Growing Up the Daughter of A Hollywood Icon Presented A Few Challenges
By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
Her father is an American icon and an Hollywood legend. He was an entertainment quadruple threat having conquered the radio with his songs, the stage with his nightclub act, motion pictures, and finally the small screen (television). In fact, Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n' Roll, called the late Dean Martin 'the king of cool'. But to his namesake daughter, Deana Martin, Dean Martin will always her father.
"He was adored by millions of people, but to me he was just my dad," Deana Martin said. "Elvis did dub him 'the king of cool' because my father was cool. He had a certain swagger and air about him that no one else had back then. My uncle Frank (Sinatra) carried that same kind of swagger, in fact most of the Rat Pack had an air about them, but not to the same degree as my father did. He had it all and took it up a notch."
Deana adds, "There was just something about Dean Martin that everyone adored. It transcended the silver screen or radio. He was handsome and debonair in his trademark black tuxedo. Guys wanted to be like him and all the ladies wanted to meet him. My dad was likeable and approachable. That's what made him the star he was. And through it all, I was dad's biggest fan."
Deana Martin was the fourth child born (1948) to Dean and his first wife Elizabeth (Betty) MacDonald. With Dean's star on the rise after he teamed with comedian Jerry Lewis, the family moved from New York City to Beverly Hills not long after Deana was born. Her father hit his stride in the 1950's, 60's & 70's and young Deana had a front row seat to hoopla and hysteria that unfolded growing up in the golden years of Hollywood.
Surrounded by entertainment royalty during her early years, it's no small surprise Deana followed in dear old dad's footsteps. By the 1960's she began to sing and seek acting roles. As she grew older she was amazed how much her dad influenced her career. "It's remarkable how much of my dad is in me, especially on stage. I learned so much from my dad and from his 'pallies'. Watching him perform in Las Vegas when I was younger gave me a sense of timing and comedy."
Deana didn't plan on a career in show business. She said it just happened. "All the Martin's have a little ham in them, so there is that dynamic. But I never planned on it. I was given dance and piano lessons when I was younger. Seeing him (Dean) my whole life on stage or on TV, I guess I kind of emulated him, and following in his footsteps came naturally."
Her fond recollections of growing up in the limelight and shadow of Dean Martin are available for all to discover in her 2004 memoir, 'Memories Are Made Of This, Dean Martin Through His Daughter's Eyes'. In it she details life in the Martin household and the carousel of luminaries that she was subject too during her adolescence. She shares stories about Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Sinatra, The Beatles, the Rat Pack, and of course Jerry Lewis.
"In some ways Jerry was more than just Uncle Jerry to me, he was like another father." Lewis added a wealth of material for Deana's book. "He was on his boat in San Diego with his wife. He invited me down. I got on the dock and here he is in shorts, a little ways off screaming, "Lady!" He hugs me and puts his hands on both sides of my cheeks, and looking into my eyes, and he says, I see my partner."
Deana adds, "It was sad when he and my dad parted. They were the biggest duo on the planet. They ruled the nightclub circuit and their movies were box office gold." With the behind the scenes help of Sinatra, Martin and Lewis would re-unite after two decades on Lewis' popular MDA Telethon in 1976. " Jerry and I talked about dad making the appearance on the telethon. When they reconciled, and I told him when I saw dad walk out there, my jaw dropped, because they really hadn't spoken since the breakup. It was remarkable to me because none of us knew. It was like two brothers hugging after years of not seeing one another. Nobody knew that was going to happen."
According to Deana, Lewis was very open during their conversation. "He told me how sorry he was about their breakup, and admitted he was so consumed with his own career at the time, he didn't take time to consider how the breakup would effect their lives. Jerry said it was one of the darkest times in his life. I can't tell you how good it felt to see him open up, and be so honest with me. He truly loved my dad."
Lewis penned the foreword to Deana's book. "He insisted on writing it, and I couldn't say no. After reading what was about to be published, he told me it captured a great part of his own life, and that he should write the opening. It's a moving piece and a great tribute to my father and our family. In many ways it validates the entire book. Dad's career began with Jerry. I was honored to have Jerry add the foreword."
Dean passed away on Christmas Day in 1995. Deana debuted her book in 2004. She does admit to working on an earlier version, growing up in the Martin household while her dad was still living. "I was writing one but my dad found out about it and called me up and said, 'burn it'. My working title was 'Dad's Rich, I'm Not'. He didn't find it funny, nor did he want me writing a story about him. He simply said burn it. That was the end of that."
'Memories Are Made Of This' is painfully candid. "It was important to me to be honest and true." Deana paints a colorful picture of her birth mother, who struggled with alcohol and financial miss-management after she and Dean divorced in early 1949. "My father moving on and getting re-married was very tough on her." In the short time her parents were together in Hollywood, her mother had grown accustomed to a particular lifestyle. "She was very un-orthodox. Through all the ups and downs she maintained her sense of humor. Early on she kept hope that she and my father would get back together."
Just a week after his divorce from Betty, Dean married former model Jeanne Biegger. The two had met in Miami. She became the matriarch to the Martin family, eventually raising Deana and her three older siblings, and the three kids Dean and she had during the 1950's. "We spent a few years with my real mother until she just couldn't take care of us anymore. We bounced around a lot. One day we all get dropped off at my dad's house, and we instantly became a larger family."
Jeanne and her dad provided stability for Deana. "My real mom was fun but extravagant. That lead to us moving on several occasions. I guess when it reached a breaking point we came to live with my dad. Whether she was ready for us or not, Jeanne became a mother to us. She welcomed us as her own. I knew who my father was, but now we were under the same roof. Sadly we grew accustomed to the big new house, and didn't see my real mother as much." Betty would pass away in 1989 at the age of 66. "That was a very sad time for me."
Deana would grow up becoming friends with the children of her father's contemporaries. "I grew up with Liza Minelli (Judy Garland's daughter), Tina Sinatra, Frank Jr., Lucy and Desi Arnaz, and many others that would visit. We were all around the same age, and we all had something in common. We had famous parents." Deana's pre-teen and teenage years were filled with lots of wonder. She took dance lessons with Jeff Bridges and went out with Tony Thomas, son of Danny Thomas. In the mid 1960's she dated Davy Jones of the Monkees. "He was sweet, and everyone my age had a crush on him. I think it had more to do with me launching my own singing career. They thought it made for good press."
It was in the mid 1960's Deana began acting. "I had a part on The Monkees. I played a young girl named Daphne on one of the episodes." She would occasionally perform on her dad's variety show. "That was tougher for me. Most people think just because Dean was my dad that I had an in. I had to audition for the show and I remember dad saying, don't embarrass me. He expected the best out of us."
In her younger years Deana flirted with rock n' roll and country music with mild success, but found her groove as a singer embracing her father's signature sound. "It wasn't until after his death, when I went back and listened to his early recordings, and I discovered how precious and timeless his music was."
Since 2006 Deana has released five albums celebrating her love of jazz and hit parade songs. "The songs my dad recorded and the artists that came along during that same time period are classics. It's important to me to keep those legacies alive today." Deana performs on stage singing those very same songs. "There is a lot of my dad in me, especially on stage. He had perfect timing and knew how to play to the audience."
It was during recurring trips to her dad's native Steubenville, Ohio when she finally decided to write a book about her dad. The town celebrated Dean Martin Day on June 7th which the governor made official in 2001. "My entire life people would come up to me and say, 'I adored your dad' or 'your father's music meant so much to me.' So I would go back to Steubenville, look up his old childhood friends and videotape their memories of dad."
She put all those early accounts along with her own recollections of her dad on paper, and 'Memories Are Made Of This' was released. The book has been well received over the years. The project took her several years to complete but 15 years since its debut, Deana is glad she took the journey. "There have been several book written about my dad or the Rat Pack, but I wanted his fans and other readers to discover a more personal side of Dean Martin."
What was more important is letting readers know the real truth about Dean. In the book she describes Dean more as a good man rather than a good father. "Don't get me wrong, he was a good father but it was more important to him to be viewed as a good man." Although Dean was dynamic on stage and in front of the camera, he relished his downtime. "When Jeanne would have dinner parties it wasn't uncommon for my dad to escape to a different part of the house."
In the book, Deana describes her dad as a workaholic. "He stayed busy and he wanted to keep busy. He would go from shooting a movie, to making a television appearance, to the recording studio, and finally performing live in Vegas." Through it all he was regimented. "He liked to be on time. He prided himself in professionalism. He got up early went to work and got home about the same time every day for dinner. His only downtime came when he played a round of golf."
Deana is quick to put assumptions of her father to rest. "From his nightclub routine or weekly TV show it would be easy for most to think my dad drank a lot, but that was far from the truth. He told me if he drank on stage as much as it appeared, he would have never been able to perform the way he did. He enjoyed a good drink or a cold beer, but on stage he had apple juice in his glass. I think it was important for him to keep his wits about him when he was entertaining audiences."
Two of her favorites memories from the book are rather touching and humorous. Deana recalls the time when Dean allowed her to buy a suede coat from Wilson's House of Suede & Leather. "Suede was all the rage back then. He told me to go get it and he'd pay for it. I said no, you go with me. Of course he said, 'you want me to help pick it out'. I said yes. He fussed a bit, but relented. The next day I walked to the shop after school and my dad was already there. I tried on every coat, and when I finally picked one out, he said, baby that looks good."
She tried to get him to help pick out the right buttons for her custom jacket but Dean was growing antsy. "It wasn't so much I needed his help. It was more about having personal time with my father. When you come from a large family and a father who stays busy, you only get so much one on one time with him. I sought out those opportunities as often as I could."
Another more amusing story recalls the time Deana turned 15 and received her California drivers license. 'I had a part time job, mainly because dad instilled a work ethic in all of us. But I didn't have enough of my own money to buy a car. My dad asked me what I wanted. I didn't think he would agree so quickly, so without thinking I said I really love the VW Beetle. It was popular in the 1960's. The very next morning he had one in the driveway. After thanking him I said what if I had mentioned a Mercedes, too which he promptly replied 'you'll never know'. He had a sense of humor that kept everyone guessing."
Through all the ups and downs, through Dean's three marriages, the loss of her birth mother, and brother Dean Paul (Dino) Martin Jr. who died in a military plane crash in 1987 at age 35, Deana has accepted her role in the legacy of Dean Martin. "I always loved being called Deana Martin. In school the name carried some weight with it." The only thing that ever got under her skin is when journalists or others miss-pronounces it. "It's not De-Ana. It's just Dean with an "A' attached to it. That's how you say Deana."
As far as her father's legacy is concerned. "He was an icon. His songs are classics and should be cherished by generations to come." Deana Martin loves keeping her dad's music and legacy alive. She regularly performs in concert halls and theatres around the country. "I learned from the best. Singing and entertaining have become a big part of my life. I'm proud to be singing dads songs and other artists from his generation. And I still love when people come up to me after and say how much they enjoyed the show, and how much my father meant to them. I never tire of hearing that."
Still beautiful and vivacious at 70, Deana and her husband live in Branson, Missouri. "I moved here several years ago on the advice of Andy Williams." The two recorded 'White Christmas' for Deana's holiday album. "I love Branson. It's right in the middle of the country, so it makes plane rides to destinations shorter than flying out of LA. The only thing is we have to drive an hour or more to the airport. But Branson is beautiful and life is relaxing there. It's a great place to unwind."