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Dean Martin: The Life and Times of the "Coolest Man Who Ever Lived"

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Called “the coolest man who ever lived” by Playboy magazine and known as a founding member of the famous--and often infamous--Rat Pack, Dean Martin was born in Steubenville, Ohio on June 7, 1917. One of the most popular entertainers in American h

VotedВ “the coolest man who ever lived” by Playboy magazine and known as a founding member of the famous--and often infamous--Rat Pack, Dean Martin was born in Steubenville, Ohio on June 7, 1917, to Italian immigrants.

Christened Dino Paul Crocetti, Dean was initially interested in becoming a drummer when he dropped out of Steubenville High School in the tenth grade at the age of fifteen.

After working at numerous odd jobs including becoming a part-time amateur welterweight boxer using the name "Kid Crochet" (a job that contributed to his distinctive nose), Dean flirted with criminal activity for a time, working as a bookie and card dealer at local gambling joints and “running” liquor across state lines during the prohibition. Then at seventeen he began his show business career as a singer in nightclubs near Steubenville; clubs owned by the criminal element with whom he'd become acquainted.

While singing with the Ernie McKay band, Dean caught the attention of Sammy Watkins, a Cleveland, Ohio bandleader who immediately hired him to front his popular orchestra. From 1938 to 1940 Dean toured with Watkins, changing his name to the more commercial (and less ethnic) Dean Martin. Then in September of 1943, Dean was “discovered” by the MCA talent agency and signed an exclusive contractВ  to sing at the popular Riobamba Room in New York City.В  (He famously flopped at the Riobamba Room afterВ being booked to followВ Frank Sinatra, but the incident established a friendship between the two that would endure to their final days.)

The following year Dean was given his own fifteen-minute radio program called, “Songs by Dean Martin,” but was drafted into the United States Army that same year, serving a year stint in Akron, Ohio before being reclassified as 4-F and subsequently discharged (at least in part due to a double hernia).В  In 1946 he recorded four songs for Diamond Records including, "Which Way Did My Heart Go" which made his smooth and soulful voice known to listeners all across America.

While working the club circuit in New York City, Dean met comedian/actor Jerry Lewis, the twoВ subsequently decidingВ to create aВ doubles act.В  The partnership resulted in a ten-year professional relationship that extended from stage to radio, television to film.

Parting ways with Lewis in 1956 due to “creative differences,” Dean then hooked up with buddy Frank Sinatra,В forming the "Rat Pack" in Las Vegas with fellow performers Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford, while releasing a long list of hit songs including "Memories Are Made of This,” "That's Amore,” "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You,” "Volare," and "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?" while also working the stage (often with Rat Pack buddies).В  His good looks andВ irresistable charm also led him to the silver screen where he co-starred in a longВ line of feature films including The Young Lions (with Marlon Brando) and Rio Bravo (with John Wayne), and a starring role in a series of spy spoof cult classics where he played the suave and invincible US government counter-agent, Matt Helm.

These were followed by the Rat Pack ensemble cast starring in the original caper film, Ocean's Eleven in 1960,В and thenВ Sergeants Three in 1962, and Robin and the Seven Hoods in 1964.В  (In total, Dean would appear in fifty-one films including Some Came Running in 1958 with Shirley MacLaine and Frank Sinatra, Bells Are Ringing in 1960 with Judy Holliday, Toys in the Attic in 1963, Airport in 1970, and Cannonball Run I and II in 1981 and 1984.)

In 1962, Dean left Capitol Records for Sinatra’s label, Reprise, where he recorded his trademark anthem "Everybody Loves Somebody" in 1964--an enormous hit thatВ actually knocked the seeminglyВ unstoppable Beatles from the #1 hit spot in America for one week.

This phenomenal classic became the theme song for his television variety series, The Dean Martin Show, which ran on the NBC television Network for eight years starting in 1965 and featured such film and TV greats as Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Sinatra, George Burns, Lucille Ball, and Milton Berle. This was followed from 1973 to 1974 by The Dean Martin Comedy Hour where each week he could be seen playing up his playboy, Rat Pack image of a hip, jet-setter lush--never seen out of his tux or without a high-ball glass in his hand (whichВ Dean would say in later years was little more than an act).

Dean's Christmas specials were among the highest ratedВ specials of the holiday season, with his Christmas albums selling neck and neck with Elvis Presley, and his popular tune, "But, Baby it's Cold Outside" a standard to this very day.

В 

In all, Dean released thirty-two studio albums, three live albums, twenty compilation albums, and eighty-three singles, with twenty singles reaching the Billboard top ten.

Married three times (and linked to numerous Hollywood and entertainment industry starlets), Dean retired from show business after his 1988-89 concert tour with fellow Rat-Packers Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra,В falling into a deep depressionВ afterВ the tragic loss of his son Dino Jr. in 1987, who was killed in a plane crash during a routine military training exercise.В  Dean Martin died of acute respiratory failure (lung cancer) on Christmas Day, 1995, in Beverly Hills, California,В having spent his final moments in mourning.

A phenomenally charismatic stage entertainer, a crooner extraordinaire, and one of the most beloved personalities ever to grace both the big and little screens, Dean was nominated numerous times for various entertainment awards, winning the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Best Actor in a Television Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture award in 1966, and a Golden Globe for Best Actor--TV in 1966.

References:

http://www.biography.com/people/dean-martin-9542166?page=2

http://movies.msn.com/celebrities/celebrity-awards-and-nominations/dean-martin/?ipp=30

http://www.deanmartinbiography.com/dean-martin-biographyВ 

Images via Wikipedia.org unless credited otherwise

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James R. Coffey