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Interview: Deana Martin Reflects on Her Famous Father, The Monkees and Singing with Rosemary Clooney

Dean Martin is one of those figures in the Old Hollywood community with an almost transcendent stardom. For fans of the actor and singer, he conjures images of nostalgia and fun. He’s as smooth as the bourbon he always seems to be drinking. Heck, I’d venture a guess even those not familiar with his work still at least know Dean Martin. In the more than two decades since his passing, Dean Martin continues to live on. His persona, his image and most importantly, his legacy remains just as strong in popular culture as it was during his life.

We had the immense thrill to sit down with Martin’s daughter, Deana, to talk about not only her memories of her famous father, but her career and the challenges of growing up in the spotlight… in Beverly Hills, of all places.

Deana Martin developed her career in entertainment industry beginning in the middle of the 1960s, often appearing with her father on The Dean Martin Show (which enjoyed a lengthy run during the time). However, she quickly stepped out on her own, appearing on both the big and the small screens, unafraid to tackle roles in such diverse works as: The Monkees, Young Billy Young and Trail Blazers.

As the years passed, Martin translated her acting work into not only a recording career, but she is also a writer and serves as one of the chief cheerleaders of her father’s legacy.

Was there a moment for you growing up when you realized your Dad’s job was different than other dads?

Growing up in Beverly Hills with my parents and going to Beverly Hills Catholic school… I think everybody’s kids went to Beverly Hills Catholic school, you know, I had Lucie and Desi Jr… and Tony Thomas– Danny Thomas’s son, and Anita Montalb├ín– Ricardo Montalb├ín‘s daughter…. So we knew they were in a business, because I was brought up that it was a business, it was show business. Watching my dad, he took care of his time, you know, I don’t know how he got everything in… (he was) doing nightclubs and movies and radio, and then later on in his life (he) started The Dean Martin Show. So he did so much. But he also was able to play golf every day. He loved golf. He told me… “The reason why I work is so that I can take care of you kids and play golf”.

You know what, he was very special. He was different from from anybody else’s parents…. all the the kids in the neighborhood wanted to come to our house because my dad was so much fun…. (He) had a good sense of humor. And we were all respectful. We were brought up right…. you know, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’…. Thank God, I (had) my parents and my grandparents…. but I did know that our parents were kind of special.

How did your childhood make you want to become a performer? Was that intimidating for you? Or was it somehow inherent?

It was always there for me…. it’s in my DNA…. I took ballet lessons, tap lessons, piano lessons, it was just something that… was… in me. I remember there are two definite moment in my life when I said, ‘Okay, this is what I have to do’:

I went to Capitol Records… with my mom to watch my dad… in Studio A Capitol Records…. The hallway leading into Studio A is lined with photographs…. Bobby Darin… Peggy Lee… Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra… I go and I sit down, and there’s the whole orchestra and my dad is standing up there… on a little podium… he’s singing “Memories Are Made of This”. He had three backup singers, they were called The Easy Riders…. And so my dad sang the song and (the producer) said, “I think we have a number one hit”… and (the song) was a number one hit for (my Dad).

Then the next year, I go to the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. My dad is appearing there. And I’m sitting in the front row with my brothers and sisters… The whole place is just quiet because they’re all waiting for… my dad to walk out. I hear the announcers, say “Ladies and gentlemen, the Sands Hotel is proud to present the star of our show, direct from the bar, Dean Martin”. So my dad walks out and people around me go “Oh there he is”… he started to sing, and he looked so handsome. He was cool… (He) never finished the whole song. He was funny. And I thought, ‘Okay, this is what I’m going to do. I want to… do this’. It was like he was home… he was just talking and joking with the audience and singing his songs. (He would say) “You want to hear the whole song? Buy my album”…. the audience just loved him, you know…. those are the two definite moments that I knew this is what I wanted to do.

There is such a perception of “Cool” as it relates to The Rat Pack and we often forget the human behind it. Is there a misperception about your Dad you are surprised people continue to make?

He was different from all of them… he just had this soul about him. He had heart…. He grew up in Steubenville Ohio. His father was a barber, his mother… was a seamstress. And that’s why he always looks good, because, you know, she would alter his clothes.

He loved to sing. He would sing anytime he could. And he worked very, very hard to become Dean Martin because he was Dino Crocetti. Hee would take any job he could. They said that he would sing at… birthdays, at bar mitzvahs… the opening of something, and he just worked all of his life….

And you asked about a misconception about him? I’m still astonished when some people think… he was always drinking…. He wasn’t. There’s no way that he could have done all that body of work… (People think) he was falling down drunk or something, that’s not true… that was his gimmick.

When I saw all of them, you know, Uncle Frank and Uncle Sammy, up on stage in Las Vegas, they adored each other. They had such respect for one another. And they really, truly had fun when they were on stage. They could sing, they could dance, they could joke… they let the (others) shine. There was no jealousy. They all knew they were really good at what they did. And they just got up there and entertained everybody. And they knew what they were doing.

Elvis Presley is the one who told me… my dad was ‘The King of Cool’…. Just as I (said), (my Dad) had a great sense of humor. He dressed beautifully. He made people feel good. He talked to anybody. He could be walking through a restaurant… talking with the busboy and then he could get on a plane and go to London and… sit down with the Queen. He was perfectly comfortable with both of them…. He always taught me, “Deana, treat people the way you want to be treated. You’ll never go wrong”…. There was just something about him that was kind and sweet. He knew his work and he just loved what he did. But he loved being home and… with his family and watching old westerns. He loved westerns.

Is there a role in your father’s career which you think was overlooked or under-appreciated?

I still don’t understand why he wasn’t nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Rio Bravo. He was brilliant, absolutely brilliant…. But in Some Came Running, he was remarkable. In Toys in the Attic… (he was) fantastic. I think he was overlooked as an actor, because he made it look so easy…. he made it look like he wasn’t working that hard….That’s not who my dad was. He would learn his lines. He knew what he was doing. And he would always be on time. He always told me, “Don’t be a jerk. Show up on time. Be there, know where you’re supposed to do. Hit your mark. Sing from your heart. Know all the lyrics… Please don’t embarrass me. This is your business”.

Of course, this past year has been different, of course than any other year. And I’ve been doing the Facebook Live shows….So we’ve been working very, very hard to get new songs, get new arrangements, tell jokes and just make people happy during this whole pandemic… I’m still learning songs and getting up every day and you know, exercise and staying fit. It’s what we have to do. I’m supposed to entertain people and I know that.

I was looking back into your filmography and realized you acted in one of my favorite episodes of The Monkees. I was wondering if you would talk a little about that experience?

Oh, it was great… So my agent book me on the on The Monkees, and like, ‘Oh my god, I love The Monkees!’… cause, you know, I’m like, the same size as Davy Jones. He was like, you know… “it”.

That episode was called “Some Like It Lukewarm”… and it was a take off on Some Like It Hot, where Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis… dressed up as women… So Davy and I hit it off… and it was so much fun to be on the set with (The Monkees). Because each one of them was hysterical. Davy, however, had… the same sense of humor as my dad. And they got along very well.

So I remember… when Davy came over… bell bottoms and hip huggers were in… and Davey would wear his boots. He came over to the house one time… I told you that (I) had… lots of brothers and sisters. And I asked him if (he) wanted to come out in the back and play football with everyone…. and he said, “Absolutely”. He had to take off his boots and then the bell bottoms were long… We were all falling all over … we had so much fun…. We played football and he would joke with my dad. And it was… so special for me… talk about being starstruck.

The 59th (Facebook Live) show I did… I opened my set with “Daydream Believer“. You know, we had over 300,000 people, went on to watch the show. (Davy and I) became such good friends… right up until the end. It was fantastic to be able to sing “Daydream Believer” and (I) dedicated it to Davy. It was great.

Can you talk about going through adolescence and dating in the limelight?

I remember coming home one night (and) I had a date with Michael Nader, he was… a senior at Beverly Hills High School. He was an actor, and he was just gorgeous. And telling (My Dad) I said, “I have a date with Michael Nader tonight, so don’t embarrass me!”.

So, Michael comes to the door and I take him and we go down (to) a bar off the living room… it was like a sunken bar. We’re sitting down there and we’re having a Coca Cola… and all of a sudden… My dad is standing at the top of the stairs. He had just come in and he was wearing his blue pajamas… So he comes down. I introduced him to Michael…. And then my dad walks down the steps behind the bar… we had Michelob beer on tap. And as he’s walking away… he says, “Nice to meet you, Michael. Bye Deana”. As he walks up the stairs, I see that he has an entire roll of toilet paper stuck in his pants. So the roll of toilet paper is coming all the way….And I’m going, “Okay, I’ll never tell my dad to not embarrass (me)…”. Yeah, I was devastated. Michael (was) hysterical, ‘Like, does he know he has toilet paper in his…’. That was my Dad. He had a great sense of humor. And I’m still all I’m red right now just remembering…

He checked out the people that we would date. He would say, “I don’t like him. He’s not a good one”… he was just honest with us…. He knew people…. You can tell the people who were there because they like you, (or) are there because (he’s) Dean Martin. And, you know, people not to trust and who to trust… So we had to be careful.

What projects do you have coming up in the immediate future?

Aside from the Facebook Live, which is like all day long every day, you know, writing new shows and learning new songs… All the people who…write comments, they’ll say, “Oh, Deana, could you sing ‘Born to Lose'”? So… I will call my music director… who’s in Boca Raton, Florida. I’ll say, “Let’s do ‘Born to Lose'”, and then we’ll figure out a key, then he’ll… do something with the piano and… send it to me…. So it’s back and forth… with the songs and then I’ll rehearse it…. So, I’m learning a couple new songs for this week… The whole thing is time consuming, but at least I’m keeping my music director employed the whole year. He’s getting paid, which is fantastic. And then I’ll send it to you know, the sax player (and so on).

Now all the new songs that we have learned through this year… I’m going to be recording all of those. So it’s all new new charts that we’re having written so I will be doing those songs. Also… some of the venues are opening up. Las Vegas has called me so I’ll probably be doing Christmas in Las Vegas… So that the that’ll be a lot of fun.

But right now you know that the Facebook Live is really time consuming as they say and answering all of the… people who write in with… questions and they’re so appreciative that I’m doing this for them.

Was there ever a time you found yourself star struck?

For me, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald…. Having Rosemary Clooney come over to our house on Christmas Eve and we’re sitting around singing Christmas carols… and I’m saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m sitting next to Rosemary Clooney!’ or we’re going down to The Dean Martin Show, and I’m sitting there with Ella Fitzgerald and she’s singing and we’re just having a great time.

Peggy Lee was just marvelous… the way Peggy always looked… she always was dressed up in a beautiful dress and hair, makeup and, you know… some spectacular people. So I would say those three, of course, Sinatra and Elvis Presley, you know, (they) were pretty cool.

What kind of music did your Dad listen too? What artists inspired him?

Okay, well, he loved Dinah Washington and he (loved) The Mills Brothers. There was something about their harmonies and how smooth they were. And then, you know, later on in life… he loved country music… he just thought it was, you know, down home and…from your heart. You know, ‘I lost my dog and my mom ran away’. There was something honest about those songs

Dinah Washington and the Mills Brothers… they were his favorite…. But he could sing with anyone and he could sing anything…. Remember, he did not rehearse. He wasn’t there all week. He was the one who was out playing golf or he was, you know, doing a movie or something like that. So it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon after he played a round of golf, when he would drive… to NBC to Burbank studios.

(He would) walk in after everybody had been rehearsing for a week…. Lee Hale was his music director and he would wear a sign on his chest that said “Dean”… so Lee Hale was the one that would sing with Peggy Lee, or do the skits or dance with Cyd Charisse. And then… Dad would come in… he would sing the songs and then he would just get out there and do it. Unbelievable. So he’s standing there with the Mills Brothers…and he hadn’t all week. One of my favorite times you know, watching him was with Goldie Hawn… she was saying, “I’m a dum dum”. It was so cute. He could go in there on the day of the show… he was brilliant at what he did because he was down to earth and he was himself. He was funny and cool and could sing and he was happy to do it.

Where can people go who would like to learn more about you?

Definitely go to my website, www.deanamartin.com… and everything will be there. They can find out about my book, Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes. We are going to make it into a movie. All of my CDs and albums are on there… Then, of course, watch my Facebook Live show. It’s on YouTube and it’s on Deana Martin dot com, but it’s on Facebook every Friday. It’s 4:00pm (Eastern Time) and we haven’t missed one yet in 60 weeks. People will get a kick out of that they’ll have fun watching the show.

Dean Martin’s legacy is alive and well, not only in entertainment, but in the work of his daughter Deana. She continues working at a voracious pace and based on the sound of it, she won’t be letting up any time soon. Be sure to check out not only her website, but also her Facebook page for everything she has hitting the market over the coming weeks and months.

Happy listening!

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Kimberly Pierce View All

Podcaster, film historian, and general lover of all things classic film and television. Studying the contributions of women behind the camera in classic television.

You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!

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