Dean Martin : From Steubenville to Jerry Lewis©2004JCMarion


Steubenville is a town of about twenty thousand on the Ohio River that serves as the border between Ohio and West Virginia. It is located north of Wheeling and not so far from the birthplace of Hollywood acting icon Clark Gable. It was here that on June 7, 1917 that Dino Paul Crocetti was born. His father, an Italian immigrant spoke little English and young Dino knew only his family's native dialect until he entered school. His faltering speech made him the object of many jokes and cruel remarks which the young boy would not forget. His educational experience was one that he would soon end as he quit school as soon as he turned sixteen. From that time he was involved in a number of jobs. He delivered newspapers, performed menial labor in the nearby steel mill, worked at an after hours gambling parlor, trucked bootleg liquor, and even became a professional boxer. He was an aspiring welterweight going under the name "Kid Crochett", but his success at that profession was fleeting.

The one idea that remained in his mind was a dream of becoming an entertainer. He got his start watching movies of the thirties that featured Bing Crosby. He copied the mannerisms and singing style and dreamed of someday having his place in the parade of stars. His experiences in bootlegging and gambling enabled him to make contacts with a number of club owners in Northeastern Ohio, which would come in handy as he began his career odyssey. He would sing a couple of tunes in local clubs in Steubenville, and as he built up his ease at performing did summer musicals in Youngstown and Cleveland. A territory band from Columbus under the direction of Ernie McKay hired the young singer for his band in 1937. It was McKay who changed Crocetti's name to Dino Martini. After a time with McKay, Martini was hired on by the band of Sammy Watkins. It was Watkins that decided it was best to anglicize his singer's name, and so he was renamed Dean Martin in 1940. He spent the early forties appearing with Watkins, mostly in Northern Ohio. Martin did not see much promise on the horizon for his career, and so in 1943 moved to New York City to try his hand at promoting his talent. He signed with MCA to manage his career and began a number of nightclub dates in and around the city. He also managed to get a temporary spot on local radio.

Martin's career seemed to be at a standstill as World War II came to an end - but the following year of 1946 would provide a turning point in the singer's life. It was that year that he made his very first recording for a little independent label called Diamond Records located in New York's Brill Building on July 11. The first release was "Which Way Did My Heart Go?" and the pop standard "All Of Me" on # 2035. There was one other side for the label - "I Got The Sun In The Morning" and "Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi" on # 2036. The other event in 1946 that would change his life forever was the arrival of Jerry Lewis. In March of 1946 both Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were booked (as separate acts) at the Havana-Madrid nightclub in New York. During the two week engagement they began to interact with each other and in the final days of the booking, combined for the last show of the evening. After that they went out on their own until - late July in Atlantic City at a night spot called the 500 Club. After the first couple of nights as solo performers they remembered the act at the Havana-Madrid, and history was made. Word got quickly around and the show became the hottest ticket in town, SRO crowds every night. The signs were apparent that this was going to be a big time partnership. Right after the first of the year in 1947, it was an official show business blockbuster : Martin & Lewis !

Late in 1947, as the new musical-comedy team were honing their new act to increasing acceptance, Dean recorded for two more independent record labels. During the summer, the pair were introduced to American television audiences on the very first variety show hosted by Ed Sullivan called "Toast Of The Town" on CBS. By the late summer of 1948, Dean had been signed to a major label Capitol Records in Hollywood. The label took advantage of the new comedy team by recording Martin and Lewis together marking Dean's first release for the label. "That Certain Party" and "The Money Song" on # 15249 were out in September of 1948 and it provided Dean with his first charted record as "Party" got into the top twenty five sellers that December. "Once In Love With Amy" on # 15329, and a duet with Peggy Lee on "You Was" ( # 15349) did not do much, but Dean's cover of Evelyn Knight's number one hit "Powder Your Face With Sunshine" on Capitol # 15351 was a top ten chart hit. Meanwhile the team were signed in April of 1949 to their own NBC radio show which was written by Norman Lear and featured the band of their soon to be regular musicians, the Dick Stabile Orchestra. The radio show did not go over as well as hoped because of the number of sight gags used in the act, but television and movies were on the horizon. The musical-comedy duo were picked to be in the cast of the motion picture version of the radio comedy hit "My Friend Irma" starring Marie Wilson making the transition from radio. Dean played the part of Steve Laird and Jerry was Seymour, and they continued in their stage personalities in the film. The movie audiences in 1949 took to the pair and almost forgot about the rest of the plot in the George Marshall directed film. Martin and Lewis were such a hit that they reprised their roles in the hastily filmed sequel out the next year called "My Friend Irma Goes West" this time directed by Hal Walker. The second film afforded Martin the opportunity of recording his first solid hit, "I'll Always Love You" from the soundtrack, with Paul Weston and his orchestra (the flip side was "Baby Obey Me" on Capitol # 1028) which remained on the charts for a full four months and got as high as number ten on the national best seller lists.

In mid 1950 Martin and Lewis were signed to be part of a rotating schedule of performers hosting a musical variety show called the "Colgate Comedy Hour" on NBC opposite Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights. Along with Martin and Lewis, other hosts were Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynne, Judy Canova, and Jimmy Durante. When Dean and Jerry were scheduled, there was a battle in every home in America in those one TV set days. The kids wanted to watch Dean and Jerry, while the parents preferred Sullivan. By this time the pair were one of the top acts in all of entertainment, on radio, TV, stage and screen. Capitol continued to release vocals by Martin at this time. Dean's cover of Perry Como's "If" on # 1342 was a nice hit making it into the top fifteen in the country in early 1951. It was at this time that the first motion picture starring the duo was released, and the first of three military service comedies that were huge hits at the box office. "At War With The Army" which featured Polly Bergen was followed later in the year by "That's My Boy" with a great supporting turn by Eddie Mayehoff. In early 1952 the second military comedy "Sailor Beware" with Corinne Calvet and Robert Strauss was on theater screens. Later that year the third service comedy hit the theaters - "Jumping Jacks" with Mona Freeman and (again) Robert Strauss. In September Dean covered Jo Stafford's "You Belong To Me" on Capitol # 2165 which was a good seller remaining on the charts for almost three months. In January of 1953 "The Stooge" with Polly Bergen and Eddie Mayehoff was another hit movie and was followed later that year by "Scared Stiff" with Lizabeth Scott and Carmen Miranda.

In July of 1953 "Love Me Love Me" recorded with the Herman McCoy Singers for Capitol # 2485 was a moderate hit. The third movie of 1953 was "The Caddy" which was a huge box office hit and produced Dean's greatest record hit until that time - "That's Amore" on # 2589. The record was a huge hit, remaining on the best seller charts for more than five months and kept out of the number one spot by only Tony Bennett's "Rags To Riches". Just as "Amore" began to fade, "I'd Cry Like A baby" on Capitol # 2749 was a moderate top twenty hit. The next Martin & Lewis film came out called "Money From Home" in early 1954. This film did not do as well as the ones previously made, but in the summer "Living It Up" with Janet Leigh and Sheree North was a box office success and provided Dean with another hit record "Money Burns A Hole In My Pocket" on # 2818. The flip side "Sway" was also a good seller becoming a top fifteen record. Dean didn't know it at the time of course, but his vocal style was having a major effect on a young truck driver in Memphis named Elvis Presley.

With the next two pictures, it was clear that some of the magic of the musical comedy team was beginning to fade. "Three Ring Circus" with Zsa Zsa Gabor released in late 1954 and "You're Never Too Young" with Raymond Burr did lukewarm business at best. However as the movies were beginning to lose a bit of luster, Dean's recording career was looking up. "Memories Are Made Of This" recorded with The easy Riders on # 3295 was a lilting tune with a wonderful lyric and a nice Caribbean flavor. It cut across all segments of the record buying public and became one of the biggest hits of the fifties. It held on to the number one spot for almost two months, remained on the charts for five months, and solidified Martin's standing as one of the top pop music vocalists of the decade. The fourteenth film by the duo came out late in 1955 and was called "Artists And Models" and featured Shirley MacLaine and Eva Gabor. It did better than the previous two and yielded Dean a moderate hit record "Innamorata" on # 3352 for Capitol. Dean had one other good seller during the year w1956 - "Standing On The Corner", a cover of the Four Lads hit from the Broadway musical "Most Happy Fella".

There were two last Martin & Lewis films, both in 1956 - "Pardners" and "Hollywood Or Bust" with Anita Ekberg. Both were decently received by moviegoers at the box office. In late July of 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis appeared at New York City's Copacabana, one of the top night spots in the country. It was ten years to the month that they had originated as a musical comedy team back in pre-casino Atlantic City. When the show was over they announced that they were breaking up the team and going their separate ways in show business. They would not speak to each other for twenty years. Both found success of varying degrees as solo performers in the coming years, but people would always remember the glory years from the late forties to the early fifties when they were the top act in all of show business.

A Dean Martin Discography : 1946 - 1956

1946

Diamond # 2035 - "Which Way Did My Heart Go?" / "All Of Me"

Diamond # 2036 - "I Got The Sun In The Morning" / "Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi"

1947

Apollo # 1088 - "Oh Marie" / "Walking My Baby Back Home"

Apollo # 1116 - "Hold Me" / "Santa Lucia"

Embassy (subsidiary label of Apollo) - #124 - "One Foot In Heaven" / "The Night Is Young"

From 1948 on all records are on the Capitol label

1948

# 15249 - "That Certain Party" / "The Money Song" (both with Jerry Lewis)

# 15329 - "Once In Love With Amy" / "Tarra-Ta-Larra-Ta-La"

# 15349 - "You Was" (with Peggy Lee)

# 15351 - "Powder Your Face With Sunshine" / "Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder"

1949

# 15395 - "Have A Little Sympathy" / "Johnny Get Your Girl"

# 545 - "Three Wishes" / "Dreamy Old New England Moon"

# 691 - "Just For Fun" / "My Own, My Only, My All"

# 726 - "That Lucky Old Sun" / "Vieni Su"

1950

# 937 - "Rain" / "Zing-A-Zing-A-Zing"

# 948 - "Muskrat Ramble" / "I'm Gonna Paper My Walls With Your Loveletters"

#981 - "I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine" / "Choo'n Gum"

# 1002 - "I Still Get A Thrill" / "Be Honest With Me"

# 1028 - "I'll Always Love You" / "Baby Obey Me"

# 1052 - "Bye Bye Blackbird" / "Happy Feet"

# 1139 - "The Peddlar's Serenade" / "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am"

# 1160 - "I'm In Love With You" / "Don't Rock The Boat" (both with Margaret Whiting

# 1342 - "If" / "I Love The Way You Say Goodnight"

# 1358 - "You And Your Beautiful Eyes" / "Tonda Wanda Hoy"

# 1458 - "Who's Sorry Now?" / "Beside You"

1951

# 1575 - "We Never Talk Much" / "How Do You Like Your Eggs?" (both with Helen O'Connell)

# 1682 - "Oh Marie" / "I'll Always Love You"

# 1703 - "In The Cool Cool Cool Of The Evening" / "Bonne Nuit (Goodnight)"

# 1724 - "Luna Mezzo Mare" / "Go Go Go"

# 1797 - "Hanging Around With You" / "Aw C'Mon"

# 1811 - "Meandering" / "Bella Bimba"

# 1817 - "Solitaire" / "I Ran All The Way Home"

# 1885 - "Blue Smoke" / "Night Train To Memphis"

# 1901 - "The Sailor's Polka" / "Never Before"

# 1921 - "As You Are" / "Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy"

# 1938 - "Until" / "My Heart Has Found A Home Now"

1952

# 1975 - "When You're Smiling" / "All I Have To Give You"

# 2001 - "Won't You Surrender" / "Pretty As A Picture"

# 2071 - "I Passed Your House Tonight" / "Bet ' Cha"

# 2140 - "Come Back To Sorrento" / "Oh Marie"

# 2165 - "You Belong To Me" / "Hominy Grits"

# 2240 - "I Know A Dream When I See One" / "Second Chance"

# 2319 - "Kiss" / "What Could Be More Beautiful"

# 2378 - "Little Did We Know" / "There's My Lover"

1953

#2485 - "Til I Find You" / "Love Me Love Me"

# 2555 - "Don't You Remember?" / "If I Could Sing Like Bing"

# 2589 - "That's Amore" / "You're The Right One"

# 2640 - "If I Should Love Again" / "The Christmas Blues"

# 2749 - "I'd Cry Like A baby" / "Hey Brother Pour The Wine"

1954

# 2818 - "Money Burns A Hole In My Pocket" / "Sway"

# 2870 - "The Peddlar man" / "That's What I Like"

# 2911 - "Try Again" / "One More Time"

# 2985 - "Open Up The Doghouse" / "Long Long Ago" (both with Nat King Cole)

# 3011 - "Bella From Barcelona" / "Confused"

# 3036 - "Young And Foolish" / "Under The Bridges Of Paris"

1955

# 3133 - "Riding Into Love" / "Chee Chee Oo Chee"

# 3153 - "Love Is All That Matters" / Sympatico"

# 3196 - "Two Sleepy People" / "Relax Ay Voo"

# 3238 - "I Like Them All" / "In Napoli"

# 3295 - "Change Of Heart" / "Memories Are Made Of This"

# 3352 - "Lady With The Big Umbrella" / "Innamorata"

1956

# 3414 - "Watching The World Go By" / "Standing On The Corner"

# 3468 - "Street Of Love" / "I'm Gonna Steal You Away"

# 3521 - "Mississippi Dreamboat" / "The Test Of Time"

# 3577 - "The Look" / "Give Me A Sign"

# 3604 - "I Know I can't Forget" / "Just Kiss Me"

# 3648 - "Captured" / "The Man Who Plays The Mandolin"

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