Born to legendary singer/actor/comedian Dean Martin on August 19, 1948, and named after him, Deana Martin knew she wanted to be an entertainer even before she made her television debut on her father’s show in 1966.
Several years later, Martin trained professionally as an actress at the Darlington College of Arts in the United Kingdom and subsequently amassed an impressive array of theatrical credits including the English productions of Romeo & Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, A Taste of Honey; and the North American productions of The Star Spangled Girl, Wait Until Dark, Six Rms Riv Vu, A Shot in the Dark, and The Tunnel of Love.
Concurrent with her theatrical work, Martin was a Reprise Records recording artist with a hit single titled “Girl of the Month Club.” She appeared on many television shows including The Joey Bishop, Merv Griffin, and Mike Douglas Shows.
Martin co-starred in 1968’s western Young Billy Young with Robert Mitchum and Angie Dickinson and starred in Strangers at Sunrise with George Montgomery and A Voice in the Night with Vito Scott.
In addition to her film and television work, Martin also kept busy as a nightclub entertainer headlining at some of the nation’s top showrooms including Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and the Whisky-A-Go-Go in Hollywood. She owned her own fitness company in the 80s and 90s as well as starred in her own talk show, The Deana Martin Show, which ran for four seasons.
In 2004, the performer broke new ground as an author with her best-selling memoir, Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes. Her latest CD, “Volare,” released last year, features songs near and dear to her heart and was recorded at Capitol Studios, the same place her father recorded some of his early tunes.
Martin is involved in many charities and in the annual Dean Martin Festival held in Steubenville, Ohio. She and her husband, John, divide their time between Beverly Hills, California and Branson, Missouri.
In February, 2009, Dean Martin was honored with a posthumous Grammy award for Lifetime Achievement. Four of his surviving children, Deana, Gail, Ricci, and Gina, were on hand to accept on his behalf.
The famous crooner was married three times; first to Betty McDonald and their children were Deana, Stephen Craig, Claudia Dean, and Barbara Gail, second marriage to Jeanne Biegger produced Dean Paul, Ricci James, and Gina Caroline, and wed last to Catherine Hawn in which Dean adopted Hawn’s daughter Sasha.
This December will mark the 15th anniversary of Dean Martin’s death. His multi-talented daughter graciously took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to discuss her book, her life, and her famous father.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Hi Deana, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. What an interesting book about your dad … why did you decide to write one?
Deana Martin: Well, it was about ten years after he passed away and there was just so much I wanted to say. People had been asking me for a book for years. You know, we started going to Steubenville, Oho for the Dean Martin Festival and of course, all of his fans show up there every year. They would all ask me to do it, so I thought, “Oh my gosh, I guess it’s time.”
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): There were a couple of books about your dad released before yours that were not too flattering.
Deana Martin: Right, there was one in particular. In fact, I was reading it and I said, “Who on earth is he talking about?” It’s hard when someone doesn’t even know a person when they write a story about them … to write about their life. It was strange to me and I did want to set the record straight about some of those things. But, it was just time for me to do it. It was kind of healing for me also.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Did growing up with a father in show business spark your interest in performing at an early age?
Deana Martin: Yes, I always had it. I always wanted to sing, dance, and act. As a very young girl I had piano, tap dance, and ballet lessons, so it was something from a very young age that was just instilled in me. I loved being creative that way. You might say it was just in my genes.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I remember, believe it or not, your first appearance on Dean’s TV show.
Deana Martin: It was a fun show.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Yeah, the jumping on the piano and sliding down the fire pole – did he add those things himself or were they in the script?
Deana Martin: Well, he had such an incredible sense of humor and things just kind of evolved. He had wonderful writers, but a lot of it was just plain old Dean Martin. He was just hysterical and he would just do things. It’s not that he would be telling a joke – he would just do things or say things that were funny or would react to something and they would, of course, leave it in.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): He adlibbed a lot.
Deana Martin: Oh yes, he was a master at that.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I got the idea from the book that your mother’s alcoholism was the main cause of their breakup. Was that more of a factor than your dad’s infidelities?
Deana Martin: Oh, I have no idea. I mean, she wasn’t an alcoholic before she met him. Well, what happens now is when I do an interview it’s very difficult to say anything because people take it out of context and put words in my mouth. People get mad at me. So, it’s very tough.
She was … my mom was an incredible person, so funny and smart, taught dad so much. I’m sure it was tough with him being away a lot. I don’t even like to talk about it anymore because people get the wrong idea.
I’m misquoted and it’s tough to talk about things like that because I don’t know what went on. I was just a little girl. I do know when I look back at my impressions of what happened, I have my own little girl ideas. I just wish dad had been there more. I don’t know what went on between them … I mean, no one could be right there so I can’t say.
I know I have one aunt in particular that is very upset that I said she was an alcoholic. Those things come out, but it’s denial on a lot of people’s part. But, it’s not that you’re just an alcoholic – there are probably things that drive you to that.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): There are certainly contributing factors to alcoholism. I thought the whole story was very sad, not only for your mother, but for the children also.
Deana Martin: Oh yes, it was tough to go through and very difficult for her. So what goes on in someone’s mind? I know that dad met Jeanne and fell in love with her the minute he saw her and that’s wonderful. So it is so hard to say what drives a person to do something.
I tried to explain it the best I could in the book. I don’t think anybody’s to blame or if it could be handled differently. I think it could have been handled differently today. There are more people who can help you and more things you can do today.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you think she was suffering from depression?
Deana Martin: I have no idea, but there’s none of that in our family so I wouldn’t say that at all.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Since you’ve written the book, have you ever told anyone the true story of who paid to have your dad’s nose fixed?
Deana Martin: (laughs) No, I haven’t. But, it doesn’t matter because someone did and dad paid them back. He paid all of his debts. There were a lot of people who claimed to …
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Have paid for Dean Martin’s nose job?
Deana Martin: (laughs) Yeah, a lot of people! But, what’s important is they got repaid.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You talk about his role models being the Mills Brothers and Bing Crosby. Who were your role models (beside your dad) when you first became interested in a musical career?
Denaa Martin: Well, when I was young, of course I loved the Beatles and Joan Baez … then there were the Shirelles and the Chiffons. I just loved the rock ‘n roll music that kids like, but there was just something about the “Rat Pack” era of music that always touched my soul. But, I even loved country.
If it had a great melody and the lyrics meant something to me, then I would gravitate toward that. I just like good music and a good lyric. But, once I started singing the Great American Songbook (Broadway, musical theatre), I was stuck. The words have such meaning and the music of the classics … they must be in my soul also.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Did you personally choose the songs for your “Volare” album?
Deana Martin: Oh yes, every song has a special meaning to me. My mother Jeanne asked me to do “What a Difference a Day Makes.” We used to have that playing in the house all of the time … Dinah Washington and all of the greats.
Our home was filled with beautiful music. It was Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Judy Garland, and Andy Williams. All of that music was playing and that’s why, I guess, I just fell in love with it so much. But, there was something about Dinah Washington and “What a Difference a Day Makes.” I had to put that on the album.
My husband’s mom, Christine, had a favorite song called “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.” It’s not one I would have picked because I love the way Louis Armstrong did it, but I thought I would do it as a tribute to her because she did love it. Now, it’s one of my favorites. It’s funny how things happen in life. So, all of the songs have a special meaning to me and I love to sing them.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You were very close to Jeanne, weren’t you?
Deana Martin: Oh yes, still am.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): A mother/daughter relationship?
Deana Martin: Yes and she is so fun and still so beautiful. All of the memories we had together are just … they just touch me so much. We talk all of the time and late into the night … well, it’s a little bit earlier out there in Beverly Hills for her so she can stay up a little bit later than I can.
But, you know, you start talking and remembering stories like, “Wasn’t that fun when Arthur Ashe came over to the house when he was playing tennis with Jimmy Connors.” So, it’s all nice fond memories.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I remember when “Dino” (Dean’s son) played tennis.
Deana Martin: Yes, he was so good at everything he did. He was so intense and really practiced. What a nice sweet guy.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I’m sure his death hit your dad hard.
Deana Martin: Yes … all of us. That’s not supposed to happen.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Your dad had reunited with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. right after Dino’s death, but dropped out. Was that because of grief?
Deana Martin: It’s difficult to say why. He was just tired of doing that. You know, they had so much fun when they were young out there with the Rat Pack, singing and dancing and having a good time. I think dad just got tired of doing that.
Of course, it was devastating that Dean Paul had passed away. But, he said to me, “You know Deana, I still have to go on.” He said, “I still have the rest of you children.” But, of course, the wind was taken out of his sails, but I think he was just tired.
It seemed like a really good idea at the time (laughs), but then he realized how hard it is going out on the road and performing. I have a much greater respect for all of those people who go out and do these shows.
It’s a lot of hard work, not just glamorous. You’re up there for an hour and a half singing songs – it is a lot of very hard work and preparation and it takes a lot out of you. He would rather be home watching his westerns on TV (laughs) and go out to dinner. That’s what he preferred to do.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): There have been several explanations over the years about the origin of the name, “Rat Pack.” One is that Lauren Bacall coined it – is that true?
Deana Martin: It did start at Humphrey Bogart’s house. Everybody would go there to play cards and to get away from the crowds. It was all the movie star “A” list. They could have a good time and didn’t have to worry about people watching them and saying things about them.
I think it was Hedda Hopper ,,, you know, none of the press were invited to the games so Hedda put in one of the columns, “You know, all of the people up there in that Rat Pack.” Or it said, “Bogart’s Rat Pack.” So that kind of stuck with the group that was there and dad and Frank Sinatra would go play cards with them. So it was just a name that stuck with them. They were just incredible entertainers.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): And there were women in the “pack” also … Lauren Bacall, Shirley MacLaine …
Deana Martin: And Judy Garland. Well, Shirley came later because she’s a little younger. She started making those Oceans Eleven movies with them. She was an honorary member. Did you ever see Some Came Running? That’s a fantastic movie.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Yes, it is. And then there was Sammy Davis, Jr. I know the racial tensions were running rampant back then.
Deana Martin: Sure, it was the 60s.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): It was horrible here in the South.
Deana Martin: The courage is just overwhelming when I think about Rosa Parks and what she did.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): But, even as tough as it was in the South, there were still prejudices in Las Vegas during that time.
Deana Martin: Oh sure. Sammy was not allowed to stay in the hotel or eat in the dining room and dad would not go for that at all … Frank either. That just wasn’t right. They made their stand, though. They said that they were not going to sing there if Sammy couldn’t eat and stay there. It really was inexcusable.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): They called your dad the “King of Cool.” Did he like that nickname?
Deana Martin: Dad was just super cool, but he wouldn’t think of himself like that. He was too down to earth and too sweet to put a label on himself. He was just Dino Crocetti from Steubenville, Ohio.
He was just a good guy so he wouldn’t say that about himself. I’m sure he would’ve just been honored and probably gotten a kick out of it. He wouldn’t put much emphasis on it or anything like that, but it would have made him laugh a little and he would’ve liked that.
You know, Elvis Presley told me that. I guess it was at Paramount and Elvis was referred to as the King of Rock ‘n Roll. When I met Elvis, he came riding up on his bicycle (that’s how they got around the studios then – now they use golf carts).
Anyway, Elvis came riding up and I’m standing outside with my dad and it was like, “Oh my gosh, Elvis Presley is here!” Elvis got off of his bike and my dad introduced me and Elvis leaned down to me and said, “Nice to meet you. You know, they call me the King of Rock ‘n Roll, but your dad is the King of Cool.”
That was just a thrilling moment in my life and one that I’ll never forget. Elvis was so cute, such a good singer, such a good soul.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Yes, and sometimes the price of fame is just too high.
Deana Martin: That’s true. Sometimes it is just so difficult.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Have you had any recent contact with Jerry Lewis?
Deana Martin: I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago – his birthday was March 16. He’s doing very well and feeling good. I adore him. He is just a man who has always been so nice and kind and helpful to me. He really is brilliant.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you perform on his Muscular Dystrophy telethons?
Deana Martin: Last year I couldn’t be on the one in Las Vegas because I was in New Jersey so I ended up doing the telethon from New York with Tony Orlando. You know how they broadcast from different areas. So I did a show in New Jersey, then got in the car and ran over to New York and did that show with Tony Orlando. Also, in Branson at the Starlight Theatre I host the MDA show to raise money for this chapter.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): After Martin and Lewis broke up, was there a lot of animosity between them?
Deana Martin: Well, it was like a divorce. It was tough and for them to break up was so hard. They loved each other and they had such incredible chemistry together and were so funny. They were the biggest comedy team ever in history and it was very difficult.
Dad didn’t want to hear Jerry’s name mentioned and I’m sure Jerry felt the same way. It had to do with all the people that were around them. They had their own “camps” so to speak. People were saying, “Oh, you can do better than him or he’s doing this and you’re doing that.” It finally just got to a point where that was it. But it was a fabulous ten years together and I think it’s great that it lasted that long.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): When your dad showed up on his telethon in 1976, was that the first time they had seen each other since the breakup?
Deana Martin: Yes. None of us knew that he was going to go on the telethon.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): So it was a surprise to Jerry also?
Deana Martin: Oh, it was a surprise. In fact, last year I was doing a show with Ed McMahon and he took me aside and said, “Deana, do you know that I was the one that hid your dad in my trailer?” That was the first I had heard that! He said, “Yeah, Frank brought him back and we hid him in my trailer so that Jerry couldn’t see him and then we brought him out.” So after all these years I didn’t know that.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I remember watching that and thinking that it was a rare moment in television history.
Deana Martin: It was quite something, yes it was.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): The last telethon just wasn’t the same without Ed McMahon.
Deana Martin: I know. It was tough for Jerry to do it because he missed him. He adored Ed McMahon.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You’ve performed before with Regis Philbin. I know Regis talks about Dean all of the time on Live with Regis and Kelly.
Deana Martin: Yes he does and you should see his office. Oh my gosh, it’s a tribute to Dean Martin! He’s got all of the albums, the posters, and the chair.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you and your husband continue to have a radio show?
Deana Martin: No, I’m not doing that right now because I’m too busy with all of the other things that we’re doing. But, we had one for years – we were on four hours, five days a week and it just got to be too much. Too many things fell by the wayside because we just couldn’t do it. That’s why my last album took about a year to be completed.
I still haven’t done … we’re scheduled next month to put my book on tape so I have to sit down and read that and that has been put on hold as there are so many things to do. I still have the Christmas album to complete. It was just too tough to do everything.
But, it was a lot of fun. All of the emails we would get in response to the radio show were just priceless. The stories that I have heard … we would have a contest that was “send in your favorite Rat Pack story” or “your favorite Dean story” and if you were picked, I’d send an album.
We ended up with these huge mailbags of mail and I would pick one and read it on the air and send that person my album. There were thousands of letters coming in. It was a wonderful part of the radio show and playing all of that great music was fun.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): In what ways do you feel you are similar to your father?
Deana Martin: There are a lot of ways. For one thing, I can’t stand to answer the phone (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Well, I guess I should say, “Thank you,” (laughs).
Deana Martin: I knew it was you calling today (laughs)! It’s funny, but I don’t know if that’s something that I got growing up. He never answered the phone because he always had someone there to answer the phone for him. He really never called people, just wasn’t a telephone person.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): And you are not a telephone person either.
Deana Martin: No, in fact, I think the greatest thing that ever happened was an answering machine where I could call someone and say, “Okay, I’ll meet you at 4:00 at the movie” and not have to talk to them. I’m sorry to say that but when I look at myself, I go, “Oh my gosh, I’m just like him about that.”
I also like going to bed early. I like to work and I don’t mind being by myself. Dad just loved his peace and quiet. I think one of the things is that I’m out there and I’ll sing and perform and then talk to people. It is so intense because people loved Dean Martin and they want to hold me and tell me how much they loved dad and tell me their stories.
So, I’m actually “on” whenever I meet anybody and it’s very intense. It’s tiring because it means to much to everyone and to me, but it’s constant so you really have to listen to them and their stories. So, finally by the time you go home, you need a little peace and quiet.
I know that’s how it was with dad. He would get out there and give his all and sing and it’s very difficult to do, but he would make it look so easy. I think by the time he got to go home, he wanted to just be quiet and not hear anything. I understand that completely. I mean, I like to go out and everything, but as I say I do love my peace and quiet. My husband and I will just be home alone and have a nice quiet time.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Are you performing in Branson now?
Deana Martin: Occasionally I do. I’ll probably do a concert at the Mansion Theatre for the veterans. I do one for the vets every year. It is my honor to perform for them.
Usually I’ll do a couple of Dean Martin songs, then sing God Bless America and it’s a very wonderful and moving time for me to have all of the veterans come. But, I’m just busy traveling around doing shows. So I’m not doing one particular show in Branson right now.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Well, you need to come to Alabama!
Deana Martin: I would love to come to Alabama, we’ll have to work on that. We were in Birmingham … John and I are both pilots and we have a plane called “Volare,” which means, “to fly.” We were doing some of the songs for the “Volare” album, and putting down the tracks of all of these great musicians in Florida.
We flew from Branson to Birmingham and spent the night there and flew the next day into Florida. It takes a few hours to get there so we’ll stop off in Birmingham.
I think the last time we were there Ronnie Millsap was at the Performing Arts Center so we parked our plane, got in a cab, and went to see Ronnie, spent the night in a hotel after that, got back in the plane, and went to Florida the next day. Hey, there was a nice mall around there!
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Yes, the Galleria.
Deana Martin: That’s what it was. So, that’s a place we would love to come and do a concert.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Birmingham is great and Montgomery also has a nice Performing Arts Center.
Deana Martin: Well, we’ll have to look into that.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Is your son, Mickey, interested in show business?
Deana Martin: He is at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank in the legal department. He’s not an attorney, he just takes care of all of the movie contracts and distribution for TV shows internationally.
I think he likes to be behind the scenes so all of these people are working for him and I guess that’s just the place he likes to be. He has two beautiful sons, Hunter and Jagger, and they are happy in Burbank. I wish they were here, but that’s where his work is.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I know your sister, Claudia, died of breast cancer. Are you involved in the breast cancer awareness campaign?
Deana Martin: Yes I am. As a matter of fact, I’m going to be the emcee on May 1 and it’s called “Fight with Grace.” Jodi Ferragamo is the wife of Vince Ferragamo, former football quarterback, and they put on a charity every year. Last year was the first year I emceed it. They put on a luncheon and raise quite a bit of money for breast cancer. The cause is so important.
Jodi and her crew do an incredible job. What’s wonderful is that she asks celebrities to send in a purse, a handbag with their photo, and then they have a big auction. it raised so much money last year. All of her friends come and her husband gets out there with all of his Hall of Fame friends and all of the men wear tuxedoes with pink bow ties and cumberbunds. It’s a wonderful affair and such important work.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What are your upcoming projects … plans for a new CD or book?
Deana Martin: Well, I do have an idea for a new book so that’s going to be happening. I’m working right now on my Christmas album. Four of the songs are completed so I still have about six more to do.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Traditional Christmas songs?
Deana Martin: Yes and a duet with Andy Williams so we’re excited about that.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): He still performs in Branson?
Deana Martin: Yes he does. He looks and sounds fantastic. It’s such a thrill for me because growing up what better Christmas shows were the Dean Martin and Andy Williams shows? But, Andy is spectacular. In fact, we saw him Monday night.
Mickey Gilley opened his show here and everybody came to it so it was a packed house. Mickey had an accident a few months ago and he couldn’t work … he couldn’t even move. But, now he’s back and it was a lovely show.
Other projects are putting my book on tape and my idea for another book. Actually it’s going to be my friends and celebrities that I knew growing up and their recipes. One of my favorites is Nancy Sinatra, Sr. I would go over to her house after school.
Tina (her daughter) and I went to school together. There would always be a big pot of marinara sauce or gravy (as she called it) and a loaf of Italian bread and a Pepsi. Tina and I would sit down and have this bread with the sauce and the Pepsi every day after school.
I want to tell a story like that and have the recipes in the book. So it’s all of my favorite recipes and stories. I think it might be fun. I think people always want a new recipe. Look how famous the Food Network is now.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Sounds like a great concept. I just met Sister Schubert and she has a new book. It has recipes from five generations of her family.
Deana Martin: Oh how wonderful, but I’ll bet some of them are a little too complicated (laughs). That would be interesting, though, just for the history of it alone.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Deana, I just have one more question … I know how you hate to use the telephone (laughs).
Deana Martin: It’s okay – once I’m talking, it’s hard to shut me up (laughs)!
Melissa parker (Our Prattville): What is your fondest memory of your dad?
Deana Martin: Aside from just the smell of him, you know, just hugging him and smelling that Faberge Woodhue on him … there was just something about that was so warm and would just bring me right back to him which was so nice. He was so sweet and such a great guy who was phenomenal to me.
So, aside from that Woodhue on him, probably when I was sixteen years old. He asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I told him I wanted a jacket from Wilson’s House of Suede. He said, “Okay, you can go get it.” I said, “No, what’s important to me is that you be there with me and you help me pick it out.” He never did that for anybody. He would just rather give you anything that you wanted, but he didn’t want to have to go there like most men (laughs).
I told him it would just be great if he could pick it out for me and he said, “Oh okay,” rather begrudgingly. Now, the good part was that it was around the corner from Beverly Hills High School and it was right on the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica. He left his golf game at about 3:15 and was sitting in Wilson’s House of Suede with his cigarette (you could smoke in stores then) and all of the sales ladies were around him. I walked in and he was talking to them.
I probably tried on every jacket that was there and pulled out every piece of suede and leather and kept asking what he thought about each one. He finally said, “I like that one, why don’t you get it?” So I asked him what color and everything. I could tell he didn’t want to be there but he was there because he loved me and just wanted to do that for me.
Finally, we picked out the coat and he paid for it then announced he was leaving. I said, “Wait, now we have to pick out the buttons!” He said, “Buttons?” I said, “Yes, should they be colored or not?” Anyway, we did pick out the whole thing and I have a picture of myself in the coat in the book.
It was such a special moment for me because he was there for me and that was just the best.
Interview by Melissa Parker
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