Dean Martin, lights and tragedies of the man who invented being ‘cool’ | Culture | ICON

When Elvis Presley met his idol Dean Martin (Ohio, 1917-Beverly Hills, 1995), whose quirky phrasing he had blatantly copied in his hit Love Me Tender, did not hesitate to reveal his admiration. He bowed to him and said, “They call me the king of rock, but you, Mr. Martin, are the king of rock. cool”. The anecdote is revealed by his daughter Deana Martin in the documentary Dean Martin. The King of Cooldirected by Tom Donahue that premiered on Filmin this December 23rd and in which the director wonders: what is it about Dean Martin that makes him the epitome of cool and makes him so irresistible to so many different types of people? To find an answer to this question, interview family, friends and stars.

Dean Martin (left) and Jerry Lewis entertain US troops in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, on February 1, 1955.
Dean Martin (left) and Jerry Lewis entertain US troops in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, on February 1, 1955.SAM MORRIS / LAS VEGAS NEWS BURE

The documentary, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Danny Strong (Empire, Dopesick), Glosses the trajectory of a character who treasures not one but three stars of fame, as an actor, as a singer and as showman; He was a member of the Rat Pack, the iconic gang of celebrities who have successively tried to emulate Rob Lowe, Leonardo Di Caprio or George Clooney; revolutionized comedy with his duet with Jerry Lewis – and their legendary feud; starred in films that are film history such as Bravo River (1959) and popularized songs that are hummed just by reading their title as That’s Amore The Everybody Loves Somebody.

A bike, a car and good food

Dean Martin, Dino Paul Crocetti actually, was born into a humble family. His father was a barber and his mother a seamstress. “I had a bicycle, we had a car and good food. What else do you need?”. Totally immersed in Italian culture, at the age of five he still did not speak or write in English, which caused him to suffer abuse at school. It did not matter too much to him: it did not take long to leave him believing that he was not going to teach him anything that he could not learn in the street.

Before his talent dazzled the country, he worked in what was put in front of him: waiter, dealer or taxi driver. Also as a boxer. Together with a friend, he organized a kind of fighting club in which those who were left standing took the money of those who had come to watch them beat each other. Under the name Kid Crochet he started boxing professionally, but as he revealed, of his 12 bouts, “he won all but 11.” Failure in the ring gave way to success on another stage: Kid Crochet transformed into balladeer Dino Martini and later star Dean Martin.

“You are working?”. That was the innocent phrase that changed his life. It was delivered by comedian Jerry Lewis and was the starting point for a couple that was to revolutionize entertainment in the 1950s. Their numbers weren’t very sophisticated: they were the clever clown and the fool. Martin sang with his wonderful voice and impeccable appearance and Lewis interrupted him with his astracanadas. But this time there was something new: they were sexy. Lewis, with his blue eyes and naive charm, and Martin with his impressive complexion, dark complexion and a nose that he had been forced to surgically redefine because the pressure of beauty has always been there.

But her biggest secret was unbeatable chemistry. As the geniuses of improvisation that they were, they competed to make each other laugh and the audience was the winner in this talent duel. They had come up with an infallible formula. After the clubs came Hollywood and the millionaire contracts, everything flowed until the fissures began to emerge between two men who were like brothers. Lewis was the best man at Martin’s second wedding, and his sons called him “Uncle Jerry.” After a decade of unbreakable friendship and 16 movies together, the union was blown up.

A fucking dollar sign

“For me, you are nothing more than a damn dollar sign,” Martin snapped at Lewis as the latter revealed in his memoirs, Dean & Me. They gave their last performance at the Copacabana in New York on a Tuesday. “When I woke up on Wednesday I understood what an amputee must feel like,” Lewis wrote.

They made more money than they could count, but society had broken down and public jokes turned into private reprimands. Martín wanted to grow artistically, for the dynamics to change. He got tired of always playing the same role and asked his producer to vary the formula of the films to explore new records, but no one wanted to touch a millionaire product.

“My father was tired of being the bad guy,” says his daughter Deana Martin in the documentary. “Jerry was always the funny guy, and my dad was always the one to scold him.” The clown Lewis took all the limelight and when the comedian’s antics began to drastically reduce Martin’s songs, the relationship broke like the hearts of his millions of fans. Because in the fifties they were two of the biggest celebrities in America.

Wanting to prove that he was more than just the counterpoint of a clown, Martin began a film career that led him to rub shoulders with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift in Dance of the damned (1958) and with Howard Hawks in Bravo River (1959), “the perfect movie” in the words of critic Roger Ebert. Alongside John Wayne and Walter Brenan he composed a character as pathetic as he was heroic. His shaky and drunken assistant sheriff, confirmed that he was an exceptional actor. And he also treasured a quality highly appreciated by his peers: he never pretended to shine more than they did, which made him the best lieutenant of the other great man in his life, Frank Sinatra.

Both were the two most popular faces of the mythical group of friends known as the Rat Pack. (although they never called themselves that) which also included Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. The gang was the great attraction of Las Vegas and they were an indivisible part of the charm of the city that they turned into the fantasy that remains in the collective imagination. His performances on the Las Vegas Strip were announced with a “Dean Martin … Maybe Frank … Maybe Sammy”, because his finery was always a surprise and if there was one they could all appear. Dressed in their perennial tuxedos, a drink and a cigarette they sang their hits, made seemingly improvised jokes and made that neon greenhouse in the middle of the desert seem like the most beautiful place on the planet.

Cigarettes, cups and democratic ideas

The group’s bond was just as strong off-screen. They were united by their profession, their camaraderie and their ideals, they were all staunch defenders of the Democratic Party and Kennedy and contributed with their performances to finance his campaign against Nixon. So when, after being elected president, Kennedy canceled the invitation to Sammy Davis Jr. to his opening party for fear that the presence of the actor with his white wife, the Swedish actress May Britt, would upset the southern states, Martin exploded . Davis had raised millions for the already president and had served him to ingratiate himself with the African American and Jewish community and now he was relegated on racial grounds.

Dean Martin was the one who defended his friend the most: “I will not be part of the inauguration if Sammy does not go,” he said. And it was not. As Martin’s daughter reveals in the documentary, her father was as disappointed as he was surprised. “It was Uncle Sammy. He came to our house, he was family. So my father made that decision because it was the right thing to do. It didn’t matter what JFK or anyone else thought of him. “

That incident politically disenchanted Martin, who with his eternal smile seemed to always remain oblivious to everything. But it was not so. As their close ones claim, they were a tortured man who simply knew how to act very well.

Everybody wants someone sometime

If his film career was consolidated, the same thing happened with his facet as a singer. In 1964 Everybody Loves Somebody stole from A Hard Day’s Night of the Beatles the number one in the list of simple ones Billboard of the United States. His greatest musical success also became the soundtrack for his show weekly The Dean Martin Show, for which he won a Golden Globe and was nominated for three more. There he could show off his sparkling character, his eternal smile and his dazzling group of friends in which Sinatra was never lacking.

Nor did he miss another key moment in his life. During a traditional televised photo drive hosted by Jerry Lewis in 1976, he made the dream of millions of fans come true. While presenting a segment with the comedian, he invited “a friend” to come by the stage. It was Dean Martin. The couple, who had not spoken for 20 years, fell into a hug.

“Son of a bitch”, you can hear Lewis muttering excitedly to a Sinatra who had orchestrated the meeting behind everyone’s back. That day in front of the television they were surprised and excited from their daughter Nancy to the children of Lewis and Martin. “I had chills. My jaw dropped, ”recalls Deana Martin.

“Here they are, folks,” Sinatra said with a smile. It had ended a two-decade separation. The standing ovation of the audience lasted more than a minute. The telephones did not stop ringing and that night the telethon raised more than ever in its history.

Friendship was essential to Martin, but the most sacred thing in his life was his family. The image of a vivid womanizer that he exhibited in his performances was not grounded in reality as was believed. He had four wives and eight children and all emphasize that the family was his center. While Sinatra stayed in the clubs until dawn, Dean came home for dinner each night and what was in his evergreen glass was not bourbon, but apple juice as revealed in her memoirs Shirley MacLaine. Martin loved J&B, and had a drinking problem that he tried to fight his entire life, but he also loved going to bed early and working sober and most of all spending time with his family.

That is why the blow he received in 1987 ruined him. His son Dean Paul Martin, actor, tennis player and pilot, died at the age of 35 after the plane he was piloting crashed. All his friends turned to his aid and Davis and Sinatra arranged a joint tour to help him recover. The remedy was worse. Martin felt that they were three old men making a fool of themselves and the large stadiums in which Sinatra felt comfortable were hostile to him, he preferred the small clubs, the privacy of a smoky room. Despite this, he never missed the appointments proposed by his friends.

He passed away on Christmas Day 1995 of pulmonary emphysema. With him the most relaxed and elegant part of the Rat Pack said goodbye. The calm type with the deep voice and eternal smile. His funeral was attended by old luminaries like Shirley MacLaine or Cyd Charisse, and of course a dejected Jerry Lewis, who read a joking response, the kind of farewell Martin wanted. His great friend Sinatra was too dejected to come. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in her honor and Rosemary Clooney sang Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime. That is the phrase that reads on his tombstone. “Everybody loves someone”, the best epitaph for someone who was adored by all those around him.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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