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Dean Martin Profile
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Dean Martin Profile

Affectionately remembered as "The King of Cool," Dean Martin (1917-1995) brought his laid-back, swinging style to three separate careers: as one half of the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy team; as a best-selling recording artist; and, finally, as a film and television star in his own right. The ruggedly handsome Italian-American, born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, was a prize-fighter, steel worker and card shark before achieving modest success as a singer in clubs.

Martin formed a partnership with Lewis shortly after meeting him in Atlantic City in 1946, and the pair soon reached the top of show business in live appearances, television and 16 films including Sailor Beware (1952), The Stooge (1953), Living It Up (1954) and Hollywood or Bust (1956). Lewis provided the frenetic comedy, while Martin was the straight man who could be counted on to croon a song or two -- and get the girl.

After an acrimonious breakup, the pair pursued separate careers. While it was taken for granted that Lewis would succeed on his own, Martin's solo career seemed more doubtful. But he rebounded in a series of roles in movies, including several for MGM. Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), his first movie without Lewis, is a musical romance in which Martin is a playboy/hotel manager in Rome. The role that put Martin's career as an actor firmly on the right path was Bama Dillert, the easygoing but destructive gambler who befriends Frank Sinatra in Some Came Running (1958), Vincente Minnelli's film version of the James Jones novel. Minnelli also directed Bells Are Ringing (1960), with Judy Holliday repeating her musical-comedy stage triumph on film and Martin providing effortless charm as her leading man. Ada (1961) took Martin into more dramatic territory as he played a Southern politician whose ambitious wife (Susan Hayward) maneuvers him into the governor's mansion.

Martin's biggest dramatic challenge came in United Artists' Toys in the Attic (1963), the Lillian Hellman drama in which he is the brother of a possessive spinster played by Geraldine Page (who praised Martin's acting in the role). He appeared in several "Rat Pack" films with Sinatra including Ocean's 11 (1960) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), along with his own series of spy films in which he was Matt Helm, America's answer to James Bond. Martin made four Helm movies beginning with The Silencers (1966). He also acted in several Westerns including two with John Wayne, Rio Bravo (1959) and The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).

"The Dean Martin Show" was a successful TV variety hour that ran from 1965 to 1974. The second of Martin's three marriages produced a son, Dean Paul "Dino" Martin, a tennis pro/musician/actor who died in a plane crash in 1987 while serving in the Air National Guard.

The movies in TCM's tribute to Dean Martin are Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), Some Came Running (1958), Bells Are Ringing (1960) and Ada (1961).

DINO: THE ESSENTIAL DEAN MARTIN CD SWEEPSTAKES will officially launch on June 1st and run through June 30th, 2004 so don't pass up a chance to enter for a chance to win a free copy of the CD.

by Roger Fristoe