A giant amongst giants. The king of cool.
Dean Martin has always been my favorite crooner.
Not only was he a terrific singer and entertainer, but Dean was also incredibly funny; his talent was absolutely second to none.
But even though I’m a huge fan of this iconic man, I was quite surprised when his daughter Deana decided to confirm certain rumors about her famous father.
Dean Martin’s early years in life were marked by his parents’ Italian roots. He grew up as Dino Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio. Dean’s father was born in Italy and made a living as a barber. His mother, a seamstress and a cook, was Italian-American.
Dean’s mother tongue was Italian, and he couldn’t speak English until he started school at the age of five – which of course was a pretty big handicap. Dean soon learned the language, but got teased in school for his heavy Italian accent.
He left school in eleventh grade and got a job as a steel mill hand. The young man went on to work as a gas station attendant, before embarking on a career as a boxer. His career as a prizefighter, under the name “Kid Crochet”, went well. Apparently, he fought in 36 fights and won 25 of them.
But luckily, someone pointed out that Dean could sing, and he soon found himself performing in nightclubs across the country.
During one of his performances in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Dean would meet a funny man who came to change his life – the legendary Jerry Lewis.
The pair decided to join forces and formed an incredibly successful comedy team during a magical ten-year spell. Martin and Lewis did 17 movies together, while also making regular appearances on one of the most popular TV shows during the dawn of television, ”The Colgate Comedy Hour”.
Martin and Lewis were a special duo, in many ways. First of all, they were both very talented. But they were also good friends in private – something that took their shows and films to a whole other level. Martin and Lewis were a groundbreaking comedy pair; their popularity is hard to describe in words.
Perhaps Jerry Lewis said it best:
“Who were Dean’s fans? Men, women, the Italians. Who were Jerry’s fans? Women, Jews, kids. Who were Martin and Lewis’ fans? All of them… You had fans that didn’t care that Lewis was on or that Martin was singing. Because if Dean was singing, that was Martin and Lewis. If Jerry was goin’ nuts, that was Martin and Lewis.”
Why did Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis split up?
Martin and Lewis were the hottest thing in Hollywood, and the highest paid entertainers in the industry. But after 10 years together, the duo split.
The breakup was painful, and the former friends didn’t talk to each other privately for 20 years. There has been a lot of speculation as to why their collaboration ended so abruptly, but the truth is that there were several reasons as to why Martin and Lewis went their separate ways.
The most common explanation is the two comedians’ different views on work ethic. Jerry Lewis has often been described as a workaholic – he had a lot of energy and constantly wanted to produce more movies, shows and live performances. Although Dean worked a lot too, he had a somewhat more relaxed relationship to the whole thing. For Dean, it was important to make time to play golf (he was a scratch golfer at one point) and spend time with his family.
He was also fed-up of being limited to romantic leads.
There was a general perception that Jerry Lewis was the ”real star” and some just saw Dean as the “fifth wheel”. That idea was certainly fueled when Look magazine asked Martin and Lewis to pose for their cover in 1954. When the photo was published, they had cropped Martin out.
Martin felt let down, and the pair’s arguments were escalating. It eventually became impossible for them to continuing working together. At one point, Martin shouted at Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a dollar sign.”
Lewis would later said that he regretted the way it all ended. The fact that the two didn’t talk to each other for 20 years was something that tormented Lewis for the rest of his life.
”The stupidity of that, I cannot expound on. The ignorance of that is something I hope I’ll always forget,” Lewis said.
The heartbreaking reunion
Thankfully, their saga had a happy and reconciling ending.
In 1976, Frank Sinatra arranged a very emotional surprise on The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. Sinatra, a frequent telethon guest, had secretly invited Dean Martin, and introduced him to Lewis by saying. “I have a friend who loves what you do every year.”
It was truly an epic moment when the former friends hugged and talked to each other for the first time since separateing in 1956. Around 85 million American viewers were left with a historic TV moment that you can relive yourself in the clip below:
After the reunion in 1976, Martin and Lewis talked to each every day.
Deana Martin, Dean Martin’s daughter, has revealed more details about the duo’s relationship after the reconciliation. Deana has given several interviews lately, in a bid to keep Dean’s legacy alive.
”They kept in touch with each other. Jerry just loved my dad and my dad loved Jerry. I think Jerry would have liked to have been closer after that but my dad was … if he wasn’t working, he was playing golf,” Deana Martin told Fox News in 2019.
Dean Martin family life
Dean Martin was such a handsome man and a lovely singer, but not many people got to see the real version of the famous crooner.
First of all, Dean loved and prioritized his family above all else. He married three times and had seven children of his own, as well as one stepdaughter.
One of his daughter’s, Deana Martin, has in recent years revealed many secrets from Dean’s life -– details that confirm some of the rumors that surrounded her well-known father over the years.
According to Deana, her father was far from that relaxed and cool person who mesmerized the audience. In fact, he was very strict at home.
“He was an Italian father,” she said with a laugh. “He would go, ‘These are the rules. You make your bed in the morning, you clean up, you come straight home after school, you do your homework, you’re on time for dinner. And this is it. If you don’t want to live by those rules, there’s the door.’ I would go, ‘Dad, I’m 9!’ He’d say, ‘Come on! Rules are rules!’ We never wanted to do anything to disappoint him,” Deana told Fox in 2017.
There are many misconceptions about how Dean was private, because he became so associated with his on-stage persona and his shtick.
“He would be home for dinner every night,” Deana said to the Los Angeles Times. “He would come home, and he and mom would have their one cocktail at the bar. He was kind. He was so different from what everybody thought he was. There was no one who could do Dean Martin better than Dean Martin.”
Confirmed the rumor
Dean Martin was a ladies man to some extent – but labelling him as a womanizer is far from the truth. At the end of the day, Dean was a man with traditional family values, quite unlike other Rat Pack members like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.
“Dean had a persona of that being bigger than life and being basically a womanizer, and a skirt chaser, which he was not. He was just a sweetheart of a guy,” Patti Gribow, who worked with Dean in the ’70s and ’80s as a backup singer and dancer, told Desert Sun.
Deana Martin, who followed in her father’s footsteps and pursued a career as a singer, actor and performer, says her father wasn’t a heavy drinker.
”He didn’t drink that much. It’s funny… after my shows… people come up and they say, “How on earth did your dad, how could he do that body of work when he was always drinking?” I say, “Because he wasn’t. He was a really good actor though.” And they say, “Yes, he was a very good actor.”
Yet there is one old rumor about Dean that is actually true. In 2017, Deana revealed that her dad had a nose job before he became famous. He also made sure to pay the unknown donor who gave him cash for the surgery, which was done to narrow his nose.
“He did have one. I have pictures!” Deana said.
Unlike many other Hollywood stars, Dean never let the celebrity status get to his head, according to his daughter. The easygoing crooner was pretty much the same, whether he met the Queen or visited the local butcher shop.
Other mega stars at the time became like small children when they came close to Dean Martin. Elvis Presley was one of them.
“Elvis (Presley) idolized my dad. I remembered meeting Elvis and he was the one who told me my dad was the king of cool. I’ll never forget that,” Deana said.
The legendary singer performed his final Vegas show in 1991 and had his he had his last reunion with Lewis on his 72nd birthday. One year later, Dean was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1992 and needed surgery to prolong his life – but refused to do it.
At the age of 78, Dean Martin passed away on Christmas Day in 1995.
Many mourned the icon’s passing. As proof of this, the lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor.
His good friend Frank Sinatra was heartbroken when he received the news.
“Dean has been like the air I breathe, always there, always close by. He was my brother – not through blood, but through choice,” Sinatra said.
According to the comedy star himself, Martin wanted to be remembered ”as a damn good entertainer, nothing spectacular. A good entertainer who made people enjoy themselves and made them laugh a little. I want them to think ‘He was a nice guy. He did pretty good and we loved him.”
And I think that sums it all up very well. I look at the so called “stars” of today – they don’t have one ounce of the class and talent of guys like Martin and Lewis.
Dean was a great actor and an awesome entertainer. He could sing songs that would raise the hair on the back of my neck. His voice was one of a kind and no other can or will duplicate! Thank you for all the memories.