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He was a non-descript singer with a pretty good East Coast reputation until 1946, when he met and teamed up with Jerry Lewis. They would become the hottest comedy team in America over the next ten years. It was universally accepted that Lewis was the better talent and that he carried Martin, but Lewis consistently praised Martin's work and said the team was "50-50".
The team broke up mostly because Martin wanted to do some serious acting. No one thought much of his chances, but he quickly knocked out three impressive performances: The Young Lions (1957), Some Came Running (1958), and Rio Bravo (1959). He then followed those up with the memorable Ocean's Eleven in 1960.
All the while he was acting, he was also recording. Once he settled on his trademark "crooning" style, he became one of the most beloved singers in America. "Ain't That a Kick in the Head", which Dino first performed in the original Ocean's Eleven, is today the emblematic song of the Rat Pack period. (Want proof? It was used in a Budweiser Super Bowl commercial.) He's also well known for "That's Amore" and "Everybody Loves Somebody".
During the Rat Pack years and subsequently, Dino was rarely seen without a lowball glass (his Vanity License Plate read "DRUNKY"). Most (but not all) of the time though, he was drinking apple juice. Likewise, while his best friend, Frank Sinatra, caroused and tomcatted, Dino went home every night to his wife, Jeanne. When they divorced in 1973, she said simply, "He was home every night."
Most tropers of a certain age know him as the host of the Dean Martin Show (NBC, 1965-1974) and the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts (also NBC, 1975-1984).
It says above that Dino died in 1995, but he really died on March 21, 1987, when his son Dean Paul (who had done a little singing and acting himself) was killed when his California Air National Guard jet crashed. Dino was never the same. Sinatra tried to coax him back on the road — the "Together Again Tour", 30 shows in 40 days. Dino hung in for one week, then flew home. In 1993, the lifelong smoker was diagnosed with lung cancer, and made few public appearances afterward. Jeanne was at his side till the end.
His career provides examples of:
- Badass Baritone: In Ocean's Eleven, Robin and the Seven Hoods and many more.
- Big Brother Instinct: Martin was rather protective of Lewis during their years as a team. Once he threw a mobster who was threatening Lewis into a shelf of glasses behind the bar they were sitting at.
- Claustrophobia: He had it.
- Comedic Sociopathy: A significant part of his act with Lewis.
- Cool Old Guy: His coolness only increased with age.
- Eloquent in My Native Tongue: He spoke only Italian until starting school and was the target of frequent ridicule for his broken English.
- The Eponymous Show: Also The Eponymous Celebrity Roasts.
- Gentleman Thief: In Ocean's Eleven.
- Gratuitous Italian: Played straight in that he often used Italian words and phrases. Averted in that he really did speak Italian.
- Improv: An essential part of his nightclub act with Lewis.
- The Lancer: To whatever character Frank Sinatra was playing when they appeared in a film together.
- Latin Lover: Without the dancing, typically.
- The Mafia: Had various encounters with them, friendly and otherwise, while touring with Lewis.
- My Name Is Not Durwood: Martin loved to do this purposefully with Lewis' last name. His favorite variations were Lucas, Loomis, Lousy and Looseleaf.
- Neighbourhood Friendly Gangsters: His character in Robin and the Seven Hoods.
- Playing Drunk: Became his shtick after Martin and Lewis broke up.
- Rat Pack
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections: His most important connection was probably Frank Sinatra.
- Smoking Is Cool
- Smoking Is Glamorous
- Stage Names: First "Dino Martini," then, at his bandleader's suggestion, Dean Martin.
- Straight Man: To Jerry Lewis when they were an act.
- Vanity License Plate: "DRUNKY"
- Variety Show: The Dean Martin Show and Colgate Comedy Hour.