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|Also Known As:||Dino Paul Crocetti||Died:||December 25, 1995|
|Born:||June 7, 1917||Cause of Death:||respiratory failure|
|Birth Place:||Steubenville, Ohio||Profession:||Music ... actor singer croupier laborer boxer gas station attendant|
As the epitome of laid-back cool, the handsome, mellow-voiced crooner Dean Martin successfully redefined his image throughout his career with ever straying too far from his established persona as a good-natured, quick-witted and booze-loving regular guy. Though his onetime partner Jerry Lewis would later call him "the most underrated performer in the history of our business," Martin was embraced by both the audiences of his time as well as subsequent generations of fans who weren't yet born in his heyday. Projecting the image of both a smooth ladies' man and an back-slapping man's man, Martin rose from the facile straight man for the antics of his early comedy partner Jerry Lewis, defying predictions after their break-up to become a respected film actor and top-selling solo recording artist. His profile rose even further as the seeming second-in-command to his close friend Frank Sinatra in the Rat Pack, both in films and on the stages of nightclubs--particularly helping build early Las Vegas' image as a locale for high-class but risque entertainment. By the 1960s Martin was one of the most popular and highest paid performers in history, with his records often outselling the Beatles, his films like the Matt Helm series topping the box office, and his popular comedy-varierty TV series--which cemented his images as a boozy, delightfully naughty man-child in a chic tuxedo--sitting atop the ratings each week. Martin's output decreased somewhat in the 70s and 80s, but his appearances in films like "Airport" (1970) and "The Cannonball Run" (1981) continued to endear him to a broad audience, though his music had been eclipsed by rock and roll and was considered passe. But by the time of Martin's death in 1995, a resurgence of appreciation of Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Martin and their contemporaries--fueled perhaps most prominently by Jon Favreau's film "Swingers" (1996), which picked up on Los Angeles' Rat Pack-worshipping hipster lounge scene--elevated Martin to full-fledged icon status: sales of his music soared and his songs were again featured on film soundtracks, DVDs featuring the performer's TV performances sold briskly, and a mutitude of books chronicled his life and backstage adventures. Born Dino Paul Crocetti in 1917, the son of an Italian immigrant barber in Steubenville, Ohio, the performer toiled in a variety of odd jobs--including casino dealer, prizefighter and steel mill worker--Martin realized his suave good looks and smooth baritone might allow him to escape a life of manual labor and set out to become a crooner in the mold of Bing Crosby. Martin managed to get nightclub work while selling himself to a wide variety of managers (including comedian Lou Costello, who paid for Martin's nose job), but it wasn't until 1946, when he met teenager and aspiring comic Jerry Lewis, nine years his junior, on the nightclub circuit and they improvised a comedy act that left audience aching with laughter, that he finally hit the big time. Though Martin seemingly played the straight man to manic, spastic Lewis (the "organ grinder" to Lewis "monkey," as they termed it), his deft comic timing was a critical, if not always appreciated, part of what them one of America's most successful comedy duos of the 1940s and 50s. Indeed, the fan hysteria that accompanied Martin & Lewis' public appearances at the time was akin to the manias that would surround Sinatra, Elvis Presley and The Beatles during the height of their popularity. Placed under contract with producer Hal Wallis at Paramount Pictures, Martin & Lewis appeared together in sixteen films, beginning with "My Friend Irma" (1949), through "Sailor Beware" (1951) and "Artists and Models" (1955) ending with "Hollywood or Bust" (1956). When the team's ten-year partnership ended--due, most claim, to Lewis' ever-increasing ego and control freak qualities, as well as his desire for attention and approval from the oft-distant Martin--many in Hollywood predicted dire straights for Martin's career, but the ever-relaxed and often self-spoofing star sustained his popularity via recordings (with the chart-topping hits "That's Amore," "Memories Are Made of This" and "You're Nobody 'Till Somebody Loves You"), TV specials and several competent screen roles, often as a smooth ladies' man. Martin turned in creditable performances in Edward Dmytryk's "The Young Lions", Vincente Minnelli's "Some Came Running" (both 1958), Howard Hawks' "Rio Bravo" (1959), Billy Wilder's "Kiss Me, Stupid" (1964)--a before-its-time sex comedy reviled by critics and audiences at the time but featuring Martin in a brilliantly self-parodying turn as a drunken and lecherous version of himself--and the almost tailor-made role in the Minnelli musical "Bells Are Ringing" (1960). As a member of Frank Sinatra's inner circle in the early 1960s, he co-starred in the Rat Pack's off-the-cuff movies, beginning with the charming caper film "Ocean's Eleven" in 1960, alongside Sinatra, Davis, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. In what has now become showbiz legend, the gang would shot the film at a breakneck pace all day, then hit the nightclub stage at the Sands Hotel for their raucous, ribald stage act, then party into the wee hours before hitting the set again; together the Rat Pack (the name was borrowed from Humphrey Bogart's social circle, while Sinatra perferred that they be called "The Summit") would help popularize Las Vegas as a destination for vacationing grown-ups looking for some slightly sinful indulgences. Despite his newfound image as a skirt-chasing boozehound (borrowed from nightclub comedian Joe E. Lewis) Martin was the least party-minded of his pals: he usually drank apple juice on stage and retired early to his hotel room to watch Westerns on TV in bed. Along with becoming known for championing the presidential candidacy of John F. Kennedy (Martin was largely politically indifferent but bowed to Sinatra's friendship with JFK), the Rat Pack would also appear on film in various combinations, with Martin joining in for "Sergeants 3" (1962), "4 for Texas" (1963) and "Robin and the Seven Hoods" (1964). His recording career also continued triumphantly: in 1964 his recording of "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime," made for Sinatra's Reprise label, knocked the Beatles off of the top of the charts, given Martin bragging rights among his large family of seven children. Yet despite his warm relationships with the Hollywood elite and his image as a devoted family man, Martin's intimates would later reveal that he was always something of an aloof, sometimes distant figure, preferring a degree of solitude at home to the Hollywood party scene or deep personal conversations. Martin also achieved box office success playing a spoofy, Americanized version of James Bond in the popular "Matt Helm" movies of the late 60s (the films, along with the 007 outings, would later influence Mike Meyers' "Austin Powers" movies). He then launched his own long-running NBC TV variety show, "The Dean Martin Show" (1965-74)--later followed by its "Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts" spin-off specials, tickling audiences with his impish approach to comedy: behind the scenes, one of Martin's requirements to do the show proved to be the secret of its success. The show would be in production all week, with many of Hollywood's biggest-name stars rehearsing with a Martin stand-in, often much to their dismay. Martin would finally roll in on tape day, and his breezy, off-the-cuff and sometimes improvised approach always cliqued with his guests and especially with viewers, giving the show an fresh, unpredictable feel unavaliable anywhere else on the dial. Continuing to work on the big screen sporadically, Martin's last successful film as a leading man was the big screen soaper "Airport" (1970). He made sporadic film appearances in the 70s and 80s, and occasionally livened up such televsion series as "Charlie's Angels" and "Vega$," playing a version of himself in the latter; perhaps his most significant television appearance of the era was in 1976, when Sinatra brought Martin out as a surprise guest on Jerry Lewis' annual Muscular Dystrophy telethon, marking the first time the two had spoken in two decades. Martin's last major feature roles were in "The Cannonball Run" (1981) and "The Cannonball Run II" (1984), teamed with Sammy Davis, Jr. as a pair of cross-country rally racers who pose as priests to evade police speed traps--they were joined by fellow Rat Packers Sinatra and Shirley Maclaine in the sequel. Martin's son, actor-singer Dean Paul Martin, was killed in a plane crash in 1987, and many of the performer's intimates suggested that the loss was a devastating blow to Martin, causing him to further retreat into solitude, although when Lewis made a low-key appearance at Dean Paul's funeral, it prompted Martin to at last rekindle the fromer partners' friendship for good. After his death and subsequent pop resurgence, periods of Martin's life and career were the subject of a pair of telepics, including "The Rat Pack" (1998), with Joe Mategna charming but slightly miscast as the entertainer, and "Martin and Lewis" (CBS, 2002), with Jeremy Northam as the crooner and Sean Hayes as his manic partner. For many years, director Martin Scorsese also had plans to develop Nick Tosches' brilliant book on Martin's life Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams into a feature film with an all-star cast.
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