In Honor Of Dean Martin's 101st Birthday, Let's Do A Little "Dino 101"
Dean Martin would have turned 101 years old last Thursday, but unfortunately for us, “The King of Cool” wasn’t around as long as the George Burns or the Bob Hopes of the silver screen (both lived to be 100). As each year passes, I always get concerned that Dino’s star fades further out of the public eye. It’s probably not as bad as I think it is, but there has to be a little truth to it considering I’m freaking out about it. If you ask me (who goes to “DeNiro in The Fan” levels of obsession), Dean’s star is timeless and can travel across many universes, but I’m only one man and maintaining relevance in today’s “Tweet first, think later” world is about as possible to do as finding an operational pay phone.
What Dean Martin did for entertainment was unprecedented and still has yet to be duplicated. Who was a music star, a movie star, a television star and a live entertainment star all at the same time and was super successful in all facets? Dean Martin. Who knocked the Beatles off the Number 1 charts at the peak of their career after his son was clamoring about them at the kitchen table? Dean Martin did that shit. Who did Elvis Presley idolize? Tip a glass of bourbon back for "The Pride Of Steubenville, Ohio" (or don’t - more on that later).
And as far as the entertainment industry goes, Dean was just as big of a proponent for social change as he was an entertainer. Woman, black, gay, or straight, Dean Martin accepted everybody as they were. He didn’t discriminate or put on a machismo air about himself, he played in on the joke, whether the egg was on his face or someone else, and it was never mean spirited (unless you were apart of a gaggle of teen idol pop stars, then maybe not so much). His charm was contagious and many folks caught the bug if you were to track it by television ratings, box office numbers or album sales. Maybe the kids at the time didn’t catch on to his coolness, but later on down the road with time, they would.
So it being Dean’s 101st, I figure why not do a little “Dino 101” and give you fine readers a basic crash course on how to acclimate yourself with “The King Of Cool.” Best movies, best clips, best songs, the whole lot.
Rio Bravo (1959)
Considered one of the greatest westerns of all time, Dean Martin saddles up with John Wayne and Ricky Nelson as the appointed patrolmen of a lawless town. Dino plays Dude, the deputy, who mightily struggles with the drink and the cards are stacked against the trio as they deal with ne’er do-wells, thieves and outlaws. There’s also a townie cripple called Stumpy who Will Ferrell almost certainly did research on for the SNL “Old Prospector” sketch.
Dino was a television stalwart throughout the bulk of his career and these are just two clips to whet the palette. If you want to dive deeper, anything from The Dean Martin Show is a solid bet, but for now, enjoy these two.
Dino Mocks The Rolling Stones
The Hollywood Palace was a variety show (?) that would have a rotating set of guest hosts (I want to say Jack Paar and Bobby Hope would take the reins from time to time, but those were always the go-to guest hosts) and Dean was up to bat. On the card for that night: a very young, suited-up group of mop-tops named The Rolling Stones. This was right at the height of the British Invasion and these punks from across the pond were impeding on Italian crooner territory so Dean did not take their presence, their talent or their look seriously. Mick and the gang were not pleased apparently, but Dean definitely didn’t give a damn.
"The Piano Stunt"
Dean was notorious for never rehearsing for The Dean Martin Show, which added to the show's charm and likability. Whether it was misreading cue cards or screwing up lines in a song Dean would fuck up, a lot. Lots of unpredictable elements. One thing that was consistent however, was to kick off each episode, Dean would come bounding in and leap on the piano of his co-pilot, Ken Lane. Well one time they switched out his legit ivories for one that was made of balsa wood.
Must Listen-To Albums
First off, this is scratching off any Christmas albums. You want decades worth of cherished under-the-tree memories? Absolutely get yourself any Christmas copies of Dean or Frank (The Chairman had some real yuletide bangers), but no, we’re talking just straight-up "feelin’ love", "feelin’ lonely", "hey, sometimes feelin’ fun" croon tunes. Christmas With Dino would certainly make any traumatized childhood better, however.
Dino: The Essential Dean Martin
“Oh, no shit, Dom. An ‘Essential’ album? Way to go out on a limb.” Look, this is your Dean Martin starter pack. You get everything you need - the classics, the signature tracks you hear in movies, all of the stuff that the mass populous is familiar with, but don’t let it be your stopping point. It’s just here to make you feel like you’re in a Scorsese film and it will prime you to get a little more advanced with the following.
Dean Martin: The Capitol Years
This two-disc beauty covers all of Dean’s tenure with Capitol Records. It’s got duets and singles that will give you the feels of Essential, but gets thicker into the weeds with some unexpected toe-tappers “Oh Marie” will have you hitting on the girl at family market “Hey Brother, Pour The Wine” will have you shooting back a bottle of Pinot with her uncles that you can’t trust. Then “Good Morning Life” will make you feel appreciative that those same men didn’t hang you up in a meat truck. There’s also some good duets with Peggy Lee (“Who Was”), Nat King Cole (“Open Up The Dog House" - whew, that final verse does not hold up well) and Jerry Lewis ("Ev'ry Street's A Boulevard In Old New York"). Also, Capitol Years was the soundtrack to 11-year-old me playing Super Mario 64 so just think about that.
Dean Martin: Live At The Sands Hotel
So this isn’t as much as a music album as is it a comedy album. It’s just Dean Martin live in Las Vegas that’s filled with double entendres, celebrity insults, and him changing the words of his hits songs. Otherwise, an absolute gem in entertainment. And if you didn’t hear this fun fact before, Dean drank apple juice on stage - not alcohol (Ric Flair knows).
He also almost never changed his live act, so what you’re hearing is very much what any audience member at the time would hear. How’s he continue to make it so natural? Must be the apple juice.
The Martin & Lewis Movie To Watch
Artists & Models
Martin & Lewis were the Road Warriors of comedy duo popularity - aka: they were the 1950’s Hollywood Tag Team Champions. In total, they made about 15 movies together and were hot fire at the box office with a mixture of song, sex appeal and slapstick comedy. All pretty much followed the same format as far as story and plot go: Dean is the stud-muffin straight man while Jerry is the lovably naive goof. Throughout their run, they’d play army privates, sailors, collegiate athletes, circus carnies cowboys and a slew of other occupations. However, the one that stands out the most is Artists & Models. Dean’s a painter, Jerry’s a children’s author that talks in his sleep and they both have lady interests (one being Shirley MaClaine). That’s all you pretty much need to know. Being the 1950s, the plot’s original so no worries in seeing a rehash akin to some Happy Madison production.
The NSFW Clip To Listen To
Martin & Lewis Promo Outtakes of The Caddy
There’s a pretty viral clip on the YouTube of Dean & Jerry doing radio promos of one of their other pictures, The Caddy. They hit the first spot pretty flawlessly but after that the two keep screwing up and expletives get thrown. It’ll make you shit (cut out “make”).
The Dino Drama To Watch
Many will mention Some Came Running as the flick to see Dean at his dramatic best as the endearing gambler Bama, and I can't disagree, but who doesn’t love a good disaster film? The 1970s sure did as they got loaded up with all star casts and big production budgets. Before the blockbusters that were The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, there was Airport (which was the movie Airplane! parodied). Dean plays an airline pilot struggling to keep a plane in flight as the crew deals with a suicide bomber, a snowstorm and Dean deals with a newly discovered baby on board after an extramarital ugly bumping with a flight attendant. Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy and Jacqueline Bisset also star in the flick. Does our Italian friend survive or does he bite it like Shelly Winters did in the upside-down boat?
Must-See Dino Comedy
Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
Directed by the famed Billy Wilder (The Apartment, The Seven-Year Itch) Kiss Me, Stupid is about “The Man of The Hour” himself. Dino portrays a more conceited, lecherous version of himself as he finds himself stranded in a small-town with two dreamer buddies who want to make it big as movie composers. Ray Walston (the janitor from Parker Lewis Can’t Lose - also a dated pop culture reference) is a music teacher with a case of Othello syndrome and Kim Novak plays a floozy waitress so you know Dino’s presence is going to eff shit up. And he does. The ending is extremely odd, but the ride itself is something else to see. Very risque for the time period.
So there ya go, pallies. You want anymore suggestions? Keep those cards and letters coming in. To close out, here's Dino effing up "Blue Moon" on The Dean Martin Show: