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‘My father was great fun, funny, and spontaneous:’ Deana Martin

By Sigurd Neubauer

02/26/2024

Everybody loves somebody sometime.’ This beautiful statement on life, and what it can be, especially if love is shared, is also one of America’s ever green classics. It is, of course, one of Dean Martin’s (1917-1995) signature pieces. The beloved American, who was one of the most popular entertainers of the mid-twentieth century, is also known for his impeccable style, humor, and grace. His favorite dish? Pasta e fasul, especially when prepared by either his mother Angela Crocetti (1897-1966) or daughter Deana Martin.

Martin’s legendary friendship with Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) – as well as with their ‘Rat Pack’ colleagues Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990), Peter Lawford (1923-1984), and Joey Bishop (1918-2007) – changed American culture forever. It all started out in Las Vegas, but it didn’t stay there, as the old saying goes. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Rat Pack represented American progress at a time of unbounded optimism. 

Some three decades after Martin’s passing, his daughter, Deana Martin, continues to celebrate his legacy through her own concert tour across the country. Later this year, she will be traveling to Australia where – as always – her father’s beloved melodies– such as ‘That’s Amore,’ Valore, and Memories Made of This, will be performed. But her musical style is very within the swing genre. 

Describing her concert repertoire for the 2023/2024 season, Martin exclaims with obvious enthusiasm that she loves putting on her father’s music but credits her husband, John Griffeth, for putting it all together. They have been married since 1990; they have one son; and five grandchildren.

Balancing between her busy performance career and being a grandmother is not an easy task, Martin admits.

Deana Martin is passionate about preserving her father’s legacy. Later this year, she will be on tour in Australia. Photo credit: Courtesy

 Dean Martin was known for his sunshine personality both on-and-off stage
Deana Martin treasures her childhood memories watching her father's performances in Las Vegas

But her shows remain as popular as ever. “I usually open the show with the song, I Love Being Here With You,’” a reference Martin is making to a song popularized by Peggy Lee (1920-2002), who was a close friend of her father. The two of them often performed together, she reveals.

Another opening favorite is her father’s very own – ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,’ or, ‘Come Fly With Me,’ “which was one of the signature pieces of my ‘uncle’ Frank Sinatra,” Martin explains. 

The song – along with Volare– are particularly meaningful to Martin and Griffeth as they’re both pilots. Volare means to fly in Italian.

The historic friendship between Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra lives on as their daughters, Deana and Nancy, remain close friends to this day. “I was just on the phone with Nancy the other day,” Martin adds.

Martin has also performed with the Sinatra children – Nancy, Frank Jr., and granddaughter Tina. “We grew up together.”

Martin recently performed at the Vibrato Grill Jazz in Beverly Hills, which is owned by Herb Alpert, where Steve Tyrell and Dean Kay were in the audience. Kay wrote ‘That’s Life,’ another melody immortalized by Sinatra. 

Volare and Memories Made of This are not only standards on her show, but the younger Martin was present when her father recorded the latter in 1955. “At the time, he had three backup singers, who were called ‘The Easy Riders.’” They, Martin explains, before breaking into singing herself, sang “sweet, sweet,” and “the memories you gave me.”

Following in her father’s footsteps, Martin often invites members of the audience up on the stage to become backup singers. The lucky volunteers – who she affectionately calls ‘Deana’s Divas’ – often get to sing along to That’s Amore or Volare, she adds. 

If there are newly married couples in the audience, they come up on stage where Martin sings ‘It Had To Be You.’ The song was also popularized by Sinatra. Before every concert, Martin has a playlist for her band – which ranges in size – but she is always open to requests from the audience.

Early memories

“I remember the first time when I saw my dad’s show at the Las Vegas Sands. I was 9 or 10 years old, sitting in the front row when I heard the announcer say: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Sands Hotel is proud to present directly from the bar, Dean Martin.’” Next, her father would walk out on stage “looking so handsome.” 

As a young girl, Martin was mesmerized by seeing her father on stage. He would wear his signature tuxedo with a red rose lapel. Martin was also beloved for his wit and charm.

“Dad would never complete any songs on stage, telling the audience that ‘for that you will need to buy my album.’ Everybody laughed and he made the show so nice and comfortable,” his daughter recalls some six decades later.

Martin didn’t like to rehearse, either. Instead, he would have his music director rehearse along with his other co-stars – whether it was Peggy Lee or Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) or whoever was on the show – as he preferred to play golf with his friends. On the day of the performance, after spending it on the golf course, Martin would come in. “He would run through the songs with Les Brown (1912-2001) and His Band of Renown. After that, he would go into his dressing room – where the hotel had prepared a nice spread for him – put on the tuxedo and go out on the stage. He was unbelievable.”

Martin also liked to keep the jokes fresh and being spontaneous. “That was him. It was so much fun going to Las Vegas with him. His daughter also relishes in the memories of going out to the movies together. 

Dean Martin with daughter Deana, right. He was very proud of his large family, especially of his seven biological children and one adoptee. Photo credit: Courtesy
My father was always home for dinner with the exceptions for a couple of weeks a year when he performed at the Sands or was starring in a movie

Preserving the family legacy

In addition to performing her father’s music, Martin also has a radio show. She is currently in talks with SiriusXM Radio to host her own show and Martin promoting her memoir, Memories Are Made Of This. “I have had such a great life because my dad was so cool, fun, and funny.”

Commenting on whether there are any misconceptions about Martin, who charmed an entire generation of Americans, his daughter doesn’t mince her words: “Once my husband and I attended one of those ‘Rat Pack’ shows in Las Vegas, the band member impersonating my dad had this huge martini glass in his hand. He was doing his whole skit while drunk. My dad was not like that.” 

Griffeth, Martin’s husband, didn’t like what he was seeing, either. He walked up on stage, took the martini glass out of the impersonator’s hand, and said: “Shame on you,” Martin recalls, adding that “everybody applauded.” Her father drank Martinelli apple cider while on stage and not alcohol, she says.

Another misconception was that Martin was never home. “He was always home for dinner, with the exception of a couple of weeks a year when he would perform at the Sands, but we would come and stay with him.” He would occasionally go away to star in a movie, she adds, then pauses before emphasizing that he loved being at home with his family. “He would get up in the morning to go and play golf with his friends. Later in the day, my parents would have a cocktail before dinner,” which Martin explains, “was their quiet time. Kids weren’t allowed,” she says with a laugh. “Afterwards, we would have a nice dinner together,” Martin adds, then quips: “Imagine having seven kids,” Martin says, although she acknowledges that her mother didn’t cook every dinner. “But she taught me how to make Meatloaf,” she says.

Martin learned how to make pasta e fasul, from her grandmother, “which was my father’s favorite dish.” For the last years of his life, Martin would make the dish for him every week.  The dish, one should know, is immortalized in his mega hit: That’s Amore.

“When the stars make you drool just like a pasta e fasul, that’s amore.”

Deana Martin plans to make a film about her father. Photo credit: Courtesy  

Film

Next, Martin will be working on a new album featuring the songs of her recent performances, including those broadcasted live from her home in Branson, Missouri. “We have had over seven million views, and I love the comments from all over the world conveying the respect and admiration for my father.” Since the global pandemic of 2020, Martin has recorded over 200 live performances from her home.

Martin is also in the process of turning her memoir into a film, but the challenge is, she acknowledges, is to find the right person to play Dean Martin. “I need to find the perfect Dean Martin because there was nobody like him,” she says.  Martin, along with her husband, and actress Bonnie Hunt, are looking to make a film. The only requirement: “it needs to be done right, however long it takes.”

We end our interview with discussing Martin’s favorite memory of her father. “I was 16 years old, and wanted for my birthday a coat from the Wilson’s House of Suede, which was located in Beverly Hills on the corner of Willshire and Santa Monica.

He said, Martin recalls, “ok, let’s go and get it.” But the daughter knew that he didn’t really like to go out and do things like this as her father preferred instead to play golf and card games with his friends. “But I said, ‘it would be so nice if you would come and be there with me.” The father responded affirmatively, agreeing to meet her at the store the following day after school. 

“Sure enough, once I got there, he was sitting in a chair surrounded by all of these sales ladies smoking his cigarette. I knew that all he wanted to do was to leave. He sat there as I was trying on every coat in the store. Once we selected the coat and the suede, he asked: ‘can I go now?’ At that point, Martin recalls, she asked her father “but what about the buttons?”  He responded, Martin describes laughingly, “this is the coat, this suede, and these are the buttons.” Next, he kissed his daughter, told her how much he loved her, and then left. “I milked that moment in the store for as long as I could. Another favorite memory of mine was the 1955 recording of Memories Made out of This. It was pretty amazing.” 

The 1956 American semi-musical comedy film starred Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis alongside Pat Crowley and Anita Ekberg. It was directed by Frank Tashlin
My favorite memory of my father was when he took me out shopping for my 16th birthday: Martin
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