Deana Martin can’t help remembering the swingin’ King of Cool

Welcome to Dean Martin’s world. In an exclusive scoop, Deana Martin, the swingin’ King of Cool’s fourth of eight children, waxes nostalgic about her late father’s favorite things. Deana resembles the elder Martin considerably and follows in his footsteps as a song’s best friend.

Indeed, on her Great American Songbook showcase Destination Moon, the album’s most tantalizing cut is “True Love,” a faithful recreation of Cole Porter’s sentimental ode featuring Deana’s debut duet with her father via modern recording wizardry. Swing Street, tracked within Capitol Records’ Studio A, the same room where Dino waxed much of his incendiary 1950s output, represents Deana’s fifth studio album comprised of jazz and blues-tinged material and is available on vinyl or CD — autographed to boot.

Dino epitomized a multifaceted entertainer. During the Steubenville, Ohioan’s heyday in the mid-twentieth century, he was capable of knocking the Beatles off the charts with “Everybody Loves Somebody,” breaking attendance records and earning millions at his legendary Sands Hotel residency in Las Vegas, holding his own alongside such method acting stalwarts as Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando, being the consummate straight man to wildly unpredictable comic Jerry Lewis, and ad-libbing his way through a top rated variety show — without even so much as breaking a sweat.

But who was the man behind the carefully manufactured image of devil-may-care attitude, omnipresent cigarette, martini glass — filled with scotch or apple juice — and tailored black tuxedo? According to Deana, her dad “didn’t care about the movies, albums, or accolades. He was more of a private person…he would get up, do his work, go play golf, and come home.”

Don’t miss such timeless moments as the Martins sailing to Hawaii on the Pacific Ocean’s top liner, the vacation where Deana learned of Marilyn Monroe’s death, playing cowboy on the family ranch, watching Westerns with Sammy Davis, Jr., working alongside legends including Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, why the elder Martin refused to pen his memoirs, and their touching last visit before Christmas 1995. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Brace yourself for impact! Dean Martin nonchalantly sails fourth child Deana Martin through the air during a fun swimming exercise held at the entertainer’s luxurious 601 Mountain Drive home in Beverly Hills, California, circa 1959. Photography by Allan Grant / Life Magazine / Courtesy of Deana Martin

The Deana Martin Interview

Are you instrumentally inclined?

I can play a little piano by ear, but I don’t in my shows because I’m not that good [laughs]. I took piano lessons when I was a young girl and have probably forgotten everything. What I mainly love to do is just be on stage, entertain, and sing the song. Having great musicianship supporting me is very important, too.

Did you want to take piano lessons, or were you urged to go in that direction?

Of course, we were pushed in that direction. But I was given the opportunity to take ballet, tap, dance, jazz, and piano lessons. You brought back a nice memory to me. My parents sent me to cotillion class to learn ballroom dancing at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

My partner was Jeff Bridges, who got his first taste of acting on his father Lloyd’s various TV shows [i.e. Sea Hunt, The Lloyd Bridges Show, and The Loner]. We won all the awards, because we were really good dancers together. It was quite a lot of fun.

In 1966 Dean Martin sits in a chair fit for a king as he rests his right arm on a Martin acoustic guitar for a purposely stern family portrait alongside second wife Jeanne, eldest son Craig, youngest child Gina, Dean Paul, Ricci, Gail, Deana [kneeling], and Claudia outside the “Rough Night in Jericho” star’s home at 601 Mountain Drive in Beverly Hills, California. Dean gained sole custody of his four children with first wife Betty McDonald — Craig, Claudia, Gail, and Deana. Photography by Martin Mills / Getty Images

Can you recall the first Martin family vacation?

Yes I can. I was eight or nine at the most. We — all seven kids, my parents, a nanny for my younger sisters, and my dad’s assistant, Mack Gray — visited Hawaii on the SS Lurline, the Pacific Ocean’s top liner.

We had to have a whole bank of rooms, since there were so many of us [laughs]. I’ll never forget that we stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and I’ll never forget the giant pineapple that was sitting there.

My dad had a great time. Here he is — the poor thing — with all these kids [laughs]. He liked to sit out in the sun and swim. He was very athletic. We flew back home on one of the first commercial jet airliners. It was a wonderful family vacation — a trip of a lifetime.

The last vacation that we all took was to a dude ranch called Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort because my dad loved horses and everything country. We got to experience wonderful hay rides, dinners, and barbecues. It was one of the first times that I ever saw a little coffee maker in your room…something that my brother pointed out to me [laughs].

You bring back another memory to me. That particular vacation was when my dad got the call that Marilyn Monroe had died [August 5, 1962]. We had to cut our family vacation short after a couple of days and return home for the funeral.

We’re trying, although everybody’s been really busy right now. I need to ask your readers’ help: Who could be Dean Martin? That remains the million dollar question. It’s awfully hard to cast. There was no one like him. If you could figure out who could portray my dad, I would love for you to let me know on Facebook or my official website.

Dean Martin shares a lovely moment with his favorite movie horse, Tops, while on location in Texas for “Bandolero” circa October 1967. Photography by Martin Mills

Beginning with Rio Bravo [1959] and peaking with the underrated Showdown [1973], your dad starred in 11 Westerns. Incidentally, his sole guest starring turn on television during the 1960s was as the title character in “Canliss,” a 1964 episode of Rawhide. Did his appreciation of the genre translate to home?

Absolutely. He would come in after work, or if he had a day where he was just playing golf, he would come home and we’d have dinner. We’d sit on the couch in the living room, he’d put on a Western, and we’d watch it together. He was easy to predict that way. That’s what he liked.

When he was in Las Vegas after one of his shows, he would have a little something to eat after and say, “I’m gonna go upstairs and watch Tom Mix Westerns.” I’d think to myself, ‘Tom Mix?’ [laughs]. He loved the simple black and white Westerns from his childhood where you could tell the good guys from the bad guys.

His close friend, Sammy Davis Jr., would watch Westerns with him if they were doing a show together. “Uncle Sammy” didn’t go anywhere on the road without a film projector or VCR and his vast collection of movies. Not many people may realize that he was a world class quick draw artist. He was such an amazing human being

[Author’s Note: Davis’s prowess with a six-shooter is evident in his dual 1962 guest starring roles on The Rifleman, a 30-minute western series starring Chuck Connors as a hardworking, sharpshooting rancher raising an impressionable teenage son — played by Johnny Crawford — all alone on the lawless prairie].

We actually had our own ranch in Northridge, California. We would go out there and go riding. We were always kinda an outdoorsy family. We took horseback riding lessons when we were young, and we were all pretty good athletic-wise.

The ranch stayed in our family for a few years. Then we sold that ranch and my dad bought one out in Calabasas. Tom Selleck ended up buying it from us. It even had a heliport and a few holes to play golf. Horses were there of course. That was one of my dad’s loves.

My dad’s favorite horse was named Tops, who passed away unexpectedly while Dad was filming his final Western, Showdown, on location in Chama, New Mexico, with Rock Hudson. It was especially hard for him to lose Tops [a crewman fed the 18-year-old animal the wrong feed; art sadly foreshadowed life as Tops succumbed to a forest fire in Showdown]. That horse was like part of the family and lived at our ranch. That broke Dad’s heart. He was such a feeling, good guy.

Dad loved doing Rio Bravo [1959] and The Sons of Katie Elder [1965] with John Wayne. Hands down, my dad should have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as “Dude,” the alcoholic sheriff’s deputy in the former. I don’t think folks in the business understood and respected that part of him at that time.

His only teaming with Jimmy Stewart as unlikely brothers on the wrong side of the law in Bandolero [1968] was another favorite. He simply respected and liked being around those guys. It was special work for him. He would always take his script upstairs and study in solitude.

Dean Martin, mere months after his 50th birthday, is rather cheerful while awaiting the hangman’s noose as outlaw Dee Bishop in “Bandolero.” Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, the action-packed Western costarred Jimmy Stewart as elder brother Mace Bishop. Although the duo looked absolutely nothing alike, the chemistry worked onscreen. Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Did your dad screen his own films at home?

We did have a screening room at our house at 601 Mountain Drive in Beverly Hills. A union projectionist — Lyle was his name — brought us first-run movies from the studio. But we really didn’t show his films, except once later on in his life.

I brought him VHS copies of all the Westerns I could obtain. Sometimes I would select one of his films just to see if I convince him to watch, but Dad would always say, “I don’t know if I wanna watch them anymore.” I asked him, “Why?” “Well…I don’t know. I’ve seen them all.” He was modest and sweet. He never liked to blow his own horn.

I’m glad again that you brought back another memory — we watched At War with the Army [1950], the third film pairing my dad and Jerry Lewis together. Dad and I laughed constantly, including the scenes where they were in and out of the swinging gate in the office, Jerry dressing up as a girl and serenading a soldier with “Tonda Wanda Hoy,” and Jerry serving food to the soldiers in the mess hall kitchen to the tune of “The Navy Gets the Gravy but the Army Gets the Beans” [Deana sings the title line].

You need to sing that song in concert. That would shock everybody [laughs].

It would, wouldn’t it? Then I’ll have to go into “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me”, which Dad memorably sang in Rio Bravo. I have an arrangement for it which I sang in the Rrazz Room in San Francisco. There was almost a standing ovation. That was fun. [Deana sings, “Purple light in the canyon”]. Ah, that’s great.

After a long day of filming “The Silencers,” the first in a quartet of films depicting the madcap antics of suave spy Matt Helm, a cowboy boot wearing Dean Martin relaxes at home on a Martin acoustic guitar. The spy film spoof reached moviegoers on February 18, 1966, and was a top box office draw. Photography by John R. Hamilton

Several photos exist depicting your dad playing an acoustic guitar while killing time on a movie set. Did he play around you?

Yes, around the house. He would strum, hum, and we would sing along. He started out as a drummer when he was in the Boy Scouts. That might be where he got his wonderful sense of timing and beat.

Can you recall suggesting a song for your dad to record?

No, I just remember telling him how much I loved songs like “Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On” [№22 Pop, 1965], “Houston” [№21 Pop, 1965], “I Will” [№10 Pop, 1965], and “Gentle on My Mind” [№9 Easy Listening, №2 UK, 1969]. There were some of the songs where I was like, ‘Uhh…I don’t know, maybe you didn’t have to do that song’ [laughs].

An outtake taken from the debonair King of Cool’s album cover shoot for “Dean Martin’s Greatest Hits! Vol. 1,” released on May 13, 1968. Photography by Ed Thrasher

Your dad has never been properly acknowledged for his trailblazing role in bridging musical genres, recording hundreds of country songs with a seductive pop delivery from 1962 onwards. In modern times, country pop is ubiquitous on Top 40 radio, reality music television competitions, and sold-out arena tours. It’s such a shame that country radio pretty much refused to play your dad’s latest singles while he was still alive.

His voice lent itself beautifully to country, and he felt a connection with that. There was something about his voice that was so beautiful in any song that he sang. He would always put his Dean Martin touch on that.

I don’t think deejays and programmers understood that country music was truly what my dad loved to sing. He wasn’t just doing it to get into another field of music. There’s a lot of things that he didn’t get the respect that he should have, including acting.

He was mesmerizing in a consecutive trio of films — The Young Lions with Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando, Some Came Running with Uncle Frank [Sinatra], and Rio Bravo. He experienced an unbelievable career.

Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tackle a round of golf in Palm Springs circa 1981. Martin unfortunately still found time to smoke a cigarette while driving his buddy along the fairway. Image Credit: ILoveDinoMartin.blogspot

We must discuss your dad’s borderline obsession with golf.

He loved to play golf. My dad always had a golf club in his hand around the house. He was always practicing and perfecting his grip. We had a thick, green carpet through the whole house. It looked like a fairway [laughs]. He would practice his swing in the entry hall.

I have a good swing because Dad taught me well. I remember very well us going to the driving range. He would hit bucket after bucket of balls. Then he would show me how to swing by putting his arms around me and saying, “Okay now, hold the grip just like this, bring it back nice and slow, keep your arms straight, swing through the ball, and keep your head down.”

He nonchalantly told me one time, “Deana, you know I work honey so I can pay for all you kids and play golf.” There was a time when he was a scratch golfer, too [Author’s Note: A scratch golfer is an exceptional player whose average score for a round of golf is par or better. An October 22, 1967 article in The Spokesman-Review stated that Martin, then 50 years old, possessed a 6-handicap].

Dean Martin encourages listeners to boldly experience “This Time I’m Swingin’!, unleashed on October 3, 1960. The original version of “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You,” with an orchestra conducted by the talented Nelson Riddle, anchors the album which climbed into the Top 20 over in the United Kingdom. Image Credit: Capitol Records

Why did you select “True Love,” a deep cut from your dad’s extensive musical repertoire, as a duet?

First of all, I love the song. I love anything written by Cole Porter. My husband, John Griffeth, who produces my albums, found the original handwritten Nelson Riddle arrangement from Dad’s This Time I’m Swingin’! [1960].

We went to Capitol Studios at 1750 North Vine in Hollywood — where my dad recorded it — and with great musicians re-recorded the song. Al Schmitt, the same engineer who did Nat and Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable” in 1991 and has won an astonishing 21 Grammy Awards — more than any other engineer or mixer — was present.

I used Dad’s vintage microphone. I held the chart that he held when he recorded it at Capitol. Written up in the left hand corner, it said, ‘Dean.’ I sang the song as I listened to his original vocal. When I went back in to the control room to hear the playback and our voices together it was so unreal. I felt his presence there.

When I sing “True Love” in my show, I have a beautiful video going on behind me with home movies and pictures of Dad and his pallies. It’s a great moment in my show and a great moment for me. It brings back old memories to the audience but it makes new memories for them, too. It’s timeless, wonderful music.

Smoking an omnipresent cigarette near a roaring fireplace, presenting the evocative, late night LP cover of “Dream with Dean: The Intimate Dean Martin,” released on August 4, 1964. Certified by the RIAA as a gold seller, the 12-song, No. 15 Billboard Pop album features the original version of “Everybody Loves Somebody” recorded with a trimmed down jazz combo. Image Credit: Warner Music Group

Were there any other potential duets that you decided not to do?

Yes, “Blue Moon,” which my dad recorded for the fantastic Dream with Dean album in 1964, was in the early running. There are some great songs that my dad sang that would lend themselves beautifully to duets. However, they would not be proper for a daughter and father to sing together.

“True Love” was appropriate and perfect for us, especially the lyric that goes, “For you and I have a guardian angel.” If I could find another song with nice sentiments that isn’t creepy [laughs], then down the road it’s always possible a second duet might happen.

Still, you have to take into consideration that it would be quite difficult to top “True Love.” I find myself thinking, ‘Gosh, this is such a beautiful duet with my dad. Do I want to go beyond that?’ Of course, I would always love to sing with him. It’s such a treat, but I don’t know. Recording “True Love” was a special moment in time.

Deana Martin’s memoir, entitled “Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes,” was released in November 2004. The photo of Dino appears to be an outtake from “The Hit Sound of Dean Martin” album cover photo session, ultimately released on July 26, 1966, via Reprise Records. Image Credit: Three Rivers Press

We’re trying, although everybody’s been really busy right now. I need to ask your readers’ help: Who could be Dean Martin? That remains the million dollar question. It’s awfully hard to cast. There was no one like him. If you could figure out who could portray my dad, I would love for you to let me know on Facebook or my official website.

Did your dad consider writing his memoirs?

No, he wouldn’t do that. He was never pumped up about himself. In fact, he had public relations people. But he would rarely call them and say, “Put this in, or put that in the paper.” There was one time when he requested that his PR company let fans know that he had achieved his first hole-in-one. He was very proud of that milestone [laughs].

Dad didn’t care about the movies, albums, or accolades. He was more of a private person. If other people wanted to write about him, that was fine. He would get up, do his work, go play golf, and come home. That was him.

On February 17, 1990, Dean Martin checked out of a hospital against doctors’ orders, where he had been undergoing routine tests, to give away daughter Deana Martin to handsome entrepreneur John Griffeth. The couple tied the knot at a church on South Beverly Drive and later hosted a reception at the Friars Club in Beverly Hills, California. Image Credit: Courtesy of Deana Martin

When was the last time that you spoke with your dad?

I saw him a few weeks before his death on Christmas Day 1995. Twenty years earlier, while he was briefly married to third wife Cathy Hawn, I decided to learn my Grandma Angela’s secret Pasta Fagioli recipe. No one else in the family knew it.

My dad was thrilled when I brought the dish to him as a Christmas gift. The gesture brought us closer and gave me an excuse to see him regularly over the ensuing decades. I got so sick of cooking Pasta Fagioli, but Dad virtually never stopped loving it [laughs].

He experienced a myriad of health problems in the early ’90s, including lung cancer and advanced emphysema. His daily routine consisted of staying home, watching TV, and sleeping. He always preferred small living spaces as he had suffered from claustrophobia since childhood. Still, every evening he frequented quiet restaurants like Hamburger Hamlet, La Famiglia, and when La Famiglia closed, Da Vinci’s.

In November 1994, I visited him one evening at his final home on 511 North Maple Drive in Beverly Hills with my usual homemade pasta. He told me, “I can’t eat it, baby. I don’t like the taste anymore.” I was shocked. That was his favorite dish.

I was also surprised to not smell his omnipresent tobacco smoke. Curiosity got the best me and I asked, “Dad, did you stop smoking?” He replied, “Yes.” “Well how’d you do that?” “I don’t know. I just woke up and didn’t want to do it anymore.” I was taken aback at the sudden transformation.

Because of a chest infection, he missed our annual Thanksgiving dinner family gathering several weeks later and was taking a long time to recover. By then he wasn’t able to visit his favorite restaurants and rarely ventured beyond his bedroom.

I visited him again as Christmas drew closer. I checked with his nurse to make sure that he wasn’t asleep. When I entered the bedroom, I was alarmed at how gaunt his face now appeared. He looked just like Pop [Gaetano Crocetti].

After making small talk, I asked if I could make him anything to eat or drink but he wasn’t interested. “Are you coming to Christmas dinner at Mom’s house?” He said, “I’ll see how I feel. I’m kind of tired.” It was odd to me that he talked of not showing up for Christmas Eve because usually he would. We said we loved each other dearly, and that was the last time that I saw him.

He passed away at 3:15 a.m. on Christmas Day. Ironically, my grandmother, Angela Crocetti, passed away at the same time and the same day about 30 years before in 1966. I can imagine my grandmother whispering, “Okay Dean, it’s time for you to come with me.”

Dean Martin cajoles a genuine laugh from daughter Deana Martin during the former’s recording session of “Nobody’s Baby Again” on August 17, 1966, inside United Recording Corporation Studios, 6050 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California. The pop single stalled at No. 60 Pop but climbed much higher on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart to No. 6. Photography by Ed Thrasher / Courtesy of Deana Martin

As an entertainer, what did your dad teach you?

Dad taught me to keep going and learn it all. He was capable of doing everything — the epitome of a true entertainer. He could sing, dance, act, and be funny. He gave me the opportunity to learn all of that, and I have.

He remarked on more than one occasion, “Deana, always arrive early. Don’t keep anybody waiting. Know the lyrics. Step on your mark. Sing from your heart. Just keep doing it, and have a good time while you’re doing it.” Just old-fashioned hard work.

Dad taught me how to make a song my own. I also learned wonderful phrasing from Uncle Frank, and it makes it special for me to get up and sing the classics. I have a connection with nearly all of them because I was lucky enough to grow up with artists including Uncle Sammy, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, and Bobby Darin.

They helped form my life and showed me a bit of style and class. To tell you the truth, I don’t really see that much anymore. Which is a shame. There are a lot of great singers out there, but they weren’t blessed to have had the upbringing that I did. To connect with a legend and really experience what a song is about is priceless. I’m so proud to be the daughter of Dean Martin.Joey Bishop, ‘Deconstructing the Rat Pack,’ and other cocktails of the momentThe deadpan Rat Pack comic’s biographers shed light on Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, the Three Stooges, John…jeremylr.medium.comTotally true encounters with Munchkins, the World’s Tallest Man, and the King of CoolVintage Hollywood journalist Steve Cox shares insight on Dean Martin, the Three Stooges, the Wizard of Oz, and the…jeremylr.medium.com

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Exclusive Interview: Determined Arkansan Beth Brickell had an intimate meeting with Princess Grace Kelly at the Palace of Monaco to figure out whether it was feasible for her to pursue her dream of acting. How did she manage such an unheard-of feat? By going the tried and true route and writing a letter. After years of toiling at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York City, she found herself cast in a breakout smash television series in 1967 as the dependable wife of Florida Everglades game warden Tom Wedloe [Dennis Weaver] on the half hour family adventure series Gentle Ben. Into the late 1970s Brickell dropped by Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Emergency!, Hawaii Five-O, and Fantasy Island…occasionally enlivening a feature film such as Kirk Douglas’s underappreciated, decidedly cynical Western Posse. “The Unconventionally Persistent Journey of ‘Gentle Ben’ Heroine Beth Brickell” stands as her most comprehensive, intimate interview in years.

Deana Martin and her iconic father Dean Martin observe the close of the turmoil-ridden late 1960s in this loving still, circa 1970. Image Credit: Courtesy of Deana Martin
A photo of a strikingly handsome Dean Martin used on the cover of his best-selling “The Dean Martin Christmas Album,” the Italian crooner’s second and final Christmas LP released on October 11, 1966, via Reprise Records. Image Credit: Warner Music Group
A shirtless Dean Martin kills time by playing a bit of classical guitar — a Martin, naturally — between takes of “The Ambushers,” the third tongue-in-cheek film featuring suave super spy Matt Helm. The film dropped in theaters on December 22, 1967. Image Credit: Sergio Leemann’s ACertainCinema.com / Columbia Pictures
Deana Martin and music-producer — husband John Griffeth visit Dean Martin’s home located at Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills, California, circa 1990. Image Credit: Courtesy of Deana Martin
Deana Martin relaxes in a comfy arm chair during the recording sessions for her fourth album, “Destination Moon,” ultimately released on September 17, 2013. Image Credit: Courtesy of Deana Martin

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