About this Recording
8.120761 - MARTIN, Dean: When You're Smiling (1946-1953)



‘When You’re Smiling’  Original 1946-1953 Recordings


Ballad singer, light comedian, sometime dramatic screen actor and colourful Chief Deputy of the ‘Rat Pack’, Dean Martin was the essence of devil-may-care, the epitome of nonchalance.  Born Dino Paul Crocetti, the son of an immigrant Italian barber, in Steubenville, Ohio, on 17 June 1917, after quitting school in the 10th grade he was employed as shoe-shine boy, petrol pump attendant, steel mill labourer and (it is said) ‘card shark’, before turning full-time to pugilism where, billed variously as ‘Kid Crochet’ or ‘Kid Crocetti’, his bouts in the category of welterweight earned him $10 per fight.  The shine of being a human punch-bag soon wore off, however, and he next took up employment as a croupier in a local casino while vocalising in his spare time.


By 1940, as ‘Dino Martini’, he had turned in earnest to singing for a living, as vocalist first with Ernie McKay and the following year with the Sammy Watkins band.  After the US entry into World War II he was excused military service on health grounds and, with a wife and children to support, continued to sing with various bands for the duration of hostilities.  Dean’s first records, made in 1946 for Diamond and the almost exclusively ‘race’ Apollo label, included revivals of time-honoured standards such as Walkin’ My Baby Back Home (1930) and All Of Me (1931) as well as ‘covers’ of more recent fare, notably I Got The Sun In The Morning (from the Irving Berlin Broadway musical Annie, Get Your Gun, 1946).  None were particularly successful, nor did they bring Dean his much-needed first break, which would materialise from another direction.


In 1946 Dean was still a small-time entertainer when he first teamed with Jerry Lewis.  After their first show, at the 500 Club in Atlantic City, they were soon in demand at other venues throughout the States.  Martin the laid-back crooner played a singing straight-man, a stooge to the wacky machinations of the Newark, New Jersey-born comic; their repartee and ad-libbing were infectious and by the late 1940s, via TV and radio, their Mutt-and-Jeff antics had made them household names; to Mr. Average their hilarious knockabout comedy, often reminiscent of the Marx Brothers, was a tonic for post-war gloom and doom.  In 1949 they were signed by Paramount and in their first film My Friend Irma (1949) they appeared in a supporting capacity; it was a prelude to a series of fourteen more comedy money-spinners, including At War With The Army (1950), Jumping Jacks (1952), Sailor, Beware! and Scared Stiff (both 1953) and Living It Up (1954). 


After the split of the Lewis-Martin partnership in 1956, it was at first generally predicted that Dean would not make it solo.  However, after an indifferent start as a light comedian in the 1957 MGM fiasco Ten Thousand Bedrooms, he emerged the following year as a dramatic actor in the Marlon Brando World War II drama The Young Lions (for 20th Century Fox) and in Warner’s Rio Bravo (starring John Wayne, released in 1959).  In MGM’s Some Came Running (also 1958) Dean made his first screen appearance with Frank Sinatra (Sinatra personally insisted on Dean’s casting as the hard-drinking professional gambler Bama) and, for a fee of $150,000, redeemed his status as a screen icon.


Dean’s first decade as a recording artist appears to have been overshadowed by his work in the spheres of cabaret and film.  In 1948 he was signed by Capitol Records and by late 1953 had notched up a list of hits lasting in their appeal if rather limited in number, beginning in December with a send-up revival of ‘That Certain Party’, a duet with Lewis which charted at No.22 in the US popular Top 30.  This was followed in close succession by two numbers included in the second Lewis-Martin screen farce My Friend Irma Goes West (1950): Powder Your Face With Sunshine (a No.10 hit, in 1949), I’ll Always Love You (No.11, in 1950), then by ‘If’ (No.14, in 1951), You Belong To Me (No.12, in 1952) and, in 1953, by ‘Love Me, Love Me’ (No.25) and That’s Amore (No.2) – an Oscar-nomination from the Lewis-Martin ‘music hall comedy’ The Caddy, this last soon established itself as Dean Martin’s signature-tune and Dean’s recording was later resurrected on screen in Patrick Palmer’s Oscar-winning 1987 Italo-American comedy of manners Moonstruck. 


In later years Dean Martin would win an even more universal following through his NBC TV comedy-variety Dean Martin Show. Screened worldwide between 1965 and 1974, and later followed by various ad hoc ‘Celebrity Roast’ specials, it perpetuated Martin’s somewhat overplayed image as a lovable drunk.  Additionally, in the movies, he continued to give convincing light comedic and dramatic portrayals in Westerns and other genres.  Ideally tongue-in-cheek, he poked fun at his own womanising persona as the spoof James Bond ‘Matt Helm’ and was ever an esteemed member of the Rat Pack, with Sinatra & Co.  A true freelancer, he appeared in 1965 in The Sons Of Katie Elder (for Paramount) and Marriage On The Rocks (for Warner), in 1966 in The Silencers (for Columbia), Texas Across The River (for Universal) and Murderers’ Row (for Columbia), in 1967 in Rough Night In Jericho (for Universal) and The Ambushers (for Columbia), in 1968 in How To Save A Marriage And Ruin Your Life (for Columbia), Bandolero! (for Fox) and Five Card Stud (for Paramount), in 1969 in The Wrecking Crew (for Columbia), in 1970 in Airport (for Universal), in 1971 in Something Big (for Cinema Center) and in 1973 in Showdown (for Universal).


Dean’s final screen appearances included Mr. Ricco (for MGM, in 1975), and Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984), both for Golden Harvest.  His subsequent biggest record hits, all for Capitol, included ‘Memories Are Made Of This’ and ‘Standing On The Corner’ (both 1956) and the English cover-version of Domenico Modugno’s ‘Volare’ (1958).  In 1961, he switched to Sinatra’s newly-formed Reprise label and in 1964 took the US singles charts by storm with a No.1 version of  ‘Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime’ (a Ken Lane composition earlier recorded by Sinatra himself, in 1947 and 1957).  Further hits followed, including  ‘You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You’, ‘Houston’ and ‘Little Ole Wine Drinker, Me’.  For three decades he played regularly to packed houses in Las Vegas and enjoyed a great British fan following; he made a successful last appearance in London, at the Palladium, in the summer of 1987.  Later that year Dean’s son, rock musician Dean Paul, was tragically killed in a plane crash and, despite the support of his erstwhile Rat Packers Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., from 1988 onwards his public appearances became steadily fewer until he was finally forced to retire through ill health in 1993.  Dean Martin died on 25th December 1995, aged 78 years.


Peter Dempsey, 2004

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