A giant amongst giants. The king of cool.
Dean Martin has always been my favorite crooner.
Not only was he a terrific singer and entertainer, but Dean was also incredibly funny; his talent was absolutely second to none.
But even though I’m a huge fan of this iconic man, I was quite surprised when his daughter Deana decided to confirm certain rumors about her famous father.
Dean Martin’s early years in life were marked by his parents’ Italian roots. He grew up as Dino Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio. Dean’s father was born in Italy and made a living as a barber. His mother, a seamstress and a cook, was Italian-American.
Dean’s mother tongue was Italian, and he couldn’t speak English until he started school at the age of five – which of course was a pretty big handicap. Dean soon learned the language, but got teased in school for his heavy Italian accent.
He left school in eleventh grade and got a job as a steel mill hand. The young man went on to work as a gas station attendant, before embarking on a career as a boxer. His career as a prizefighter, under the name “Kid Crochet”, went well. Apparently, he fought in 36 fights and won 25 of them.
But luckily, someone pointed out that Dean could sing, and he soon found himself performing in nightclubs across the country.
During one of his performances in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Dean would meet a funny man who came to change his life – the legendary Jerry Lewis.
The pair decided to join forces and formed an incredibly successful comedy team during a magical ten-year spell. Martin and Lewis did 17 movies together, while also making regular appearances on one of the most popular TV shows during the dawn of television, ”The Colgate Comedy Hour”.
Martin and Lewis were a special duo, in many ways. First of all, they were both very talented. But they were also good friends in private – something that took their shows and films to a whole other level. Martin and Lewis were a groundbreaking comedy pair; their popularity is hard to describe in words.
“Who were Dean’s fans? Men, women, the Italians. Who were Jerry’s fans? Women, Jews, kids. Who were Martin and Lewis’ fans? All of them… You had fans that didn’t care that Lewis was on or that Martin was singing. Because if Dean was singing, that was Martin and Lewis. If Jerry was goin’ nuts, that was Martin and Lewis.”
Martin and Lewis were the hottest thing in Hollywood, and the highest paid entertainers in the industry. But after 10 years together, the duo split.
The breakup was painful, and the former friends didn’t talk to each other privately for 20 years. There has been a lot of speculation as to why their collaboration ended so abruptly, but the truth is that there were several reasons as to why Martin and Lewis went their separate ways.
The most common explanation is the two comedians’ different views on work ethic. Jerry Lewis has often been described as a workaholic – he had a lot of energy and constantly wanted to produce more movies, shows and live performances. Although Dean worked a lot too, he had a somewhat more relaxed relationship to the whole thing. For Dean, it was important to make time to play golf (he was a scratch golfer at one point) and spend time with his family.
He was also fed-up of being limited to romantic leads.
There was a general perception that Jerry Lewis was the ”real star” and some just saw Dean as the “fifth wheel”. That idea was certainly fueled when Look magazine asked Martin and Lewis to pose for their cover in 1954. When the photo was published, they had cropped Martin out.
Martin felt let down, and the pair’s arguments were escalating. It eventually became impossible for them to continuing working together. At one point, Martin shouted at Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a dollar sign.”
Lewis would later said that he regretted the way it all ended. The fact that the two didn’t talk to each other for 20 years was something that tormented Lewis for the rest of his life.
”The stupidity of that, I cannot expound on. The ignorance of that is something I hope I’ll always forget,” Lewis said.
Thankfully, their saga had a happy and reconciling ending.
In 1976, Frank Sinatra arranged a very emotional surprise on The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. Sinatra, a frequent telethon guest, had secretly invited Dean Martin, and introduced him to Lewis by saying. “I have a friend who loves what you do every year.”