Dean Martin was one of the most successful and versatile performers of the 20th century, despite the fact that his trademark was nonchalant and casual behavior. In fact, he was sometimes so casual that television viewers believed he performed while he was drunk. Prolific singer, recording star, partner of comic Jerry Lewis, movie actor, and host of a popular television variety series, Martin was a combination of handsome movie idol and clown who happened to sing and record many hit songs.
Martin’s early life centered around his birthplace, Steubenville, Ohio, where he came into the world in 1917 and managed to stay long enough to complete the tenth grade. He occupied his rest of his teen years with odd jobs, amateur boxing, learning to play drums, and some shady activities such as driving illegal liquor across state lines, working as a bookie and as a card dealer.
He also began entertaining while still a teenager, singing with bands in and around Chicago where he caught the attention of a bandleader, Jerry Lewis, playing the straight man to Lewis’s insane capers, as his partner. They made a total of sixteen popular comedy films together before breaking up in 1956.
Martin immediately resumed his singing career and recorded dozens of hit records, which made him famous again as well as offered him the opportunity to prove his dramatic acting skill in such award winning movies as “The Young Lions.” He remained in demand wherever he performed and eventually became a regular in Las Vegas where he met Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford who formed the legendary “rat pack.” That group of friends continued to perform in Las Vegas and branched into successful, often satirical, filmmaking by the early 1960s. In all, Dean Martin made fifty-one films during his lifetime.
On his own television variety show, beginning in 1965 and continuing for nearly ten years, Martin’s enormous talent and equally impressive charm and wit made him one of the most popular hosts in television history. Unfortunately, his phenomenal success as a performer was not matched in his personal life. He was married three times and fathered seven children, one of whom was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1987. Shortly afterward, Martin retired when he became ill during a tour with fellow members of the “rat pack.” He died in California on Christmas day, 1995