'When You're Smiling' Original 1946-1953 Recordings
Ballad singer, light comedian, sometime dramatic screenactor and colourful Chief Deputy of the 'Rat Pack', Dean Martin was the essenceof devil-may-care, the epitome of nonchalance. Born Dino Paul Crocetti, the son of an immigrant Italianbarber, in Steubenville, Ohio, on 17 June 1917, after quitting school in the10th grade he was employed as shoe-shine boy, petrol pump attendant, steel milllabourer and (it is said) 'card shark', before turning full-time to pugilismwhere, billed variously as 'Kid Crochet' or 'Kid Crocetti', his bouts in thecategory of welterweight earned him $10 per fight. The shine of being a human punch-bag soon wore off, however,and he next took up employment as a croupier in a local casino while vocalisingin his spare time.
By 1940, as 'Dino Martini', he had turned in earnest tosinging for a living, as vocalist first with Ernie McKay and the following yearwith the Sammy Watkins band. Afterthe US entry into World War II he was excused military service on healthgrounds and, with a wife and children to support, continued to sing withvarious bands for the duration of hostilities. Dean's first records, made in 1946 for Diamond and thealmost exclusively 'race' Apollo label, included revivals of time-honouredstandards such as Walkin' My Baby Back Home (1930) and All Of Me (1931) as wellas 'covers' of more recent fare, notably I Got The Sun In The Morning (from theIrving Berlin Broadway musical Annie, Get Your Gun, 1946). None were particularly successful, nordid they bring Dean his much-needed first break, which would materialise fromanother direction.
In 1946 Dean was still a small-time entertainer when hefirst teamed with Jerry Lewis. After their first show, at the 500 Club in Atlantic City, they were soonin demand at other venues throughout the States. Martin the laid-back crooner played a singing straight-man,a stooge to the wacky machinations of the Newark, New Jersey-born comic; theirrepartee and ad-libbing were infectious and by the late 1940s, via TV andradio, their Mutt-and-Jeff antics had made them household names; to Mr. Averagetheir hilarious knockabout comedy, often reminiscent of the Marx Brothers, wasa tonic for post-war gloom and doom. In 1949 they were signed by Paramount and in their first film My FriendIrma (1949) they appeared in a supporting capacity; it was a prelude to aseries of fourteen more comedy money-spinners, including At War With The Army(1950), Jumping Jacks (1952), Sailor, Beware! and Scared Stiff (both 1953) andLiving It Up (1954).
After the split of the Lewis-Martin partnership in 1956, itwas at first generally predicted that Dean would not make it solo. However, after an indifferent start asa light comedian in the 1957 MGM fiasco Ten Thousand Bedrooms, he emerged thefollowing year as a dramatic actor in the Marlon Brando World War II drama TheYoung Lions (for 20th Century Fox) and in Warner's Rio Bravo (starring JohnWayne, released in 1959). In MGM'sSome Came Running (also 1958) Dean made his first screen appearance with FrankSinatra (Sinatra personally insisted on Dean's casting as the hard-drinkingprofessional gambler Bama) and, for a fee of $150,000, redeemed his status as ascreen icon.
Dean's first decade as a recording artist appears to havebeen overshadowed by his work in the spheres of cabaret and film. In 1948 he was signed by CapitolRecords and by late 1953 had notched up a list of hits lasting in their appealif rather limited in number, beginning in December with a send-up revival of'That Certain Party', a duet with Lewis which charted at No.22 in the USpopular Top 30. This was followedin close succession by two numbers included in the second Lewis-Martin screenfarce My Friend Irma Goes West (1950): Powder Your Face With Sunshine (a No.10hit, in 1949), I'll Always Love You (No.11, in 1950), then by 'If' (No.14, in1951), You Belong To Me (No.12, in 1952) and, in 1953, by 'Love Me, Love Me'(No.25) and That's Amore (No.2) - an Oscar-nomination from the Lewis-Martin'music hall comedy' The Caddy, this last soon established itself as DeanMartin's signature-tune and Dean's recording was later resurrected on screen inPatrick Palmer's Oscar-winning 1987 Italo-American comedy of manners Moonstruck.
In later years Dean Martin would win an even more universalfollowing through his NBC TV comedy-variety Dean Martin Show. Screenedworldwide between 1965 and 1974, and later followed by various ad hoc'Celebrity Roast' specials, it perpetuated Martin's somewhat overplayed imageas a lovable drunk. Additionally,in the movies, he continued to give convincing light comedic and dramaticportrayals in Westerns and other genres. Ideally tongue-in-cheek, he poked fun at his own womanising persona asthe spoof James Bond 'Matt Helm' and was ever an esteemed member of the RatPack, with Sinatra & Co. Atrue freelancer, he appeared in 1965 in The Sons Of Katie Elder (for Paramount)and Marriage On The Rocks (for Warner), in 1966 in The Silencers (for Columbia),Texas Across The River (for Universal) and Murderers' Row (for Columbia), in1967 in Rough Night In Jericho (for Universal) and The Ambushers (forColumbia), in 1968 in How To Save A Marriage And Ruin Your Life (for Columbia),Bandolero! (for Fox) and Five Card Stud (for Paramount), in 1969 in TheWrecking Crew (for Columbia), in 1970 in Airport (for Universal), in 1971 inSomething Big (for Cinema Center) and in 1973 in Showdown (for Universal).
Dean's final screen appearances included Mr. Ricco (for MGM,in 1975), and Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984), both forGolden Harvest. His subsequentbiggest record hits, all for Capitol, included 'Memories Are Made Of This' and'Standing On The Corner' (both 1956) and the English cover-version of DomenicoModugno's 'Volare' (1958). In1961, he switched to Sinatra's newly-formed Reprise label and in 1964 took theUS singles charts by storm with a No.1 version of 'Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime' (a Ken Lane compositionearlier recorded by Sinatra himself, in 1947 and 1957). Further hits followed, including 'You're Nobody Till Somebody LovesYou', 'Houston' and 'Little Ole Wine Drinker, Me'. For three decades he played regularly to packed houses inLas Vegas and enjoyed a great British fan following; he made a successful lastappearance in London, at the Palladium, in the summer of 1987. Later that year Dean's son, rockmusician Dean Paul, was tragically killed in a plane crash and, despite thesupport of his erstwhile Rat Packers Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., from 1988onwards his public appearances became steadily fewer until he was finallyforced to retire through ill health in 1993. Dean Martin died on 25th December 1995, aged 78 years.
Peter Dempsey, 2004