Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti and was an American singer, comedian, and actor. The king of cool, as he was often called, is one of the most enduring television performers of the 20th century. He rose to fame performing comedy routines in nightclubs with Jerry Lewis, and eventually, they moved up to radio shows, television and films.
After his time working with Lewis came to an end, Martin pursued a solo career as an actor and singer. In 1965, Martin had his own television program titled “The Dean Martin Show,” which aired until 1974. The series was a variety-comedy show on NBC that featured solo performances from Martin and other musical acts, as well as various comedic bits. From 1974 to 1984, he was the host and roastmaster of “Dean Martin Celebrity Roast,” a series that poked fun at actors, politicians, and other celebrities.
Some of Martin’s most popular songs are “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” “Memories Are Made of This,” “That’s Amore,” “Everybody Loves Somebody,” and “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You.” Martin is a well-known member of the Rat Pack, an informal group of entertainers that also featured Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.
Martin was also a friend to President John F. Kennedy but decided not to attend his inauguration in 1961 due to a dispute between JFK and Sammy Davis Jr. Martin chose to be loyal to Davis and stand up for what he believed to be right. Keep reading to learn more about Mart in and the details behind why he refused to attend the prestigious event.
Dean Martin (circa 1960), (Henry Gris/FPG/Getty Images)
Martin was born on June 7, 1917, in Steubenville, Ohio. His parents were Italian, and his father, Gaetano Alfonso Crocetti, was from Montesilvano, Abruzzo. Martin’s mother was Angela Crocetti, an Italian-American. Martin grew up speaking Italian at home with his family and didn’t learn to speak English until the age of five. He attended Grant Elementary School in Steubenville and said he was bullied for his limited English.
The star dropped out of Steubenville High School in the tenth grade, claiming he was smarter than his teachers. Before becoming a performer, Martin worked in a steel mill, at a speakeasy as a blackjack dealer, and was a welterweight boxer. He began competitive boxing when he was 15, under the name “Kid Crochet.” It is said that he fought in 36 fights total and won 25 of them. It was while boxing that he broke his nose, which is something he had surgically fixed in his late 20s.
After his short-term boxing career was over, Martin went to work at an illegal casino as a roulette stickman and croupier. During this time, he was also singing with local bands with the stage name “Dino Martini,” which was inspired by the Metropolitan Opera tenor, Nino Martini. In 1940 he began singing for Cleveland bandleader Sammy Watkins
In the fall of 1943, Martin began performing in New York City. It was not long after this that he was drafted into the military during World War II. However, according to the Los Angeles Times, he was discharged with a hernia after 14 months.
John F. Kennedy (1962), (Universal History Archive/UniversalImagesGroup/Getty Images)
During his years performing in Las Vegas with the famous Rat Pack, Martin became close friends with Sammy Davis Jr. In Davis’s autobiography “Why Me?” he explained that President John F. Kennedy chose not to include him in the 1961 inauguration because he thought Davis’s marriage to a white woman would upset Southerners.
When news broke that JFK decided not to invite Davis to his inauguration, Martin was fiercely loyal to his friend. The subject is covered in the documentary “Dean Martin: King of Cool,” which was produced by Turner Classic Movies and directed by Tom Donahue. The director explained to Fox News:
“Sammy Davis Jr. helped to get JFK elected and then JFK and his campaign decided to pay Sammy back by not allowing him to go to the inauguration because he was part of an interracial marriage. It was Dean Martin who stood up for his friend and said, ‘I’m not going to be part of the inauguration if Sammy isn’t going.’ That really impressed me. He had a sense of honor.”
Martin’s daughter, Deana Martin, was also a consultant for the documentary about her father. She shared on the subject of the inauguration:
“He was my uncle Sammy. He came to our house. He was family. So it was pretty remarkable. My dad was going to take a stand because it was the right thing to do. It didn’t matter what JFK or anyone else was going to think of him. This is Sammy Davis Jr. and that was his friend. And for family to not be invited for those reasons made my father very upset. He just said, ‘It’s not right. I’m not going.’ And that was it. He wouldn’t think about it anymore.”
Sammy Davis Jr. (date unknown), (John Springer Collection/Corbis Historical/Getty Images)
Dean Martin was an upstanding man and loyal friend. What do you think of his decision not to attend JFK’s 1961 inauguration? Let us know your opinion and be sure to send this along to all of the Dean Martin fans you know.