Dean Paul Martin (born Dino Paul Coretta; June 7, 1917 – December 25, 1995) was an American singer, actor, comedian, and film producer.
One of the most popular and enduring American entertainers of the mid-20th century, Martin was nicknamed the “King of Cool” for his seemingly effortless charisma and self-assurance. He and Jerry Lewis were partners in the immensely popular comedy team “Martin and Lewis“. He was a member of the “Rat Pack” and a star in concert stage/nightclubs, recordings, motion pictures, and television. He was the host of the television variety program The Dean Martin Show (1965–1974) and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast (1974–1985).
Martin’s relaxed, warbling crooning voice earned him dozens of hit singles including his signature songs “Memories Are Made of This“, “That’s Amore“, “Everybody Loves Somebody“, “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You“, “Sway“, “Volare“, and “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head
Martin was born on June 7, 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio, to an Italian father and mother Martin’s first language was an Abruzzese dialect of Italian, and he did not speak English until he started school at the age of 5. In Elementary School he was bullied for his broken English. He later took up the drums as a hobby as a teenager. Martin then dropped out of Steubenville High School in the 10th grade because he thought he was smarter than his teachers
At 15 he was a boxer who billed himself as “Kid Crochet”. His prizefighting earned him a broken nose (later straightened), a scarred lip, many broken knuckles (a result of not being able to afford tape used to wrap boxers’ hands), and a bruised body. Of his 12 bouts, he said: “I won all but 11. For a time, he roomed with Sonny King, who, like Martin, was 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 was knocked out; people paid to watch. Martin knocked out King in the first round of an amateur boxing match.
Martin gave up boxing to work 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 Metropolitan Opera tenor, Nino Martini). He got his 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.
. Martin worked for various bands throughout the early 1940s, mostly on looks and personality until he developed his own singing style. Martin flopped at the Riobamba, a nightclub in New York, where he followed Frank Sinatra in 1943, but it was the setting for their meeting.
By 1946 Martin was doing well, but he was little more than an East Coast nightclub singer with a common style, similar to that of Bing Crosby.
Martin attracted the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures, but a Hollywood contract was not forthcoming. He met comic Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York, where both were performing. Martin and Lewis formed a fast friendship which led to their participation in each other’s acts and the formation of a music-comedy team.
Martin and Lewis’s 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 that night, they would be fired. Huddling in the alley behind the club, Lewis and Martin agreed to “go for broke”, they divided their act between songs, skits, and ad-libbed material. Martin sang and Lewis dressed as a busboy, dropping plates and making a shambles of Martin’s performance and the club’s decorum until Lewis was chased from the room as Martin pelted him with bread rolls. They did slapstick, reeled off old vaudeville jokes, and did whatever else popped into their heads. The audience laughed. This success led to a series of well-paying engagements on the Eastern seaboard, culminating in a run at New York’s Copacabana. The act consisted of Lewis interrupting and heckling Martin while he was trying to sing, with the two ultimately chasing each other around the stage. The secret, both said, is that they ignored the audience and played to each other.
The team made its TV debut on the first broadcast of CBS-TV network’s Toast of the Town (later called The Ed Sullivan Show) on June 20, 1948 with Ed Sullivan and Rodgers and Hammerstein also appearing. A radio series began in 1949, the year Martin and Lewis signed with Paramount producer Hal B. Wallis as comedy relief for the movie My Friend Irma.
Martin and Lewis in 1955
Their agent negotiated one of Hollywood’s best deals: although they received only $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 controlled their club, record, radio and television appearances, and through these they earned millions of dollars.
In Dean & Me, Lewis calls Martin one of the great comic geniuses of all time. But harsh comments from critics, as well as frustration with the similarity of Martin and Lewis movies, which producer Hal Wallis refused to change, led to Martin’s dissatisfaction. He put less enthusiasm into the work, leading to escalating arguments with Lewis. 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 teaming.
The Rat Pack was legendary for its Las Vegas Strip performances. For example, the marquee at the Sands Hotel might read DEAN MARTIN—MAYBE FRANK—MAYBE SAMMY. Their appearances were valuable because the city would flood with wealthy gamblers. Their act (always in tuxedo) consisted of each singing individual numbers, duets and trios, along with seemingly improvised slapstick and chatter. In the socially charged 1960s, their jokes revolved around adult themes, such as Sinatra’s womanizing and Martin’s drinking, as well as Davis’s race and religion. Sinatra and Martin supported the civil rights movement and refused to perform in clubs that would not allow African-American or Jewish performers.
As Martin’s solo career grew, he and Frank Sinatra became friends. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Martin and Sinatra, along with friends Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis, Jr. formed the Rat Pack, so-called 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 popular imagination.) The men made films together, formed part of the Hollywood social scene, and were politically influential (through Lawford’s marriage to Patricia Kennedy, sister of President John F. Kennedy).
In 1965, Martin launched his weekly NBC comedy-variety series, The Dean Martin Show, which ran for 264 episodes until 1974. The show exploited his image as a carefree boozer. Martin capitalized on his laid-back persona of the half-drunk crooner, hitting on women with remarks that would get anyone else slapped, and making snappy if slurred remarks about fellow celebrities during his roasts. During an interview on the British TV documentary Wine, Women and Song, aired in 1983, he stated, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that he had someone record them on cassette tape so he could listen to them.
Despite Martin’s reputation as a drinker – perpetuated via his vanity license plate “DRUNKY” – he masked his self-discipline. 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. He borrowed the lovable-drunk shtick from Joe E. Lewis, but his convincing portrayals of heavy boozers in Some Came Running and Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo led to unsubstantiated claims of alcoholism.
For nearly a decade, Martin 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, which was released in 1978. His last recordings 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. Is My Home” / “Drinking Champagne”, came in 1985.
In 1972, he filed for divorce from his second wife, Jeanne. A week later, his business partnership with the Riviera dissolved amid reports of the casino’s refusal to agree to Martin’s request to perform only once a night. He was taken by the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, where he was the featured performer on the hotel’s opening night December 23, 1973, and also signed a three-picture deal with MGM Studios. Less than a month after his second marriage had 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 World–U.S.A. 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 by bringing Martin out on stage. As Martin and Lewis embraced, the audience cheered and the phones 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 quipped, “So, you working?” Martin, playing drunk, replied that he was “at the Meggum” (meaning the MGM Grand). This, with the death of Martin’s son Dean Paul Martinmore than a decade later, helped bring the two men together. They maintained a quiet friendship, but only performed again once, in 1989, on Martin’s 72nd birthday
Martin was married three times. Subsequent to the divorce of his first wife, Elizabeth Anne “Betty” McDonald, Martin gained custody of their children; Betty lived out her life in quiet obscurity in San Francisco. They had four children; Craig Martin (born 1942), Claudia Martin (born March 16, 1944, died 2001 of breast cancer), Gail Martin (born 1945) and Deana Martin (born 1948).
Martin’s second wife was Jeanne Biegger, a former Orange Bowl queen from Coral Gables, Florida. Their marriage lasted 24 years (1949–1973) and had three children: Dean Paul Martin (November 17, 1951 – March 21, 1987; jet fighter crash), Ricci Martin (born 1953) and Gina Martin (born 1956). Her marriage made Martin the father-in-law of the Beach Boys‘ Carl Wilson. Figure skater Dorothy Hamill and actress Olivia Hussey were his daughters-in-law during their marriages to Dean Paul Martin.
Martin’s third marriage to Catherine Hawn lasted three years. Martin initiated the divorce proceedings. Martin adopted Hawn’s daughter, Sasha. Martin’s uncle was Leonard, who appeared in several of his shows.
Martin, a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer at in 1993, and in early 1995 retired from public life. He died of acute respiratory failure resulting from emphysema at his Beverly Hills home on December 25, 1995, Christmas Day at age 78.The lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor. Martin is interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles His crypt features the epitaph “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime”, the name of his signature song.