Friday, May 21, 2010
And yet I have a patron saint, albeit one not canonised by Rome: Dean Martin, or, as I like to think of him, St Dean of the Whatever.
Hey pallies, likes the 'net continues to be likes a total Dino-treasure trove....more and more wonderful Dino-finds just waitin' to be discovered. As you know ilovedinomartin tends to pretty much put the accent on more recent Dino-sharin', but I am hopin' to put more and more Dino-effort in findin' what we mighta call a Dino-back-list of Dino-discoveries.
Today's Dino-post fits likes very well into the back-list Dino-category. From the Guardian pad comes this brillant piece of Dino-prose by author Shawn Levy. As you will read below, Mr. Levy has written no less then four tomes of non-fiction in the lst decade or so that feature our beloved Dino, includin' "Rat Pack Confidential."
This 2005 piece of Dino-prose puttin' the focus on the reationship between our Dino and the jer was written on the eve of the release of Mr. Jerry Lewis's amore to our Dino, "Dean and Me: A Love Story." As you read, you will see how truly and deeply Mr. Shawn Levy diggs our Dino and truly "gets Martin." Loves how Levy calls our Dino his "patron saint." Who better to turn to for guidance in life then our Dino.
Loves Levy's analysis of Martin and Lewis and how much the jer loves our Dino sayin'...."Dean was Jerry's hero, ideal, model, chum and chaperone." If I have ever envied anyone in the whole world it woulda be the jer for havin' the closest of close relationships with our Dino. Coulda goes on and on 'bout how much I digg this Dino-prose from Levy, but I leaves it to you pallies to soak up each and every Dino-dedicated word. Dino-lovin', DMP btw pallies, as always, just clicks on the tagg of this here Dino-gram to read Shawn Levy's Dino-prosin' in it's original format.
O brother, where art thou?
They met as nobodies, became best friends and superstars, but ended up refusing to speak to each other. Now, in a new book, Jerry Lewis has come clean about his relationship with Dean Martin. Shawn Levy unpicks the story
Shawn Levy The Guardian, Friday 21 October 2005
'The marriage of contrasts made for delicious entertainment' ... Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.
I am not a superstitious sort. I don't carry rabbits' feet or tap wood or read a horoscope or even pray. And yet I have a patron saint, albeit one not canonised by Rome: Dean Martin, or, as I like to think of him, St Dean of the Whatever. Dean Martin was impeccable and remote, from the top of his brilliantined curls to the muddy spikes of his golf shoes; from his exquisite comic timing to the butterscotch fluidity of his voice; from the droll irony with which he observed life to the passionate heat he inspired in others.
And the best part of it is that he didn't care. Dean was, as his brilliant biographer Nick Tosches so appositely dubbed him, the ultimate menefregista - an "I-don'tgive-a-damn-ist". His indifference is why I consider him my good luck charm. I have written four books of non-fiction in the past decade, and Dean has put his imprint of taciturn cool on all of them, most crucially in King of Comedy, a biography of Jerry Lewis, in which Dean co-stars as the charismatic big brother figure with whom Jerry spends a crucial decade in one of the most popular comedy acts in entertainment history.
Dean was Jerry's hero, ideal, model, chum and chaperone. Jerry was nobody until he met Dean - and, to be fair, vice versa. Coming from literally nowhere, the pair rode a skyrocketing 10-year career that made them staples of American showbiz for the rest of their lives.
They met when they were just two guys scuffling for a break in Times Square, and they helped forge a new brand of popular entertainment suited to the postwar mood. By the time of their parting, they were superstars with a chasm of cold space between them. And then, as if paying a price for their success, they avoided each other assiduously and spoke perhaps two or three dozen times over the next four decades - and this after being so inseparable that people whispered about them.
Yet for all this latter bitterness, Jerry to this day professes an undying love for his former partner. Dean passed away a decade ago while the rest of the world was having Christmas supper, and Jerry is marking the anniversarywith the release of a memoir, Dean and Me: A Love Story. It contains revelations and confessions of mobsters and women and golf matches and drunken sprees, and it seems Dean has grown as a comedian and a man in his former partner's eyes since his death.
For much of the new material, we have only Jerry's word, which can be a wobbly foundation upon which to rest a nonfictional narrative. Jerry's memory, while impressive, is often shaped by sentimentality and vainglory and his purpose of the moment. Dean would never have written a memoir - his idea of serious reading was a couple of comic books.
Certain things, however, are beyond dispute. In July, 1946, a 19-year-old comic pantomimist born Jerome Levitch and a 29-year-old Italian crooner born Dino Crocetti, who had a slight previous acquaintance based on common friends and a couple of shared bookings, teamed up as a singing comedy act at the 500 Club on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
The act came together because Jerry had been bombing on his own and begged Dean's manager to send the singer down from New York to save his skin. Jerry was performing a "dummy" or "record" act; he would bring a Victrola out on stage with him and comically lip-synch and distort himself while various records played. The sheer elasticity and abandon of the young comic put the thing over, but you couldn't imagine a lifetime of it - and more importantly, the gangsters who ran the 500 Club didn't think it was funny.
During the previous winter, Jerry had been on the bill with Dean at a Manhattan night spot and the two had turned the final show of the evening into a pastiche, with Jerry antically interrupting songs that, to be fair, Dean wasn't exactly killing himself to deliver straight. So when he was threatened with losing his Atlantic City gig, Jerry recollected Dean and those hijinks and rang him. He came, they threw together an act, and within days they were a smash hit.
To look at them, they hardly made a natural pair: Dean with his leonine beauty and slow, assured touch with a song or a joke; Jerry gaunt and gangly and hysterical and screeching like a klaxon horn. And off stage they were equally ill-matched. Jerry was Dean's temperamental opposite - needy and loud and insecure. And yet this marriage of contrasts made for delicious entertainment.
Their show was a deliberate shambles. Jerry might do a little of his record act, pretending to be an MC, then introduce Dean, who would start to sing while Jerry repeatedly interrupted. It was loosely scripted - Dean was, as Jerry always says, "funny in his bones" and could ad-lib perhaps even better than his comedian partner. But the main impression was a kind of Hellzapoppin' breakdown of the normal parameters of nightclub entertainment.
Within weeks of that first recordbreaking gig in Atlantic City, the two were playing at New York's Copacabana club to a glittering audience of movie stars, mafiosi and swells. Almost immediately they were signed to make movies and given their own radio and TV shows, and Dean got a recording contract. Barely one year later, My Friend Irma, the first of their 16 films together, was released to smash box-office. The following year, they joined TV's Colgate Comedy Hour as monthly hosts, regularly beating the powerhouse Ed Sullivan show in the ratings. Their live shows created sensations on a Beatlemania scale.
But as they rose, they lost some of their éclatamong the cognoscenti. During their initial ascent, Orson Welles declared that they were so funny "you would piss your pants". But before long, first at the instigation of producer Hal Wallis and then following Jerry's instinct for the box-office, they geared their work toward a family audience. Jerry became a favourite of kids while Dean's role as a serious singer was shunted off to their stage appearances.
Ever the control freak, Jerry had another important bit of input to the team's image, one that cemented the world's impressions of both men. Each stood about 6ft 1in, but Jerry added lifts to Dean's shoes and had the soles and heels of his own shaved so that Dean appeared taller; on top of that, Jerry always worked in a crouch, so that the Monkey, as he referred to himself, never seemed equal to Dean's Handsome Man.
There was an unusual physical intimacy to their act - Dean would lift Jerry in his arms like a big baby, they would pat one another's cheeks, they nearly kissed on camera at times, staring into each other's eyes with big, sincere grins (try to imagine the same of Laurel and Hardy or Morecambe and Wise). There was a strange hint of something like sexuality between them: twice the pair remade classic romantic comedies as buddy movies, with Jerry appearing in what had been the female lead role (Living It Up, originally Nothing Sacred, and You're Never Too Young, originally The Major and the Minor). Another time, in The Caddy, Jerry wore an apron and unironically scolded Dean like a housewife for missing dinner while playing around with some floozy. This sort of subtext fed ludicrous backstage rumours that Dean and Jerry were lovers, a rumour that nevertheless persists in modern skin - witness Rupert Holmes' novel Where the Truth Lies, now a film by Atom Egoyan, in which a Dean-and-Jerry-like pair engage in an ambi-sexual menage a trois with fateful consequences.
Eventually, the two simply outgrew one another. For the last three years of their partnership, Jerry's almost visceral need to control the act conflicted with Dean's characteristic lassitude. More and more often, writers and directors of Jerry's choosing were shaping their material, while Dean's parts shrank
Dean, who had been a blackjack dealer and a boxer before hitting on singing as a career, wasn't blind to Jerry's machinations, and he dismissed his partner's ambitions to comic genius as "Chaplin shit". But he had people whispering earnestly in his ear that Jerry was holding him back from greater things, and Jerry had sycophants giving him similar advice. They fought openly on film sets and privately behind the scenes. They tried to split as early as 1954 but were bound to their contracts by their film and television masters. Finally, they separated for good precisely on the 10th anniversary of their 500 Club debut, playing a farewell show at the Copacabana.
In the subsequent years, they literally didn't speak. Once or twice they collided on the back lot at Paramount or in some Vegas green room. But often they deliberately ducked one another. In 1960, when Dean went off Rat Pack-ing, Jerry was persona non grata, and it's a sign of his hurt and resentment that he responded to the Rat Pack's Las Vegas shoot of Ocean's Eleven by going to Miami and making a resort hotel movie of his own, The Bellboy. By 1970, Jerry's career had spun out of control in a haze of drug addiction and the changing fashions in comedy, but Dean was a bigger star than ever, with a smash hit weekly TV series and a film and recording career to rival Frank Sinatra's.
In 1976, Sinatra tried to mend fences between the estranged partners, surprising Jerry during his annual muscular dystrophy telethon by bringing Dean out from the wings. It was a truly spontaneous and emotional reunion - the two stood patting each other and smiling through tears as though a loved one had returned from the dead. But despite Jerry's entreaties after the show, Dean never rejoined him on stage or even for mere social interaction. Finally, in 1987, when Dean's golden son, Dean Paul Martin, died in a plane crash, Jerry reached out to him, instigating, at least by Jerry's account, a sporadic telephone relationship.
It's a great story, a showbiz epic of brothers who find and then lose one another. And in its heroic dimension it stands in stark contrast to the actual record Dean and Jerry leave behind - even the best of their film work is formulaic and lazy, and their TV appearances only hint at the brilliance that endeared them to a nation. Nothing can compete with the truth of what the two achieved and what they felt for one another during and after it. Factual accuracy aside, Jerry is no doubt being emotionally honest in Dean and Me. In giving us more insight into this amazing, unlikely marriage - and how could he not? - he metes out showbiz gold.
· Shawn Levy is the author of Rat Pack Confidential, and his most recent book is The Last Playboy: The High Life of Porfirio Rubirosa (Fourth Estate). Dean and Me: A Love Story is out next week.