For nearly 50 years, Dean Martin was America’s ambassador to the world of wine, women, and song. Martin rose to stardom as one half of the duo Martin and Lewis, and then secured himself a position as Frank Sinatra’s consigliere and charter member of the Rat Pack. Martin’s sly sense of humor and boozy charm won him the adoration of millions of fans, but offstage, he was a quiet loner who preferred golf to martinis—ain’t that a kick in the head? Here are 42 intoxicating facts about Dean Martin.
1. Dean’s Debut
Before he became famous as Dean Martin, the crooner was known as Dino Paul Crocetti. Born in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1917, Martin was the son of Gaetano and Angela Crocetti, who had immigrated to Ohio from Abruzzo, Italy.
2. A Romance Language
The Crocettis spoke Italian at home, and young Dino did not begin to learn English until he was 5 years old. Martin’s Grant Elementary classmates bullied him for his accent.
3. Greek Life
Martin was childhood friends with none other than Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. Snyder had worked his way up through Steubenville’s gambling underground to become the prognosticator-in-residence for CBS’s NFL Today, and made his early fortune by correctly predicting that Harry S. Truman would win the 1948 presidential election.
Martin and Snyder later appeared together in the movie Cannonball Run II.
4. Kid Crochet
Martin dropped out of school in the 10th grade and began a career as a boxer, fighting under the name “Kid Crochet.” Martin once joked that, of his 12 professional fights, he lost 11. His record as a welterweight was a little better: 26-11.
Martin did not make much of a living as a boxer. Most times, he couldn’t even afford tape for his hands, and frequently broken knuckles forced him to rethink his career path.
6. Climbing the Ladder
Martin got into show business one step at a time. Starting as a stockboy at an underground casino in Steubenville, he worked his way up to blackjack dealer, then croupier at the roulette table, and finally, a singer at the casino’s lounge.
Martin played drums in high school, but he never learned to read sheet music. That’s not a prerequisite, of course, to a career in show business—neither could Frank Sinatra.
8. One Too Many Martinis
Upon entering show business, Martin changed his name from Dino Crocetti to Dino Martini. He changed it once again to Dean Martin to avoid confusion with Italian opera singer Nino Martini.
9. Copy Cat
Martin spent the early 1940s singing with a number of bands, most notably the Ernie McKay Orchestra. Most of the bandleaders didn’t think much of Martin’s singing—many felt his style was too similar to Bing Crosby, Perry Como, or Harry Mills—but his charm and personality often won audiences over and he found steady work.
10. Martin Meets the Chairman of the Board
In 1943, Martin was hired to perform as an opening act at the Riobamba nightclub in New York City. The headliner that evening was Frank Sinatra, and it would be the first time Martin and Sinatra met. By all accounts, Martin bombed.
11. Nobody Nose for Sure
To help him on in show business, Martin got a nose job when he was 27. Supposedly, the surgery was paid for by superstar film comedian Lou Costello. Martin’s son would later marry Costello’s daughter. Seems like a fair trade.
12. Family Man
In addition to Carole Costello, Martin was also father-in-law to Beach Boy Carl Wilson, Olympic gold medal figure skater Dorothy Hamill, and actress Olivia Hussey.
13. Tough Crowd
In 1945, Martin met a young comedian named Jerry Lewis, who was performing a lip-sync routine. They began working as a duo. They had their first gig at the 500 Club in Atlantic City on July 24, 1946, but performed so poorly that the club’s owner threatened to fire them on the spot.
14. At Full Capacity
Martin and Lewis improved quickly and became a massive success. They often gave free performances from fire escapes or out hotel windows to prevent overcrowding the nightclubs.
15. Independent Film
Having outgrown the nightclub circuit, Martin and Lewis moved on radio and television appearances, and were finally offered a film contract with Paramount Pictures. As part of their contract, the pair were allowed to make one film a year outside the studio; they used this clause to make their first film, At War with the Army, in 1950.
16. Let’s Take a Walk
No one can deny Martin was a multi-talented entertainer. He is, in fact, the only person to have ever been given three separate stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one each for film, television, and music.
17. On the Road Again
In 1987, Martin agreed to go on tour with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. for the Together Again tour. Martin hadn’t performed in several years and was not enthusiastic about performing in large stadiums. He left the tour after just five performances, citing kidney trouble.
18. Guilty Pleasure
Though he wasn’t big on reading (he claimed to have read only one book in his whole life, Black Beauty), Martin loved comic books. He would often enlist his comedy partner Jerry Lewis to buy them for him: Martin feared it might hurt his cool guy persona if he was seen buying comic books.
19. Comic Genius
Martin got the chance to star in his own comic book when DC Comics released the first issue of The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The series ran for five years, from 1952 to 1957.
20. A Little Help
Martin’s first film without Lewis, 1957’s Ten Thousand Bedrooms, was a flop. The next year he appeared in Some Came Running, a much more successful picture—and his first with Frank Sinatra.
21. A Rat by any Other Name
Martin and Sinatra’s tight circle of friends, which included Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, is often called the Rat Pack. In reality, “the Rat Pack” was the name Humphrey Bogart gave to his drinking buddies (which included Sinatra). This offshoot referred to themselves as the Clan or the Summit.
22. Come One, Come All
The Rat Pack were famous for showing up at each other’s performances unannounced, so much so that it became expected that one or more members of the group would come onstage. Whenever Martin performed in Las Vegas, the sign usually read “DEAN MARTIN—MAYBE FRANK—MAYBE SAMMY.”
23. How About a Lift?
Martin was claustrophobic. He especially hated elevators—which he called “coffins”—and took the stairs whenever possible. Martin once walked 18 flights of stairs to avoid riding in an elevator.
24. Drama Club
Martin landed his first dramatic film role in 1958, starring as Michael Whiteacre in The Young Lions. Martin became good friends with his co-stars, Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando.
25. What Did He Have to Cry About?
In 1959, Martin was cast in a Western, Rio Bravo, alongside John Wayne and teen idol Ricky Nelson. Martin had been suggested by his friend Montgomery Clift, who had turned down the role. Martin played a drunken sheriff, a role he found difficult because he was expected to cry on cue.
26. The Singing Cowboy
In one scene, Martin and Nelson perform a duet of “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me.” The song, written for the movie by composer Dimitri Tiomkin, was named one of the 100 greatest Western songs of all time by the Western Writers of America.
27. No Need to Practice
In 1968, Martin signed a three-year extension on The Dean Martin Show. Not only was he paid $34 million, making him the highest-paid entertainer in the world at that time, the contract also stipulated that he did not have to attend rehearsals. While a stand-in performed his part during the rehearsals, Martin went golfing.
28. Learning from the Master
Martin’s martial arts advisor for the Matt Helm films was none other than Bruce Lee.
29. He Beat the Beatles
In 1964, no one could challenge the Beatles, let alone a 47-year-old crooner. Yet Martin stunned the world—and himself—when his version of “Everybody Loves Somebody” knocked the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” out of the #1 spot on the Billboard charts. “Everybody Loves Somebody” was the first hit single for Reprise Records, founded by Frank Sinatra.
After the surprise success of “Everybody Loves Somebody,” Martin sent a telegram to the waning King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. It read, “If you can’t handle the Beatles, I’ll do it for you, pally.”
31. Set in Stone
Martin later had “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime” on his tombstone.
32. Mostly a Bridesmaid
Martin enjoyed a long career in music and his popularity never waned, but “Everybody Loves Somebody” is one of just three #1 hits he released. The others were “That’s Amore” and “Memories are Made of This.”
33. That’s Amore
“That’s Amore” was first performed in the 1953 Martin and Lewis movie The Caddy. Unbeknownst to Martin, Lewis paid $10,000 to songwriters Jack Brooks and Harry Warren to write a sure-fire hit just for Martin. Lewis’s gambit paid off, as “That’s Amore” went straight to the top of the charts.
34. Party Pooper
In comparison to his Rat Pack associates, Martin was a teetotaller. While Frank and the boys stayed out partying, Martin would head home early; he liked to get a good night’s rest so he could play golf early in the morning.
35. Nosy Neighbors
It wasn’t just that Martin loved golf, he also just hated parties. He once called the cops, posing as one of his own neighbors, to complain about a party “at Dean Martin’s house.” The police dutifully arrived and shut down the party, which was being hosted by Martin’s wife.
36. The Mountain
Martin’s son, Dean Paul Martin, was a pilot with the Air National Guard. He died in 1987 when his plane crashed into the San Gorgonio mountain in northern California. In a tragic coincidence, Sinatra’s mother had died in a plane crash on the same mountain 10 years earlier.
37. Cut It Out
Martin and Lewis made 16 films together, but while the two men admired each other, frustration and jealousy began to creep in. The last straw for Martin was when the duo was set to appear on the cover of Look magazine—and Martin was cropped out of the picture.
38. Happy Anniversary
Martin and Lewis broke up their act on July 24, 1956. It was the tenth anniversary of their first performance at the 500 Club.
39. Secret Agent
Throughout the 1960s, Martin starred as Matt Helm in a series of spy-movie parodies. Martin abandoned the series after his co-star, Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Manson Family.
40. Counterfeit Liquor
Drinking was a big part of Martin’s persona, and he often appeared onstage with a drink in his hand. In reality, Martin’s habits were quite moderate—the “drink” was usually apple juice.
41. Lights Out
After years of heavy smoking, Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1993. He opted to forego treatment, and died of respiratory failure on Christmas Day, 1995. To honor his passing, clubs along the Las Vegas Strip dimmed their lights that night, a fitting tribute to one of the all-time great entertainers.
42. Dean Martin City
After Martin’s death, the city council of Steubenville assembled a permanent Dean Martin Committee, chaired by Dean’s daughter, Deana. The committee guides walking tours of Martin’s old haunts, fundraises for a Dean Martin Scholarship, and organizes the city’s annual Dean Martin Festival. There’s just one word for the way Steubenville feels about their most famous son, and that’s amore.