Back to : Westwood Memorial Park - Celebrity Graves
The Final Resting Place of Dean Martin.
7th.June 1917 - 25th.December 1995.
Actor singer who rose to fame with Jerry Lewis as a comedian. Spilt with Lewis and went into films as a straight actor with great success. His solo singing career spanned many years and produced many classic songs, one of which is inscribed on his marker - "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime". Became great friends with Frank Sinatra and became a member of the famous Rat Pack A true legend who's films and records will always be remembered.
Located in the Corridor of Love, left hand side 2 thirds of the way up.
Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in the West Virginia-Ohio border-town of Steubenville, Ohio. His parents were Italian-born barber Gaetano Crocetti and his wife, Angela. He spoke only Italian until age five. The traces of Italian are perhaps what lent a certain Southern drawl to Martin's speaking voice, which led many who did not know he hailed from Ohio to assume he came from the South.
Martin dropped out of school in the tenth grade and took a string of odd jobs ranging from steelworker to bootlegger; at the age of 15, he was a boxer who billed himself as "Kid Crocett." (Kro-Shey) It was from his prizefighting years that he got a broken nose (it was later fixed), a permanently split lip, and his beat-up hands (often unable to afford tape to wrap his hands, Dean came away from many fights with broken knuckles). Dean was known to have won almost all of his matches, although the prize money was meager, and he finally gave up boxing to pursue more potentially lucrative opportunities. For a time, he worked as a roulette stickman and croupier in an illegal casino behind a tobacco shop where he had started out at a stock boy. At the same time, he practiced his singing with local bands. Billing himself as "Dino Martini" (after the then-famous Metropolitan Opera tenor, Nino Martini), he got his first break working for the Ernie McKay Orchestra, performing in a crooning style heavily influenced by Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers, among others. But in the early 1940s, he started singing for bandleader Sammy Watkins. It was here that he changed his name to Dean Martin. A hernia got Martin out of the Army after a year-long Stateside stint during World War II, and with wife and children in tow, he worked for several bands throughout the early 1940s, scoring more on looks and personality than vocal ability until he developed his own smooth singing style.
Although he worked more or less steadily (and when club gigs were lacking, he drove a cab), money was tight for Dean, and he found he had to send much of what he earned back home to Betty and their growing family. He often slept on couches of friends, rather than spend the money for a hotel room, even in a flop house. What money he could save he usually spent on living the good life, including wining and dining young ladies, gambling, and garbing himself in tailored suits. He struck upon one scam to put some extra dollars in his pocket: He would sell 10% of his career, promising his benefactor (one of whom was comedian Lou Costello) a dime on every dollar Martin made as a singer in exchange for a cash stake upfront. Dean did this so often, he quickly found he had sold over 100% of himself! But as he had no intention of ever making good on the deals, he happily took the money, filled his closets with elegant suits, and even had plastic surgery to reduce the size of his nose. Such was the power of Martin's charm that most of his marks forgave him of his debts to them, and continued to be his friend.
By 1946, Dean was doing relatively well for himself, but he was still nothing more than an East Coast nightclub singer with a style still clearly rooted in that of Bing Crosby...and there were already plenty of other singers like that. He could be counted on to bring a good sized crowd to the clubs where he played (although he famously flopped at the Riobomba when he followed Frank Sinatra's record-breaking stint there...although it did give the two men the opportunity to meet for the first time), but he ignited none of the hysteria that Sinatra did. What he needed was something that would elevate him above the pack, and give him a real shot at the big time.
Dean attracted some fleeting attention from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures, but a Hollywood contract was not in the cards for him just yet. Martin appeared permanently destined for the nightclub circuit until he met fledgling comic Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York, where both men were performing. Martin and Lewis formed a fast friendship which led to their participation in each other's acts, and ultimately forming a music-comedy team. Given their zany antics, more than a few people dubbed them "The Monkey and the Organ Grinder."
Martin and Lewis' official debut together occurred at Atlantic City's 500 Club on July 25, 1946, and...they bombed. The 500's owner, the legendary Skinny D'Amato, warned them that if they didn't come up with a better act for their second show later that night, they were fired. Huddling together out in the alley behind the club, Jerry and Dean agreed to go for broke, to throw out the pre-scripted gags that hadn't worked and to basically just improvise their way through the act. Dean sang some songs, and Jerry came out dressed as a busboy, dropping plates and more or less making a shambles of both Martin's performance and the club's sense of decorum. They did slapstick, reeled off cringe-worthy old Vaudeville jokes with tongues planted firmly in cheeks, and did whatever else popped into their heads at the moment. And this time, they were a smash, with the audience doubled over in gales of laughter! Their success at the 500 led to a string of well-paying engagements up and down the Eastern seaboard, culminating with a triumphant run at the crown jewel of nightclubs, New York's Copacabana, and club patrons throughout the East Coast were soon likewise convulsed by the act, which consisted primarily of Lewis interrupting and heckling Martin while he was trying to sing, and, ultimately, the two of them chasing each other around the stage and having as much fun as possible. The secret, they have both said, is that they essentially ignored the audience and played to one another, knowing if they could make the other laugh, they were clicking. They wouldn't completely disregard the folks who paid good money to come see them, however; one popular trick was to grab a pair of scissors and cut off the tie of some unwary gentleman...and on occasion even cut his shirt to ribbons! Audiences had never seen anything like it (at least those who had never been to an old time burlesque show, that is), and they couldn't get enough. A radio series commenced in 1949, the same year that Martin and Lewis were signed by Paramount producer Hal Wallis as comedy relief for the film My Friend Irma.
The duo's agent, Abby Greshler, negotiated for them one of Hollywood's best deals: although they received only a modest $75,000 between them for their films with Wallis, Martin and Lewis were free to do one outside film a year, which they would co-produce through their own York Productions. They also had complete control of their club, record, radio and television appearances, and it was through these endeavors that Martin and Lewis earned millions of dollars. Although there had been a number of hugely successful film duos before, Hollywood had never seen anything like Martin and Lewis. It wasn't simply that Jerry's act as a spastic man-child was so popular...in Dean, the team had a genuine sex symbol. More than a few women who could care less about Jerry's antics were more than happy to watch Martin on the screen serenading with a song. Martin and Lewis were the hottest act in America during the early '50s, but the pace and the pressure took its toll, and the act broke up in 1956, ten years to the day after the first official teaming. In truth, the split was a long time in coming. With their fabulous success, both men became surrounded by sycophants who were ever-ready to play upon their paranoia that their partner was upstaging them...although it was Jerry who seemed to listen to those voices the most. The pair managed to paper over their growing differences during their performances, but there was one televised incident which hinted at the animosity between them: In 1953, Dean scored a huge worldwide hit with "That's Amore," the first solo success for either of them. Outwardly, Lewis was proud of his partner's success, but his actions during an episode of the Colgate Comedy Hour suggest otherwise. Dean began to perform the song with an orchestra, but Jerry suddenly came onstage and interrupted him. There was some banter between them, but Dean seemed genuinely miffed that his partner had intruded upon "his" time. But Jerry didn't stop there...he then began ordering all of the show's cameras to move in and get within inches of Martin's face, to the laughter of the studio audience. But Dean kept singing, even after Jerry jumped on his back and began to pull at Martin's hair and slap at his ears. Dean could be heard to angrily say, "Jer, you're overacting!" and then, with the last notes of the song fading, "It's over! It's over!" Lewis got the laughs he craved, but Martin came away from the incident with a growing conviction that he could not continue to play the organ grinder to his partner's monkey forever, no matter how good the money was. But splitting up their partnership was no easy deal. It took months for lawyers to work out the details of terminating many of their club bookings, their television contracts, and the dissolution of York Productions. Through it all, there was intense public pressure for them to stay together.
Lewis had no trouble maintaining his film popularity alone (at least at first), but Martin, unfairly regarded by much of the public and the motion picture industry as something of a spare tire to his former partner, found the going rough, and his first solo-starring film, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, bombed. He was still popular as a singer, but with Rock and Roll surging to the fore, the era of the pop crooner appeared to be waning, and it looked as if Dean's fate was to be limited to nightclubs, and to be remembered mostly as Jerry Lewis's former partner.
Never totally comfortable in films, Martin still wanted to be known as a real actor. So, though offered a fraction of his former salary to co-star in the war drama The Young Lions (1957), he eagerly agreed in order that he could be with and learn from Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. Tony Randall already had the part, but talent agency MCA realized that with this movie, Martin would become a triple threat: they could make fortunes from his work in night clubs, movies, and records, so they engineered Randall's replacement, giving Martin one of the plum dramatic roles of the decade. The film turned out to be the cornerstone of Martin's spectacular comeback; by the mid-'60s, he was a top movie, recording, and nightclub attraction, even as Lewis' star had begun to fade. He was also acclaimed for his performance as Dude in Rio Bravo (1959), directed by Howard Hawks and also starring John Wayne and fellow singer Ricky Nelson. Martin later teamed up again with Wayne in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), where they were somewhat unconvincingly cast as brothers.
He was also never above poking sly fun at his image as a smooth womanizer in such outings as the Matt Helm spy spoofs of the 1960s. As a singer, Martin was, by his own admission, not the greatest baritone on earth, and made no bones about having copied the styles of Bing Crosby and Perry Como. He couldn't even read music, and yet recorded more than 100 albums and 600 songs, racking up major hits such as "That's Amore", "Volare", "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" and his signature tune "Everybody Loves Somebody" (which was the first song to knock the Beatles out of the Number One spot in 1964). Elvis Presley was said to have been influenced by Martin, and patterned "Love Me Tender" after his style. In 1960, he gave personal authority to Bernard Thorpe to create his first fan club, The Dean Martin Association. Martin maintained his role as the honorary club president until his death in 1995. The UK-based society still remains in existence today.
For three decades, Martin was among the most popular nightclub acts in Las Vegas. Dean himself was one of the most smooth comics around. On television, Martin had a highly rated, near-decade-long series; it was there that he perfected his famous laid-back persona of the half-drunk crooner suavely hitting on beautiful women with hilarious remarks that would get anyone else slapped, and making snappy, if not somewhat slurred, remarks about fellow celebrities during his famous roasts.Though often thought of as a boozing lady's man, Dean loved his wife and children very much. He always had time to spend with his family, and truly enjoyed it.
The 1960s and 1970s
In 1965, Martin launched his weekly NBC comedy-variety series, The Dean Martin Show, which exploited his public image as a lazy, carefree boozer, even though few entertainers worked as hard to make what they were doing look so easy. Critics complained that he was the epitome of sloth by refusing to rehearse for his show, and only coming to the studio on the day of each week's taping. In fact, Dean prided himself on memorizing whole scripts, not merely his own lines. He also disliked rehearsing because he firmly believed that his best performance was always his first one. A quick wit, he appreciated the fact that his looseness often prompted comedic improvisation from himself and the rest of the cast while the cameras rolled. The result was a television show was was often in the Top Ten.
For all of his reputation as a heavy drinker...and that reputation wasn't undermined any by the fact that Martin's vanity license plate read DRUNKY...Dean was actually remarkably self-disciplined. He was frequently the first to call it a night, and when he wasn't on tour or on a film location, he was usually home each evening watching TV. It's now no secret that Martin was generally sipping apple juice, not booze, most of the time onstage. He borrowed/stole the lovable-drunk shtick from Joe E. Lewis; and his convincing portrayals of heavy boozers in Some Came Running (1958) and Howard Hawk's Rio Bravo (1959) led to unsubstantiated claims of alcoholism. But the truth is, his idea of a good time was more often playing 18 holes of golf than playing around with Frank and Sammy until the early morning hours. By the early 1970s, Dean Martin seemed to have the Midas touch. His program was still a solid ratings earner, and although he was no longer a Top 40 hit maker, his record albums continued to sell well to his loyal fans. His name on the marque could guarantee standing room only crowds in casinos and nightclubs. He even found a way to make his passion for golf profitable by offering his own signature line of golf balls. And shrewd investments (at the time of his death, Dean was reportedly the single largest minority shareholder of RCA stock) had vastly multiplied his personal wealth.
But it was perhaps all of that success which led to Martin retreating somewhat from show business. He ended his weekly variety show and replaced it with a series of semi-regular celebrity "roasts," which required even less participation from him. He cut back on the number of records he recorded, largely quit making movies, and to a great degree limited his live performances to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Maybe it was boredom that curtailed the whirlwind of work he had been engaged in for decades; most assuredly, at least in part, it was also his growing dependence of percodan for his bad back. By this time, when Dean seemed to sway as he walked and his voice slurred, it was less his patented tipsy act than it was the very real effects of the painkillers. Dean also seemed to be suffering from a mid-life crisis. He divorced his second wife, Jeanne, and entered into an ill-conceived and mercifully short-lived new marriage with Catherine Hawn, a woman half his age. He was also briefly engaged to Gail Renshaw, Miss USA 1969, and later dated actress Phyllis Davis. Eventually, he would reconcile with Jeanne, although they would never re-marry. He also made a public reconciliation of sorts with his other "ex-wife," Jerry Lewis. The occasion was Jerry's Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon in 1976, when Frank Sinatra shocked Lewis and the world by bringing Dean out on stage. The audience erupted in cheers (and the phone banks lit up, resulting in one of the telethon's most profitable years) as Martin and Lewis hugged and smiled. But beyond that, they had little to say to one another. Jerry brought down the house when he quipped, "So, you working?" But the well-known Dino wit of old was absent, and he mostly just mumbled and let his remarks trail off. When he performed with Sinatra afterward, Martin appeared sluggish and unfocused. It was assumed by many that he was drunk, but mostly likely it was the percodan which had left him in such a state. Jerry had hoped that this episode would allow the two to at least rebuild their friendship, but Dean steadfastly refused to reopen communication with Lewis...nor would he agree to appear on subsequent telethons. He wouldn't say anything bad about Jerry to anyone, he just wasn't interested in picking up the past.
Martin's even-keel world began to crumble in 1987, when his son Dean Paul Martin was killed in a plane crash while on maneuvers with the Air National Guard. A much-touted tour with old pals Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra in 1988 sputtered out, with Martin's heart just not into a Rat Pack reunion...or in performing at all. On one occasion he infuriated Sinatra when he flicked a lit cigarette butt into the audience, and on another occasion he turned to Sinatra, ignoring the audience, and muttered "Frank, what the hell are we doing up here?" Dean, who always responded best to a club audience, felt lost in the huge stadiums the trio were performing in (at Sinatra's insistence), and he wasn't the least bit interested in hitting the town after their performances and drinking 'til dawn; one night in exasperation at their hotel, Sinatra took the plate of spaghetti which Martin was eating from and dumped it on his head. Back in the old days, Dino would have laughed, cleaned himself up, and then accepted the "invitation" to go out and knock back a few. But now, saying nothing, Martin merely stood up and went into the bathroom, refusing to emerge until Frank was gone. Once during the Rat Pack Reunion, called the Together Again Tour, Dean was being heckled by young audience members for singing a song poorly and muttering throughout the performance. Rather than wittily turning the tables on the hecklers as he had done so often in the past, he merely sighed and said, "I wanna go home"...and that's just what he did. He left in the middle of the tour, citing various ailments, and was replaced by Liza Minelli for a time. In fact, Martin was a very sick man who had never completely recovered from the grief of losing his son and, as a lifelong smoker, was suffering from emphysema. In September 1993 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. But he courageously kept his private life to himself, emerging briefly and rather jauntily for a public celebration of his 77th birthday with friends and family. Whatever his true state of health, he proved in this rare public appearance that he was still the inveterate showman. Ultimately, it seemed as if Dean had reconciled himself to reaching the end of a long and glorious line; Martin had been told he needed major surgery on his kidneys and liver in order to prolong his life, and he had refused. It was widely reported, though never confirmed, that Martin had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1991.
At his side for much of his last few years was ex-wife #2, Jeannie (Bieggers) Martin, whom he had divorced years earlier. Dean and Jeannie became closer during his final years, although they resisted suggestions that they wed again, and both seemed content to "date" while living individual lives.
Martin died of respiratory failure on Christmas morning 1995. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor. In 2005, Las Vegas renamed Industrial Road "Dean Martin Drive".