Dean Martin (born Dino Paul Crocetti; June 7, 1917 – December 25, 1995) was an American singer, actor and comedian of Italian descent. One of the most popular and enduring American entertainers of the mid-20th century, Martin was nicknamed “The King of Cool”. Martin gained his career breakthrough together with comedian Jerry Lewis, billed as Martin and Lewis, in 1946. They performed in nightclubs and later had numerous appearances on radio, television and in films.
Following an acrimonious ending of the partnership in 1956, Martin pursued a solo career as a performer and actor. Martin established himself as a singer, recording numerous contemporary songs as well as standards from the Great American Songbook. He became one of the most popular acts in Las Vegas and was known for his friendship with fellow artists Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., who together with several others formed the Rat Pack.
Starting in 1965, Martin was the host of the television variety program The Dean Martin Show, which centered on Martin’s singing and comedic talents and was characterized by his relaxed, easy-going demeanor. From 1974 to 1984, he was roastmaster on the popular Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, which drew celebrities, comedians and politicians. Throughout his career, Martin performed in concert stages, nightclubs, audio recordings and appeared in 85 film and television productions.
His best known songs include “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?”, “Memories Are Made of This”, “That’s Amore”, “Everybody Loves Somebody”, “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You”, “Sway”, and “Volare”.
Dean Martin was as famous for his views on drinking as he was for singing, most memorably: ‘You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.’ Martin was born Dino Crocetti the son of an Italian immigrant barber in Ohio. On his rise to fame he smuggled liquor during Prohibition and was a prize fighter, proudly recalling, ‘I won all but 11 of my 12 fights.’ As a member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack (known as the Clan before they realised its controversial connotations) his props included the tuxedo, cigarettes and plenty of highballs.
Golf, a passion for both Martin and Sinatra, brought out a more serious reflection on the years of alcohol abuse: ‘If you drink, don’t drive, don’t even putt.’ Dean used to deny his alcoholism: ‘I drink because my body craves, needs alcohol.’ However, some observers reported that his highballs were filled with apple juice. Nonetheless, alcohol – or apple juice – didn’t seem to have any effect on Martin’s longevity. In 1995 he died of respiratory failure, aged 78.
Jerry Lewis talks about his career and friendship with Dean Martin
Fans ranging in age from 15 to 85 filled the School of Management auditorium Friday night for a rare opportunity to see and hear legendary comedian Jerry Lewis, who was in town promoting his newly-released memoir, Dean and Me: A Love Story.
Lewis appeared for an on-stage interview with Robin Young, host of WBUR’s Here and Now. At 77 pounds lighter, the man who has brought laughter to audiences for decades said he feels terrific.
Lewis has battled a host of health problems over the years and had gained considerable weight as a result of a drug he took for a lung ailment. The slapstick comic of “Hey Laaa-dy” fame will turn 80 in March. He took questions from the audience seriously, but kept them laughing as he playfully bantered with Young between answers. He even appeared sentimental at times, speaking openly about the importance of love and about his “inner nine-year-old.”
Lewis called Boston “a special place,” because it is where he first saw his name lit up on a marquee. The sign at Steuben’s Vienna Room read Jerry Lewis — Good Steaks, he said, laughing. What was supposed to be a 2-week stay stretched to 47. “I practically lived on Boylston Street,” he said.
Lewis talked candidly about his relationship with pal and longtime sidekick Dean Martin — a man-crush, he called it, referring to Martin as the most handsome man he ever knew. He recalled the first time they met, on the corner of Broadway and 54th Street in New York City, in 1946: Martin, hair slicked and wearing a camel-hair coat, appeared tan, and, Lewis said, “I just remember thinking, God, I wish he was my friend.”
Dean, the Italian crooner, and Lewis, often referred to as “the monkey,” began their smash partnership at Atlantic City’s 500 Club. Young recalled the reaction to the show: “They didn’t get laughs. It was pandemonium. They were knocking over tables.”
The two went on to collaborate on what many say was the best vaudeville act of all time and to make 16 films. But on July 25, 1956, 10 years to the day after they met, their professional relationship and their friendship ended, after a final gig at Manhattan’s famed Copacabana. Martin increasingly was being pushed into the background, while Lewis stole the spotlight. Tired of playing second fiddle, Martin went his own way, and the two did not speak for 20 years.
When they were reunited onstage by their friend Frank Sinatra during Lewis’ annual Labor Day muscular dystrophy telethon, Lewis remembered panicking, pleading to God for something clever to say. “So, you working?” Lewis asked. The audience loved it, but even after that, Lewis said, the two did not talk. It was the death of Martin’s son, Dino, that connected them again. Lewis said that Dean phoned to tell him that in his life there had been two men he had loved, one his son and the other Lewis.
Despite Martin’s reputation throughout his career for drinking heavily, Lewis insisted that it was always apple juice in the glass at the piano. It wasn’t until Dino died that “Dean let himself go,” he said, and became reclusive and alcoholic.
Martin died on Christmas Day 1995. Lewis said he “took on the press” for often slighting Martin while lauding Lewis throughout their partnership. “I told them who he was,” he said. “I told them if he wasn’t there, I would have been a record act and nothing else.”
Asked what Martin would have thought of the book, Lewis said, “He would have loved it. I gave him every bit of credit he deserved.”
What was Dean Martin really drinking?
Happy Holidays! This is Susan King, veteran movie writer for the Los Angeles Times and guardian of the Golden Age of Hollywood galaxy. Every Friday in my Classic Hollywood newsletter, I get to discuss all things vintage, including notable births and deaths, TV and movie milestones and fun happenings around town.
If you love crazy comedies, head on down to the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for its annual “Screwball Comedy Classics.” The frantic fun kicks off Saturday with Howard Hawks’ 1940 romantic farce “His Girl Friday” with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell and the 1937 Grant comedy “Topper,” with Constance Bennett and Oscar nominee Roland Young.
For those who want to embrace their inner curmudgeon, the Aero has lined up two W.C. Fields comedies Sunday evening: 1939’s “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man” with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and the 1940 riot “My Little Chickadee,” which also stars the one and only Mae West.
For fans of Marxist comedy, the New Beverly is offering a triple bill of Marx Brothers comedies on Christmas Day: 1932’s “Horse Feathers”; 1935’s “A Night at the Opera”; and 1930’s “Animal Crackers.” All I can say is “Hooray for Captain Spaulding.”
Calling all animation buffs. The Alex Film Society is presenting its fifth “The Greatest Cartoons Ever” program Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. Animation historian Jerry Beck and director Frank Gladstone have lined up some of the classics from the Golden Age of animation, including Disney’s 1938 “Brave Little Tailor” starring Mickey and Minnie Mouse; the 1947 Tom and Jerry comedy “Cat Concert”; 1952’s “Feed the Kitty,” with Marc Antony and Pussyfoot; and 1954’s “When Magoo Flew.” There will be a cartoon-themed raffle and even some surprises.
Some, including Martin’s son, said it was really apple juice in the rocks glasses Dean Martin brought onstage. Others begged to differ, including his singing and drinking buddy Frank Sinatra, who said, “If we ever develop an Olympic drinking team, [Dean’s] gonna be the coach.” But how much Martin actually drank is beside the point. He always seemed bombed, and that was what mattered.
in the early and mid ’50s
Dean Martin got his start as the straight man for Jerry Lewis. They were the most popular comedy act in the country in the early and mid ’50s. After they split up, Martin became a full-time crooner and developed the drunk act to go with it.
He was never that interested in actually singing during his loose, haphazard Vegas shows and TV appearances, preferring to extol the virtues of drinking and drunkenness—while knocking back a few himself, of course. “I don’t drink anymore,” he’d say. “I freeze it now, and eat it like a popsicle.”. Or “You’re not really drunk if you can lay on the floor without holding on.”. And even “I feel sorry for you people who don’t drink. Because when you wake up in the morning, that’s as good as you’re gonna feel all day.”
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