Real name, Dino Crocetti; born June 17, 1917, in Steubenville, Ohio; son of Guy (a barber) and Angela Crocetti; married Elizabeth Ann MaDonald, 1940 (divorced, 1949); married Jeanne Bieggers, 1949 (divorced); married Cathy Hawn, 1973; children: (first marriage) Craig, Claudia, Gail, Deanna; (second marriage) Dino (deceased), Ricci, Gina. Addresses: Home --2002 Loma Vista Dr., Beverly Hills CA 90210. Office --c/o Mort Viner, International Creative Management, 8899 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90048.

Singer Dean Martin has achieved show-business success with an unlikely combination--romantic crooning and low-key comedy. A headliner in both television and movies for thirty years, Martin is admired today for his deep and easy baritone renditions of such favorites as "That's Amore" and "Everybody Loves Somebody." A Look magazine contributor explains that Martin has appealed to millions of fans in America and abroad because "they see him as a very fine person touched only by a few glamorous faults--that is, the reputation of a drinker, a woman chaser, a swinger--and nobody will say a word against him."

That so-called "reputation" is more fantasy than fact; Martin long ago developed an onstage act of semi-drunkenness as a comic routine, and his personal life is less sensational than many of his fellow crooners. In Newsweek, a reviewer notes that whatever his private style, Martin's "not-give-a-damn attitude in public is probably the quality that endears him to most fans." Fellow actor Anthony Quinn offered a similar observation in Time. "All of us seem to be plagued by responsibility, hemmed in by convention," Quinn said. "Dean is the symbol of the guy who can go on, get drunk, have no responsibilities."

Martin was born Dino Crocetti on June 17, 1917. His father was an immigrant from the Abruzzi region of Italy who came to live with his brothers in Steubenville, Ohio. Martin grew up in Steubenville in what he describes in Look as a good measure of comfort. "These emigrated Italians were not skilled workers like pharmacists or lawyers, but they knew how to work hard," he said. "My father did too. He worked hard as a barber, and he got his own barbershop.... He gave us a beautiful home, and a car, and good food, and good Christmases, and we never were poor, my brother and I."

Martin was enthralled by Hollywood from an early age, and he spent most of his free afternoons at Steubenville's movie theatres. He was particularly influenced by Bing Crosby, as he remembered in Look: "When a Bing Crosby movie ever came to Steubenville, I would stay there all day and watch. And that's how I learned to sing, cause it's true I don't read a note. I don't. I learned from Crosby, and so did [Frank] Sinatra, and Perry Como. We all started imitatin' him; he was the teacher for all of us."

Martin dropped out of school in tenth grade and drifted through a series of odd jobs in the Midwest. He earned the most money by dealing cards in gambling houses, but he also did stints as an amateur boxer, a steel mill worker, and a singer with the Ernie McKay Band in Cleveland. He adopted Dino Martini as a stage name at first, then changed it to the more American Dean Martin--for many of the early years of his career he was sensitive about his ethnic background. Martin moved to New York in the early 1940s to seek work as a club singer. He had several lean years during which he had to drive a cab to support his growing family.

Finally, in 1946, he earned a regular spot at the Rio Bamba club. In the summer of that same year he appeared at the Club 500 in Atlantic City, on the same bill with a young comedian named Jerry Lewis. After-hours, Martin and Lewis began to socialize. "We started horsing around with each other's acts," he told the Saturday Evening Post. "That's how the team of Martin and Lewis started. We'd do anything that came to our minds." Martin and Lewis tried out their new act on the customers at Club 500. They were a hit, so much so that they were invited to the prestigious Copacabana in New York, where they soon garnered top billing and salaries of $5000 per week.

Martin and Lewis went west to Hollywood as established stars. They signed a long-term movie deal with Paramount Pictures and subsequently made sixteen films for the company. Their film work reflected the same pattern as their stage show--while Martin played the suave, straight crooner, Lewis perpetrated noisy and disruptive antics. Inevitably both men looked like buffoons, but Martin was the partner who suffered most. "I sang a song and never got to finish the song," Martin told Look. "The camera would go over [Lewis] doin' funny things, then it would come back to me when I'd finished. Everythin' was Jerry Lewis, Jerry Lewis, and I was the straight man. I was an idiot in every picture. And I was makin' a lot of money, you know, but money isn't all, is it, and I knew I could do so much better. And I proved it. Not to the public, not to the country or the world. To myself."

Martin's first solo film, "Ten Thousand Bedrooms," was a critical failure. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther commented that, without Lewis, Martin was "just another nice-looking crooner.... Together, the two made a mutually complementary team. Apart, Mr. Martin is a fellow with little humor and a modicum of charm." The ensuing years would prove Crowther's judgment wrong. Martin's film career blossomed in the 1960s, with major roles in works like "Rio Bravo," "Some Came Running," "Bells Are Ringing," and the drama "Toys in the Attic." By 1970 he was awarded the coveted role of the captain in the first "Airport" movie, one of the biggest films released that year.

Martin further confounded the critics by becoming one of the most popular television stars of the 1960s. His weekly variety hour, "The Dean Martin Show," led the ratings from 1966 until the early 1970s. On that show, unencumbered by Lewis, Martin was able to sing--several songs each week--as well as pursue his affable drunk routine to comic perfection. A Time reviewer called "The Dean Martin Show" the "closest thing on the air to the free and easy spontaneity of old-fashioned live television."

Martin was best known in the 1970s for his celebrity roasts, television specials in which a selected star would endure a string of good-natured insults from his or her peers. He also aired a series of Christmas specials, some of which featured his seven children. More recently Martin has returned to club work in California and Las Vegas; his films of the 1980s include "Cannonball Run" and "Cannonball Run II." Tragedy struck Martin in 1987 when his son, Dean Paul, was killed in an airplane crash; the singer has kept a lower profile since that event.

Where once Martin was somewhat ashamed of being Italian--and ashamed of his poor command of English--he has come to value his heritage as it relates especially to his singing. "Italians are so talented," he told Look. "Just take the singers here; 90 percent are Italian.... Cause they sing from here, from the heart, the stomach, not the throat. Anybody can sing from the throat, but then you just say words." No one has ever accused Martin of singing from the throat--his rolling baritone seems to slide from beneath his ribs. Reflecting on his many years as a superstar of screen and stage, Martin told Newsweek: "I never have cared what New York or Hollywood or Las Vegas want. I always plays to de common folk. I guess it's just that I seem to have a good time, and I do, and they'd like to do what I'm doing."

by Anne Janette Johnson

Dean Martin's Career

Singer, 1940--; during 1940s also worked in a steel mill, as a croupier, and as a welterweight boxer; performed in comedy/musical team with Jerry Lewis, 1946-56; actor in numerous feature films, including "My Friend Irma Goes West," 1949, "At War With the Army," 1950, "Jumpin' Jacks," 1953, "The Caddy," 1953, "Rio Bravo," 1959, "Some Came Running," 1959, "Robin and the Seven Hoods," 1964, "The Sons of Katie Elder," 1965, "The Silencers," 1966, "Airport," 1970, "Cannonball Run," 1981, and "Cannonball Run II"; star of television variety show, "The Dean Martin Show," NBC, 1966-70; star of television specials, "The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast," 1976-78.

Dean Martin's Awards

Academy Award nomination for best song, "That's Amore," 1963; Golden Globe Award, 1967, for "The Dean Martin Show"; holder of numerous gold records.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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