Monday, November 03, 2008
Hey pallies, this Shelia O'Malley in her blog shares deeply on the great Nick Tosches' Dinotome "Dino: Living High In The Dirty Business of Dreams." To read this in it's original form, likes just clicks on the tagg of this Dinopost.
"This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am." -- James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
October 14, 2008
The Books: "Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams" (Nick Tosches)
Next book on my "entertainment biography" shelf:
Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, by Nick Tosches
David Thomson, in his Biographical Dictionary of Film writes of Tosches' book:
Nick Tosches' Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams is one of the great showbiz biographies. Its research is not just thorough, but lunatic, and perverse - for, plainly, Dean Martin had led a life indifferent or averse to recollection, accuracy, or fact. Dino is brilliant on the Lewis-Martin assocation, and inspired in its evocation of the drift, the haze, the numbing futility of being Dino, or being alive.
Tosches' book, while it covers all the details it needs to cover (Dean Martin's start as a singer, his immigrant upbringing - he didn't speak a word of English until he was 6 years old - his meeting with Jerry Lewis and how their particular brand of lunacy made them two of the biggest stars in the world, the breakup with Lewis, and Martin's surging off into a solo career - his friendship with Frank Sinatra and the other Rat Pack boys - his sketchy friendships with underworld characters - his marriages - particularly to Jeanne, the woman who stood by him until the end, even after they divorced - his family-man lifestyle - his highly successful television show - the "roasts" - the tragic death of his son - an event that Martin never recovered from - and then, suddenly, Dean Martin walking away from it all) - does not stop there. The details are just the jumping-off point for Tosches' deeper ruminations, all embodied in the persona of the man that we know of as Dean Martin. You get a great overview of Martin's journey, what it was that made him so special (as a comedian and also a singer - not to mention his potential as a dramatic actor - you need only to see Rio Bravo to understand how good he could be) ... but Tosches is up to something else in his book. It weaves a spell. It ends up being about the entirety of American life in the 20th century - its glory, its seedy side, its reliance on the energy of immigrants - the development of television and what that would really mean to the culture at large - the boomtown of Las Vegas, a truly grown-up playland in the middle of a desert ... the criminal element married to the legit element ... bootlegging and movie stars, poker games and Sunday School ...
Tosches goes deep into the metaphoric resonances of our lives, our experiences as a collective ... and then ... he goes even deeper than that - into an ongoing meditation of what it is to be a human being, the most sophisticated of animals ... and yet the most tragic, with our awareness of our own mortality. What does it mean to live one's life KNOWING that it will end? How does that form us? How does it develop us? We are not cookie-cutters - everyone deals with the reality of death in different ways.
Tosches sees something in Dean Martin - that he had an awareness of death on a cellular level ... it is not intellectual with him, it is known, and understood ... and it was that that distanced him from, well, everyone. No one really knew Dean Martin (according to Tosches). He remained apart. That was one of the reasons why he could be so unbelievably funny. He hovered above the action, seeming to react to it off the cuff, and you wondered (or at least I do, when I watch him): what exactly is he doing that is so funny? It's hard to point to it - it's especially hard to point to it when you are falling off the damn couch with laughter. His humor is subtle, sophisticated, reactive, and deeply human. I would imagine that he was always that funny - and it wasn't Jerry Lewis, per se, who brought it out of him (although you'd never know that from listening to Jerry talk!) ... It was that Dean Martin reacted to whatever person he was standing beside - with gentleness, acceptance, and a ribald sense of the absurd. He made fun of himself, but he never came off looking like just a clown. He was, along with George Burns, the ultimate straight man. It's hard to do with Dean Martin does. Or - it was easy for him ... but what he does cannot be taught. You have it, or you don't. Being a good straight man is having gold in the bank. There's probably one genius a generation in that particular field of show business. It's that difficult and that subtle.
I don't know if Dean Martin would even recognize himself from Tosches' majestic melancholy book ... but like I said, Tosches is up to something different here than a straight biography. It is a rumination on darkness (you can tell that from the title), it is a contemplation of America itself, and the intersection of show business and the underworld. It is a deeply philosophical book, and if you go into it looking for something more traditional, you will be deeply confused. Just give up your expectations. There are other biographies of Martin out there, but this is the one to read. Not just because Tosches really gets Martin's talent and is able to describe it (although that is true as well) ... but because it is spectacular writing. Writing so thick and good you want to scoop it up with a spoon.
Here's an example of the kind of prose that makes up the whole book:
His schoolmates had never really known him. Even his loving familiy could not tell for sure what lay within this kid who moseyed around among them with a hat on, singing. There was a pin-tumbler sidebar lock on his guts that no one could pick. That was just the way he was, and it was just the way he always would be. Unlettered and rough-cut, Dino possessed both wiles and wisdom beyond his years - anyone trying to fuck with his mind or his body or his soul found this out forthwith. But the wisdom served by those wiles was an annihilating wisdom. It was the wisdom of the old ways, a wisdom through which the seductions of reason and love and truth and all such frail and flimsy lepidoptera would in their seasons emerge and thrive, wither and die. The sum of Dino's instincts had to do with the old ways, those ways that were like a wall, ways that kept the world lontano, as the mafiosi would say: distant, safely and wisely at bay. That was how he liked it: lontano, like the flickering images on the theater screen that gave him pleasure as he sat alone, apart from them and unknown to them, in the dark.
Those close to him could sense it: He was there, but he was not really there; a part of them, but apart from them as well. The glint in his eye was disarming, so captivating and so chilling at once, like lantern-light gleaming on nighttime sea: the tiny soft twinkling so gaily inviting, belying for an instant, then illuminating, a vast unseen cold blackness beneath and beyond. The secret in its depth seemed to be the most horrible secret of all: that there was no secret, no mystery other than that which resides, not as a puzzle to be solved or a revelation to be discovered, but as blank immanence, in emptiness itself.
There was a picnic in Beatty Park. Roozy had gotten hold of an eight-millimeter movie camera, and they were all going to be in pictures. No one who saw that movie ever forgot it. The camera captured the silent laughter of the Crocettis and the Barrs. It followed Dino's friends back and forth as they ran and fumbled, threw and jumped in a makeshift football game. There was merriment everywhere, but there was no Dino. Then the camera scanned to the right, to a tree off in the distance, and there he was by himself under the tree, away from it all, caught unawares and expressionless, abstractedly toying with a twig, sort of mind-whittling it. That was Dino, all right; the Dino inside the Dino who sang and swore and loafed and laughed.
He was born alone. He would die alone. These truths, he, like every punk, took to heart. But in him they framed another truth, another solitary, stubborn stone in the eye of nothing. There was something, a knowing, in him that others did not apprehend. He was born alone, and he would die alone, yes. But in between -- somehow -- the world in all its glory would hunker down before him like a sweet-lipped High Street whore.
This, obviously, is not a regular book. Tosches sprinkles the book with Italian words, it is as though he is trying to imagine himself into Martin's psyche - not an easy thing to do on a normal day - because Martin was resistant to analysis and to self-reflection. He did not talk about what he did. He just did it.
His singing came easy to him. And that's one of the things that really gets me about Martin ... the beautiful smoothness of not only his voice, but his persona. His solo songs on his television show are works of art. He sits on the edge of a desk, staring into the camera, and sings. He doesn't overdo anything. Simplicity like that, the ability to not do too much is deeply vulnerable. He does not protect himself, he lets himself be soft, open, and connected to us. His voice would make you swoon - and that's what he wants. In a way, his was the most generous of the talents of the Rat Pack crowd ... it was a direct communication with his audience, in a way that was singular and set apart. Who knows if he knew how much he was loved, and if that made a difference to Dean Martin, and his experience of being Dean Martin. Nick Tosches surmises that it did not make a difference, that Dean Martin had something in him - an existential loneliness, a solitary mindset - that kept him from joining the world at large. Regardless of whether that is true or not, watching Dean Martin sing is to be in the presence of true grace, in my opinion. You can relax. You can be with him. He demands nothing from you except that you enjoy your own life while you are here. It's remarkable. Baffling, almost. Generosity of that sort in a performer, without the accompanying subtext of "Love me, love me, love me" is so rare as to be almost unheard of.
The couple of times that Martin got a chance to really act (The Young Lions, Rio Bravo) showed that when he put his mind to it - he could move out of his comfort zone. This man was such a giant and easy talent that his comfort zone was obviously enormous - he could be funny, he could be sentimental, he could be absolutely insane, he could do a "ba-dum-ching" line like nobody's business - he could do slapstick, gentle situation comedies, he was sexy - This is not a man who had a narrow path in which he operated. But outside of that enormous comfort zone was the realm of dramatic acting, ensemble acting ... It is hard to say what was going on inside of Dean Martin when preparing for these roles, but we only need to listen to the people who knew him, who had hired him, directors, co-stars ... who reference what a good person he was, what a collaborator, no bullshit, and also how hard he worked.
Here is the section in Tosches' book where Howard Hawks speaks of the entire experience of Dean Martin being cast in Rio Bravo (his best performance as an actor):
"I hired him," Hawks remembered, "because an agent wanted me to meet him. And I said, 'Well, get him around here at nine o'clock tomorrow morning.' The agent said, 'He can't be here at nine.' So he came in about ten-thirty, and I said, 'Why the hell couldn't you be here at nine o'clock?' He said, 'I was working in Las Vegas, and I had to hire an airplane and fly down here.' And that made me think, 'Well, my Lord, this guy really wants to work.' So I said, 'You'd better go over and get some wardrobe.' He said, 'Am I hired?' And I said, 'Yeah. Anybody who'll do that ought to get a chance to do it.' He came back from wardrobe looking like a musical-comedy cowboy. I said, 'Dean, look, you know a little about drinking. You've seen a lot of drunks. I want a drunk. I want a guy in an old dirty sweatshirt and an old hat.' And he said, 'Okay, you don't have to tell me any more.' He went over, and he came back with the outfit that he wore in the picture. He must have been successful because Jack Warner said to me, 'We hired Dean Martin. When's he going to be in this picture?' I said, 'He's the funny-looking guy in the old hat.' 'Holy smoke, is that Dean Martin?'
"Dean did a great job. It was fun working with him. All you had to do was tell him something. The scene where he had a hangover, which he did in most of the scenes, there was one where he was suffering, and I said, 'Look, that's too damn polite. I knew a guy with a hangover who'd pound his leg trying to hurt himself and get some feeling in it.' 'Okay, I know that kind of guy,' he said. 'I can do it.' And he went on and did the scene with no rehearsal or anything."
For some reason, that makes me want to cry. "Okay, I know that kind of guy." He was an actor who was willing to listen, to give things a shot - even if they were scary or new to him - and who showed up when he needed to show up (by 'show up' I don't mean being on time, or being actually present - I mean "showing up" - with all your concentration and focus being put on the job at hand). Because Dean Martin was a guy to whom things came easy ... being put in a position where he might not know what to do or how to do it ... was daunting. He didn't do it often. There are stories of him before going to shoot The Young Lions and saying to a friend, "I'm so scared. I'm so scared." So what did Martin do? To deal with those nerves? He went and talked with Marlon Brando, his co-star, just to get some tips on ... you know ... how to act. Brando was generous with him, telling him to always make sure he was listening - to not plan too far ahead, to try to stay in the moment - and above all else: LISTEN. I love Brando's generosity there, but I also love that Martin, a GIANT star, knew that he was a bit out of his element, and instead of struggling in silence, or trying to fake it - hoping we would buy it - OR not even realizing he was out of his element, and doing a bad job blithely - thinking it was awesome ... Martin went privately to talk to the greatest actor at the time, and said, "Hey, man, can you help me out?"
That's a pro.
Another thing that I love Dean Martin for is how he put his own career on the line when Marilyn Monroe was fired from Something's Got to Give - a movie he was co-starring in. This was in the last couple of months of Monroe's life, and large forces were at work in the studio (which was in the process of collapsing) - and Monroe was one of the ones who took the fall. Martin had signed on to do the picture with Monroe, and when he heard she had been fired, he walked off the picture. Nothing anyone said could dissuade him. The big-wigs begged, pleaded, cajoled, threw money at him. Nope. Nope. Nope. It was a PR nightmare for everyone involved ... the studio knew Monroe was beloved by the public, and it did its best to paint a picture of her as a drugged-out mess ... regardless of whether or not that was the truth ... and so they needed Martin to shut the fuck up, and be a good team player, and continue on to do the movie with Lee Remick - the replacement. But Martin would not budge.
He had been friends with Monroe for years, obviously - but more was going on than that. Marilyn Monroe was still one of the biggest stars in the world. Yes, she had some problems, but didn't we all? Martin was kind to those who were weaker (in whatever ways). Monroe was a damaged girl, sure, but she was box office gold, and he was going to do the movie with her, or with no one. Martin put the studio execs in a hell of a spot. I love him for it. In Marilyn: The Last Take, the book that describes those final two months of Monroe's life, the authors, Peter Harry Brown and Patte B. Barham, write:
Snyder approached Martin, who was still in golf clothes from a noon game at the Los Angeles Country Club. "Dean, I think they've fired Marilyn," Snyder said.
"What?" Martin said.
"Then Dean had his assistant run to the production to verify the story," Snyder remembered.
A few minutes later, the assistant was back. "Yep," he said. "Monroe has been fired and Lee Remick's going to be your leading lady."
Martin put his putter down, grabbed his coat and headed for the Fox parking lot. Snyder walked part of the way with him. "Whitey, I made a contract to do this picture with Marilyn Monroe," Martin said. "That's the deal; the only deal. We're not going to be doing it with Lee Remick or any other actress."
When Martin arrived home half an hour later, Vernon Scott, the Hollywood reporter for United Press International, coaxed a brief interview out of him. Martin told Scott that he had walked off the set and didn't plan to return. "I have the greatest respect for Miss Remick as an actress," Martin continued. "But I signed to do this film with Marilyn Monroe."
Shortly after 6 pm, the UPI wires broadcast this bulletin: "Dean Martin quit the Twentieth Century-Fox film because Marilyn Monroe was fired."
... Dean Martin never elaborated on his reasons for putting his career and his future on the line for Monroe, but it was typical of a man whose on-screen image as an easygoing good guy was identical to his off-screen persona. An ex-prizefighter and ex-cardsharp, Martin had been laboring in a steel mill when he began singing nights and weekends in small clubs. After he teamed up with frenetic comedian Jerry Lewis in 1946, he assumed the role of a handsome, not-so-bright straight man. The Martin and Lewis partnership endured for ten years, eleven films and a thousand appearances in nightclubs.
When the partnership collapsed in the mid-fifties, many Hollywood producers thought Maritn wouldn't survive as a solo act. But half a dozen number-one hits, including "Volare" and "Memories Are Made of This", smoothed his way to film and television superstardom. In 1958, his role in Some Came Running opposite fellow "Rat Packers" Sinatra and MacLaine proved his value as a dramatic star.
However predictable, Martin's loyalty to Monroe was far from popular. "Nasty sayings were scrawled on his dressing-room door," production secretary Lee Hanna remembered. "By insisting on Monroe, it seemed as if the film would shut down for good - with the loss of one hundred and four jobs."
Hedda Hopper warned the actor in her Los Angeles Times column. "The unions are taking a dim view of Dean Martin's walkout," Hopper wrote. She quoted a union official as saying, "Dean's putting people out of work at a time when we are all faced with unemployment." ...
Levathes, who flew back to Los Angeles on Sunday, was determined to change Martin's mind but, just in case, had Ferguson begin drafting a $5.6 million lawsuit "for breach of contract".
The three-hour meeting among Feldman, Levathes, Frank Ferguson, Martin and Herman Citron was an exercise in frustration. The executives were determined to sell Remick to the increasingly skeptical actor.
When Feldman tried to verbally recap Martin's "rejection of Remick," Martin interrupted him, saying, "I didn't turn down Miss Remick. I simply said that I will not do the film without Marilyn Monroe. There is a big difference between the two statements."
Levathes countered, "What kind of position does that put our investment in?"
Martin answered, "That's not a fair question to ask me. I have no quarrel with anyone."
Levathes forged ahead. "We think Miss Remick is of adequate stature," he said. "After all, she has appeared with Jack Lemmon [in Days of Wine and Roses] with James Stewart [in Anatomy of a Murder], and with Glenn Ford [in Experiment in Terror]."
Martin patiently explained that he had taken the role mainly because "the chemistry between Miss Monroe and myself was right." The actor also said that the whole point of Something's Got to Give was Martin's desertion of his new bride, Cyd Charisse, for Monroe, which was something which wouldn't happen, Martin said, "with Lee Remick."
The production chief disagreed. "This story is a warm situation in which the husband, with his children, loved his former wife, but was caught in an embarrassing position because he had remarried," said Levathes. "This is not the case of a man who chucks one woman for a sexpot."
Martin shook his head.
The situation went round and round, a total impasse. It was never resolved. It might have been, had Monroe lived, there were rumblings that she would be re-instated - but it was not meant to be. She died in August, 1962, a mere 2 months after she had been fired. In those crazy last months, as her friends fell away (and as she fired her staff, left and right, trying to get rid of the sycophant suckers all around her) - Dean Martin stood up for her. He put his career and reputation on the line.
He could not be swayed.
Tosches, in his book, seems interested most of all in that part of Dean Martin that could not be swayed. It was that element of Martin's character that drove his friend Frank Sinatra up the wall. Sinatra (at least in Tosches' version) always needed more from Martin than Martin could give. Sinatra was baffled and hurt when Martin decided to stop performing (in the middle of a tour!) - how could he just walk out? How could he not realize his obligations - not just to the tour but to their friendship? Martin did not recognize those obligations. He was done. His heart had been shattered by the death of his son. All he wanted to do in his old age was sit on the couch and watch Westerns on television. And that's what he did.
But that implacable element of Martin's personality was always there - it was what made him such an acutely funny and perfect straight man ... it was what made him a heartbreaker to the women who loved him ... and it was what made him a star.
The excerpt I chose today from Tosches' brilliant book has to do with the Martin-Lewis dynamic, particularly their first live shows - which were legendary. Martin and Lewis would take the show out into the parking lot - and the entire audience at a nightclub would follow them outside, and watch as the two of them went absolutely insane in the parking lot - messing with cars, valet drivers, chasing each other - whatever - these were electric shows. No record of them exist. But that's okay. There's no record of Edmund Kean playing Richard III or Shylock, either. Doesn't mean I don't believe it was a great performance - just because I personally didn't see it. What happened between the two of them in the live shows was one-for-the-ages ... and it transferred to radio, to television, to movies ... in an unstoppable juggernaut. An amazingly successful collaboration - and Tosches, in that way that he has - a prose styling all his own - really is able to capture what it was in that dynamic that was so resonant, so deep.
Below the jump, I have included an image of the bill the famous night in Atlantic City, 1946, when Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin met. Jerry Lewis was doing impressions, and Dean Martin was singing. There they are on the bill - their names separate - having no idea (although it became apparent immediately) what they would be to one another.
I have also included below the jump one of my favorite clips from Dean Martin's TV show: him and John Wayne singing "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime". Those two guys loved each other, that is obvious - I love how funny Wayne is, how generous Martin is with Wayne's funniness - giving him the props when deserved - and also how he sets Wayne up to look like a million bucks. Not that that is difficult - Wayne was another guy who seemed comfortable wherever he was ... but watch how Martin HANDS the entire sketch to Wayne, letting Wayne be the funny one, letting Wayne take it away. It's glorious!! (I love what Wayne does with his body and his face at around the 1:20 mark ... it makes me laugh out loud. So stupid!!) But even with the silliness of it, even with the goofball nature of these two big swaggering guys singing a love song to one another - not to mention the fact that John Wayne - John Wayne! - is LIP SYNCHING ... there's a beauty here, a real slice of Americana ... the innocence and pleasure of our entertainment, the thing that more jaded cultures sneer at us for ... the open-faced enthusiasm of who we can be, at our best ... something that I will never feel shame about. I think it is our greatest asset. And here it is - in Wayne and Martin - writ large.
And finally, I will end this post on Dean Martin - one of my favorite entertainers of all time - with some words from my brother Brendan. Brendan has a way of capturing what it is, what it really is, about a performer ... the essence - not just in who the performer is - but the response the performer engenders in an audience - and I love his words here.
I remember seeing the Dean Martin roasts and being scared, like a drunk friend of a drunk uncle had showed up unannounced at a dinner party and started shoe-horning everyone into singing along to perverted folk songs. I didn't know what he was famous for and those roasts seemed to hint that he didn't really know why either.
Then, years later as a grownup, I heard "Ain't That A Kick In the Head" in some movie, or in a bar. That's really all you need to do...just listen to that song a few times in a row. It all seems like a joke. Then you start to hear how well he sings the song. Then you realize that someone could have completely fouled the song up. It isn't a very good song, actually. Think about all the classic standards. Everybody does 'em. But is there another famous version of that song? If there is, I haven't heard it.
How does he turn a mediocre song around? He doesn't sound all that invested in the heartbreak aspect of it, there isn't irony dripping all over the place. I still can't quite place what makes the song work so well. But I'm going to try:
His presence and personality are so evident that you don't even need the song. He has sung the song out of existence. All you want to do is hear him make a rumble in his throat and roll his eyes about how much trouble a broad can be. You also somehow realize that no broad ever caused him too much trouble. He causes them trouble. And they love it.
It is almost a taunt. What could be a stupid jokey brushoff of heartache turns into a come-on. It is a magic trick.
Another thing that strikes me about Dean Martin is that you get the sense that he would have behaved exactly the same had he been a truck driver, a grocer, a whatever. Most of the other stars of that era seem to have been transformed in some way by fame and what came along with it. This guy could have strolled around the streets of Rome with his jacket over his shoulder and 10 bucks in his pocket and it would make no difference to him.
The most underrated of all time.
EXCERPT FROM Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, by Nick Tosches
The Desert Inn was still several months away from opening when Dean and Jerry arrived in September 1949. The Flamingo was still the jewel of that stretch of Highway 91 that came to be called the Strip. The Rex Cigar Store, the Jungle Inn, the 500 Club, the Riviera - the great and gaudy neon cathedral of the Flamingo was all these joints exalted. Here, married by God and by state, anointed in the blood of Bugsy Siegel, Unterwelt and American dream lay down together in greed.
Martin and Lewis by now were among the beloved of that dream, embracing and embraced by the spirit of a post-heroic, post-literate, cathode-culture America. The Flamingo was the pleasure dome of the new prefab promised land: a land of chrome, not gold; of Armstrong linoleum, not Carrara marble; of heptalk, not epos of prophecy.
Martin and Lewis were the jesters of that land. Time magazine, then as always the cutting edge of lumpen-American mediocrity, the vox populi of the modern world, celebrated the dazzling appeal of their hilarity. The heart of their audience, the nightclub clientele whose reduction to a quivering mass of thunderous yockers Variety attested again and again, was sophisticated, white-collared, and well-heeled. The sophisticated, white-collared, and well-heeled New York Times itself, in an article published while Martin and Lewis were in Las Vegas, hailed their "refreshing brand of comic hysteria," their "wild and uninhibited imagination".
And yet, these few years later, the nature of that appeal is as alien and as difficult to translate as the language, syntax, and meter of Catallus. There are no films or tapes of their nightclub act. Only secondary fragments have survived to be judged: glimpses of routines reworked for pictures, such as the "Donkey Serenade" scene in My Friend Irma, and for pale renderings on radio; a few rare kinescopes of television broadcasts, none of them predating 1952. Those fragments convey almost nothing of the dazzling appeal of that hilarity proclaimed in contemporary accounts. And yet the howling laughter present in many of those fragments, in the radio shows and television performances, all done before live spectators, is unanswerable. Those spectators, who had lined up for free shows at network studios, were not the same urbane nightclub-goers who howled at the Copacabana or Chez Paree or the Flamingo. Their sense of yockery was perhaps homelier; but, on the other hand, it was less primed by booze. Jerry was right: Martin and Lewis appealed to everyone. But why?
"Let us not be deceived," the New York Times had declared in April 1947, while Dean and Jerry had been playing at the Loew's Capitol; "we are today in the midst of a cold war." Now, in September 1949, while they were in Las Vegas, President Truman, the first president to have a televised inauguration, revealed that the Soviet Union had set off an atomic-bomb explosion. A week later, on October 1, Chairman Mao Tse-tung would formally proclaim the Communist People's Republic of China. In January, Truman would order the development of the hydrogen bomb. Six months later, United States ground troops would invade South Korea. "Let us not be deceived" -- but America wanted nothing more than to be deceived. Martin and Lewis gave them that: not laughter in the dark, but a denial of darkness itself, a regression, a transporting to the preternatural bliss of infantile senselessness. It was a catharsis, a celebration of ignorance, absurdity, and stupidity, as meaningless, as primitive-seeming, and as droll today as the fallout shelters and beatnik posings which offered opposing sanctuary in those days so close in time but so distant in consciousness.
Those days were the beginning of the end of timelessness. Homer's Odyssey spoke throughout the ages; Kerouac's American odyssey, On the Road, would have a shelf life, and would prove after a handful of years more outdated and stale than Homer after thousands. But like the detergent on the shelf in that other supermarket aisle, it was for the moment new and improved; and that is what mattered. And that is why the dead-serious pretensions of Kerouac today seem so droll while the comedy of that same necrophiliac era seems so unfunny.
Dean, of course, had no use for any of this shit. He did not know the new and improved from the old and well-worn. Homer, Sorelli the Mystic: it was all the same shit to him. The Trojan War, World War II, the Cold War, what the fuck did he care? His hernia was bigger than history itself. He cared as much about Korea as Korea cared about his fucking hernia. He walked through his own world. And that world was as much a part of what commanded those audiences as the catharsis of the absurd slapstick; and it would continue to command, long after that catharsis, like a forgotten mystery rite, had lost all meaning and power. His uncaring air of romance reflected the flash and breezy sweet seductions of a world in which everything came down to broads, booze, and money, with plenty of linguine on the side. There was a beckoning to join him in the Lethe of the old ways' woods that appealed to the lover, the menefreghista, the rotten cocksucker, the sweet-hearted dreamer in everyone.
Mickey Cohen, a brutal killer who "got kind of friendly with him," said that "Dean would've been in the rackets if he didn't have the beautiful voice that he has. He probably would've ended up a gambling boss somewhere. I'd say Dean had the perfect makeup to be a racket guy, although he is a little too lackadaisical, if you know what I mean."
Love was Dean's racket. The traits he shared with the Fischettis and the Anastasias - that lontananza, that dark self-serving moralita - were never far beneath the surface of whatever sweet spell he meant to cast. Whatever talent he had, whatever he worked at, whatever was God-given and whatever manufactured, that much, that darkness beneath the spell, was immanent and intractable and ever-there.
Frank Sinatra, who had sung at the Nacional during the Havana yuletide gathering of 1946, was a malavita groupy, a scrawny mama's boy who liked to pretend he was a tough guy. He cultivated the company of, and catered to, men such as the Fischettis. But it was Dean, so aloof and yet seemingly so kindred, to whom those men themselves were drawn.
"They loved him," Jerry said. "But they knew that he wasn't the one to talk to on a business basis. He had his way of getting that clear to them. I would say he was the most brilliant diplomat I've ever known. I used to hear things like 'Talk to the Jew,' 'Talk to the kid,' 'Talk to the little one.' "
Posted by dino martin peters at 4:00 PM