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Missing Dino

September 7, 2018

Dean Martin is a name that most Americans know. Whether you’re 18 or 98, you probably have some recollection of the man. He was one of the original spaghetti crooners and  he also filled the silver screen during the 1950’s and 1960’s. He and Jerry Lewis were partners in the immensely popular comedy team Martin and Lewis. He was a member of the “Rat Pack” and is also remembered for his celebrity roasts of the 1970’s. He was an entertainer for all seasons and even had his own TV show from 1965 to 1974.

Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti on June 7, 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio. Many people, including me, mistakenly concluded that he simply shortened his name from Martini to Martin. Martin’s first language was an Abruzzese dialect of Italian and he did not speak English until he started school at the age of five. He attended Grant Elementary School in Steubenville where he was bullied for his broken English. He later took up the drums as a hobby as a teenager. Martin then dropped out of Steubenville High School in the 10th grade because he reportedly thought he was smarter than his teachers. With a bit of a chip on his shoulder, he bootlegged liquor, served as a speakeasy croupier, was a blackjack dealer, worked in a steel mill and boxed as a welterweight.

Dean Martin was married three times. In October 1941 Martin married Elizabeth “Betty” Anne McDonald. They had four children before the marriage ended in 1949. Martin’s second wife was Jeanne Biegger, a former Orange Bowl queen from Coral Gables, Florida. Their marriage lasted 24 years (1949–1973) and produced three children: Dean Paul Martin (November 17, 1951 – March 21, 1987), Ricci Martin (September 20, 1953 – August 3, 2016 and Gina Martin (born 1956). Martin’s third marriage, to Catherine Hawn, lasted three years.

Dean Martin’s successful life was dramatically changed with his son’s death in 1987. Dean Paul Martin died in a jet crash. His Air National Guard F-4 Phantom jet fighter departed March Air Force Base and crashed in California’s San Bernardino Mountains during a snowstorm, killing him and his Weapons Systems Officer, Captain Ramon Ortiz. After the death of his son, Dean became withdrawn and seemed to have lost much of his gusto for life.

He was a heavy smoker and was diagnosed with lung cancer at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in September 1993. He was told he needed an operation to prolong his life, but refused. He died of acute respiratory failure resulting from emphysema at his Beverly Hills home on Christmas Day, 1995 at age 78. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor. Martin is interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. His crypt features the epitaph “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime”, the name of his signature song.

I remember Dean Martin as a star of film, music and TV but also as a personal acquaintance during the late 1970’s. During this time I was a popular songwriter who frequented Dean Martin’s restaurant in Hollywood. It was called simply Dino’s Lodge. As a weekly guest, I would often see Dean Martin there and being a ham of sorts I did impressions of him. He thought they were amusing (if not good) and we became solid acquaintances. Contrary to public opinion and his television image, Dean Martin was not a drunk. He drank in very modest proportions but used his comedy skills to often portray himself as a lush. He would roar with laughter at my weak attempts at impressions as I launched into Everybody Loves Somebody, replete with a stagger and drink in hand. I also did impressions of some of his friends including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. Throughout our long acquaintance,  I think he genuinely liked me.

Dean was a well grounded kind of guy, ordinary in his humor and modesty. He was simply a great person to be around. He was warm, funny and knew how to have a good time with his friends. He did not have the typical snobbery that invades so much of Hollywood. Talent aside, he was just a great human being and I am proud to have known him. I think about him a lot and especially when I hear the song, Everybody Loves Somebody. And yes, I still do those hammed-up impressions for my wife and friends.

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8 Comments
  1. Very interesting biography. I didn’t realize his given name was Dino. We used to use that as a nickname for a friend named Dean.
    How special that you had a chance to get to know him. It sounds like you have lived a pretty interesting life yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the compliment. People have called me the Renaissance Man (kiddingly), but I have indeed done many different things in life and I have enjoyed every minute.

      Like

  2. Ed Wroten permalink

    Hi Allen,
    Great story I love Dean as well thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fabulous singer; one of the original ‘Rat Pack’… marvelous post!

    Liked by 1 person

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