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When Talking About Cool Celebrities, Don’t Forget Dean Martin

Was he the coolest?

By Total Apex Entertainment & SportsPublished 17 days ago 6 min read
When Talking About Cool Celebrities, Don’t Forget Dean Martin
Photo by Derek Truninger on Unsplash

Many entertainers have oozed a brand of coolness very few could match, and then there was Dean Martin, who rightly is called the “King of Cool.”

Martin, whose birthday was Friday, June 7, got his big breakthrough by teaming up with a young comedian, Jerry Lewis. Their movies, nightclub appearances, and TV work made them a red-hot team. Martin mostly sang romantic songs, including one of his early hits, That’s Amore. Lewis provided plenty of comic relief. Years later, Lewis would say he was “the monkey” in the duo.

Movies like At War with the Army, My Friend Irma, The Caddy, Sailor Beware, and Pardners made Martin and Lewis a must-see act. It all started in 1946, and they made their television debut in 1948 on Ed Sullivan’s The Toast of the Town on CBS. They made millions of dollars off their appearances together.

Dean Martin Formed Successful Team With Jerry Lewis

Yet, by 1956, critics started nipping at their heels. Martin wanted to spend more time off. Lewis was a workaholic, always looking to improve. Signs of strain started showing up. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis went their separate ways. It happened 10 years to the day of their first public appearance together.

By 1958, Martin, who was born in Steubenville, Ohio, appeared in The Young Lions alongside Marlon Brando. This marked just the beginning of a comeback for him. Martin joined up with John Wayne for the 1959 flick Rio Bravo. Martin played Dude, who had his troubles with booze. Walter Brennan and Ricky Nelson also were in the cast, with Nelson singing in this one.

That didn’t matter, though. Dean Martin became a hot commodity as a solo act. He also found strength in a friendship with Frank Sinatra. Both shared screen time together in a 1958 movie, Some Came Running. That also could be a catchphrase for their on-stage work. People came running from all over the place to catch their act. No, they weren’t a comedy team. But there were plenty of laughs when seeing the “Rat Pack” on stage.

This was Sinatra’s fabled cast of show-business friends who camped out at the Sands Hotel. Sinatra, Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop were front-runners in the group. Other friends of the “Rat Pack” included Shirley MacLaine and Angie Dickinson. Besides singing and doing impressions, this merry band of entertainers made fun of themselves. Davis’ turn to Judaism and skin color were up for laughs. Martin’s drinking received a constant barrage of jokes.

‘Rat Pack’ Put Martin Together With Friends

This crew also made movies like Ocean’s 11 and Robin and the Seven Hoods. In the early 1960s, they brought in plenty of full houses at Las Vegas hotels and nightclubs.

But Dean Martin also found a sweet spot to land on television. NBC provided him space for The Dean Martin Show, which started on the network in 1965. Martin seemed to have a lot of fun doing the show. He reportedly took a page out of Jackie Gleason’s book by not rehearsing in advance. Greg Garrison, Martin’s friend and show producer, said Martin would just show up and do his show.

If that’s the case, then Dino provided the laughs. He effortlessly mixed musical segments (sitting on a piano with his musical conductor, Ken Lane). Martin also had a solid mixture of actors, actresses, and comedians. People like Dom DeLuise, Florence Henderson, Orson Welles, and William Conrad popped up. One running gag had someone knock on a closed door, only to surprise Martin. Yes, Sinatra appeared here, too. The buddies had their families show up for a fabled Christmas show in 1967.

Television, though, wasn’t Dean Martin’s only outlet. He starred and produced in a few movies where he appeared as spy Matt Helm. These were adventure films with a lot of room for laughs. During his variety show’s run, Martin started hosting a series of celebrity roasts in Las Vegas. They became a fixture in his show’s final season in 1973-74. He continued to host The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, airing as specials on NBC, until 1984.

What about his musical career? Thanks to his TV show, Martin kept on selling records. His style of music ranged from romantic ballads to finger-snapping tunes. Martin loved many old-time songs, including There’s A Rainbow Round My Shoulder. He even reintroduced them to his TV audience. Besides That’s Amore and Volare, though, his smash hit was Everybody Loves Somebody. Written by Lane, Martin released his version in 1964. It did find a place on Billboard’s charts, even at a time when the Beatles dominated them.

Movies, nightclubs, records, and TV all helped make Dean Martin a household name. As for his personal life, he was married three times, Martin had seven children in his marriages, while also adopting one child. In later years, Martin kept a low profile. Yet he had memorable appearances with Davis in The Cannonball Run and its sequel in the 1980s.

Later In Life, Dean Martin Turned Reclusive

What about his friendship with Lewis? They famously reconciled, thanks to a helping hand from Sinatra. Martin was called out from backstage by Sinatra. It was in an appearance on a 1976 Jerry Lewis Telethon, held in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Martin and Lewis embraced, then had a little banter between them. Sinatra got Martin to sing a duet with him before leaving the stage.

Late in his life, though, Dean Martin suffered a huge loss. Dean Paul Martin, his son, was killed in a fighter jet crash in 1987. Dean Paul was a member of the California Air National Guard. Honestly, Dean never recovered from this heartbreaking event. Martin’s drinking in public was an act. He knew how to handle his booze, calling it quits so he could be with his family.

Yet this event reportedly led Martin to start hitting the booze seriously. Paparrazi photographers had a field day in what was Martin’s final public appearance. He had gone out to a restaurant, sitting by himself. Martin reportedly imbibed too much, appearing disheveled when going to his ride. For his fans, it was hard to see Dean in this condition.

By 1995, he left the public eye. In 1993, Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer. Doctors told him he’d need surgery to live longer. On December 25, 1995, Dean Martin died at 78 years old. Las Vegas paid tribute to Dino, dimming its lights on the Strip. A number of notable friends showed up at Martin’s funeral, including Lewis, MacLaine, and Bob Newhart.

While it might be easy to dismiss Martin as just another crooner, that’s missing the point. The dark-haired Italian took his career from being in a comedy team to individual stardom. Martin’s records play quite often on SiriusXM’s Siriusly Sinatra channel. Popular movies still find a spot for a Martin tune at times, too. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube and DVDs, collections of clips from Martin’s show can be found.

He lived quite a life. For Dean Martin, everybody pretty much loved him and considered him a good friend. Showing up in his customary tux and a cigarette in hand, he epitomized cool…from head to toe.

About the Author

Joe Rutland is an author, writer, and editor whose work has appeared on numerous large-scale digital platforms. Among them are Entrepreneur, The Good Men Project, The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, and Elite Daily. Rutland is on X @JosephRutland5.

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