Is there a cooler perk than having your father in the Rat Pack? Not likely, says Deana Martin, who earned her show-biz education from the likes of Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles and Elvis Presley, not to mention a couple of crooners: her dad, Dean Martin, and "Uncle Frank" Sinatra.
Martin, 66, who inherited her father's golden voice, will perform some of his most popular tunes and more in her show, "Deana Sings Dino -- Memories Are Made of This," Saturday at Five Towns College Performing Arts Center in Dix Hills. She spoke to Newsday from her home in Branson, Missouri.
Dean's career was rooted in Manhattan's nightclub scene. Is it special to play New York?
Always. I love knowing that my dad walked down those streets looking for work. I was born at 61st Street, and we had a beautiful place on Riverside Drive. Lena Horne lived above us.
How did you choose the songs for your concert?
Frank Sinatra would be 100 years old this year, so I have to honor him. Songs like "That's Life" and "Summer Wind." And I have to sing my dad's hits, like "That's Amoré" and "Memories Are Made of This." I always close with his theme song, "Everybody Loves Somebody." People would throw tomatoes if I didn't. The rest is music from the Great American Songbook, and my personal stories.
You did the posthumous duet "True Love" with your dad on your album "Destination Moon," similar to Natalie Cole's duets with her dad, Nat King Cole. Was it emotionally tough?
It was. We rerecorded the track with Al Schmitt, who engineered Natalie's "Unforgettable." I went into Capitol Records, using my dad's microphone, sitting in his chair, holding the same chart he held, handwritten by Nelson Riddle. It was overwhelming. When I heard my dad's voice, I couldn't sing. I was too choked up.
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Were you nervous meeting Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles and Elvis when you were younger?
I doubt I grasped it at the time. Marilyn Monroe was doing a movie with my dad, and we were in my living room doing the Twist for her, to Bobby Darin's "Up a Lazy River." I remember how beautiful she was. She told me a photographer told her she didn't look good when she showed her gums. Meeting The Beatles was exciting. It was a blur. I was just a young girl when Elvis said to me, "I love your dad very much. People call me the king of rock and roll, but your dad is the king of cool."
When you dated Davy Jones of The Monkees, did the moon hit your eye like a big pizza pie?
[Laughs.] Something just attracted me to him. We were around the same size and had the same haircut. He reminded me of my dad. Both loved horses, both had a great sense of humor, both were good singers. Davy was a doll. Dad loved him.
You're producing a Dean Martin biopic. What's the status?
When my bio came out, Joe Mantegna called and said, "I want to direct the movie." Bonnie Hunt said, "I'd love to write the screenplay." Jennifer Love Hewitt said, "I'd love to play you." However long it takes to find the right Dean Martin is OK.
Your show isn't all music. You share anecdotes, too.
Growing up in the environment I did, I have so many fabulous stories about Uncle Frank, Uncle Sammy, Peggy Lee. Or Rosemary Clooney sitting around the tree singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." You can't buy that kind of training. I do feel the spirits of all those people around me. I hope you don't think I'm very strange.
What is it you love about the Great American Songbook? The music is so uniquely evocative.
Absolutely right. You can do those songs so many ways, change the phrasing, slow it down. It's timeless, classic, great songwriting. I remember when Frank Sinatra taught me how to learn a song. He told me to go over the lyrics to see what they mean to you. He said to speak them first, then interpret them.
You've poignantly said that Dean "wasn't a good father, but he was a good man."
My husband said I don't know if that's such a good quote for you to say. But I said it's true. How people misinterpret that, it's totally beyond me. He was an incredible man. He wasn't a great dad, but he was a great provider, he was sweet, he was there.
You also duetted with Jerry Lewis in 2006 with "Time After Time." Do you share your dad's chemistry with him?
For sure. When I was writing my book "Dreams Are Made of This," he said, "Come to San Diego and we'll talk." We were sitting on his boat, and Sammy Kahn's "Time After Time" came up. I said I want to do that with you. My husband said, "Yes, it could be Martin and Lewis together again!" It turned out beautiful.
How will history look back on Martin and Lewis, compared to teams like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers?
All the comedy teams you mentioned are incredible, and will hopefully last forever, thanks to YouTube. Martin and Lewis were the biggest thing for the 10 years they were together. As Jerry said, they had magic in a bottle.
Jerry Lewis and your dad must have had some wild times in their formative years in the 1940s.
Jerry told me that when they played Atlantic City, "We'd go out on the beach and I'd pretend I was drowning. Your dad would pull me out of the water and pretend to give me mouth-to-mouth. Crowds would gather, then I'd jump up and say, 'I'm OK folks, but you've got to come to our show tonight at the 500 Club.' " My dad kept the telegrams they got from Abbott and Costello and other comedians who said, "Please don't break up. You can't break up Martin and Lewis."
Tell me more about your friendship with Jerry Lewis. It sounds like he has a special fondness for you.
When he sees me, he starts to cry. He takes his hands, puts them on either side of my face and looks at me and says, "I see my partner." It's so sweet. I can tell where Jerry is from a mile away. He'll hear that I'm near and he'll yell, "Laaady!" Then I know, oh God, he's here.
It's a very odd story about how you chose Jennifer Love Hewitt to portray you in the prospective Dean Martin biopic that you're producing.
Listen to this: I was performing at Feinstein's a couple years ago around my birthday -- across the street from where I was born -- and I said we're going to make the book into a movie. I said . . . I'd really love for Jennifer Love Hewitt to play me in the movie. Then I hear from the audience, "OK, I'll do it." I said, what? Feinstein's isn't very big, there are booths in the back and four rows of tables. A voice said, "It's me, Jennifer Love Hewitt. I'd love to play you in the movie." She was there with her mom! Afterward we went back and talked. She looks so much like me -- we're around the same size. I loved her work. There's something so real about her.
On the topic of producing movies, your father had a special opportunity that escaped him.
Michael Douglas came to my father and asked him to back "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." My dad said, "Nah, that's a weird movie, I don't think I want to do that." After it became such a hit, my dad said, "Boy, was I stupid! I should have listened to him."
The L.A. music scene in the '60s must have been thrilling.
It was an exciting, heady time. I played the Whiskey à Go-go with my rock and roll group. When Buffalo Springfield played my 18th birthday, I asked Neil Young to write a song for me. He said, "Sure," but never did. I was in the studio when The Byrds recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man." Canned Heat played my high school prom.
You acted on "The Monkees" as well. Do you recall the criticism they got for not playing their instruments on their first album?
Yes, I played Davy's love interest. For The Monkees to have been singled out, it's wrong. They did play their own music, and I think Peter Tork is a fabulous talent. He has a song called "Wine, Wine, Wine" that would be a fun song for festivals. I'm also recording a song called "Mr. Merlot." I always wanted to do [a wine cross-promotion] and call it Dino Vino.
Besides acting, singing, book writing and your Bodies by Deana fitness company, you're a pilot. Your late half-brother Dean Paul was a military pilot. Did he get you into aviation?
Yes. As a young girl, we'd sit around and make model airplanes. He was so excited when he joined the Air National Guard. I'll never forget when he said to me, "Deana, from now on when you go outside and look up, you'll see me and I'll be protecting you." I fly a Cessna 310. It's called "Volare."
You're also a mom. Is your son, Mickey, in show biz?
He works at Warner Bros. in distribution, so he's on the other side of show biz. He does contracts and things like that.
Your website says that you and your husband, John Griffeth, split time between Beverly Hills and Branson. What brought you to Missouri?
It's a funny story. On "The Dean Martin Show," Dad's band was Les Brown and his Band of Renown. After Les Brown died, Les Brown Jr. took over. My husband said, "What would you think if we called Les, and we had Deana Martin with the Les Brown Band of Renown?" I said that would be kind of cool. So we called Les, who lived in Branson. John asked if he'd like to be our conductor. He said he'd love to. Les said, "The best thing would be if you and Deana came here to Branson. It would be less expensive than me bringing the band to L.A." John said, "Where is Branson?" Les said, "It's in Missouri." And of course my husband joked, "Where is Missouri?"
I had hurt my shoulder, because I was doing the [punching] bag. I like to box. I couldn't lift my arm to hold the microphone, so Les said, "There's an orthopedic surgeon that lives around the corner from me." So I walked into Dr. Hyam's gorgeous house. He said, "It's for sale." We ended up buying that house. That's nine years ago. We still have a place in Beverly Hills, and have family there, but I found that when I'm out on the road, I want to come back to Branson more. I have a full gym and a full recording studio.
Your father boxed, too, didn't he?
Yes, he fought under the name Kid Crochet [his real name was Dino Paul Crocetti]. He was in Golden Gloves. He said he was very proud because, he said, "I had 12 professional fights, and I won all but 11 of them.' "
WHAT "Deana Martin Sings Dino -- Memories Are Made of This"
WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Five Towns College Performing Arts Center, Dix Hills
INFO $40-$60; 631-656-2148, dhpac.org