I believe my first real introduction to Dean Martin was through a Christmas album, and soon that CD surpassed all the others. It became my favorite and I began to play songs like, Baby It’s Cold Outside all year long. Then, the next Dean Martin CD hit my life and I was hooked. Then, as is common for me, I began to actively seek out more about this person, and found a wealth of talent.
Born to immigrant parents in Steubenville, Ohio in 1917, Dean spoke only italian until age 5 and quit school by age 16 apparently feeling he was smarter than his teachers. Maybe he was. He held a variety of odd jobs from bootlegger, blackjack dealer, steel mill worker, and boxer. By the early 1940s, he began his singing career and had some modest success on the East Coast. It was his famed partnership with Jerry Lewis that propelled him to super-stardom.
For me, I enjoy Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis better when they are separate. The films they selected when they were no longer a team are in my opinion much better than the films of their duo-days. This may be the result of current sensibilities or perhaps what my family often tells me is my “lack of humor”. I’ve never been a fan of slapstick or vaudeville which is the foundation of their early films together. In 1956, their partnership ended and from all accounts, Jerry Lewis suffered more from this separation than Dean.
My recommendations for rekindling your connection to Dean or perhaps finding him anew in film, in music, and in books:
Music~ To me, there is no one who has a voice like Dean. Smooth, romantic, captivating. … I can listen for hours! Curiously enough, my least favorite song is That’s Amore one of his best hits. It may be that it’s hard to take a song seriously that says “like a big pizza pie” but apparently many people disagreed with me! But if you are like me, don’t let that one song keep you away.
The Best of Dean Martin: this 3-Cd box set is a fantastic way to experience the depth of Martin’s selections and vocal beauty. My favorites include: Baby It’s Cold Outside, Ain’t that a kick in the head, Watching the World Go By, Come back to Sorrento, and I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
Italian Love Songs: Dean romances you with his most popular love songs like: Return to Me (Ritoma-Me), In Napoli, and On an Evening in Roma.
Golden Memories: a sample of his most popular songs like That’s Amore, Memories are Made of This, and Standing on the Corner
I find Dean to be a superb actor. His presence on film is magnetic and you are immediately drawn to him even when he is sharing the stage with other film giants like John Wayne or Shirley MacLaine. Both dramatic and comedic roles are played with his classic cool smoothness. From all accounts that I have read, he was great fun on the set yet always professional once the camera was on.
Rio Bravo: This western also stars John Wayne and Ricky Nelson. Many film critics and viewers list Rio Bravo as one of the top westerns of all time. Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) enlists the help of Dean Martin, a deputy coming off a two-year drunk, and others to stop an army of gunmen set on springing a murderer from their jail.
Sons of Katie Elder: In this western, John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman, and Michael Anderson, Jr. play the four sons of Katie Elder. The day she is buried they all return home to Texas to pay their last respects. But that is just the beginning, now they are set to avenge her death… and encounter all the sibling problems along the way.
4 for Texas: In this lighthearted western starring both Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, the two are business rivals who vie for the winnings at card tables of 1870s Galveston.
What a Way to Go! Perfectly hilarious film about a woman (Shirley MacLaine) who only wants to find love and for the man she loves to live. She keeps meeting and marrying men with a desire to strike it rich and then they have a habit of dying soon thereafter. Dean Martin plays one of her suitors. Others include: Paul Newman, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Cummings.
All in a Night’s Work: This is a light-hearted romatic comedy starring Dean and Shirley MacLaine that focuses on all sorts of misunderstandings and innuendo.
That’s Amore: a Son Remembers Dean Martin by Ricci Martin with Christopher Smith. This along with the memoir by his daughter (see below) make me believe that the happy, kind-hearted and fun spirit that exudes from the screen was also Dean Martin in real-life. Most often when children of super-stars write memoirs, the results are anything but flattering. Not so with Dean’s children who both provide positive accounts of their father as a person and father. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and felt it was an excellent contribution to the world of Dean Martin. It is well-written and gives you great insight into Dean and the Martin Family.
Memories are Made of This: Dean Martin through His Daughter’s Eyes by Deana Martin. Deanna Martin’s book offers additional insight into her family and to Dean. The book was a little repititious near the end and some details of her family were of little interest, I think, to the general reader. Overall, a worthwhile contribution for the Martin fan.
Dean & Me: a Love Story by Jerry Lewis. Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “Lewis is a wonderful raconteur, and his tales capture the excitement of their budding career and the slow, sad erosion of the fun. Whether it’s his age… or his coauthor.., fans will be surprised and entertained by Lewis’s honesty and diminished ego and bitterness”. Lewis brings the reader on a heart-felt and personal journey through his years with Dean. An excellent contribution.
Now ain’t that a kick in the head…
P.s. You can visit Dean’s official website at: http://www.deanmartin.com/
Ann Marie is the Library Director for the Oliver Wolcott Library.