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Beautiful, effervescent, with a voice smooth as velvet, Deana Martin is a “chip off the old block” of her legendary father, Dean Martin. Still maintaining her uniqueness as a performer, Deana carries her iconic legacy into her work, and she is glad to do so.
With a thriving career as a singer/entertainer, the successful publication of “Memories Are Made of This,” the autobiography of her life and Dean’s, the launch of best-selling CDs, with “Volare” an instant chart-topper. Billboard Magazine took notice, dubbing Deana the “Queen of Cool.” Martin’s abilities continue to ascend with her music, national/international concerts and the preservation of her father’s memory, which includes an impending film based on Dean’s life. Like the definition of “Volare,” Deana Martin is soaring.
Antique Trader: How did your father inspire you to become an entertainer?
Deana Martin: I worked with him and watched him. He said when you are acting, don’t act, listen and react. Really listen to what they are saying and just open yourself up. Most importantly, he said to be on time and know your lines, which was one of his things. He was always very punctual, because that was something that was important to him, and I know that he respected other people’s time, which is a good thing. You can’t show up late; it is not respectful for other people. He was very considerate, and he did live by ‘Treat other people the way you would like to be treated.’ What other way is there? If you want to be treated nicely, one should treat people the way they want to be treated, and that is how everybody should be. It goes way back to ‘Do unto others.’
AT: Frank Sinatra was the first person to train you to sing?
DM: Yes, I know! He was a master at phrasing; he could get these beautiful tones, and he worked for every note that I think he ever hit. My dad worked hard, but it was just so natural for him that it just flowed out of him, which is beautiful, whereas, Frank Sinatra had that great voice and put everything into his songs. You really feel something when you hear Uncle Frank, and you feel great when you hear my dad sing. I had some very good people to look up to and some great instructions, so I was definitely blessed.
AT: What advice were you given by these remarkable entertainers?
DM: Frank Sinatra is the one who told me to live the song, feel it and sing it many different ways and see what the words mean to you, and that the song changes during your life of singing it. As you go through different events and experiences, maybe the lyrics mean something different to you at different periods in life. It really does help when you’re singing to think about these things, people and events, and let it touch your soul.
AT: How was it recording in the very studio as your dad and to sing his songs?
DM: It was a little overwhelming! When I was recording at Capitol Records I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I was at Capitol Records when dad recorded Memories Are Made of This, his first No. 1 hit. I remember sitting on those cold, hard, metal chairs, with my mom, Jeanne, and I put my arm around her and just watched Dad up there singing, everyone looking at him. He would smile and laugh. It was a wonderful time for me. Now, when I go back to Capitol Records, which is again, just overwhelming, I go into Studio A and it seems so much smaller. It’s big, but when I was a little girl, that was like, oh, my heavens, this huge room and it’s filled with people who are here for my dad and for me to be able to go there and sing these songs, it’s just remarkable. How lucky and blessed I am that I can do that. And, to be named Deana Martin, it’s wonderful! Those are big shoes to fill, and he raised the bar very, very high. I want to be able to carry on his incredible good name and do it because I love to sing, and the fans love it. They all love Dean Martin so much, and I already know perfectly well when I walk on the stage I already have a hand up because they already love Dad, so when I walk out, they are just so happy. Plus, Dad is with me when I sing; he was such a sweet, sweet man, and I will sing my songs and do a tribute to him, and all the great singers, like Keely Smith, Peggy Lee, Eydie Gorme, Rosemary Clooney. They all put a smile on your face or a tear in your eye, and hopefully, that’s something I will do, too, and people will take away something like that when they hear my songs or come to my concerts.
AT: I have to ask about his 10-year partnership [1946-56] with Jerry Lewis.
DM: They were quite a team, and they had such charisma together. As Jerry called it, “magic in a bottle.” Dad was, like, 10 years older than Jerry and was like his older brother. Jerry idolized my dad, and he knew how funny he was. There was just something about Dad; he was one of the funniest men you would ever meet in your life, but together the formula clicked, and Martin and Lewis were the greatest comedy team ever in history. Jerry is my pal; I really adore him. I can ask him anything, and he would do anything for me, and that’s the way he is: brilliant, kind and generous.
AT: Tell me about being exposed to the fantastical “Rat Pack” [Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop]?
DM: They really changed the face of entertainment and touched everybody. They were just brilliant at everything they did. In one of their shows, there was always something for everyone, and you could tell how much fun they were having. They weren’t threatened by each other; everyone was just great at what they did, and they just had a fantastic time together. They could sing, dance, act and were so funny — I mean really funny. Plus, they really loved each other. That is something that was great about them. They would look at each other as if to have an inside joke, and you could see it by the expressions on their faces. The things that they would say not only made you laugh, but you felt like you were in on their little joke, too, and a part of it, which made you feel special. They gave their best, and you knew it and felt it. It was electric and magical. The audience looked good, and people dressed up then. It was a real event, and people were so respectful. It was just an unbelievable time.
AT: I admire that you are preserving your Dad’s Italian heritage, something he could not fulfill in his day. Can you elaborate?
DM: I’m so proud to be an Italian American and to be able to support the National Italian American Foundation [NIAF]. It’s wonderful to meet all these Italian people that are so remarkable for all the things they have done in their lives. They are in the top of their fields, and they’re all Italian! It makes me feel so good. I truly believe that if Dad was becoming a star now, they wouldn’t have changed his name. He would be Dino Crocetti: How beautiful is that name? In those days, you couldn’t be too Italian; you had to change your name. The names like Dino and Gino and Giovanni, they’re beautiful. Italian history, food and the language is really wonderful. There is something wonderful about Italians that is not just simpatico, it’s something that’s in your soul and in your heart and when you meet another Italian, it is there. It is just something that kind of binds everybody together; that’s what Dad was all about. It’s wonderful to be Italian.
AT: The impending Dean Martin film is exciting. How is it progressing?
DM: That’s going to be a little difficult, first of all trying to cast it. I did an interview and said I would love Johnny Depp to play Dad, because he is such a tremendously good actor, he has this swagger, he sings and is so cool. He has what it takes to capture Dad beautifully. That is what is important; like Jamie Foxx, he absolutely became Ray Charles and was really good in that. I can see Johnny Depp doing the same thing. After that interview, I saw on a website this picture of Johnny Depp with the headline: “Will Johnny Depp be Dean Martin?” I’m thinking, “How did that happen?” It’s almost, “Be careful what you say” or, “Be careful what you wish for.” I hoped he wasn’t thinking that I told people that he is going to be doing the movie. All I did was mention that I would love for him to do it, but with that headline, I guess now he’ll have to! [laughs] If we do make the movie out of Memories Are Made of This, the story will be through my eyes so it’ll have the life story of Dad from when he is very young, his time with Jerry Lewis, through the rest of his years along with how we interact with each other. Although still in development, it will be directed by Joe Mantegna, and [writer/actress] Bonnie Hunt will be doing the screenplay; she is very talented and such a Dean Martin fan.
AT: What are some things people don’t readily know about your dad?
DM: There are so many stories that are great to hear. I remember one that I heard from a 55-year-old man at one of my book signings. He came up to me and said, ‘Deana, I can tell you a story about your dad when I met him. I was a young boy, about 17 years old, driving my motorcycle from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.’ This man got to this one town, Baker or Bakersfield, and his motorcycle broke down. He walked it over to the only gas station, I’m thinking desert and it being hot and horrible. The mechanic tells him he can’t fix the bike right now; then this limousine pulls up next to them to get gas. He walked over to the limousine driver and asked, ‘Do you think you could give me a ride into Vegas? My bike isn’t going to be fixed for a while.’ The driver says, ‘I don’t know if I can; let me ask my passengers.’ The driver comes back and says, ‘Sure, jump in the front seat.’ This young man is sitting in the front seat and they pull out, all of a sudden the glass divider between the front and back goes down, and there is Dean, Frank and Sammy sitting in the back. They gave him a beer and Dad says, ‘So, your bike broke down? Well, what kind of motorcycle do you have?’ He told him and my dad answered, ‘I’d like to drive that sometime.’ The man happily told me, ‘I couldn’t believe it! They didn’t have to pick me up and take me to begin with, but on top of that, your dad talked with me and was just so nice to me.’ He said that he will never forget that experience with my dad and “The Rat Pack.” Now, this is a story I never would have heard, since my dad wouldn’t have said that he picked up someone and gave them a ride. Who knows how many times they did things like that? I do know it was a lot, because they were so huge; just very generous. Isn’t that great?
AT: As I leave you in a whirlwind of projects, what would you like to express in closing?
DM: I feel so blessed to have wonderful fans. My sincere thanks to all. I have all these letters, and the love is just wonderful, plus the reviews that they have put on the websites like iTunes and Amazon.com: “5 Stars,” “Bravo Deana,” “Your Dad would be proud.” It makes me very proud. As long as people continue to listen, and I hope they do, we will continue to make music. It’s my honor to be able to sing these songs, and I will continue as long as I have a voice.
To learn more, visit www.deanamartin.com.
Jamie Brotherton is a freelance writer, researcher and film historian who also writes for various classic/modern film and collectible based magazines.
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