Part 1 of two-part interview with Deana Martin.
Dean Martin's career in film, television, radio and on stage in Las Vegas set the gold standard of excellence for the entertainment industry. Martin can be described as crooner, actor, comedian, legend. To his daughter Deana, he was a mentor and hero, but most importantly he was her dad, and a guiding force in her life that continues to shape and influence her as an artist today.
Deana Martin's real life story is like one written by a screenwriter with many incredible elements. She grew up around people like Cher and Liza Minnelli. Met Elvis and The Beatles and had Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. as uncles.
Today she is a star in her own right whose resume includes acting in feature films, on television and stage, and success as a recording artist. She is also a New York Times best-selling author. A resident of Beverly Hills, Deana was kind enough to sit down and chat with me at Cafe Un Deux Trois in New York recently when she visited the East Coast.
Rodeo: Growing up in Beverly Hills with Hollywood stars, challenges of being the daughter of an icon and, of course, going on to be famous as an artist in your own right… what was it like growing up with Dean Martin, "The King Of Cool," as your father?
Deana: Can you imagine Dean Martin... all my friends, everybody wanted to come to our house. My Dad was funny, fun, sweet and kind. Elvis Presley is the person who told me that my Dad was The King of Cool… I'm standing out in front of my Dad's dressing room at Paramount and all of a sudden I see this guy on a bicycle coming out and as he gets closer I realize it is Elvis Presley. He gets off his bike and he kneels down and takes my hand and says, ‘Deana, they call me the King of Rock and Roll, but your Dad is the King of Cool.’ It was so nice to hear Elvis say that. What was it like to have Dean Martin as my Dad? Unbelievable because of all the things he did, how sweet he was, all the people who came over to our house. Imagine Christmas Eve, having Rosemary Clooney, Uncle Frank (Sinatra) and Uncle Sammy (Davis, Jr.) singing. Sammy Cahn on piano. Unbelievable.
Rodeo: "Baby It's Cold Outside" was a huge hit song for your father. Recently John Legend wrote some new lyrics and recorded a new version of it with Kelly Clarkson. What would Dean say about the controversy surrounding the song in the MeToo era?
Deana: There's two answers to that because my Dad would be concerned about the MeToo movement but as far as John and Kelly changing the words; I doubt that he would even care about something like that because it's a classic song from 1944 by Frank Loesser, his friend. It won the Academy Award for Best Song in 1949. My Dad was too cool for that. He also just let people do whatever they want to do. For me, I think it was a big mistake that they rewrote the words and they made it very sexual. This song was a sweet, cute, flirty song from 60 years ago... leave it alone. John Legend is a good writer; he probably should have just written a new song. Don't change a classic. He is a good singer; Kelly Clarkson is a good singer. I just don't think they were thinking at the time.
Rodeo: Your book gives us insight about your own family dynamics and the journey you took to find your own voice and identity. What motivated you to write the book and the most important lesson someone can take from it?
Deana: I was motivated to write it because after my dad passed away, I would go to Steubenville, Ohio where he was born. My grandfather came over on the boat to Ellis Island in 1913, went to Steubenville, Ohio; married my grandmother. My grandfather was a barber. My grandmother was a seamstress. They had two children my uncle Bill and Dean Martin, who was Dino Crocetti at the time. He worked very hard all of his life to become Dean Martin which is pretty unbelievable what he did. So I went back to Steubenville, Ohio when we were doing a Dean Martin Day, after my Dad passed away and I was talking to all his friends and everyone said, ‘You know, you should write a book about your Dad.’ I thought, ‘You know what I should write a book,’ so I interviewed everyone and I still to this day have the tapes. They all told me their stories so I wrote the book “Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter's Eyes.” I think it turned out great.
Rodeo: As a singer who performs regularly you have kept the music of your father alive while establishing yourself as a top notch entertainer. Do you ever feel nervous about taking on some of that material, and why do you think his songs like “Ain't That A Kick In The Head," which have been used in movies and on television shows decades after it was originally released continue to find an audience?
Deana: I think it's still a big song because it's a classic. It's well written by Sammy Cahn and was in the “Ocean's 11” movie, the original with Dean, Frank and Sammy. I don't get intimidated singing those songs. I try to do the best research on it to learn it, to make sure that I perform it well. Frank Sinatra is the one who taught me how to grow the song. As you get older songs have a new meaning for you so just go with that. Imagine having Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. as your uncles. I learned my lessons well. My Dad always taught me to work hard and I have, so I'm not intimidated by the songs. They're big songs but I know I can do it.
Rodeo: Your father Dean helped support a high school band by paying for their uniforms. What do you think about the importance of music education and the arts in schools? What advice do you have for a young person who wants to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
Deana: It was so important for his children to have music in their lives, to learn instruments, to be able to play because it's a communication between people. You don't even have to speak the same language but you feel it and it touches your heart. I do things like that and I will go back to Steubenville. It's so important because music is love and a song is a connection. Right now in this world we're all disconnected but we all come together when we hear a beautiful song.
Rodeo would like to thank Deana Martin, John Griffeth, Jeremy Westby and Jason Ashcraft at 2911 Media, Georges Guenancia and Randy St. Louis at Cafe Un Deux Trois, and Patty Romans.
Kid reviewer Rodeo Marie Hanson, age 13, Fleetwood, contributes entertainment columns to Berks-Mont Newspapers.