Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti on February 17, 1917, Steubenville, Ohio. Dino was the 2nd son of an Italian immigrant couple: Guy Crocetti, a barber, and his wife Angela, who would cook spaghetti and meat balls, or sausages and peppers. Dino loved his parents all his life, and later when he became rich and famous, he took good care of them (and, even though he could afford to eat in the most expensive restaurants, Dino's favorite dish was always sausages and peppers, the kind mama used to make). Young Dino became a nightclub singer. Despite the persistent legend that Dino copied Bing Crosby's singing style, his real influence was Harry Mills (born 1913) of the fabulous Mills Brothers; years later, the Mills Brothers would occasionally be guests on "The Dean Martin Show" (1965-1974), and Dino's rapport with them was delightful.
In 1940, 23-year-old Dino met and married Betty (Elizabeth) McDonald (born 1921). They had 4 kids: Craig (1942), Claudia (1944), Gail (1945) and Deana (1948). The couple divorced in 1949.
On Saturday, July 25, 1946, at the Club 500 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, showbiz history was made. Crooner Dean Martin teamed up with Jerry Lewis (who had been doing pantomime acts while playing records), and the two were a smash. For the next 10 years, they would fill nightclubs, set new box office records for their 16 movies together (for Paramount Studios) 1949-1956, and be the biggest thing on a new medium called live television. However, Jerry Lewis would dominate their movie scenes together, and even try to influence the script writers to give him bigger parts than Dino. At one point, Dino said he felt like "a stooge" to his partner-- ironically, they had made a movie called "The Stooge" (1953), the premise of which was that Jerry was the exploited one. Dino wanted a career of his own; during filming of "The Caddy" (1953), Dino sang a new song which had been written for him, "That's Amore." Capitol Records recorded it right off the movie sound track, it sold over 2 million copies, it was Dino's biggest hit in 7 years. More hit records followed-- his song writers would write him songs with one Italian word in the title, like "You're Simpatico" and "Innamorata" and "Arrivederci, Roma"; (if it didn't have an Italian word, it wouldn't be an Italian song-- if it had more than one Italian word, people wouldn't understand it). Dino now knew he could have a career independent of Jerry.
At the end of their 2nd-to-last movie together, "Pardners" (1956), you can see how Jerry ad-libs and runs amok, stealing the show, while Dino just looks on from the sidelines. Dino decided to end their "pardnership." On July 24, 1956, just one day shy of their 10th anniversary together, Dino and Jerry did their last show, at the Copacabana in New York.
In the meantime, Dino had married his 2nd wife, Jeanne Biegger (born 1929), in 1949. They had 3 kids, Dino (1951), Ricci (1953) and Gina (1956). The couple divorced in 1973.
With 7 kids and an ex-wife to support, things were tough for Dino that first year on his own. His first solo movie, the comedy "Ten Thousand Bedrooms" (1957) was a box-office flop. The following year, in order to establish himself as a serious actor, Dino took a starring role in "The Young Lions" (1958), for a mere $35,000; he was making more in nightclubs, but it launched his movie career. In the following years, he would be making about 10 times as much per movie, and starring with Hollywood legends like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Mitchum, etc., and of course the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Shirley MacLaine. In "Robin and the 7 Hoods" (1964), you can see the sheer delight on Dino's face, to be singing with professionals like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. This movie also has a song which seems tailor-made for Dino, with the lyrics, "Show me a man who loves his mother, and he's man enough for me." (Perhaps these kinds of songs made Elvis, who also had devotion to his mom, say Dino was his favorite singer.)
In 1964, the Beatles had been dominating the music charts for almost a year, performing all brand-new songs. Then, in August 1964, Dino recorded his biggest hit, "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime" which knocked the Beatles out of the #1 spot. It was the first time ever that an almost 50-year-old singer had done that-- and even more amazing, Dino had dusted off a 16-year-old song to do it. ("Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime" was written by Ken Lane in 1948. It would become the theme song of "The Dean Martin Show" and piano player Ken Lane was a regular in the series.) Dino's biggest success came with his own TV show, which dominated Thursday nights at 10 p.m. for 9 years (the last year it was on Fridays). With so many guest stars-- more stars than there are in the heavens-- it was a top-rated show. Dino even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, the 11th edition, 1972, states: "The largest TV contract ever signed was one, for $34,000,000 in a three-year no-option contract between Dean Martin and NBC. Martin was acclaimed in September 1968, as the top earning show business personality of all time." (This was 1960s dollars, so adjust for inflation.)
As for his movie career, Dino made films during each summer hiatus from his show. He starred in 4 Matt Helm movies: 3 with James Gregory, and in "The Wrecking Crew" his costar Sharon Tate showed a real flair for comedy. For "Airport" (1970) Dino made $7,000,000 (which, adjusted for inflation, would beat out Julia Roberts at $20,000,000 per movie in the year 2000).
Then Dino married his 3rd wife, Catherine "Cathy" Hawn (born 1946) in 1973; she already had a daughter named Sasha, whom Dino then adopted. Some of the Dean Martin Roasts later would be listed in the end credits as "Sasha Productions." The couple divorced in 1976. A lot of this info came from the book: "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime (Especially Himself)" by Arthur Marx (son of Groucho Marx), 1974.
In 1976, at Jerry Lewis' annual telethon, Dino and Jerry had a reunion (for one night only), the first time they'd spoken to each other in 20 years. They hugged.
Dino was slowly retiring from showbiz. In 1987, Dino's son, Dean Paul Martin, was killed in a military plane crash. Later that year, Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. got Dino to join them in giving concerts. But, with the death of his son weighing heavily on his mind, Dino dropped out of the concerts in 1988. In the 1990s, Dino kept a low profile, and was sometimes seen enjoying the company of his grandkids. He seemed to be spending time with his ex-wife Jeanne, and there was talk of a reconciliation. From Easter Sunday, 1992, until 6 months before he died, Dino was often seen with Ms. Edy Williams, (okay, I got that item from the National Enquirer). Dino died on December 25, 1995, in Beverly Hills, California, from acute respiratory failure. But Dino's legacy in film and music will live forever. (editor) kdhaisch