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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. Recently in Nashville, Tenn. for a whirlwind day of media blitz supporting her jazz album, Destination Moon, Deana resembles the elder Martin considerably and follows in his footsteps as a song's best friend. 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.

Dino, months after his 50th birthday circa October 1967, is rather cheerful as outlaw Dee Bishop, hanging out on the steps of the gallows between takes of Bandolero; directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, the Western costarred Jimmy Stewart as elder brother Mace
Dino, mere months after his 50th birthday, is rather cheerful as outlaw Dee Bishop in Bandolero; Photo by Twentieth Century Fox
Sporting an omnipresent cigarette, a rugged Dino capably demonstrates the fine art of tying a bandana while looking essentially cool, on location for Bandolero at Alamo Village in Brackettville, Texas, circa October 1967
Sporting an omnipresent cigarette, a rugged Dino capably demonstrates the fine art of tying a bandana while looking essentially cool, on location for Bandolero at Alamo Village in Brackettville, Texas circa October 1967; Photography by Pierluigi Praturlon

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 click that mouse, or you'll 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...

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.

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 [Aug. 5, 1962]. We had to cut our family vacation short after a couple of days and return home for the funeral.

My father had been making a movie with her earlier that summer – the unfinished Something's Got to Givedirected by George Cukor. I’m kinda sorry that I brought that up – I don’t want to be a downer. It’s amazing what we have all been through in our lives.

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 (later 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’ prowess with a six-shooter is on fine display in his two 1962 guest roles on The Rifleman series starring Chuck Connors].

We actually had our own ranch in Northridge, Calif. 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, with Rock Hudson. It was especially hard for him to lose Tops. That horse was like part of the family. That broke his 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.

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].

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.

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” [No. 22 POP, 1965], “Houston” [No. 21 POP, 1965], “I Will” [No. 10 POP, 1965], and “Gentle on My Mind” [No. 9 Easy Listening, No. 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].

Your dad has never been properly acknowledged for his trailblazing role in bridging musical genres, recording hundreds of country songs with a seductive pop slant 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.

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 a very good player whose average score for a round of golf is par or better. An Oct. 22, 1967 article in The Spokesman-Review stated that Martin, then 50 years old, possessed a 6-handicap].

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.

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.

What is the latest update on the movie version of your 2005 memoir, Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter's Eyes?

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.

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 [aka 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.”

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.

  • DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! John Wayne possessed no plans to retire after "The Shootist" opened to excellent reviews but slow box office receipts in August 1976. After open heart surgery in late spring 1978, the Duke was determined to begin work on "Beau John." He went to impressive lengths to secure the project, actually buying the film rights via Batjac, the first time that had happened since he unsuccessfully bidded for "True Grit" 10 years earlier. The legend also had plans to reunite with one of his recent costars. Little has been known about the unfinished film until now. To learn more about the one project that gave Wayne some much needed hope during his final days, head on over to "'Beau John': The Untold Story of John Wayne's Last Project."

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Exclusive Interview: The songwriting partner and lead guitar maestro for '90s country artist Clint Black, Houstonian Hayden Nicholas has a fascinating connection to one of Dean Martin's celluloid heroes, Roy Rogers. The legendary King of the Cowboys was convinced to resuscitate his long-dormant recording career shortly after his 79th birthday in 1990 with a duets album spotlighted by "Hold on Partner," a sprightly country-tinged ballad featuring Black. Nicholas later spoke one on one with Rogers during a fantastic evening at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Los Angeles. His dream-come-true "Hold on Partner" adventure has heretofore been untold until now.

Exclusive Interview No. 2: Rick Nelson, Dean Martin's costar in Rio Bravo, was on the verge of a comeback when his plane tragically caught fire en route to a 1985 New Year's Eve gig. A rockabilly-themed album was nearing completion, and the singer had found a new record label in Nashville – Curb Records. Unfortunately, the project was promptly placed in the dustbin whilst various figureheads argued over rights and whether Nelson's vocals were satisfactory. The "Garden Party" songwriter's manager, Greg McDonald, recently made a surprise appearance on satellite radio and gave a very encouraging lowdown on the current status of the project and whether it might see the light of day in time for the 30th anniversary of Nelson's passing.

Exclusive Interview No. 3: John Denver will forever be remembered as the consummate singer-songwriter. The radio friendly, environmentally conscious entertainer possesses an incredible body of work with such landmark recordings as "Sunshine on My Shoulders," "Back Home Again," "Rocky Mountain High," "Annie's Song," and "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," all staples of early '70s AM radio. Denver's final pianist, Chris Nole, recently agreed to revisit his memorable relationship with the singer on the commemoration of his 70th birthday. Stick around as Nole discusses how he came to join Denver's band, what it was like to have a single rehearsal and then debut in front of thousands of fans, Denver's homespun sense of humor, whether the singer had any pre-show superstitions, their final conversation, and much more.

  • Exclusive Interview No. 4: Blind pianist Ronnie Milsap, who ruled country radio during the late '70s and '80s with soul-influenced jewels ranging from "Any Day Now" to "Stranger in My House", had a bona fide boyhood idol in the King of Rock 'n' Roll. In "More Thunder on the Piano...", Milsap offers juicy anecdotes about playing keyboards and singing harmony with Elvis on "Kentucky Rain" in the ghetto-ridden section of Memphis, playing two highly coveted New Year's Eve parties attended by a gun-loving, flashlight-toting Elvis, how he learned about the icon's shocking death, and the dilapidated World War II-era plane that nearly cost him his life while en route to a record convention appearance.

Exclusive Interview No. 5: Easy listening song interpreter B.J. Thomas won a well-deserved Grammy for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" after it appeared on the soundtrack of the legendary "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." In "Just a Regular Guy With a Burning Desire to Sing...", the effortless "Hooked on a Feeling" singer exclusively recalls amazing stories about arriving in Memphis in the late '60s and singing for Elvis Presley, appearing on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and having buckets of rain inexplicably thrown on his head, opening for the notoriously temperamental James Brown, his conflict with the Contemporary Christian industry, and his most popular album in 30 years, the duets-laden "Living Room Sessions", recorded in Nashville.

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