He had a long-running comedy partnership on radio, film and television with Jerry Lewis until they split up in 1956, and he was a member of the hard-living Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford — in stage shows in Las Vegas and on film.
Between 1950 and 1969 he had a hugely successful recording career with 40 Top 10 singles including three million-selling discs - "That's Amore" in 1953, "Memories are Made of This" in 1955 and "Everybody Loves Somebody" in 1964. Martin was also America's highest-paid television star in the 1960s. In addition to all this Dean had an extremely successful movie career including 17 feature films with Jerry Lewis and starring roles in numerous popular feature films.
BiographyHe was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio on June 7, 1917. His father was a barber who had immigrated from Italy and Dino spoke only Italian until the age of five. He had an older brother named William Crocetti. He attended first Grant Elementary School in Steubenville, and then Steubenville High School until dropping out at age 15 years.
He took on a variety of jobs including gas station worker, labourer at a steel mill and croupier at a casino and a professional boxer fighting under the name Kid Crochet.
After being drafted into the United States Army and serving a stateside year (1944-1945) in Akron, Ohio, during World War II, Martin was classified 4-F and was discharged.
Show Business StartHe had a good singing voice and was persuaded by friends to begin to sing in small local clubs. He was soon spotted and recruited to sing with the Cleveland based Ernie McKay Orchestra. McKay suggested he change his name to "Dino Martini" (after the tenor, Nino Martini) . In 1938 he changed orchestras when he became the featured vocalist for another Cleveland bandleader, Sammy Watkins. At the suggestion of Watkins, in 1940, he changed his name again, to "Dean Martin". And so, a star was born.
Dean sang and toured with the Watkins band and others for 5 years, gaining invaluable live audience experience. In 1943 his talent was recognised and he signed a contract with the Music Corporation of America to sing in New York at the Riobamba Room, and the following year, he was given his own 15-minute radio program broadcast from New York City entitled 'Songs by Dean Martin'.
Jerry Lewis 1946Dean gradually began to gain national recognition and in 1946, he signed a contract and recorded four songs with Diamond Records. More importantly in the same year at the Glass Hat Club in New York, he met and teamed up with a young zany comic called Jerry Lewis. They formed the Martin and Lewis double act, first appearing together on the nightclub circuit and then hosting their own radio show 'The Martin and Lewis Show' on the NBC Red Network. They continued their success on the new medium of television with their initial broadcast being the first edition of 'Toast of the Town' in 1948. In 1950 they were the first of a series of hosts of 'The Colgate Comedy Hour'.
Movie CareerThe Martin and Lewis team were courted by several Hollywood studios before signing a 5 year contract in 1949 with Hal B. Wallis of Paramount Studios. Part of their contract stipulated that they were free to make one non Paramount film a year, through their own York Productions. Their debut was in the 1949 movie, 'My Friend Irma' and was the start of 14 movies which they made together. They became one of Hollywood's great double acts with films such as 'At War with the Army' in 1950 and 'The Caddy' in 1953. Nevertheless it would be fair to say that their movies were enjoyable family fare but did not gain many marks for variety and creativity.
The duo lasted 10 years as a highly successful unit, but Dean became gradually more dissatisfied with the similarity and banality of their scripts, which led to personality conflicts and arguments between the two former friends. They eventually broke up in 1956 and went their separate ways.
Solo CareerDean continued to gain critical plaudits as a solo artist in successful films such as 'The Young Lions' in 1958 co-starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift and 'Rio Bravo' in 1959, with John Wayne. In the 1960's he appeared with Frank Sinatra and other members of the "Rat Pack" in several extremely popular movies such as 'Ocean's 11' in 1960 'Sergeants 3' in 1962 and 'Robin and the 7 Hoods' in 1964.
During the late sixties he played in a series of 4 films as playboy secret agent, Matt Helm, based on his supposed predilection for alcohol. In 1970 he appeared as a pilot in 'Airport' and in the 1980s, as his career wound down he appeared in 'The Cannonball Run' in 1981 and its sequel 'The Cannonball Run II' in 1984.
Dean had a highly successful television career running parallel to his movie and recording successes. His variety series 'The Dean Martin Show' ran for eight years from 1965 and when it finished he immediately followed it with 'The Dean Martin Comedy Hour' which was an another immense ratings success and which ran for 2 years.
PersonalDean's perceived public persona was that of a lovable drunk, and he convincingly portrayed a heavy drinker in his stage appearances and in the movies 'Some Came Running' in 1958 and 'Rio Bravo' in 1959, but in reality his use of alcohol was disciplined and limited. Much of the apparent alcohol that he drank on stage during the "Rat Pack" era was really apple juice and when he was not on tour he was very much the family man, spending most nights at home with his wife and children.
He was married three times. His first wife was Elizabeth "Betty" Anne McDonald whom he married in 1941. The couple had four children and divorced in 1949. His second marriage was to Jeanne Biegger in 1949. They had three children together before divorcing in 1972. The following year Dean married his third wife, 26-year-old receptionist Catherine Hawn. He adopted her daughter and the couple divorced in 1976.
Dean was a lifelong heavy smoker and he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1993. He rejected surgery and died at his Beverly Hills home on Christmas Day, 1995. He was aged 78. The Las Vegas Strip lights were dimmed in his honor. He was interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. His epitaph reads: "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime".
Dean Martin Academy AwardsNo Nominations:
Dean Martin Filmography
Film Vodvil: Art Mooney and Orchestra (Short)
My Friend Irma
My Friend Irma Goes West
At War with the Army
That's My Boy
Road to Bali (uncredited)
Money from Home
Living It Up
3 Ring Circus
You're Never Too Young
Artists and Models
Hollywood or Bust
Ten Thousand Bedrooms
The Young Lions
Some Came Running
Who Was That Lady?
Bells Are Ringing
All in a Night's Work
The Road to Hong Kong (uncredited)
Who's Got the Action?
Something's Got to Give (Short)
Come Blow Your Horn
Toys in the Attic
4 for Texas
Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?
What a Way to Go!
Robin and the 7 Hoods
Kiss Me, Stupid