Each Christmas season, Deana Martin looks forward to hearing late father Dean Martin’s classic tunes. “We have his Christmas songs and all of his music, so it’s like he never left,” she reveals in the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. “He is with me all the time.”
Although the holiday season also brings Deana some heartache — the legendary crooner died on Christmas Day 1995 — she still feels her father’s presence, especially when she’s walking in a store and hears her dad’s songs.
“I see people walking and suddenly they’re all smiling and going, ‘Isn’t that Dean Martin?'” Deana, 72, tells Closer. “It just warms my heart, it really does.”
Nicknamed “The King of Cool,” Dean became famous for his disheveled elegance and breezy, boozy charm. But in reality, the performer was a family man at heart. “He wasn’t the party animal that everyone thought he was,” the “52nd & Broadway” singer shares.
One of four children from the star’s first marriage to Elizabeth MacDonald, Deana grew up during her father’s early Hollywood heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, first as the comedy partner of Jerry Lewis and later as a Rat Pack member and movie star.
“Sure, he would go on the road, but not a lot, because he loved to be home,” she remembers. “We could set the clock by him because we knew when he would walk in through the backdoor.”
In 1949, Dean married his second wife, Jeanne Biegger, with whom he had three more children. A devoted father, he won custody of Deana and her siblings, and relished spending time with his boisterous, close-knit brood. “He liked to play games and cards with us, and we would all have dinner together,” she recalls. “He was funny and sweet and always had a smile on his face.”
After family and performing, Dean’s next biggest passion was golf. “If he wasn’t working, he would get up early, have breakfast and go play golf all day,” Deana dishes, noting that even when he wasn’t on the links, the sport wasn’t far from Dean’s mind.
“He would often walk around the house holding a golf club,” she reminisces. “We had thick green carpets that looked like a fairway and he would practice his swing and his grip.” Dean joked about his obsession with the sport. “He told me: ‘Deana, do you know why I work? It’s so I can pay for you kids and play golf,'” she shares.
The legendary performer loved the Christmas season and went to great lengths to create a magical holiday for his children. “The kids would all go down to the basement, bring up the ornaments and Christmas tree lights, and he’d get up on a very tall ladder and string all them around the tree, then have us tell him if there were any spaces he missed,” Deana says. “People in the neighborhood would stop by and carolers would come to the door. It was so much fun at our house because he made it fun.”
The holidays also meant giving back. Dean often performed for Share Inc., whose annual Boomtown Party benefits special needs children. “My father was generous with his time,” Deana sweetly insists. “He would go anywhere for anyone.”
This magnanimity, she says, was born from Dean’s working class childhood as the son of a barber and new immigrant from Italy. “He was brought up right in Steubenville, Ohio, by my grandparents,” says Deana. “He was the salt of the earth.”
Dean also never took life too seriously, even when he was working. On The Dean Martin Show, where Deana made her TV debut in 1966, her father would insist that any bloopers that occurred while filming the variety series stay in the broadcast. “He thought it was better that way,” she remembers. “He taught me not to be nervous, that everybody makes mistakes, and you should just laugh and enjoy it.”
In fact, it’s when she’s singing that Deana — who has been married to film and music producer John Griffeth for 30 years and performs on Facebook Live every Friday — feels closest to her father. “I get so many comments from people about how much they loved him,” gushes Deana, who plans to sing her father’s best-loved holiday tunes during her weekly Facebook performance on Christmas Day 2020. “It’s going to be an honor,” she adds. “He made so many people happy and filled their hearts with joy.”