Dean Martin (June 7, 1917 – December 25, 1995) was an American singer, film actor and comedian. He was one of the best known musical artists of the 1950s and 1960s. Martin's hit singles included "Memories Are Made of This", "That's Amore", "Everybody Loves Somebody", "Mambo Italiano", "Sway", "Volare" and "Ain't That A Kick In The Head?". One of the leaders of the "Rat Pack", he was a major star in four areas of show business: concert stage/night clubs, recordings, motion pictures, and television.
Nicknamed the "King of Cool," Dean Martin became a pop culture icon for his music, his trademark charm and his drinking, although his glass while on stage contained apple juice. He was much respected wherever he went, and became a sort of unofficial ambassador of the Italian-American community.
Born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio to Italian immigrant parents, Gaetano and Angela Crocetti (née Barra), his father was an immigrant from Abruzzo, Italy and his mother was an Italian American of part Neapolitan and part Sicilian. Martin was the younger of two sons. He had one brother, Bill. Martin spoke only Italian until he started school at the age of five. He attended Grant Elementary School in Steubenville, Ohio and took up the drums as a hobby as a teenager. He was the target of much ridicule for his broken English and ultimately dropped out from Steubenville High School in the 10th grade because he thought that he was smarter than his teachers. He delivered bootleg liquor, served as a speakeasy croupier, wrote crafty anecdotes, was a blackjack dealer, worked in a steel mill and boxed as welterweight. He grew up a neighbor to Jimmy the Greek. At the age of 15, he was a boxer who billed himself as "Kid Crochet". His prizefighting years earned him a broken nose (later fixed), a permanently split lip, and many sets of broken knuckles (a result of not being able to afford the tape used to wrap boxers' hands). He lost 11 of his 12 bouts. For a time, he roomed with Sonny King, who, like Martin, was just starting in show business and had little money. It is said that Martin and King held bare-knuckle matches in their apartment, fighting until one of them was knocked out; people paid to watch. Eventually, Martin gave up boxing. He worked as a roulette stickman and croupier in an illegal casino behind a tobacco shop where he had started as a stock boy. At the same time, he sang with local bands. Calling himself "Dino Martini" (after the then-famous Metropolitan Opera tenor, Nino Martini), he got his first break working for the Ernie McKay Orchestra. He sang in a crooning style influenced by Harry Mills (of the Mills Brothers), among others. In the early 1940s, he started singing for bandleader Sammy Watkins, who suggested he change his name to Dean Martin.
In October 1941, Martin married Elizabeth Anne McDonald. During their marriage (ended by divorce in 1949), they had four children. Martin worked for various bands throughout the early 1940s, mostly on looks and personality until he developed his own singing style. Martin famously flopped at the Riobamba when he succeeded Frank Sinatra there in 1943, but it was the setting for his introduction.
Drafted into the United States Army in 1944 during World War II, Martin served a year stationed in Akron, Ohio. He was then reclassified as 4-F (possibly due to a double hernia; Jerry Lewis referred to the surgery Martin needed for this in his autobiography) and was discharged.
By 1946, Martin was doing relatively well, but was still little more than an East Coast nightclub singer with a common style, similar to that of Bing Crosby. He drew audiences to the clubs he played, but he inspired none of the fanatic popularity enjoyed by Sinatra.
A biography on Martin titled Dean Martin: King of the Road by Michael Freedland alleges he had links to the Mafia early in his career. Martin allegedly was given help with his singing career by mob bosses who owned saloons in Chicago, Illinois. In return, he later performed in shows hosted by these bosses when he was a star. The mob bosses were Tony Accardo and Sam Giancana. The author suggests Martin felt little sympathy for the Mafia and only did them small favors if it was not inconvenient for him. Reportedly, the FBI's bugs once picked up a mafioso making plans to injure or even kill Martin because of a perceived lack of gratitude. Another book, The Animal in Hollywood by John L. Smith, depicted Dean Martin's longtime friendship with Mafia mobsters Johnny Roselli and Anthony Fiato. The author suggests Anthony Fiato (a/k/a "the Animal") did Dean Martin many favors, such as getting back money from two swindlers who had cheated Betty Martin, Dean's ex-wife, out of thousands of dollars of her alimony.
Teaming with Jerry Lewis
Martin attracted the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures, but a Hollywood contract was not forthcoming. He seemed destined to remain on the nightclub circuit until he met a comic named Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York, where both men were performing. Martin and Lewis formed a fast friendship which led to their participation in each other's acts and the ultimate formation of a music-comedy team. More than a few people dubbed them "The Organ Grinder and the Monkey".
Martin and Lewis' official debut together occurred at Atlantic City's 500 Club on July 24, 1946, and they were not well received. The owner, Skinny D'Amato, warned them that if they did not come up with a better act for their second show later that night, they would be fired. Huddling together in the alley behind the club, Lewis and Martin agreed to "go for broke", to throw out the pre-scripted gags and to improvise. Dean sang and Jerry came out dressed as a busboy, dropping plates and making a shambles of both Martin's performance and the club's sense of decorum until Lewis was chased from the room as Martin pelted him with breadrolls. They did slapstick, reeled off old vaudeville jokes, and did whatever else popped into their heads at the moment. This time, the audience doubled over in laughter. This success led to a series of well-paying engagements on the Eastern seaboard, culminating in a triumphant run at New York's Copacabana. Patrons were convulsed by the act, which consisted primarily of Lewis interrupting and heckling Martin while he was trying to sing, and ultimately the two of them chasing each other around the stage and having as much fun as possible. The secret, both said, is that they essentially ignored the audience and played to one another.
Martin liked California which, because of its earthquakes, had few tall buildings. Suffering as he did from claustrophobia, Martin almost never used elevators, and climbing stairs in Manhattan's skyscrapers was not his idea of fun.
Their agent, Abby Greshler, negotiated for them one of Hollywood's best deals: although they received only a modest $75,000 between them for their films with Wallis, Martin and Lewis were free to do one outside film a year, which they would co-produce through their own York Productions. They also had complete control of their club, record, radio and television appearances, and it was through these endeavors that they earned millions of dollars.
Although there had been hugely successful film teams before, Hollywood had not seen anything like Martin and Lewis. The fun they had together set them apart from everything else done at the time. Both were talented entertainers, but the fact that they were good friends on and off stage took their act to a new level.
Martin and Lewis were the hottest act in America during the early 1950s, but the pace and the pressure took its toll. Most critics underestimated Dean's contribution to the team, as he had the thankless job of the straight man, and his singing had yet to develop into the unique style of his later years. Critics praised Lewis, and while they admitted that Martin was the best partner he could have, most claimed Lewis was the real talent and could succeed with anyone. However, Lewis always praised his partner, and while he appreciated the attention he was getting, he has always said the act would never have worked without Dean Martin. In Dean & Me, he calls Martin one of the great comic geniuses of all time. But the harsh comments from the critics, as well as frustration with the formulaic similarity of Martin & Lewis movies, which producer Hal Wallis stubbornly refused to change, led to Martin's dissatisfaction. He put less enthusiasm into the work, leading to escalating arguments with Lewis. They finally could not work together, especially after Martin told his partner he was "nothing to me but a dollar sign." The act broke up in 1956, 10 years to the day from the first official teaming.
Splitting up their partnership was not easy. It took months for lawyers to work out the details of terminating many of their club bookings, their television contracts, and the dissolution of York Productions. There was intense public pressure for them to stay together.
Lewis had no trouble maintaining his film popularity alone, but Martin, unfairly regarded by much of the public and the motion picture industry as something of a spare tire, found the going hard. His first solo film, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, was a box office failure. He was still popular as a singer, but with rock and roll surging to the fore, the era of the pop crooner was waning. It looked like Martin's fate was to be limited to nightclubs and to be remembered as Jerry Lewis's former partner.
Never totally comfortable in films, Martin wanted to be known as a real actor. Though offered a fraction of his former salary to co-star in a war drama, The Young Lions (1957), he agreed so he could learn from Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. Tony Randall already had the part, but talent agency MCA realized that with this movie, Martin would become a triple threat: they could make money from his work in night clubs, movies, and records. Martin replaced Randall in one of the best dramatic roles of the decade and the film turned out to be the beginning of Martin's spectacular comeback. Success would continue as Martin starred alongside Frank Sinatra for the first time in a highly acclaimed Vincente Minnelli drama, Some Came Running. By the mid '60s, Martin was a top movie, recording, and nightclub star, while Lewis' film career declined. Martin was acclaimed for his performance as Dude in Rio Bravo (1959), directed by Howard Hawks and also starring John Wayne and singer Ricky Nelson. He teamed up again with Wayne in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), somewhat unconvincingly cast as brothers.
In 1960, Dean Martin was cast in the motion picture version of the Judy Holliday hit stage play Bells Are Ringing. Martin played a satiric variation of his own womanizing persona as Vegas singer "Dino" in Billy Wilder's adult comedy Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) with Kim Novak, and he was not above poking fun at his image in films such as the Matt Helm spy spoofs of the 1960s, in which he was a co-producer.
As a singer, Martin copied the styles of Harry Mills (of the Mills Brothers), Bing Crosby, and Perry Como until he developed his own and could hold his own in duets with Sinatra and Crosby. Like Sinatra, he could not read music, but he recorded more than 100 albums and 600 songs. His signature tune, "Everybody Loves Somebody," knocked The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" out of the number-one spot in the United States in 1964. This was followed by the similarly-styled "The Door is Still Open to My Heart," which reached number six later that year. Elvis Presley was said to have been influenced by Martin, and patterned "Love Me Tender" after his style. Martin, like Elvis, was influenced by country music. By 1965, some of Martin's albums, such as Dean "Tex" Martin, The Hit Sound Of Dean Martin, Welcome To My World and Gentle On My Mind were composed of country and western songs made famous by artists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Buck Owens. Martin hosted country performers on his TV show and was named "Man Of the Year" by the Country Music Association in 1966.
For three decades, Martin was among the most popular acts in Las Vegas. Martin sang and was one of the smoothest comics in the business, benefiting from the decade of raucous comedy with Lewis. Martin's daughter, Gail, also sang in Vegas and on his TV show, co-hosting his summer replacement series on NBC. Though often thought of as a ladies' man, Martin spent a lot of time with his family; as second wife Jeanne put it, prior to the couple's divorce, "He was home every night for dinner."
The Rat Pack
As Martin's solo career grew, he and Frank Sinatra became close friends. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Martin and Sinatra, along with friends Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis, Jr. formed the legendary Rat Pack, so called by the public after an earlier group of social friends, the Holmby Hills Rat Pack centered on Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, of which Sinatra had been a member.
The Martin-Sinatra-Davis-Lawford-Bishop group referred to themselves as "The Summit" or "The Clan" and never as "The Rat Pack", although this has remained their identity in the popular culture. The men made films together, formed an important part of the Hollywood social scene in those years, and were politically influential (through Lawford's marriage to Patricia Kennedy, sister of President John F. Kennedy).
The Rat Pack were legendary for their Las Vegas performances, which were almost never preannounced. For example, the marquee at the Sands Hotel might read DEAN MARTIN---MAYBE FRANK---MAYBE SAMMY. Las Vegas rooms were at a premium when the Rat Pack would appear, with many visitors sleeping in hotel lobbies or cars to get a chance to see the three men together. Their act (always in tuxedo) consisted of each singing individual numbers, duets and trios, along with much seemingly improvised slapstick and chatter. In the socially-charged 1960s, their jokes revolved around adult themes, such as Sinatra's infamous womanizing and Martin's legendary drinking, as well as many at the expense of Davis's race and religion. Davis famously practiced Judaism and used Yiddish phrases onstage, eliciting much merriment from both his stage-mates and his audiences. It was all good-natured male bonding, never vicious, rarely foul-mouthed, and the three had great respect for each other. The Rat Pack was largely responsible for the integration of Las Vegas. Sinatra and Martin steadfastly refused to appear anywhere that barred Davis, forcing the casinos to open their doors to African-American entertainers and patrons, and to drop restrictive covenants against Jews.
The 1960s and 1970s
In 1965, Martin launched his weekly NBC comedy-variety series, The Dean Martin Show, which exploited his public image as a lazy, carefree boozer. It was there that he perfected his famous laid-back persona of the half-drunk crooner suavely hitting on beautiful women with hilarious remarks that would get anyone else slapped, and making snappy if slurred remarks about fellow celebrities during his famous roasts. During an interview he stated, and this may have been tongue-in-cheek, that he had someone record them on cassette tape so he could listen to them; this is evidenced by his comments to this effect on the British TV documentary 'Wine, Women and Song' which was aired in 1983.
The TV show was a huge hit. Dean prided himself on memorizing whole scripts – not merely his own lines. He disliked rehearsing because he firmly believed his best performances were his first. The show's loose format prompted quick-witted improvisation from Dean and the cast. On occasion, he made remarks in Italian, some mild obscenities that brought angry mail from offended, Italian-speaking viewers. This prompted a battle between Martin and NBC censors, who insisted on more scrutiny of the show's content. The show was often in the Top Ten. Martin, deeply appreciative of the efforts of the show's producer, his friend Greg Garrison, later made a handshake deal giving Garrison, a pioneer TV producer in the 1950s, 50% ownership of the show. However, the validity of that ownership is currently the subject of a lawsuit brought by NBC Universal.
Despite Martin's reputation as a heavy drinker — a reputation perpetuated via his vanity license plates reading 'DRUNKY' — he was remarkably self-disciplined. He was often the first to call it a night, and when not on tour or on a film location liked to go home to see his wife and children. Shirley MacLaine in her autobiography confirmed that Martin was sipping apple juice (not liquor) most of the time onstage. He borrowed the lovable-drunk shtick from Joe E. Lewis, but his convincing portrayals of heavy boozers in Some Came Running and Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo led to unsubstantiated claims of alcoholism. More often than not, Martin's idea of a good time was playing golf or watching TV, particularly westerns – not staying with Rat Pack friends Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. into the early hours of the morning.
Martin starred in and co-produced a series of four Matt Helm superspy comedy adventures. A fifth, The Ravagers, was planned starring Sharon Tate and Martin in a dual role, one as a serial killer, but due to the murder of Tate and the decline of the spy genre the film was never made.
By the early 1970s, Martin seemed to have the Midas touch, The Dean Martin Show was still earning solid ratings, and although he was no longer a Top 40 hitmaker, his record albums continued to sell well. His name on a marquee could guarantee casinos and nightclubs a standing-room-only crowd. He found a way to make his passion for golf profitable by offering his own signature line of golf balls. Shrewd investments had greatly increased Martin's personal wealth; at the time of his death, Martin was reportedly the single largest minority shareholder of RCA stock. Martin even managed to cure himself of his claustrophobia by reportedly locking himself in the elevator of a tall building and riding up and down for hours until he was no longer panic-stricken.
Despite his success Martin retreated from show business by the early 1970s. The final (1973-74) season of his variety show would be retooled into one of celebrity roasts, requiring less of Martin's involvement. After the show's cancellation, NBC continued to air the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast format in a series of TV specials through 1984. In those 11 years, Dean and his panel of pals successfully ridiculed and made fun of legendary stars like Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball and Ronald Reagan, to name a few. For nearly a decade, Dean had recorded as many as four albums a year for Reprise Records. That stopped in November 1974, when Martin recorded his final Reprise album - Once In A While, released in 1978. His last recording sessions were for Warner Brothers Records. An album titled The Nashville Sessions was released in 1983, from which he had a hit with "(I Think That I Just Wrote) My First Country Song," which was recorded with Conway Twitty and made a respectable showing on the country charts. A follow up single "L.A. is my home / Drinking Champagne" came in 1985. The 1975 film Mr. Ricco marked Martin's final starring role, and Martin limited his live performances to Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
Martin seemed to suffer a mid-life crisis. In 1972, he filed for divorce from his second wife, Jeanne. A week later, his business partnership with the Riviera was dissolved amid reports of the casino's refusal to agree to Martin's request to perform only once a night. He was quickly snapped up by the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, and signed a three-picture deal with MGM Studios. Less than a month after his second marriage had been legally dissolved, Martin married 26-year-old Catherine Hawn on April 25, 1973. Hawn had been the receptionist at the chic Gene Shacrove hair salon in Beverly Hills. They divorced November 10, 1976. He was also briefly engaged to Gail Renshaw, Miss USA-World 1969.
Eventually, Martin reconciled with Jeanne, though they never remarried. He also made a public reconciliation with Jerry Lewis on Lewis' Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon in 1976. Frank Sinatra shocked Lewis and the world by bringing Martin out on stage. As Martin and Lewis embraced, the audience erupted in cheers and the phone banks lit up, resulting in one of the telethon's most profitable years. Lewis reported the event was one of the three most memorable of his life. Lewis brought down the house when he quipped, "So, you working?" Martin, playing drunk, replied that he was "at the Meggum" – this reference to the MGM Grand Hotel convulsed Lewis. This, along with the death of Martin's son Dean Paul Martin a few years later, helped to bring the two men together. They maintained a quiet friendship but only performed together again once, in 1989, on Dean's 72nd birthday.
On December 1, 1983 while gambling at the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City, Martin and Sinatra intimidated the dealer and several employees into breaking New Jersey laws by making the dealer deal the cards by hand instead of by a shoe, as is required by law. Although Sinatra and Martin were implicated as the cause of the violation, neither was fined by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. The Golden Nugget, on the other hand, received a $25,000 fine and four employees including the dealer, a supervisor and pit boss were suspended from their jobs without pay. It's said that Sinatra and Martin picked up the tab for the suspended employees' pay.
Martin returned to films briefly with appearances in the two star-laden yet critically panned Cannonball Run movies,. He also had a minor hit single with "Since I Met You Baby" and made his first music video, which appeared on MTV. The video was created by Martin's youngest son, Ricci.
On December 8, 1989, Martin attended Sammy Davis Jr.'s 60th Anniversary Special.
On March 21, 1987, Martin's son Dean Paul (formerly Dino of the 60s "teeny-bopper" rock group Dino, Desi & Billy) was killed when his F-4 Phantom II (jet) fighter crashed while flying with the California Air National Guard.
In September 1993, Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had been told he needed surgery on his kidneys and liver to prolong his life, but he refused. It was widely reported, though never confirmed, that Martin had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1991.
At his side in his last years was ex-wife Jeanne (Biegger) Martin, whom he had divorced years earlier.
Martin died of acute respiratory failure at his home on Christmas morning 1995, at the age of 78. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor. Tributes
In 2005, Las Vegas renamed Industrial Road as Dean Martin Drive. A similarly named street was christened in 2008 in Rancho Mirage, California.
Martin's family was presented a gold record in 2004 for Dino: The Essential Dean Martin, his fastest-selling album ever, which also hit the iTunes Top 10. For the week ending December 23, 2006, the Dean Martin and Martina McBride duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" reached #7 on the R&R AC chart. It also went to #36 on the R&R Country chart - the last time Martin had a song this high in the charts was in 1965, with the song "I Will", which reached #10 on the Pop chart.
An album of duets, Forever Cool, was released by Capitol/EMI in 2007. It features Martin's voice with Kevin Spacey, Shelby Lynne, Joss Stone, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Robbie Williams, McBride and more.
His footprints were immortalized at Grauman's Chinese Theater in 1964. Martin has not one but three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: One at 6519 Hollywood Blvd. (for movies), one at 1817 Vine (for recordings) and one at 6651 Hollywood Boulevard (for television).
In February 2009, Martin was honored with a posthumous Grammy award for Lifetime Achievement. Four of his surviving children, Gail, Deana, Ricci and Gina, were on hand to accept on his behalf.
Martin was married three times. Martin's first wife, Betty McDonald, tried by all accounts to be a good wife and mother to their four children, but her efforts were ultimately undone by her alcoholism. It remains a matter of speculation whether her alcoholism led to the failure of the marriage, or whether Dean's infidelities led to Betty's alcoholism. Subsequent to their divorce, Martin gained custody of their children; Betty lived out her life in quiet obscurity in San Francisco. In the 2002 CBS film Martin and Lewis she is portrayed by Paula Cale. Their children were Stephen Craig (born June 29, 1942), Claudia Dean (March 16, 1944 - 2001 from breast cancer), Barbara Gail (born April 11, 1945) and Deana (Dina) (born August 19, 1948).
Martin's second wife was Jeanne Biegger. A stunning blonde, Jeanne could sometimes be spotted in Martin's audience while he was still married to Betty. Their marriage lasted twenty-four years (1949-1973) and produced three children. She is portrayed by Kate Levering in Martin and Lewis. Their children were Dean Paul (November 17, 1951 - March 21, 1987 plane crash), Ricci James (born September 20, 1953) and Gina Caroline (born December 20, 1956).
Martin's third marriage, to Catherine Hawn, lasted three years. One of Dean's managers had spotted the young beauty working the desk at a swank salon on Rodeo Drive, then arranged a meeting. Martin adopted Hawn's daughter, Sasha, but their marriage also failed. Dean initiated divorce proceedings.
Dean Martin's uncle was Leonard Barr, who appeared in several of his shows.
Martin was portrayed by Joe Mantegna in an HBO movie about Sinatra and Martin titled The Rat Pack. Mantegna was nominated for both an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award for the role.
In the movie A Bronx's Tale, Dean Martin's song, "Ain't That A Kick In The Head?", was featured during the scene when C was playing dice.
British actor Jeremy Northam portrayed the entertainer in a made-for-TV movie called, Martin and Lewis, alongside Will & Grace's Sean Hayes as Jerry Lewis.
Danny Gans portrayed Martin in the miniseries, Sinatra.
For the week ending December 23, 2006, the Dean Martin and Martina McBride duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" reached #7 on the R&R AC chart. It also went to #36 on the R&R Country chart. The last time Martin had a song this high in the charts was in 1965, with the song "I Will," which reached #10 on the Pop chart.
A Budweiser TV commercial that premiered during Super Bowl XLI featured Martin's "Ain't That A Kick In The Head?"
In a trailer for the 2009 video game The Godfather II, Martin's "Ain't That A Kick In The Head?" is heard throughout the trailer showing the gangster lifestyle of the 50's.
A compilation album called, Amore! debuted at Number One on Billboard magazine's Top Pop Catalog Albums chart in its February 21, 2009 issue.
Martin is mentioned in the Simpsons episode Apocalypse Cow
Bart: So Dean Martin would show up at the last minute and do everything in just one take?
Homer: That's right!
Bart: But Wikipedia said he was "passionate about rehearsal."
Homer: Don't you worry about Wikipedia. We'll change it when we get home. We'll change a lot of things.
In the Meter Made episode of American Dad, Martin's Ain't That a Kick in the Head? is played during a montage in which Stan and Francine are destroying furniture items they bought with illegally obtained money.