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Music / Dean Martin

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You wish you were that cool.

Dean Martin (June 7, 1917 – December 25, 1995; born Dino Paul Crocetti) was an American singer, actor, comedian, vice-president of the Rat Pack, and the epitome of cool. He didn't have to invoke the rule; he was just cool.

Born in Steubenville, Ohio to Italian-American parents note , Dino was a non-descript singer with a pretty good East Coast reputation until 1946, when he met and teamed up with Jerry Lewis. They would become the hottest comedy team in America over the next ten yearsnote  and first achieved movie success with supporting roles on My Friend Irma (1949) and its sequel My Friend Irma Goes West (1950). Popular belief was that Lewis was the better talent and that he carried Martin, but Lewis consistently praised Martin's work and said the team was "50-50".

The team broke up because Martin felt he was being upstaged by Lewisnote  and because he wanted to do some serious acting. No one thought much of his chances, but he quickly knocked out three impressive performances: The Young Lions (1958), Some Came Running (1958), and Rio Bravo (1959). He then followed those up with the memorable Ocean's 11 in 1960.

He even headlined his own series of spy films based on the Matt Helm novels by Douglas Hamilton. Although the books were very hard-edged thrillers, the films took a considerably lighter tone by being early spoofs of the Bond films. Although not very well-known today, they served as inspirations for Austin Powers — in addition to which, the last of them, The Wrecking Crew, was notable for being Sharon Tate's last film and was referenced in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

All the while he was acting, he was also recording. Once he settled on his trademark "crooning" style, he became one of the most beloved singers in America. "Ain't That a Kick in the Head", which Dino first performed in the original Ocean's 11, is today the emblematic song of the Rat Pack period. (Want proof? It was used in a Budweiser Super Bowl commercial.) He's also well known for "That's Amore", "Everybody Loves Somebody", ''Memories Are Made of This", and "Volare (Nel blu di pinto di blu)".

During the Rat Pack years and subsequently, Dino was rarely seen without a lowball glass (his Vanity License Plate read "DRUNKY"). Most of the time, though, he was actually drinking apple juice; the whole drunk thing was part of his act (while he did like a drink, he wasn't one to let the booze get in the way of his performing). Likewise, while his best friend, Frank Sinatra, caroused and tomcatted, Dino went home every night to his wife, Jeanne. When they divorced in 1973, she said simply, "He was home every night."

Most tropers of a certain age know him as the host of The Dean Martin Show (NBC, 1965–74) and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast (also NBC, 1975–84). He didn't want to do the former show at first and presented NBC with a ridiculous list of demands (including a huge salary and a clause that prohibited retakes) in the hopes that it would scuttle the deal. But when NBC agreed to every single demand, he felt he had no choice but to do it.

It says above that Dino died in 1995, but he really died on March 21, 1987, when his son Dean Paul (who had done a little singing and acting himself) was killed when his California Air National Guard jet crashed. Dino was never the same. Sinatra tried to coax him back on the road — the "Together Again Tour", 30 shows in 40 days. Dino, who always preferred working in smaller clubs, felt lost in the big stadiums Frank insisted on playing and only hung in for one week before going home. In 1993, the lifelong smoker was diagnosed with lung cancer and made few public appearances afterward. Jeanne was at his side till the end.

He is the subject of one of the greatest showbiz biographies, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams (1992) by Nick Tosches.


His career provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic:
    • Subverted. Dean's whole schtick during the latter half of his career was that of an amiable drunk who missed cues, mispronounced words, and hit on the nearest woman, but while he enjoyed a drink, it was an act. For the most part, that glass that was always close to hand contained apple juice.
    • Sadly became one for real after Dean Paul's death.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Martin was rather protective of Lewis during their years as a team, especially in their early years when Lewis was barely out of his teens and had a rather troubled past. On one occasion, sitting at a bar, he threw an anti-Semitic mobster's mook across it and into the shelf of glasses behind: the mook had demanded to know of Martin what he was doing teaming up with a Jew.
  • Book Dumb: He left school at an early age, but that didn't mean he was unintelligent. He would commit entire scripts (not just the sections where he'd be involved) to memory.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Dean believed that he appealed to audiences when he was spontaneous and at ease, so he tried to do everything in as few takes as possible. For his variety show, he even had it written into his contract that he wouldn't have to rehearse or do retakes. He'd be out of the studio and driving home before shooting even wrapped!
  • The Charmer: Dean was completely at ease with himself and this gave him an air of confidence that people gravitated towards.
  • Christmas Songs: He recorded two Christmas albums (one for each of his labels, Capitol and Reprise); both yielded songs that remain staples of all-Christmas radio to this day.
  • Claustrophobia: He had it. He fostered a lifelong hatred for New York City, not least of all because of skyscrapers and the necessity of elevatorsnote . When he had finally made it in show business, the first penthouse he bought in Manhattan was on the third floor of a highrise so that he could use the stairs.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: A significant part of his act with Lewis.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: He spoke only Italian — well, probably Neapolitan, actually — until starting school and was the target of frequent ridicule for his broken English. His famous cover of "Nel blu dipinto di blu/Volare", half in English and half in Italian and released at the height of his fame, was his quiet assertion of pride in his Italian heritage.note  (The song was also a license to print money since it was so popular.)
  • The Eponymous Show: The Dean Martin Show, of course. After that, there were the Eponymous Celebrity Roasts.
  • Gay Paree / Sarcasm Mode: "The Poor People of Paris"
  • Gentleman Thief: In Ocean's Eleven.
  • Gratuitous Italian: Played straight in that he often used Italian words and phrases. Averted in that he really did speak Italian (in the Neapolitan dialect) — indeed, it was his native tongue, and he didn't speak English until he started going to school at the age of five.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Several. The Best of Dean Martin, Dean Martin's Greatest Hits!, Dino: The Essential Dean Martin, etc.
  • Improv: An essential part of his nightclub act with Lewis, and later in the Rat Pack stage performances.
  • The Lancer: To whatever character Frank Sinatra was playing when they appeared in a film together.
  • Latin Lover: Without the dancing, typically.
  • The Mafia: Had various encounters with them, friendly and otherwise, while touring with Lewis. Nick Tosches, in his biography of Martin, said that one of the reasons for Frank Sinatra's fascination with Dean was that, while Sinatra himself was awed by the Mafia and wanted to be like them, gangsters themselves tended to be awed by Dean and his quality of lontananza ("remoteness"), and wanted to be like him.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Martin loved to do this purposefully with Lewis' last name. His favorite variations were Lucas, Loomis, Lousy, and Looseleaf.
  • Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters: His character in Robin and the Seven Hoods.
  • Nice Guy: He was polite and charming as well as fiercely protective of those he cared about. He couldn't bear to punish his children even when they had clearly misbehaved. One of his sons recalled how they'd once simply sat in Dean's den to make it seem to Jeanne, Dean's second wife, as if Dean was giving the boy a stern talking to.
  • OneOfUs: He was a lifelong comic book fan.
  • Playing Drunk: Became his shtick after Martin and Lewis broke up. As mentioned above, his ever-present whiskey glass was almost always filled with apple juice, both because Martin was a pro who did not want to work drunk, and because the sheer amount of alcohol his stage persona imbibed would have made multi-take scenes risky.
  • The Roast: He fronted The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, which ran for ten years.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: His most important connection was probably Frank Sinatra.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Combined with Smoking Is Glamorous.
  • Spaghetti and Gondolas: His song "That's Amore" checks off several boxes of stereotypical Italian imagery, such as wine, pizza, and the tarantella.
  • Stage Names: First "Dino Martini", then, at his bandleader's suggestion, Dean Martin.
  • Straight Man: To Jerry Lewis when they were an act.
  • Take That!: To Dino, his 1964 single "Everybody Loves Somebody" was this to the British Invasion groups that were dominating the US charts at the time. He particularly disliked The Beatles and resented the fact that many young Americans, including his son, practically hero-worshipped them. Even though he'd not had a top 40 hit for six years, Dino promised the boy that his latest single would "knock your pallies off the charts" ... and it did, replacing "A Hard Day's Night" at the #1 spot on the Billboard chart.
  • Urban Legend Love Life: He cheated on his first wife with multiple women, but he was absolutely faithful to Jeanne, his second wife. While his public persona was that of a drunken playboy and he flirted outrageously with his female costars, he was always home in time for dinner with his family. If he was on the road, he'd be the first to go to his hotel room while his friends, namely Frank Sinatra, partied well into the night.
  • Vanity License Plate: "DRUNKY"
  • Variety Show: The Dean Martin Show and Colgate Comedy Hour.