do, and they’d like to do what I’m doing.”
That’s Amore, Capitol, 1953.
Everybody Loves Somebody, Reprise, 1964.
The Best of Dean Martin, Capitol, 1966.
Dreams and Memories, 1986.
Also recorded Memories Are Made of This.
Life, December 22, 1958.
Look, November 8, 1960; December 26, 1967.
Newsweek, March 20, 1967.
New York Post Magazine, June 5, 1960.
New York Times, April 4, 1957.
Saturday Evening Post, April 29, 1961.
Time, March 11, 1966.
—Anne Janette Johnson
American entertainer Dean Martin (1917–1995) was known for his nonchalant style and breezy wit. Immensely popular in his time, he first became famous as the straight man of the comic duo Martin and Lewis in 1946.
Martin also recorded hit records in his distinctive baritone, starred in motion pictures, and had his own long-running television program. But any snapshot of the multi-talented Martin would be incomplete without mention of his legendary affiliation with Hollywood's Rat Pack and his ever-present, if somewhat exaggerated, cocktail personae.
Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti on June 7, 1917, in Steubenville, Ohio. His parents, Angela and Gaetano (a barber), had emigrated from southern Italy around the turn of the nineteenth century and the young Martin reputedly spoke only Italian until he was five years old. Steubenville was a tough town in those days, known as "Little Chicago" because of its affinity for gambling and other assorted vices, and Martin was not immune to the influences of his environment. He dropped out of high school at 16 and worked for a while as a liquor runner for bootleggers. But even this somewhat less than auspicious beginning could not hide his early tendency to perform. "He was a comedian," Martin's childhood friend Mario Camerlengo told John Soeder of the Houston Chronicle. "He always disturbed the class. When the teacher would say, 'Dino, you'll have to leave,' he'd hit me on the head as he shuffled out."
After his stint running booze, Martin tried his hand at amateur boxing under the name "Kid Crochet." That pursuit did not last long, as, according to Rob Parker of the London Observer, Martin often recalled in later years, "I won all but 11 of my 12 fights." He went on to work variously as a shoeshine boy, gas station attendant, steel mill laborer, and croupier before striking out to make his name as a singer.
Although blessed with a smooth baritone voice, Martin's early career as a singer progressed slowly. He sang with club bands around the Midwest, and made his coast-to-coast radio debut on Cleveland's WTAM (AM) in 1942, but failed to cause much of a stir at first. Bing Crosby's renowned crooning was imitated by most young singers of the day, and Martin was no exception. J.D. Reed of People quoted Martin as saying, "I copied Bing until I had a style of my own." In the 1940s the emulation of his idol accorded Martin sufficient success to make him a regular at New York City nightclubs and on radio, but it was a fateful pairing in nearby Atlantic City, New Jersey, that rocketed him to fame.
Martin and Lewis
In 1946 Martin was booked for a six-week engagement at Atlantic City's 500 Club. A wacky young comedian named Jerry Lewis was also working there, and kismet struck when the illness of another performer put the pair on the same bill. Martin's mildly bemused and effortlessly elegant straight man combined with the wildly frenzied antics of Lewis to become an instant hit with audiences, and formed the basis of a tremendously popular partnership that would last ten years. Indeed, half a century later comedian Alan King told Reed, "I've been around 50 years, and no one ever created the kind of pandemonium they did."
The duo's success led them to the Copacabana in New York, where they gained top billing and the then-princely salary of $5,000 a week. Two years later they conquered the West Coast at Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom's nightclub in Beverly Hills, and a movie deal with Paramount Pictures soon followed. Martin and Lewis made sixteen films together, starting with 1949's My Friend Irma and ending with Hollywood or Bust in 1956. In between were such crowd pleasers as At War with the Army (1950), The Caddy (1953), and Living It Up (1954). The Caddy was also notable because it clearly established Martin's singing credentials, generating the top ten solo effort and Oscar-nominated hit That's Amore.
Despite one of the most successful partnerships in the history of show business and the resulting fortunes made by both members, Martin and Lewis had a mercurial relationship. Temperamentally disparate, the two had little in common off the screen and stage, and the ongoing volatility reportedly became wearing for Martin. In 1956 things came to a head, and the pair parted company. Few expected Martin's career to survive, but the kid from Steubenville surprised them all.
The Rat Pack
Martin's detractors were hardly shocked when Martin's first solo movie effort, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, was a resounding flop in 1957. They were taken aback, however, when 1958's The Young Lions showcased a heretofore unsuspected dramatic talent in Martin. He followed that up with a critically-acclaimed performance with John Wayne in Rio Bravo and another with Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine in Some Came Running. Thus having beaten the odds and demonstrated his merit as a serious actor, Martin stood ready to reinvent himself yet again.
Martin's newest personae took shape as he aligned himself with an offshoot of a group originated by Humphrey Bogart. By the late 1950s the clan had morphed into Sinatra's infamous "Rat Pack," and Martin was installed as second in command. The core of the Pack consisted of Sinatra, Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop; and as they performed together in movies and, most notoriously, Las Vegas, they came to epitomize an irreverent style of hip sophistication that defined the early 1960s. Amidst all that panache, no one was more urbane, laid back, or surpassingly cool than Martin. Tuxedo-clad, cigarette in one hand and cocktail in the other, Martin's latest role was that of a debonair boozer with a nonchalant wit.
The Rat Pack's slightly risqué focus on sex, liquor, and general carousing made Las Vegas their natural playground. Gambling, drinking, and womanizing were the order of the day (and night); but the group worked hard as well, and their casino nightclub act was hugely popular. While some tongues may have wagged at the level of excess, nobody doubted that Sinatra and his boys were having a great time. As Martin's old friend, actor Debbie Reynolds, told Reed, "A lot of people wished they could have a third as much fun as [the Pack] did." Martin, dubbed the "Clown Prince" of the clan, expressed his satisfaction in a typically offhand manner at a Rat Pack tour press conference by saying, according to Newsweek's Karen Schoemer, "We're happy to be doing this thing. What the hell."
Top Talent Across Media
Martin's association with the Rat Pack did not hamper his solo career. He continued to record as a singer, producing his first number one hit, Memories Are Made Of This, in 1955. He famously repeated that achievement in 1964, when he bumped The Beatles out of the top spot with his recording of Everybody Loves Somebody. According to Schoemer, Martin was spurred to such a feat by frustration with his son's non-stop admiration of the British pop sensation, and reportedly said, "I'm gonna knock your little pallies off the charts." By the end of his recording career, 40 of Martin's singles had hit the charts, including seven in the top ten. He also recorded 11 gold albums.
Martin also made his mark on television. The year 1965 saw the debut of The Dean Martin Show, a variety program that lasted nine years on NBC. The show was such a success that Martin was able to negotiate a lucrative contract that was the largest of its time and earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest paid entertainer of his day.
Nor did Martin neglect the silver screen, although his later reviews never quite equaled those of his early work. His vehicles ranged from light comedy to westerns, including his only musical, 1960's Bells Are Ringing, Kiss Me, Stupid in 1964, Rough Night in Jericho in 1967, and Airport in 1970. He also made four Matt Helm films, which were send-ups of James Bond, in the 1960s. In short, Martin had proved himself a major talent across a variety of venues during the course of his career.
Fade Out and Reprise
With time, Martin began to fade slowly out of the limelight and appeared content to do so on his own terms. His last movie was 1984's kitschy Cannonball Run II. In 1988 he bowed out of a Rat Pack reunion tour after only a short time on the job. Sometime before that, he had stopped making records. He also declined to take part in a 1992 retrospective on Martin and Lewis with his old comedy partner. Instead, Martin played his beloved golf and contented himself with solitary dinners at a favorite Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills.
Part of the self-imposed isolation of Martin's later years was undoubtedly a reflection of his basically solitary personality. He was never much for talking or taking things too seriously. As his son Ricci told Reed, "He joked that it wasn't the chat that bothered him, it was the chit." And director Richard Corliss of Time quoted Vincente Minnelli as saying, "Dean would rather die than have you believed he cared." But care he did, and that caring was widely thought to play a large part in his withdrawal.
Martin had married and divorced three times by 1976, and had fathered seven children. One of those children, Dean Paul Martin (known as Dino Jr.), was tragically killed in a plane crash during a California Air National Guard training mission in 1987, at the age of 35. That tragedy, coupled with the losses of such old friends as his assistant Mack Gray and the Rat Pack's Davis, pierced the studied nonchalance of the aging performer and almost surely contributed to his increasing reclusiveness. Martin's storied drinking, once mainly a stage prop of apple juice, escalated in earnest and he moved further into the very mystique that had made him a star. When he died on Christmas Day in 1995, Martin had long been out of the public eye.
The public remembered Martin nonetheless. As late as 2004, Capitol Records released a compilation called Dino: The Essential Dean Martin, which soared to number 28 on the Billboard 200 chart and became one of iTunes' Top Five Digital Downloads. Musician and actor Steven Van Zandt described his appeal in the liner notes for the CD, as quoted by Soeder: "Dino represented a traditional style that would prove to be timeless…. He was the coolest dude I'd ever seen, period." As Martin might have said, "No question about it, pally."
Billboard, January 6, 1996.
Broadcasting & Cable, November 8, 1999.
Entertainment Weekly, January 12, 1996.
Houston Chronicle, June 20, 2004.
Newsweek, January 8, 1996.
Observer (London, England), April 18, 2004.
People, January 8, 1996.
Plain Dealer, June 4, 2004.
Sunday Times (London, England), December 31, 1995.
Sunday Telegraph, October 31, 2004.
Time, January 8, 1996.
Times (London, England), December 27, 1995.
"Dean Martin," IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001509/ (January 4, 2006).
"Dean Martin," NNDB, http://www.nndb.com/people/871/000023802/ (January 4, 2006).
(b. 7 June 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio; d. 25 December 1995 in Los Angeles, California), singer, actor, and comedian who prospered in nightclubs, recordings, radio, television, and films for more than thirty years in the post-World War II era.
Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti, one of two children of Gaetano Crocetti, an Italian immigrant barber, and Angela Barra, a homemaker. He dropped out of Wells High School in the tenth grade and held various jobs in his late teens and early twenties before he began to gain notice for his singing. His first notable professional job as a singer came with the Sammy Watkins Band in Cleveland in 1940 and lasted until September 1943, when he went solo in the wake of Frank Sinatra’s success as a solo artist. Martin struggled for several years, but in July 1946 he teamed up with the comedian Jerry Lewis to create the enormously successful music-and-comedy act Martin and Lewis. By 1948 they were playing the country’s top nightclubs, had made their television debut, and had been signed to Capitol Records and Paramount Pictures.
Martin scored his first top ten hit in March 1949 with “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!).” The following month, the team launched its radio series The Martin and Lewis Show, which ran through 1953. The duo’s first film, My Friend Irma, opened in September 1949, followed by My Friend Irma Goes West in August 1950. In September The Colgate Comedy Hour began running on NBC-TV on Sunday nights; Martin and Lewis hosted it about once a month through the end of 1955.
The team was most successful in movies, starring in a series of film vehicles that found Lewis clowning maniacally while Martin acted as straight man, romantic interest, and singer. At War with the Army (1950), That’s My Boy (1951), Sailor Beware (1951), and Jumping Jacks (1952), were among the highest-grossing films of their time. The success continued with the four Martin and Lewis films of 1953, The Stooge, Scared Stiff, The Caddy, and Money from Home. The Caddy gave Martin a second top ten hit with “That’s Amore,” which also sold a million copies, helping establish him as a serious singer apart from his comic partnership.
The pace of filmmaking slowed after 1953, as Martin and Lewis began to make two films a year, one for the summer and another for Christmas release, a pattern they followed in 1954 with Living It Up, based on the Jule Styne—Bob Hilliard Broadway musical Hazel Flagg, and Three Ring Circus; in 1955 with You’re Never Too Young and Artists And Models; and in 1956 with Pardners and Hollywood or Bust. Martin scored his biggest hit on records so far in January 1956, when his recording of “Memories Are Made of This” topped the charts and sold one million copies. Emboldened by this independent success and increasingly bored and frustrated in his partnership with Jerry Lewis, Martin quit the team. Martin and Lewis performed together for the last time on 25 July 1956, the tenth anniversary of their first performance, at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City.
Early predictions for Martin and Lewis as solo performers had Lewis succeeding but not Martin, forecasts that at first seemed borne out by the failure of Martin’s first film without Lewis, Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), and by his inability to come up with a follow-up hit to “Memories Are Made of This.” But Martin turned things around in 1958, drawing critical respect for his acting in the dramatic film The Young Lions in April and reaching the top ten in May with “Return to Me.” These successes established him as an entertainer in his own right, and over the next five years he devoted much of his time to film acting, appearing in a wide variety of movies including dramas (Some Came Running, 1959; Career, 1959; Ada, 1961; and Toys in the Attic, 1963); Westerns (Rio Bravo, 1959); comedies (Who Was that Lady?, 1960; All in a Night’s Work, 1961; Who’s Got the Action?, 1962; and Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?, 1963); musicals (Bells Are Ringing, 1960; What a Way to Go!, 1964; and Kiss Me, Stupid, 1964); and a series of films with the so-called “rat pack” of his friends including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. (Ocean’s Eleven, 1960; Sergeants Three, 1962; Four For Texas, 1963; and Robin and the Seven Hoods, 1964).
Martin devoted less attention to his recording career, although he switched from Capitol Records to the Sinatrafounded Reprise label in 1962. But in the spring of 1964, Reprise released Martin’s recording of “Everybody Loves Somebody,” which had been given an arrangement reminiscent of 1950s rock and roll. That summer the record hit number one and became a million-seller, reestablishing him as an important recording artist. His follow-up single, “The Door Is Still Open to My Heart,” hit the top ten, as did “I Will” in 1965. He continued to reach the singles charts through the end of the decade, and in the same period had twelve gold-selling albums: Everybody Loves Somebody, Dream with Dean, and The Door Is Still Open to My Heart (all in 1964); Dean Martin Hits Again, (Remember Me) I’m the One Who Loves You, and Houston (all in 1965); Somewhere There’s a Someone and The Dean Martin Christmas Album (both in 1966); Welcome to My World (1967); Dean Martin’s Greatest Hits! Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (both in 1968); and Gentle on My Mind 1969).
Martin’s success on records led to his own television variety series, The Dean Martin Show, which premiered in September 1965 and became one of the highest-rated programs on the air; it ran regularly until 1974. The series did not prevent Martin from making movies, and he continued to vary the kinds of films he appeared in, including Westerns (The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965; Texas Across the River, 1966; Bandolero!, 1968); comedies (Marriage on the Rocks, 1965; How to Save a Marriage —And Ruin Your Life, 1968); dramas (Rough Night in Jericho, 1967; Five Card Stud, 1968); and a series of James Bond spoofs in which he played a spy named Matt Helm (The Silencers, 1966; Murderers’ Row, 1966; The Ambushers, 1967; and The Wrecking Crew, 1969).
Martin became less active in the first half of the 1970s. His film roles diminished to a handful (Airport, 1970; Something Big, 1972; Showdown, 1973; Mr. Ricco, 1975), his TV show subsided to a series of specials after the 1973–1974 season, and he stopped recording regularly after 1974. In the early 1980s he worked occasionally, appearing in the films The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984), cutting the country album The Nashville Sessions, released in 1983, and appearing as a regular on the 1985 TV series Half-Nelson. He also made live appearances, but after he dropped out of a joint tour with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., reportedly due to health problems and particularly after the death in a plane crash of his son Dean Paul Martin, Jr., both in 1987, he virtually retired. He died eight years later of acute respiratory failure and is buried in the Sanctuary of Love site in the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
Martin was married and divorced three times. On 2 October 1941 he wed Elizabeth Ann MacDonald, with whom he had four children. They were divorced in August 1949, and Martin married Jeanne Beigger, a model, on 1 September 1949; they had three children. He was divorced for a second time in March 1973 and on 24 April 1973 married Catherine Mae Hawn, a beautician, adopting her daughter from a previous marriage. Their divorce became final in 1977.
In his prime Martin was six feet tall with a trim build. Ruggedly handsome (he sported a broken nose from his days as a pugilist), he had light brown eyes and a full head of curly dark hair. As a performer, Dean Martin followed in the footsteps of Bing Crosby, adopting a similar relaxed persona that extended to his apparently effortless singing and matter-of-fact acting. At the same time, he was in the tradition of Italian-American singers, led by Frank Sinatra, that dominated the postwar pop music scene; in fact, he was more Italian than most, singing many songs in the language. But unlike the cool but sincere Crosby and the hot and sometimes brooding Sinatra, Martin, perhaps as a legacy of his decade-long comedy partnership with Jerry Lewis, brought an offhandedly ironic style to his work. Despite a busy schedule that included an average of two to three films a year for twenty years, recordings, radio and television shows, and personal appearances, he affected a drunken, playboy demeanor, often singing parody lyrics to his songs (carefully crafted for him by Sammy Cahn) and sending himself up. One of his most convincing film roles, in Kiss Me, Stupid, found him playing a singer much like himself, or rather, much like the thoughtless star he pretended to be. Martin’s charm was that he always seemed to be suggesting that life was an elaborate joke, one that he and his audience were in on. When he could no longer maintain the pose of insouciance that was at the core of his image, he abandoned his career, living as a virtual recluse in his later years. But his work continues to charm decades after it was fabricated.
The first attempt to capture Dean Martin between book covers was Arthur Marx’s 1974 dual biography, Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime (Especially Himself): The Story of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. In 1992 Nick Tosches published the unauthorized Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, which was exhaustively researched but also composed in overheated prose. No authorized biography has been published, but the best, most thorough account of Martin’s career through 1961 is by John Chintala and is found in the two hardcover books accompanying the boxed-set collections of Martin’s recordings up to that year and issued by the German Bear Family Records label, Memories Are Made of This (1997) and Return to Me (1998). Chintala is also the author of a thorough reference book, Dean Martin: A Complete Guide to the “Total Entertainer,” (1998). The “rat pack” aspect of Martin’s career is treated in Shawn Levy’s Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, joey, and the Last Great Showbiz Party (1998). An obituary is in the New York Times (26 Dec. 1995).
William J. Ruhlmann
Nationality: American. Born: Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, 17 June 1917. Education: Left school in 10th grade. Family: Married 1) Elizabeth Ann McDonald, 1940 (divorced 1949), four
children; 2) Jeanne Rieggers, 1949 (divorced 1973), three children; 3) Catherine Mae Hawn, 1973 (divorced 1976), adopted daughter: Sasha. Career: Amateur boxer as "Kid Crocket," then worked in steel mill and as clerk and croupier; singer, as Dino Martino, with Ernie McKay's Band; then singer and dealer in gambling houses; 1946—booked in Rio Bamba, New York; teamed with Jerry Lewis in double act, and worked in clubs, radio, and television; 1949—film debut in My Friend Irma; 1950–55—host, with Lewis, The Colgate Comedy Hour on television; 1956—broke with Lewis, and became solo performer as singer and actor; 1965–74—star of The Dean Martin Show, on television. Died: Of acute respiratory failure, in Beverly Hills, California, 25 December 1995.
Films as Actor:
My Friend Irma (George Marshall) (as Steve Baird)
My Friend Irma Goes West (Walker) (as Steve Baird); At War with the Army (Walker) (as Sgt. Puccinelli)
That's My Boy (Walker) (as Bill Baker); Sailor Beware (Walker) (as Al Crowthers)
Jumping Jacks (Taurog) (as Chick Allen); Road to Bali (Walker) (as himself)
The Stooge (Taurog) (as Bill Miller); Scared Stiff (George Marshall) (as Larry Todd); The Caddy (Taurog) (as Joe Anthony); Money from Home (George Marshall) (as Honey Talk Nelson)
Living It Up (Taurog) (as Steve); Three-Ring Circus (Pevney) (as Pete Nelson)
You're Never Too Young (Taurog) (as Bob Miles); Artists and Models (Tashlin) (as Rick Todd)
Pardners (Taurog) (as Slim Mosely, Jr.); Hollywood or Bust (Tashlin) (as Steve Wiley)
Ten Thousand Bedrooms (Thorpe) (as Ray Hunter)
The Young Lions (Dmytryk) (as Michael Whiteacre); Some Came Running (Minnelli) (as Bama Dillert)
Rio Bravo (Hawks) (as Dude); Career (Anthony) (as Maury Novak)
Who Was That Lady? (Sidney) (as Michael Haney); Bells Are Ringing (Minnelli) (as Jeffrey Moss); Ocean's Eleven (Milestone) (as Sam Harmon); Pepe (Sidney) (as himself)
All in a Night's Work (Anthony) (as Tony Ryder); Ada (Daniel Mann) (as Bo Gillis)
Sergeants 3 (John Sturges) (as Sgt. Chip Deal); The Road to Hong Kong (Panama) (as himself); Who's Got the Action (Daniel Mann) (as Steve Flood)
Come Blow Your Horn (Yorkin) (as the Bum); Toys in the Attic (Hill) (as Julian Berniers); Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (Daniel Mann) (as Jason Steel); Four for Texas (Aldrich) (as Joe Jarrett)
What a Way to Go! (Thompson) (as Leonard Crawley); Robin and the Seven Hoods (Douglas) (as Little John); Kiss Me, Stupid (Wilder) (as Dino)
The Sons of Katie Elder (Hathaway) (as Tom Elder); Marriage on the Rocks (Donohue) (as Ernie Brewer)
The Silencers (Karlson) (as Matt Helm); Texas across the River (Gordon) (as Sam Hollis); Murderer's Row (Levin) (as Matt Helm)
Rough Night in Jericho (Laven) (as Alex Flood); The Ambushers (Levin) (as Matt Helm)
Bandolero! (McLagen) (as Dee Bishop); How to Save a Marriage—and Ruin Your Life (Cook) (as David Sloane); Five Card Stud (Hathaway) (as Van Morgan); The Wrecking Crew (Karlson) (as Matt Helm)
Airport (Seaton) (as Vernon Demerest)
Something Big (McLagen) (as Joe Baker)
Showdown (Seaton) (as Billy Massey)
Mr. Ricco (Bogart) (as Joe Ricco)
Cannonball Run (Needham) (as Jamie Blake)
Bonjour, Monsieur Lewis (Benayoun—doc)
Cannonball Run II (Needham) (as Jamie Blake)
Half-Nelson (Bilson—for TV)
On MARTIN: books—
Parish, James Robert, and William T. Leonard, The Funsters, New Rochelle, New York, 1979.
Wallis, Hal, and Charles Higham, Starmaker, New York, 1980.
Freedland, Michael, Dino: The Dean Martin Story, London, 1984.
Tosches, Nick, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, New York, 1992.
Durk & others, Dean Martin: A Complete Guide to the "Total Entertainer", Exeter, 1998.
Levy, Shawn, Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey & the Last Great Showbiz Party, New York, 1998.
Stanley, Alessandra, Dean Martin Plays Moscow, New York, 1998.
Quirk, Lawrence J., The Rat Pack: The Hey-Hey Days of Frank & the Boys, Dallas, 1998.
Schoell, William, Martini Man: The Life of Dean Martin, Dallas, 1999.
Quirk, Lawrence J., The Rat Pack: Neon Lights with the Kings of Cool, New York, 1999.
On MARTIN: articles—
Ciné Revue (Paris), 12 March 1981.
Barth, J., "Kino Dino," in Premiere, February 1992.
Murphy, Mary, "The Days and Nights of Dean Martin," in TV Guide, 16 July 1994.
Krutnik, Frank, "The Handsome Man and His Monkey: The Comic Bondage of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1995.
Obituary, in New York Times, 26 December 1995.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 1 January 1996.
Obituary, in Classic Images (Muscatine), February 1996.
Legrand, Gérard, "Dean Martin ou Les surprises du nonchaloir," in Positif (Paris), March 1996.
Wolcott, J., "When They Were Kings," in Vanity Fair (New York), May 1997.
Whiteside, J., "Rat Pack 'Hey-Hey' Days Link Vegas to H'w'd Excess," in Variety (New York), 11/17 August 1997.
* * *
Like no other act of the late 1940s, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis burst onto and dominated the American show business scene. An immediate hit in nightclubs, the duo was signed by producer Hal Wallis for Paramount Pictures. With their third film, At War with the Army, released in 1951, Martin and Lewis began a six-year run as major movie stars. In 1952, they moved into first place in the annual Motion Picture Herald listing of top ten ranking stars. Only Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust (both directed by Frank Tashlin), however, are remembered today except by hardcore Martin and Lewis fans.
In 1956 Martin and Lewis split. Lewis continued in the movies, going on to produce and direct his own pictures, and for a time Martin's career seemed to flounder. Ironically, in retrospect, it was during this period of the late 1950s in which Martin produced his most significant work as a motion picture actor. He was good in The Young Lions, but superb in Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo, in which his reforming drunk demonstrated that in the right part Martin could be a great actor.
Also during this period, Martin shifted away from movies toward other media, principally popular music. In 1958, he produced a pair of million-selling singles in "Return to Me," and "Volare." At that time he also linked up with Frank Sinatra and became a charter member of the so-called "Rat Pack." Sinatra-led films followed: Ocean's Eleven, Sergeants 3, and Robin and the Seven Hoods. This work led Martin to a revitalized film career in the mid-1960s and so he reemerged back onto the ranking of top stars because of a dismal but popular spoof of James Bond in The Silencers. Martin again played Matt Helm in the sequel, Murderer's Row, but at that point moved to television complete with a popular NBC variety show. This led to gigs in Las Vegas and later Atlantic City so that alone Rio Bravo, sadly, will remain the lone monument to an acting talent wasted.
(b. 7 June 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio; d. 25 December 1995 in Los Angeles, California), popular singer, film actor, television host, and comedian who formed one of the most successful comedy acts of the 1940s and 1950s with Jerry Lewis, then used it as a springboard for a broader career as an entertainer in the 1960s and 1970s.
Born Dino Paul Crocetti, Martin was the son of Italian immigrants Gaetano Crocetti, a barber, and Angela Barra, a homemaker. After dropping out of high school Martin worked at several professions, including boxing and as a croupier, but by 1940 he was singing professionally. On 2 October 1941 he married Elizabeth Ann MacDonald, the first of his three wives, who bore him four children before they divorced in 1949. He married Jeanne Beiggers, with whom he had three children, in 1949, and Catherine Mae Hawn in 1973; both of these marriages also ended in divorce.
Martin's career did not take off until July 1946, when he formed a partnership with comedian Jerry Lewis. The team of Martin and Lewis spent the next ten years enjoying remarkable success in personal appearances, radio shows, television, and a series of popular films. Martin also launched a career as a recording artist during this period, releasing such major hits as "That's Amore" and "Memories Are Made of This" on Capitol Records.
In 1956 Martin struck out on his own, and after an initial rough patch began to score in films and on records. By the start of the 1960s he was well established as a handsome, easygoing, and somewhat self-mocking leading man in the movies, making two or three pictures a year. In 1960 he appeared in the comedy Who Was That Lady?, the screen adaptation of the Broadway musical Bells Are Ringing, and the caper film Ocean's 11, in which his costars were friends Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and other members of what was called the Rat Pack. The group continued to team up in various combinations for film projects over the next several years. Sergeants 3 (1962) was a remake of Gunga Din set in the Old West; 4 for Texas (1963) was another Western comedy; and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964) was a musical set in Chicago during the 1920s gangster era. During this period Martin also appeared with Sinatra and Davis in several live performances marked by outrageous hijinks, and video and audio recordings of them began to turn up, first illegally and then as legitimate releases many years later, contributing to the Rat Pack legend. Among Martin's other films of this period are the original movie musical What a Way to Go! (1964), with music by Jule Styne and screenplay and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), produced, directed, and cowritten by Billy Wilder, in which Martin deliberately parodied himself.
With the rise of rock and roll, Martin's career as a recording artist dimmed. At the start of 1962 he left Capitol Records and signed with Reprise Records, a new label founded by Sinatra. At first Reprise was able to improve his fortunes only slightly. Then, in 1964, producer Jimmy Bowen had Martin cut a version of the 1948 song "Everybody Loves Somebody" in an arrangement by Ernie Freeman that employed piano triplets in a style derived from 1950s rock and roll. The result was a surprising success. In August, the single replaced the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" at the top of the charts, and Martin's recording career was revitalized. The Everybody Loves Somebody album also hit number one and was certified gold, and Martin quickly followed with a series of albums and singles that performed well over the rest of the decade. "The Door Is Still Open to My Heart," a revival of a 1955 rhythm-and-blues hit by the Cardinals, became a Top Ten hit and, like "Everybody Loves Somebody," a number-one hit on the easy listening charts, and an album of the same name reached the Top Ten and went gold. "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You," a revival of a 1946 hit by Russ Morgan, made the pop Top Forty and gave Martin his third consecutive easy-listening chart topper before 1964 was over. In total he scored twelve gold albums, eleven Top Forty pop hits, and twenty Top Ten easy-listening hits between 1964 and 1969.
Martin's renewed success on records and his continuing work in films brought the television networks calling, and on 16 September 1965 he launched a comedy-variety series, The Dean Martin Show, which won a Golden Globe Award in 1967. Viewers were highly entertained by the seemingly inebriated host dressed in a tuxedo, appearing to work largely off the cuff, and the show was one of television's highest rated programs until 1971. It remained on the air regularly until 1974, after which Martin continued to do occasional specials.
Even with his recording, television, and personal appearance work, Martin still found time to make movies, and in 1966 he began a series of four films in which he portrayed secret agent Matt Helm, sending up the popular James Bond series: The Silencers, Murderers' Row, The Ambushers, and The Wrecking Crew. He also continued to appear in Westerns (Bandolero! and Five Card Stud) and comedies (How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life) during the late 1960s.
Martin's casual, seemingly spontaneous work appears to have been genuine. Notoriously, he did not show up on the set of his television show until the day of taping; he left to others the choice of songs and arrangements on his record albums, which were cut in a minimum number of sessions; and many of his movies were star vehicles that made relatively low demands on him. But the sheer amount of work he accomplished in various media belies the charming, irresponsible drunk persona Martin often affected.
Martin worked less frequently after the early 1970s and by the mid-1980s was virtually retired. He died of acute respiratory failure and is buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
Nick Tosches, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams (1992) is a major biography, but a highly sensationalized one. John Chintala, Dean Martin: A Complete Guide to the "Total Entertainer" (1998), is thorough, and his extensive liner notes (actually books in themselves) to the boxed sets Memories Are Made of This and Return to Me, issued by the German label Bear Family, are the most objective accounts of Martin's life and career. An obituary is in Time (8 Jan. 1996).