Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti on this day in 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio.
An icon of 1960s, middle-aged "cool," Dean Martin boxed (using the name "Kid Crochet"), worked in a steel mill and served as croupier in an illegal gambling club before launching his career as a nightclub singer styled gesture-for-nuance after Bing Crosby (with a healthy dose of Harry Mills thrown in for good measure). He achieved only minor success on the nightclub circuit until an impromptu pairing with frenetic young comic Jerry Lewis at the 500 Club in Atlantic City in 1946, in which Martin sang and acted as slightly patronizing straight man to Lewis' obstreperous interruptions.
The act caught on, and soon Martin and Lewis were headliners at the Copacabana in Manhattan, their pay increasing from $350 to $5,000 a week as the most popular post-war nightclub act around. Their success led to a quick succession of Hollywood movies (beginning as supporting characters in My Friend Irma, 1949, reaching starring status in At War with the Army, 1951). Although his singing career was moderately successful ("That's Amore" reached the top 5 on the charts in 1953), Martin was increasingly marginalized in the Martin and Lewis movies, and having to take a backseat to the Lewis put a strain on their relationship.
On the 10th anniversary of their first show together, they split up the partnership, giving a farewell performance at the Copacabana, and it was widely believed that Martin would fade quickly thereafter. To the surprise of nearly everyone, however, Martin turned out to be quite a good dramatic actor, holding up well alongside Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift in The Young Lions (1958), and that year he also managed to conquer TV (with his first color variety special on NBC), concerts (with successful live appearances at the Sands in Las Vegas), and the charts ("Volare"). With his appearance in Some Came Running (1959) with old friend Frank Sinatra, the "Rat Pack" (also consisting of Shirley MacLaine, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, not to mention John Kennedy, known as "Chicky Baby" to the Pack) was born, and Martin began to assume the persona by which he would be known for the rest of his life: with cigarettes and booze as props, Martin was the quip-happy dipsomaniacal hipster, the likeable, leisure-loving screw-up who could trade comic insults with the best of them -- all of which obscured his self-discipline, contemplative nature, need for privacy and intense fraternal generosity and loyalty.
After the Rat Pack dates in Las Vegas and movies (such as the original Ocean's Eleven, 1960) played their course, Martin starred in a popular series of "James Bond" parodies as the swingin' secret agent "Matt Helm." In 1964, he knocked Lennon and McCartney off the top of the charts with "Everybody Loves Somebody" (which became his signature song) and in 1965, he agreed to host his own weekly variety series on NBC, becoming one of the most highly paid entertainers in show business and spinning off the hit Celebrity Roast specials during the 1970s.
After his son Dean Paul died in an Air Force Reserve plane crash in 1987, the already semi-retired Martin lost his good-life pretenses for good. He bailed out of a 1988 Rat Pack reunion tour and spent his last years in solitude. He died on Christmas Day, 1995 in Beverly Hills, California.
"Martin was what the Italians called a menefreghista - 'one who simply does not give a f***.'" -- Nick Tosches.
Categories: Classic-Pop-Music, Classic-Cinema