Dean Martin’s nightclub act appeared spontaneous and effortless. Balancing a lit cigarette, a full shot glass and a microphone, the tuxedo-clad performer would tell jokes, sing hits like “Volare” and “That’s Amore” and banter with the audience. For three decades, he remained one of the most popular acts in Las Vegas.
However, Dean’s scotch-swilling barfly image was a carefully constructed act. “He made it look so easy, like he was just having fun, but he worked really, really hard,” his daughter Deana Martin, an executive producer of the new documentary Dean Martin: King of Cool, exclusively tells Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. The film premieres November 19 on TCM and seeks to shed light on the real Dean, who most often drank apple juice during his performances, not scotch.
While many in his life, including at least one of his three wives, say Dean kept people at arm’s length, Deana says she understood her father better than most.
“He spent his whole life talking and entertaining — and he was just so funny — so sometimes he just wanted to be quiet,” she reveals. “He didn’t need chitchat. He didn’t need to have a lot of people around. He didn’t want to stay up into the wee small hours. He wanted to go to bed and get up early to go play golf.”
A perfect Sunday for Dean would include a round in the morning followed by a big dinner with his extended family. “It’s a big table with a lot of people, seven kids and my grandparents. My dad would be there just loving all of it,” Deana remembers.
These family dinners meant a lot to Dean, who tried to make it home for supper every night. But although he adored his kids, he was not a “hands-on” father in the modern sense.
“He was a great dad, but he was busy so he couldn’t pick me up from ballet lessons,” explains Deana, who once begged Dean to take her shopping for a suede coat for her 16th birthday. “He left his golf game and showed up,” she recalls. “He was so cute. The sales ladies were running around. And I’m asking, ‘Should it be suede or should it be leather?’ He was like, ‘Get the suede. Can I go now?’”
That people-pleasing side of Dean came naturally — his mother, Angela, joked that he inherited all the charm in the family. Dean put it to good use in a five-decade career that encompassed slapstick, hit records, several wildly successful television shows, and roles in popular movies in both the comedy and drama genres.
“If he was ever nervous about doing anything, he never showed it,” says Deana. “He had that great talent, and I think he always knew he’d succeed. But if it hadn’t happened for him, I think that he probably would have been happy as a golfer.”
That breezy confidence got Dean crowned the “King of Cool” by Elvis Presley, who expressed his admiration to Deana when she was a kid. “Elvis took my hand and kind of leaned down to me. He said, ‘You know, Deana, they call me the King of Rock and Roll,” she says. “But your dad, he’s the King of Cool.’”
— Reporting by Amanda Champagne-Meadows
For more on this story, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now.