Dino Crocetti was born in 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio to Italian immigrants. His father was a barber and mother, a good cook. Dino was the second son and the family spoke Italian until he went to school. Consequently Dino was picked on at school and soon learned to fight. He left school as soon as he could and started working in the local steel mills. Dino was a keen boxer (“Kid Crocet.” Pronounced kro-shey), and won almost all of his bouts but the prize money was poor. As he progressed through his early working life, Dino was brought into contact with the mafia underworld and delivered bootleg liquor before working as a croupier in a local speakeasy. He called himself Deno Martini (after the Opera tenor, Nino Martini), he made a lot of club contacts which would come in useful later. His first start came when he sang with the Ernie McKay Orchestra, then in the early 1940s, he joined the Sammy Watkins Band. Now with his boxer’s nose remodeled, he dropped Martini for Martin, and was crooning to the joy of club audiences in New York. The mellow voiced baritone was influenced by Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers and Bing Crosby. He continued to perfect his singing style on the night club circuit until he was eventually drafted into the United States Army. He served stateside for a year (1944-45) but because of a hernia, was classified 4-F, and discharged. By 1946, Dean was back on the club circuit and met Frank Sinatra (Riobomba) and comic Jerry Lewis (Glass Hat Club in New York) among many other up and coming celebrities. He made his first record “Which way did my heart go?” (1946) and had a screen test by MGM, but nothing came from either opportunity.
More by chance than planning he and Jerry Lewis formed an on stage partnership initially dubbed “The Monkey and the Organ Grinder." Their wildly improvisational comedy soon made them a popular club act and in 1949 they had their own radio show. In the same year they made their film debut, My Friend Irma, and a sequel came a year later, My Friend Irma Goes West.
By the early 50s Martin and Lewis were the hottest act in America but both pace and the pressure took its toll. The act broke up in 1956. In 1953, Dean had scored a huge worldwide hit with "That's Amore,” but his critics felt he would amount to nothing with Jerry Lewis.
He won critical acclaim after appearing in the movie, The Young Lions (1958). The same year NBC ran The Dean Martin Show which was broadcast in colour and to complete his hat trick, Dino recorded “Volare” which was a runaway success.
By the mid-'60s, Dean was a top movie, recording, and nightclub attraction. During the sixties Dean was an active member of the Rat Pack. The original Holmby Hills Rat Pack had been started in the 1950s by Humphrey Bogart. Membership included. Pack Master – Frank Sinatra; First Vice President Judy Garland; Den Mother Lauren Bacall Rat in charge of Public Relations Humphrey Bogart; Recording secretary and treasurer Swifty Lazar; Historian Nathaniel Benchley: and Rats - David Niven, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, George Cukor, Michael Romanoff and James Van Heusen. As the decade passed a new set of members including Dean were introduced to the close nit community of celebrities. The 60s Rat Pack featured a line up including: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Contrary to the popular myth the 60s Rat Pack had female participants (Rat Pack Mascots), including Shirley MacLaine, Angie Dickinson, and Juliet Prowse.
The Pack made four films which Dean featured in all four: Ocean's Eleven (1960), Sergeants 3 (1962), 4 for Texas (1963), and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964).
Throughout the 60s the Rat Pack performed in Las Vegas, Nevada and was instrumental in the rise of Las Vegas as a popular entertainment destination.
In 1965, he launched his weekly NBC comedy-variety series. The loose format of the show prompted comedic, quick-witted improvisation which made the show all the more popular.
Dean developed his on screen persona and carefully crafted his ‘menefreghista’ attitude, always appearing on screen and stage smoking and with a drink never far from his hand.
Privately the man was, of course, quite different from his public persona. His albums continued to sell well throughout the seventies but stopped his studio work in 1974 and only started to record again in 1983. His last starring role was in 1975 and the movie Mr. Ricco. Deno then limited his live performances to Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
In 1987 the news of his son’s death completely devastated Dean Martin, who became more and more reclusive. It was widely reported, though never confirmed, that Martin was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1991 but Dean died of respiratory failure on Christmas Day, 1995.
Worth a listen:
Which way did my heart go? (1946)
That's Amore (1953)
Young and foolish (1954)
Under the bridges of Paris (1954)
Relax-ay-voo (duet Line Renaud)(1955)
In Napoli (1955)
Memories Are Made Of This (1955)
Return to me (1958)
Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Diblu) (1958)
C’est si bon (1962)
Sam’s Song (duet Sammy Davis Jnr) (1962)
Everybody Loves Somebody (1964)