Obituary: Dean Martin

One of the principal reasons for the long popularity of Dean Martin was his ability to kid himself, writes Dick Vosburgh. And yet that "self" was largely an artificial creation.

His singing style, for instance, was, by his own admission, "stolen from Bing Crosby". Then there was his southern drawl, which hardly came naturally to a native of Ohio, a state situated in America's Midwest. But it did differentiate Martin from such rival Crosby imitators of the mid-1930s as Pennsylvania's Perry Como and Canada's Dick Todd.

For his first professional name, he chose the appropriately alcoholic "Dino Martini", but as there was then another Italian singer, the operatic tenor and sometime film star Nino Martini, that name was soon abandoned.

Even his night-club act, in which he interspersed his songs and patter with sips from a whisky glass, was not his own creation; he bought the act in the late 1950s from Phil Harris, another performer who capitalised on a hard-drinking, womanising image.

That "nose job", which gave Martin his matinee idol profile, was financed, incidentally, by Lou Costello, the short, chubby half of the Abbott and Costello team. During the Second World War, Costello spotted the singer appearing solo in a second-rate night-club and put him under personal contract. This was later galling for the comic when, with Jerry Lewis, Martin made a series of 1950s comedies that eclipsed Abbott and Costello's popularity.

Dino Paul Crocetti (Dean Martin), actor and singer: born Steubenville, Ohio 17 June 1917; married 1940 Betty McDonald (one son, three daughters; marriage dissolved 1947), 1949 Jeanne Biegger (one son, one daughter, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved), 1973 Cathy Hawn (one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1976); died Beverly Hills 25 December 1995.

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