Dean Martin, who began his singing career in the dance halls and night clubs of Steubenville, Ohio, became one of the most popular and successful entertainers of the 20th century. Dean was a singer, radio and television show host, comedian, and actor who soared to top of the night club, recording, broadcast, and movie industries. As a recording artist he charted over 30 singles and 30 albums in the Billboard top 100. He had 6 number 1 hits, 19 Gold records, 2 Platinum albums, and was honored with a lifetime Grammy Achievement Award. In 1969 Dean was the highest paid performer in television with the number 1 rated show that had an audience of 50 million viewers. The Dean Martin Show ran for 9 years from 1965 to 1970 on NBC followed by the Dean Martin Roasts that ran during the 1970s. He starred in 51 movies. With Jerry Lewis he made 16 films that were in the top 10 movie money makers for 6 years.. As a solo actor he appeared in top box office money makers Airport, Cannonball Run, Oceans Eleven, and the Matt Helm series. His most noted performances were in the “Young Lions” and “Rio Bravo” As a Los Vegas headliner he was one of the top draws at the Sands and MGM for three decades. At his peak in the late 1960s he earned over $15 million per year.
Born as Dino Crocetti in Steubenville Ohio, in 1917, Dino was the son of Italian immigrants Gaetano and Angela Crocetti. His father was a successful barber who had immigrated from Montesilvano in the Abruzzi Region of Italy. His mother Angela immigrated from the Naples region. Dino spoke italian at home until he was five, learning English when he attended public school. As a child Dino loved to sing around the house and at at family gatherings. He sang popular Italian folks songs and ballads popularized by his idols Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers and Bing Crosby. He also took voice lessons from Corrine Applegate the wife of Steubenville’ mayor.
hometown, Steubenville, was a smokey town of steels mills and coal mining on
the Ohio River 50 miles west of Pittsburgh.
During the prohibition years from 1920 to 1933 Steubenville became a
town of bootlegging, prostitution, gambling, and night clubs. Gentlemen from the tri-state area came to
Steubenville to enjoy it’s illegal pleasures. There were a dozen pool halls and
cigar stores in Steubville that had back room gambling. As a young teen Dino
hung out in the pool halls becoming a street wise gambler who could handle
himself in a fight. He and friends
earned cash delivering cases of bootleg whiskey to Canonsburg, Pa.
much for book learning and wise to the ways of the rackets, Dino dropped out of
high school around 10th grade. At age 15
he fought as a prize fighter under the name Kid Crochet. Losing 11 of 12 matches he quit the fight business
taking a job at Weirton Steel. He left the mill to take a trip to California
with his pals where he visited Hollywood and dreamt of becoming a movie star. Returning to Ohio in 1936, Dino joined the
Steubenville gambling industy. He became a dealer in the back room gambling
parlor of the Rex Cigar store. He dealt blackjack, ran the craps games, and was
Singing in Clubs for Kicks
Flush with cash and well dressed, Dino and his friends spent their off hours going to dances held around Steubenville that had live bands. The first time that Dino sang was before a crowd at a lake resort near Youngstown where the George Williams Orchestra was playing. One of Dino’s friends asked the band leader if Dean could sing a number. The band leader gave him a shot letting Dean sing the Italian song “Oh Marie" Urged by his friends Dino continued to go on stage with dance bands at the weekly dances. He became known to all of the orchestras and was welcomed to the stage. Wanting now to sing more than anything Dino and his friends began frequenting the music clubs of Steubenville. Getting up on stage frequently to sing with the club bands at his friends request Dino developed a repetoire of old standards, italian songs, and Bing Crosby song tunes.. He also developed a easy rapport with the audiences.
In 1939 Dino was singing at the Jungle Inn when
a band leader from Columbus, Ohio, Ernie McKay, heard him. McKay gave Dino his first paying singing job hiring
him at $40 a week. McKay billed him as “Dino
Martini” (based on the famous opera singer Nino Martini) and took him to
Columbus for a steady gig at a dance hall above a chop-suey palace.
At age 22 in 1940 Dino was hired at $35 a week by the Sammy Watkins Orchestra to be the featured singer for their long running engagement at the posh Vogue Room of Cleveland’s Hollenden hotel. Watkins said "that Italian name has to go and renamed him “Dean Martin”. Dean’s first performance in Cleveland got a national write up in Variety.
"Watkins has acquired a new vocalist, Dean Martin, who backs a personable kisser with a low tenor and agreeable manner."
In 1942 the Sammy Watkins Orchestra won a spot on the nationally broadcast NBC radio "Fitch Bandwgon show. Broadcast live from WTAM in Cleveland Dean sang four songs that were heard across the country. In 1943 the Riobamba Club in New York called looking for a singer to replace Frank Sinatra who just had canceled a gig. Dean sign a contract with the MCA agency and took off to New York to launch his national career.
The crowds at the Riobamba club loved him and Dean starting singing on radio stations WABC and WOR. He landed his own daily 15 minute show “Songs By Dean Martin” on WMCA. Dean appeared in other New York clubs and in other cities, but he struggled financially. He crashed with friends and split donuts and coffee specials for nourishment. To get appearances he sold 10% shares of himself to twelve managers/promoters and had to file to bankruptcy. In 1946, he recorded four songs with Diamond Records and released his first single “Which Way Did My Heart Go?” which received little notice.
In 1945 Dean shared the bill the Glass Hat club with a young comedian named Jerry Lewis. Jerry and Dean became friends and they were on on the same bills at other clubs. At the Havana-Madrid club they started to take the stage together just "screwing around". Bllboard Magazine took notice and said they had the making of a sock act. They were booked as seperate acts by the 500 club in Atlantic City, but the club owner demanded that they work together or be fired. They quickly wrote some routines and went on as Martin and Lewis. Within days they were a smash hit and the club was mobbed. Martin and Lewis went on to become night club sensations, movie stars, and had their own hit NBC radio and television shows. They were a top drawing act and box office movie stars for ten years.
Dean, who felt that he was seen as just the second banana straight man to Jerry, split up the act going solo in 1956. The critics and public though that his easy listening music would not fair well on against the rise of Rock and Roll. Working with pianist/arranger Ken Lane, who wrote the song “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime”, Dean put together a new solo act that was premiered at the Twin Coaches club in June of 1956 in Pittsburgh to rave reviews. With his new act Dean became the headliner at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. He had the coolest show in town and was joined frequently on stage with his Rat Pack friends Frank Sinatra and Sammy David Jr. In 1958 he landed a part in the movie Young Lions appearing with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Cliff. That role launched his solo movie career. He hosted his first NBC television special in 1958 and his regular series in 1965. His recording career took off with a string of hits in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.
Dean Martin recorded 600 songs and released 62 albums the Capital , Reprise,
and Warner Brothers, and Pickwick labels.
In 1964, at the peak of Beatlemania, he knocked the Beatles out of
number 1 with his single "Everybody Loves Somebody," Other notable songs are"Memories Are Made of This", "That's
Amore", "Mambo Italiano", "Sway", "Volare"
and "Ain't That a Kick in the Head.
In the late '70s, Martin's health began to decline, and he focused his career on night club appears and the occasional celebrity TV roasts. Dean make his last movie appearance in 1984’s Canonball Run II. He died Christmas Day, 1995. The city of Steubenville named a street after him and remembers him with the annual Dean Martin Festival.
Dean Martin's #1 hits:
"Memories Are Made Of This" (1955)
"Everybody Loves Somebody" (1964)
"The Door Is Still Open To My Heart" (1964)
"You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" (1964)
"In The Chapel In The Moonlight" (1967)
"In The Misty Moonlight" (1967)
Dean Martin's Top 10 hits:
"Powder Your Face With Sunshine" (1949)
"That's Amore" (1953)
"Return To Me" (1958)
"I Will" (1965)
"Gentle On My Mind" (1969)
The Music of Dean Martin
Dean Martin Video Biography
Parts 2 to 6
Dean Martin Music TV