Dean Martin, smooth and multi-talented entertainer
Burbank, California, 1965 to 1974
Series: The Dean Martin Show
Air Dates: September 16, 1965 – April 5, 1974
Director: Greg Garrison
Tailor: Sy Devore
On June 7, 1917, Dino Paul Crocetti was born in Steubenville, Ohio, to Angela and Gaetano Crocetti, the latter a barber from the Abruzzo region in Italy where much of my own family hails. One hundred years later, the world remembers him as Dean Martin, the charming crooner whose legendary career spanned half a century as a major headliner from nightclubs and casinos to movies and TV shows.
Effortlessly charismatic and unflappable, Dino brought his smooth star power to his popular comedy act with Jerry Lewis and later as a leader of the Rat Pack alongside Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.
CNN contributor Bob Greene wrote in 2012: “His friend Frank Sinatra may have liked the image of being Chairman of the Board, but the core of Martin’s enduring allure is that not only did he not want to be chairman, he didn’t even want to serve on the board: It would mean that he would be cooped up in some boardroom for meetings when he’d rather be out playing golf. The sight of him in a tuxedo – he wore it as comfortably as most men wear a pair of pajamas – says to people who weren’t even born when he was at the height of his fame: Take a deep breath and let yourself grin. Your problems can wait until tomorrow.”
While the boozy, womanizing antics of the Rat Pack may have alienated younger audiences during the radical ’60s, Dean Martin’s solo star never stopped shining. In 1964, Dean’s recording of “Everybody Loves Somebody” knocked the seemingly invincible Beatles off of the number one spot on the Billboard charts. Not only was it his first hit to crack the Top 40 in six years, but it almost immediately shot to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 list. Later to be his signature tune, “Everybody Loves Somebody” retained its top position on the “Pop-Standard Singles” chart for eight weeks.
As Dean Martin demonstrated his staying power even in the age of the British Invasion, he was approached to headline a variety show on NBC. Reluctant to scale back his bread-and-butter work in movies and nightclubs and unwilling to commit to the pressures of a weekly show, Martin laid down admittedly and deliberately outrageous terms for his acceptance: a staggering salary of $40,000 and a commitment to show up only to the show’s taping without rehearsals. Of course, NBC was delighted for any response at all and accepted, and Dean announced to his family: “They went for it, so now I have to do it.”
The Dean Martin Show debuted on NBC on September 16, 1965 and became an NBC staple, running at 10 p.m. on Thursdays (Thirsty Thursday, of course) and, later, Fridays for 264 episodes until its final show on April 5, 1974. The show was exactly what one would expect of Dean Martin, a casual, genuine, and unpretentious hour of entertainment that benefited from the natural spontaneity of Dean’s unrehearsed performances and willingness to put himself out there. My grandma still laughs when remembering Dean’s genuine shock at the celebrity guests who would knock on a closet door on the set, surprising him as the producers almost always kept guest identities from Dean in order to provoke the best response.
While his fellow Rat Packers and stars of the era were often plagued with addictions and scandal, Dean Martin was seemingly most addicted to fake-drinking rather than actually imbibing as heavily as his image demanded, often filling his on-stage rocks glass with apple juice rather than his preferred J&B scotch whisky. Dean was a dedicated father to his seven children and was forever heartbroken when his son Dean Paul Martin was killed in a crash while flying with the California Air National Guard in March 1987.
A lifelong smoker of Kent cigarettes, Dean Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1993. Despondent over the loss of his son six years earlier and tired after his long, successful career, Dean refused the surgery that may have prolonged his life and died in his Beverly Hills home on December 25, 1995 at the age of 78. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip where he had entertained so many were dimmed in his honor, and Ohio Route 7 through his hometown of Steubenville was renamed Dean Martin Boulevard.
The epitaph on his crypt in Westwood Village Memorial Park reads “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime,” both the name of his signature song and the personal credo that defined his beloved persona.
What’d He Wear?
“In regular clothes, I’m a nobody,” Dean once reflected. “In a tuxedo, I’m a star.”
Thus, for his most starring role as the host of a long-running variety show, Dean dressed to the nines every night in a tailored dinner suit perfectly suited for his debonair playboy image.
The Dinner Jacket
Over the course of his variety show from 1965 to 1974, Dean Martin wore at least four different styles of dinner jacket that reflected the fashions of the times. A few aspects remained consistent on each: all were black dupioni silk with a single-breasted, single-button closure and a welted breast pocket for his trademark red silk display kerchief.
Dino’s dinner suits are all made from that shiny, slubby pain weave silk fabric known as dupioni. Slightly heavier than other silks like shantung, dupioni silk may have worn warm for our hero during unrehearsed nights of singing, dancing, and prancing under the hot lights of a TV studio, but the fabric’s wrinkle-resistant properties lend well to the lounge lizard aspects of Dean’s persona, allowing him to luxuriate around the set week after week without his trademark tux looking rumpled.
His two dinner jackets with peak lapels were the most formally detailed with jetted side pockets and ventless back while his notch lapel dinner jackets incorporated other less formal details borrowed from business suits such as ticket pockets and side vents.
When Dean’s show debuted in September 1965, he appeared in a sleek ventless dinner jacket with slim peak lapels that roll to a single silk-covered button at his waist. The red silk display kerchief favored by several Rat Packers puffs out from his welted breast pocket while his straight hip pockets are jetted for clean lines through the torso. The sleeves end with three silk-covered buttons on each cuff.
As the show went on into the late ’60s, Dean’s tuxedo retained its closer cut but loosened up on its formality; by 1968, Dino was rocking slim notch lapels, flapped pockets, and long double vents on his dinner jacket… less formal elements but certainly appropriate given the “living room” nature of the production. The flapped hip pockets slant slightly backward and, like the flapped ticket pocket on the right, are positioned just below the buttoning point. He still has three cuff buttons, albeit black plastic sew-through buttons rather than the more elegant silk-covered buttons of his earlier jacket.
When the sixth season began in September 1970, Dean was back to a ventless dinner jacket with peak lapels, albeit wider lapels more fitting the fashions of the era. The hip pockets slant backward, and Dean’s ever-present red pocket square again puffs out from his welted breast pocket, echoing the jacket’s red faille lining. For the ’70s, Dean also started wearing jackets with single-button cuffs.
Finally, by the end of the show’s run in the spring of 1974, Dean’s dinner suit fell victim to some of the excess of ’70s fashion with long double vents and extremely wide satin-faced notch lapels that extend to nearly an inch away from his armpits. The ticket pocket and straight hip pockets have wide flaps. This jacket, too, has a single black plastic button on each cuff.
At least some of his dinner jackets, most probably the earliest ones, were likely tailored by the Rat Pack’s unofficial tailor, Sy Devore. By the 1970s, Dean was known to wear dinner jackets tailored by Carmen Lamola of Beverly Hills, such as this black wool tuxedo that was auctioned in June 2008 as part of Julien’s Summer Entertainment Sale.
Like his fellow Rat Pack comrade Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin was a major proponent of the red silk pocket square, albeit worn more rakishly unstructured than the Chairman’s preferred TV fold… a difference that reflects both men’s styles, sartorial and otherwise.
Dino in particular seemed to favor bright red satin kerchiefs, providing a vibrant splash of color against the duo-toned black dinner suit and white shirt.
To add the Dean Martin touch to your formal attire, a crimson red silk pocket square like this.
Dean’s formal trousers naturally matched his dinner jackets, suited in black dupioni silk with a shiny satin stripe down the side of each leg. He often placed his hands in his side pockets, positioned just behind the satin braid.
The flat front trousers typically rose low on his waist, coordinating well with the low button stance of his dinner jackets. The bottoms are plain-hemmed, per standard practice for formal trousers.
Befitting his casual nature and a wise concession under the hot studio lights, Dean would forego wearing a waist covering such as a cummerbund or waistcoat, instead keeping his jacket buttoned and relying on the finely tailored coordination to keep him looking cool and composed.
Dean Martin seemed to abhor traditional dress shirts, fully embracing a button-down collar to wear with every outfit from sport coats and business suits to dinner suits. Unacceptable to menswear purists, a button-down shirt with black tie is indicative of Dino’s unpretentious attitudes that lent him a unique degree of sartorial freedom. (Sinatra, an impeccable dresser whose precision bordered on obsessive compulsion, probably took issue with some of his friend’s fashion choices.)
Dino takes his unorthodox shirt a step further by often sporting the seemingly incongruous combination of a button-down collar and double (French) cuffs on the same shirt, a unique combination that was also worn – albeit less formally – by his friends Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. Frank, Dean, and Sammy Davis Jr. all had many shirts made from Nat Wise; Anto acquired Nat Wise in 1987 and still offers “the Dean Martin—cotton voile, button-down collar, ⅜-inch-pleated front, French cuffs,” according to Lisa Eisner’s March 2008 article in Vanity Fair.
Through the nine seasons of The Dean Martin Show‘s run, Dean wore a variety of cuff links, including sets in mother-of-pearl, diamond, or plain metal.
Interestingly, the most nontraditional element of Dean’s shirt was also the most consistent as he never appeared in anything but a white button-down shirt on his show… however, the details beyond that would often vary. A plain front was usual, but Dean would also wear shirts ranging from a front placket with mother-of-pearl buttons to diamond studs (as seen in the New Year’s Eve 1970 episode with Sinatra). Dean’s non-double cuff shirts were usually of the multiple-button barrel cuff variety, as seen in Ocean’s Eleven and in the famous photo from backstage at Carnegie Hall in 1961.
Like the lapels of his dinner jacket, Dean’s black satin silk bow tie would grow in size over the course of the show to reflect the trends of each show’s particular season.
Dean’s on-air footwear with his dinner suits was always a pair of black velvet Prince Albert evening slippers, both with and without gold embroidery.
While less formal than oxfords, the elegant Prince Albert slipper has long been an acceptable black tie footwear alternative in settings like the home, club, or other intimate gatherings. Dino also correctly wears his evening slippers with black dress socks, avoiding some men’s misconceptions that evening slippers should be worn sockless like bedroom slippers!
Dean Martin typically wore his jewelry on his left hand. A silver (or white gold) diamond ring was a mainstay on his left pinky, dating back to his early career in the Martin and Lewis days. He would also usually wear a silver chain-link bracelet around his left wrist, a common affectation among Italian-American men.
In some early episodes, Dean could be spotted wearing a gold dress watch rather than his bracelet. This watch has a square silver dial and is worn on a gold bracelet.
For more information about Dean Martin in a dinner jacket, check out this early BAMF Style post about his black mohair tuxedo in Ocean’s Eleven (1960).
Go Big or Go Home
At the height of The Dean Martin Show‘s popularity, Dean hosted one of the most highly rated episodes at Christmas 1967 featuring regular guest Frank Sinatra and members of both of their families, including Martin’s wife Jeanne and all seven of his children (Craig, Claudia, Gail, Deana, Dean Paul, Ricci, and Gina) in addition to Sinatra’s three children (Tina, Nancy, and Frank Jr.)
Celebrity Christmas specials were a dime a dozen in the late ’60s, seemingly the backbone of Andy Williams’ career, but Dean’s show highlighted the warmth that set him apart as an entertainer. Dean may have loved opening his door to the surprise appearances of stars like John Wayne and Ann-Margret, but it was his family that truly gave him the most happiness.
Frank Sinatra essentially became a member of Dean’s family. As one of his first guests, Frank was often to return to The Dean Martin Show for incredible music duets and skits. It was only around the easygoing Dino that Frank could loosen up.
A loyal and unflappable friend, Dean would always step in to help Frank and it was often Dean’s cooler head that would prevail when the short-fused Frank was provoked by seemingly harmless triggers like an undercooked egg or a loud bar patron.
Dean Martin will be forever linked to the image of a charming figure comfortably clad in a black tailored tuxedo, looking forever at ease.
- Black dupioni silk single-breasted 1-button dinner jacket with satin-faced peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- White cotton shirt with button-down collar, plain front, and double/French cuffs
- Black satin silk bow tie
- Black dupioni silk flat front formal trousers with satin side stripe, straight side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black velvet Prince Albert slippers
- Black dress socks
- Silver chain-link ID bracelet
- Silver diamond pinky ring
Toss a red silk kerchief in your breast pocket and a glass of scotch in your hand, and that’s amore!
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the show! In addition to a number of YouTube clips, compilation DVDs are also available on Amazon.
Of course, you should also be listening to the music. This 30-song collection is branded as his “essential” volume and with classics like “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”, “Volare”, and “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You”, it’s a fine place to start.
I also like the mellow collection on Late at Night with Dean Martin, featuring an understated version of his signature hit “Everybody Loves Somebody” in addition to classics like “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”, “Dream”, and “Mean to Me”.
If you drink, don’t drive. Don’t even putt.
There seems to be some confusion about whether or not Dean Martin’s birth date is June 7 or June 17. The earlier date seems to be the more widely accepted date. Either way, he’s a Gemini.
Somehow, his birth time has been confirmed as 11:55 p.m… which makes perfect sense.