An Italian barber named Gaetano Alfonso Crocetti married an Italian-American girl named Angela Barra and together they had two sons. William (Bill) Crocetti was followed a few years later by his brother, Dino Paul Crocetti who was born in Steubenville, Ohio on June 7th 1917.
Both boys were brought up by strict but fair parents and it would be Dino who would lead a charmed life but not until he was well into his twenties. In an Italian speaking environment, young Dino fluently spoke in his mother’s tongue until he was ready to go to school at five years old. He endured endless cruelty from the school bullies at Grant Elementary School who teased him due to his emphasized attempts at speaking English. He later quit high school and felt let down and uninspired and convinced he was a better teacher than those who taught him.
He turned to boxing and at 15 called himself “Kid Crochet” but his inexperience at sparring reaped him a broken nose, many broken and mangled knuckles and a scarred lip. In his typical nonchalant style he admitted to winning all but eleven of his twelve fights and sagely turned his back on boxing only to take up bootlegging instead. It was behind and old tobacco shop that he became involved in an illegal gambling casino but found himself to be a competent blackjack dealer. He also found enjoyment singing with some of the local bands and called himself ‘Dino Martini’ after the tenor Nino Martini but in the early 1940’s while he sang for the popular band, the Sammy Watkins Orchestra, it was Watkins who suggested the name, Dean Martin.
Martin was married three times and fathered eight children. He was heard once to quip, “I’ve got seven kids. The three words you hear most around my house are, ‘Hello’, ‘goodbye’, and ‘I’m pregnant’.”
By 1946 Martin’s career was bountiful but he had unwittingly adopted Bing Crosby’s technique and was yet to find his own ‘voice’. When MGM and Columbia Pictures began to notice Dean Martin, he was blissfully unaware his big break was well on its way. Arriving in New York, he met hard working man named Jerry Lewis. It was with the comic he forged a deep friendship that would endure many years of insatiable humor. In the July of ’46 they debuted together at the 500 club in Atlantic City. However, the owner, Skinny D’Amato unimpressed with their performances told them they’d better come up with a better act or they’d be fired.
The two men threw caution to the four winds and as Martin sang, Lewis deliberately lost his grip on several plates and had Martin chasing him across the stage. They had the audience breathless with laughter and while their subsequent acts had the two of them ad-libbing, Martin had a hard time singing while Lewis constantly disrupted and interrupted him. Their own act almost rendered them speechless, they were laughing so hard.
As a team, the pair were together for 11 years and starred in 16 movies that entertained multitudes of people across the globe. It was the eventual and inevitable ongoing personality clashes that severed the memorable team but even without Lewis, Martin’s magic remained unstoppable and he went on to star in various films. But it was during the magical year of 1960, that one film in particular, “Ocean’s Eleven” which also starred members of the renowned Rat Pack, became one of his most memorable.
It was time for a change and when Martin launched himself into a new, unorthodox career in 1965 it was on television. On the screen, before thousands of viewers, he hosted ‘The Dean Martin Show’, which became so successful he rode wave after rewarding wave through to 1973. Another change was imminent and this time he changed the show’s name to ‘The Dean Martin Comedy Hour’. It ran for ten years until once again it was renamed ‘The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts’ and its outstanding successes attracted many famous personalities including Bob Hope, Joe Namath, and Frank Sinatra among others.
Dean Martin built a reputation as a man who was not complete without a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He would later be diagnosed with emphysema and lung cancer which would eventually claim his life at a relatively young 78 years. However he was often referred to as “the coolest man who ever lived,” and many people worldwide hung on to Dean Martin’s every smile. He was a magnificent singer whose voice oozed sensuality as he beguiled audience after audience with an aura of flippant nonchalance. After his amazing successes of the eighties, it became time for Martin to relax and he did until his son, Dean Paul Martin died in a plane crash in 1987. Overwhelmed by the shock, Martin would never be the same again. During a reunion tour in 1988 with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, he departed early due to health concerns and spent his final years in self-induced solitary confinement. Dean Paul Martin died on Christmas Day 1995.
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