Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio in 1917. By the age of 15, he had dropped out of high school and was boxing under the name Kid Crochet.
He then worked as a croupier in an illegal casino while singing with local bands under the name Dino Martini (after the then-famous Metropolitan Opera tenor, Nino Martini).
In the early 1940s, he started singing for bandleader Sammy Watkins, who suggested he change his name to Dean Martin. In October 1941 Martin married Elizabeth Anne McDonald. They had four children and divorced in 1949.
Drafted into the Army in 1944, Martin served a year stationed in Akron, Ohio, before he was reclassified as 4-F and discharged.
Dean seemed destined to remain on the nightclub circuit until he met a comedian named Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York, where both men were performing.
Martin and Lewis formed a fast friendship which led to their frequent participation in each other’s acts and the ultimate formation of a music-comedy team. Their official debut together was at Atlantic City’s 500 Club on 24 July 1946.
Their improvised (largely slapstick) routine – consisting mainly of Lewis heckling and interrupting Martin while the latter tried to sing – earned the duo a series of well-paying engagements on the Eastern seaboard, culminating in a triumphant run at New York’s Copacabana, which in turn led to their TV debut on Toast of the Town (CBS) with Ed Sullivan in June 1948.
Martin and Lewis were the hottest act in America during the early 1950s, and their movies were hits at the box office. Inevitably though, the double act broke up in 1956.
Martin first made the charts in 1955 with The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane. He scored hits also with Memories Are Made Of This (#1 in the US and UK in 1956), Return To Me, That’s Amore and Volare.
He may have been more at home on a golf course than in a studio, but in between movies, Las Vegas concerts, TV shows and some serious womanising, he cut some classic records – many paying homage to the Italian music he had grown up with, others anticipating the country renaissance of the late 1970s.
His rendition of Waylon Jennings‘ Little Ol’ Wine Drinker Me has achieved cult status, while his signature tune –Everybody Loves Somebody – knocked The Beatles off the top of the American singles chart in 1964.
Martin appeared in 51 films as both a comic and a serious actor. Among the box office successes he starred in were The Young Lions (1958), Rio Bravo (1959), Ocean’s Eleven (1960) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (one of several films he appeared in with his ‘Rat Pack‘ buddies, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Peter Lawford).
In 1965, Martin starred in his own TV series, The Dean Martin Show, which became one of the top-rated variety shows and remained on the air for nine years.
He also continued to star in such films as Airport (1970) and The Cannonball Run (1981) and hosted a series of popular Celebrity Roast specials on American television (he had originally introduced Celebrity Roasts on his weekly TV series).
In 1985, Martin came out of semi-retirement to star in an ill-fated TV series called Half Nelson, which was based on his 1985 film of the same name.
A heavy cigarette smoker all his life, Dean Martin died in 1995 of respiratory failure at the age of 78.
Three years after his death – a BBC documentary about his life helped turn yet another compilation (The Very Best Of Dean Martin) into an instant best seller in 1998.
A second volume and an album of love songs proved popular if less lucrative, but Dino’s success inspired such hip lounge compilations as Music To Watch Girls By. The Rat Pack was back in fashion, almost 40 years after its heyday, yet strangely this time King Rat wasn’t Sinatra but Dino Crocetti.