The King of Cool

Dean Martin. So cool and talented. I'm a huge Frank Sinatra fan, but Dean Martin is right up there with Frank as one of the top entertainers of not only the 20th century, but of all-time. Another favorite of mine, Steve McQueen, was also nicknamed the "King of Cool", but Martin got there first.

Martin in an unguarded moment recommending a drink for breakfast!

Martin in an unguarded moment recommending a drink for breakfast!

Today would have been Martin's 99th birthday, but he passed away on Christmas day in 1995 at the age of 78. I'm always shocked at the longevity of guys like Dean and Frank--they smoked, they drank, they partied hard and had a good time. On the other hand, the lifestyle took a toll, but I'm still impressed he lived to the age of 78.

Yes, he had many hits, such as: "That's Amore", "Everybody Loves Somebody", "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You", "Volare", "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?" and so on, and so on, but he was an entertainer stretching far beyond his dreamy crooner persona.

Most everyone has heard of the comedy team of Martin & Lewis. Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis performed a music-comedy act at night clubs and eventually made a bunch of pretty funny films. From 1949 to 1956 they were in something like 17 films together. Lewis is ridiculous in those films, but Martin, as the straight man always seemed funnier to me. Try My Friend Irma (their first film) and Scared Stiff.

scared stiff.jpg

My favorite Dean Martin film is Rio Bravo where Martin shared the screen with John Wayne and was directed by Howard Hawks. Even if you don't enjoy westerns, the pairing of Wayne and Martin is worth the time spent watching the film. He also starred in a string of comedy adventures  as Matt Helm, a super spy--these films are ridiculous, but a lot of fun to watch.

Of course, Martin was a key member of the Rat Pack. They performed on stage together, recorded songs together, and made movies together, such as Ocean's 11, Robin and the 7 Hoods, Sergeants 3 (a comedy remake of Gunga Din), and 4 for Texas.

The original Ocean's 11. Not as good as the Clooney version, but pure 1960s fun.

The original Ocean's 11. Not as good as the Clooney version, but pure 1960s fun.

Martin was everywhere, even on television. He had his own variety show, The Dean Martin Show, which launched in the mid-60s and ran until the mid-70s. It's a fun show to watch, even now, and showed off Martin's gift for improvisation.

As a child I remember seeing Dean Martin on television, but hosting The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast which ran through 1984 when I was a teenager. I thought these roasts were funny back then, but they're funnier now (probably because I've immersed myself so much in old Hollywood films and trivia). He roasted Ronald Reagan, Hugh Hefner, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, and the list goes on and on. I think these roasts are available in a box set, I may have to pick that up.

When I think of the greatest entertainers of all time (the multi-faceted ones, not the one-trick ponies), Dean Martin is in my top 5.