For nearly 50 years, Dean Martin was the household name when it came to entertainment. He was a skilled singer, and a hysterical comedian when paired up with Jerry Lewis. Not to mention he starred in many classic films.
Many remember Martin as a member of the partying yet talented Rat Pack group, headed by Frank Sinatra. With the help of the Pack, Martin’s fame rose even higher. But while his crew was out all hours, Dean was actually at home with his children. Who would have thought? These facts will have you falling back in amore with this Rat Pack member.
He Didn’t Speak English Until He Was Five
Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti, and if you couldn’t tell by his name, he grew up in a very Italian family. Because his father was an Italian immigrant and his mother was Italian-American, Martin didn’t learn how to speak English until he was five years old, speaking Italian while at home.
In school, he struggled to learn the new language while also trying to befriend his classmates, which wasn’t easy.
He Went From Dino Crocetti To Dino Martini To Dean Martin
After Dean Martin gave up amateur boxing, he began working as a roulette stickman in an illegal casino behind a tobacco shop. At the same time as the casino, he started to sing with local bands, calling himself “Dino Martini,” after the Metropolitan Opera singer Nino Martini. Eventually, he began to sing in the lounge of the casino.
In 1940, bandleader Sammy Watkins suggested “Dino” change his name to Dean Martin to avoid confusion with the opera singer. Little did they know that Dean Martin was about to gain a whole lot of fame without the help of another performer’s last name.
He Was An Avid Comic Book Reader
Would you believe that Martin only read one book in his entire life, Black Beauty? Even though the singer didn’t enjoy reading novels, he was a huge fan of comic books. The funny part is that Martin was too embarrassed to go into a store and buy the comics himself that he had his friend, Jerry Lewis, do it for him!
Ironically, Dean Martin’s life has since been immortalized in various novels, memoirs, and biographies. Hopefully, the famous singer is okay with other people reading books about his life! Maybe someone can make a comic book about the Rat Pack.
His Childhood Friend Was Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder
Dean Martin was childhood friends with Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, the famous Vegas bookie and sports commentator. Both men grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, and were introduced to the underground world of gambling at a young age. Martin eventually worked at one, moving his way up to singing in the lounge.
Snyder made a small fortune early in his life, betting on the 1948 election and winning, the odds were 17-1. He used the money to invest in oil and coal mining, and when that industry wasn’t going anywhere, he eventually moved to Vegas. The two hometown friends appeared in the movie The Cannonball Run in 1981.
He Liked To Have Early Nights With His Family
Contrary to popular belief, unlike the rest of the Rat Pack, Dean Martin typically like to call it a night fairly early. While Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Pack stayed out till all hours of the night, Martin would head home to spend time with his children.
According to one of his daughters, Deana, her father would always be home for dinner if he was in town and not away for a performance — an Italian father through and through! Aside from his family time, Martin also liked to hit the hay early so he was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a morning round of golf.
Martin Met Frank Sinatra For The First Time At The Riobamba Nightclub
Martin performed with several bands throughout the 1940s, trying to develop his own personality and singing style while on stage. Then, in 1943, he was hired to perform as the opening act at the Riobamba Nightclub in New York City. The club was doing poorly, financially speaking, so they needed to book people that weren’t going to ask for a large payout.
The headliner the evening Martin was to perform was none other than soon-to-be Rat Pack member Frank Sinatra, of whom had been selling out the nightclub. Unfortunately, by all accounts, Martin’s performance did not go so well.
His Extended Family Was A Famous Bunch
It seems as though Dean Martin was always surrounded by a flock of very famous people. Even if you take away his association with the Rat Pack, Martin’s family was chock-full of big industry names.
Martin’s daughter, Gina, wed Beach Boys singer Carl Wilson and they were married until Wilson’s 1998 death. His son, Dean Paul, went on to marry actress Olivia Hussey, divorcing her in 1978. Dean Paul’s second wife was Olympic gold medal figure skater Dorothy Hamill, of whom he divorced in 1984. Lastly, his other son, Craig, married Carole Costello, daughter of film comedian Lou.
Martin And Jerry Lewis Bombed Their First Performance
Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin formed a fast friendship during their initial meeting at the Glass Hat Club, where they were both performing in New York City. They decided to do a show together, and during their debut on July 24, 1946, at Atlantic City’s 500 Club, they bombed.
It was so bad that the owner of the club, Skinny D’Amato, told them that if they did not come up with something better for their second act of the night then they would be fired. The two regrouped and the second show was divvied up between Martin singing, and the two doing skits and ad-libbed material.
The Toast Of The Town And His TV Debut
Martin and Lewis made their television debut on The Toast of The Town, now known as the Ed Sullivan Show, on July 20, 1948. The on-screen time led the two to hire Norman Lear and Ed Simmons to help them write their comedy bits.
Eventually, the two decided it was time to turn away from the nightclub scene. They both wanted to focus more on radio and television. Their ambition landed them a radio series and a contract with Paramount!
Martin Won 24 Boxing Matches
Dean Martin began welterweight boxing at the age of 15, using the name “Kid Crochet.” Although Martin held his own in the amateur ring, he also once joked that he won 11 professional fights. The job didn’t pay much, and Martin often didn’t have enough money to afford tape to go around his knuckles, resulting in a lot of injuries.
Some of those injuries included a broken nose, scarred lip, busted knuckles, and a bruised body. Thankfully, Martin later had his nose straightened out. Who knows what a crooked nasal passage would have done to his singing voice!
He Earned Three Stars On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame
The Hollywood Walk of Fame has more than 2,600 stars embedded into the sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood, California. The stars are monuments awarded to musicians, actors, directors, producers, musical and theatrical groups, and even fictional characters who have made strides in the entertainment industry.
While most entertainers only earn one star in their lifetime, Dean Martin was awarded three separate stars on the walk. Martin was awarded a star for film, television, and music, each adorned with an emblem of a classic film camera, a television receiver, and a phonographic record, respectively.
The Rat Pack Called Their Group Two Different Names
The Rat Pack included Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra, and, of course, Dean Martin. The close-knit group of friends were informal entertainers centered on the Las Vegas casino scene. But the thing is that the name of the group originated in New York to refer to a different group of friends.
It’s said that the name came from Lauren Bacall saying that her husband, Humphrey Bogart, and his friends looked like a “rat pack” after a night out in Vegas. The name stuck, and the offshoot group of the pack referred to themselves as either the Clan or the Summit.
The Rat Pack Would Show Up At Each Others Performances
The members of the Rat Pack were famous for showing up at each other’s performances unannounced. A thing that only the best of friends would do. They would do this so much that it was expected that one or more members of the Rat Pack would end up on stage at some point during the night.
Whenever Dean Martin performed in Vegas the marquee would usually read “DEAN MARTIN – MAYBE FRANK – MAYBE SAMMY.” We all deserve friends who are more than happy to share the spotlight!
Elvis Told Deana Martin That Her Dad Was The King Of Cool
The King of Cool was Dean Martin’s nickname at the height of his career, due to his seemingly effortless charisma and self-assurance. Deana Martin, one of Dean Martin’s daughters, said that she remembers the night she heard the nickname, most likely because a rock legend said it!
“Elvis [Presley] idolized my dad,” she explained. ‘I remember meeting Elvis, and he was the one who told me my dad was the king of cool. I’ll never forget that.” Considering it was a young girl being told her dad was “cool,” she probably rolled her eyes a little bit.
He’d Take The Stairs And Not The Elevator
There are many facts that people know about Dean Martin, but something about his personal life was never highly publicized. He was extremely claustrophobic. So much so that when he stayed in hotels he was sure to book a suite on one of the lower levels so he could take the staircase instead of the elevator.
Martin would call elevators “coffins,” and once he even hiked up 18 flights of stairs rather than get into the metal death trap. He was a man who wasn’t taking any chances with his phobia!
He “Didn’t Know What He Was Doing”
Deana Martin knew she wanted to perform ever since she saw her dad on stage singing and making people laugh. Therefore she made sure to get lessons from the best: Frank Sinatra.
“Frank Sinatra was really the one who turned the light on for me,” she recalled in an interview with Fox News. “I said to Frank, ‘How do you do it?’ He said, ‘Oh, by taking a big breath, I push from the diaphragm, and I can tell before a note comes out if I’m going to be on pitch or not.’ Deana said, ‘Really, does my dad do that?’ He said, ‘No, he has no idea what he’s doing. He just does it.’”
His First Movie Was A Flop
The 1957 film Ten Thousand Bedrooms was Martin’s first film in the wake of his dissolved partnership with Jerry Lewis. Unfortunately for Martin, the movie was a huge flop. Martin played Ray Hunter, a hotel mogul who files out to Rome to buy another property.
According to MGM records, the film grossed around $955,000 in the United States and Canada and $750,000 elsewhere in the world, resulting in a loss of around $1,196,000. One reviewer said on IMDb, “Ten Thousand Bedrooms has its place in movie history as Dean Martin’s first solo effort without Jerry Lewis. It also nearly sunk his career.”
The Young Lions Was His Frist Dramatic Acting Role
In 1958, Dean Martin stole the role of Michael Whiteacre from Tony Randall in the dramatic war movie The Young Lions. The talent agency MCA realized that by hiring Martin they would have a triple threat on their hands, something that they’d be able to capitalize on. They’d be able to make money from his work in nightclubs, films, and records.
So, the role of Michael Whiteacre was recast, leaving Dean Martin with his first dramatic film role. The film also gave Martin two good friends, Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando.
He Has A Hit Western Song
In 1959, Dean Martin was cast as Dude, alongside John Wayne and Ricky Nelson, in the American Western film Rio Bravo. The movie was based on the short story by B.H. McCampbell and revolves around the sheriff of the town who arrests a brother of a powerful local rancher.
In one scene, Martin and Nelson perform a duet called “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me.” Later, the Western Writers of America named it one of the 100 greatest Western songs of all time.
Martin Went Golfing During Rehearsal
It’s no secret that The Dean Martin Show was a huge success, earning Martin a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series Musical or Comedy in 1966. The show was then renewed in 1968 for a three-year extension costing $34 million. Martin was suddenly the highest-paid entertainer in the world, at the time.
His contract also had other stipulations, such as he did not have to attend rehearsals. Instead, someone would stand in during his parts while Martin went to go play a round or two of golf, one of his favorite pastimes.
He Learned Martial Arts From A Master
During his time portraying the character Matt Helm, a U.S. government counter-agent who took out enemy agents, in a series of spy-movie parodies, Dean Martin was taught martial arts by none other than Bruce Lee.
Lee choreographed the fight scenes for both Maritn and the leading lady, Sharon Tate. You can tell it’s Lee’s choreography because a few seconds into the movie, Tate and Nancy Kwan both perform the “Gin Lai.” The Gin Lai is a bow which Lee always did before he opened and closed on of his Jeet Kune Do martial art and philosophy classes.
Lewis Paid $30,000 For Songwriters To Compose Something For Martin
The vastly popular song “That’s Amore” was first performed in 1953 in Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ movie, The Caddy. The movie’s plot centers around Harvey Miller whose father is a famous golf pro and wants Harvey to follow in his footsteps. He becomes an instructor instead.
The song was actually secretly commissioned by Lewis in hopes that it would become a hit for Martin. He paid songwriter Jack Brooks and producer Harry Warren $30,000 to compose it. Eventually, “That’s Amore” became a chart-topper and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1953, losing to “Secret Love” from Calamity Jane.
The Dynamic Duo Broke Up In 1956
From 1949 to 1956, the dynamic comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had great success in movies. They were also a very popular live act, touring the country and making nightclub appearances. So, it begs the question, why did the two break up? There are a few different explanations, as no one knows for sure.
The common reason was their respective work ethics. Lewis was a self-proclaimed workaholic while Martin enjoyed only working “so much.” Another rumored reason was that Jerry was taking over the spotlight, reviewers not even mentioning Martin’s performances. The last reason was their wives. Jeanne Martin did not care for Lewis.
Dean Called The Cops On His Wife’s Party
Surprisingly, Dean Martin really wasn’t a party guy. He’d turn in early when he was out with friends, and if his wife had people over he would go to their bedroom and watch television, leaving the party-goers downstairs. One night, a party his wife was throwing became too loud for Martin, so he called the cops!
He posed as one of their neighbors, complaining about a party going on “at Dan Martin’s house.” The police complied and drove over to shut down the party that was being hosted by Martin’s wife at the time, Jeanne.
Martin And Lewis Didn’t Always Get Along
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis worked really closely together. In fact, the pair would make 16 films with each other, but while they admired one another, jealousy and frustration crept into their relationship.
Things began to get testy over the years, but the last straw came when the pair were going to be on the cover of Look magazine. In the cover photo of the two, Martin ended up getting cropped out of the picture!
Vegas Paying Tribute
Sadly, all the heavy smoking Dean did resulted in him developing lung cancer in 1993. That’s when he elected not to undergo treatment and he ended up passing away of respiratory failure on Christmas day in 1995.
Vegas loved Dean and he loved the city back. To honor his passing, Las Vegas decided to dim their lights that night along the strip. It was a fitting tribute for one of the best entertainers to live.
Bring Out The Tears
Thanks to a referral from a friend, Dean Martin ended up cast alongside John Wayne and Ricky Nelson in the 1959 western, Rio Bravo. It was Montgomery Clift who suggested Martin for the part after he turned it down.
Martin’s character was a drunken sheriff, but he found it to be quite difficult. It was hard for him because they expected him to cry on cue, so we’re guessing that was something he wasn’t that great at doing.
Las Vegas Was an Oasis for the Rat Pack
Out of everywhere in America, the Rat Pack gravitated most towards Las Vegas, Nevada. It allowed for the certain level of debauchery the group became notorious for. While in Vegas, Sinatra would play golf, party, and gamble. They’d also create some pretty amazing work.
The Rat Pack filmed two movies that took place in Vegas: Ocean’s 11 and Sergeants 3. They also took the stage at the Sands Copa Room and regularly performed to ecstatic crowds. Back then, the price of a ticket was less than $6, but their chemistry made the show intensely compelling.