JUNE 7, 2021
Dean Martin in Kiss Me, Stupid
Dean Martin as Dino, smooth crooner with a passion for booze, golf, and women
Between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Fall 1964
Film: Kiss Me, Stupid
Release Date: December 22, 1964
Director: Billy Wilder
Wardrobe Credit: Irene Caine & Wesley Jeffries
Tailor: Sy Devore
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
To celebrate the legendary Dean Martin, born on this day in 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio, today’s post explores when the chsaismatic Italian-American entertainer played… himself! Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond based their screenplay for Kiss Me, Stupid on Anna Bonacci’s play L’ora della fantasia, molding the scoundrel at the film’s center around Martin’s hypersexed persona, an image that Dino himself was all too happy to lampoon, right down to incorporating his trademark dinner suit and Dual-Ghia convertible.
We begin during Dino’s actual act at the famous Sands Hotel and Casino in Sin City, where—surrounded by showgirls, of course—he’s serenading the crowd with his rendition of “‘S Wonderful” before breaking into his usual schtick of boozy jokes and announcing his next picture with Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop… “it’s called Little Women.” He saunters off stage, making dates among the bevy of showgirls named Mitzi, Sylvia, Janet, and Juicy Lucy before spiriting himself west in that stylish Dual-Ghia.
At sunrise, Dino encounters a Highway Patrol roadblock in the desert, but this ain’t Vanishing Point so he’s free to coolly lean up in his deconstructed dinner suit, his sunglasses perched on his forehead, and quip: “What’sa matter? That Sinatra kid missing again?” The sergeant redirects Dino to a detour that takes him by way of a small Nevada town named Climax, to which Dino responds: “That’s the only way to go.”
Turns out, this is one Climax that Dino would wish he had turned down, as two down-on-their-luck songwriters dupe him into staying overnight in the dusty burg. One of them, oafish mechanic Barney (Cliff Osmond), misplaces a part of the Dual-Ghia’s engine, buying them enough time to pitch him on their hopeful hit “I’m a Poached Egg”, written for the movie by Ira Gershwin, using one of his brother George’s unpublished memories. With little options, Dino accepts their “hospitality” but reinforces that he can’t go the entire night without having sex or he’ll have crippling headaches.
Let that sink in…
…okay, we’re back! To satiate Dino’s carnal appetite, the prickly piano teacher Orville Spooner (Ray Walston) who makes up the other half of the songwriter duo offers up his wife (what?!) but, for the sake of his marriage, sends her from the house crying after a contrived argument on their fifth anniversary and hires the town hooker “Polly the Pistol” (Kim Novak) to stand in as his wife.
Orville: Oh, you’ll like it! It’s not very big, but it’s clean.
Polly: (suspicious) What is?
Okay, that one was actually pretty good.
Despite some shakiness behind the scenes—Novak coming out of a two-year hiatus to replace Marilyn Monroe after her death, and Walston stepping in for Peter Sellers after the comedian suffered a series of 13(!) heart attacks—this weird sex comedy surpassed my expectations, thanks in part to how much fun it was watching Dean Martin satirize his own image. Though Wilder didn’t speak much of Kiss Me, Stupid after its release, he did reflect on his admiration for Martin when interviewed by Cameron Crowe decades later, recalling that “there was much more, 90 percent more, to him than just the jokester. I am a sucker for Dean Martin. I thought he was the funniest man in Hollywood.”
What’d He Wear?
This represents a unique example of where one could argue the outfit has transcended the movie, as I feel like more have some the image of Dino perched at the bar with his Jack Daniel’s in hand than have Kiss Me, Stupid. The disparity is understandable as the movie hardly ranks among the best of Billy Wilder’s canon, which includes Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot, and The Apartment, but it’s worth watching to see the entertainer satirize his own image as the libidinous and laidback lounge lizard.
Given that he was playing an exaggerated version of his stage persona, Dino almost certainly wore his own clothing which would have been tailored by the legendary Sy Devore, who also cut for the rest of his Rat Pack pallies among other Hollywood royalty.
Dean Martin in Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
Dino tipples some Jack Daniel’s at The Belly Button, the kind of place that advertises on its customers’ ability to “drop in and get lost”. This set photography illustrates the colors of his outfit, which—being primarily black, white, and gray—looks essentially the same in the black-and-white movie as it does in full color!
For his long night in Climax, Dino slips into a sport jacket patterned in a complex, layered plaid wool. The most visible check is a shadowed four-line black-and-white windowpane, overlaid against a black-and-white fine-checked ground configured in a grid-like variant of the traditional glen plaid pattern.
The double-vented jacket has notch lapels that roll to the single button positioned at Dino’s waist line, and the shoulders are wide and padded. The patch pockets maintain an appropriately sporty look, and Dino dresses the patch pocket over his left breast with a rakishly arranged black linen pocket square.
Dino looks over his date for the evening, believing Polly the Pistol to be Orville’s wife.
“Him and his Rat Pack, they think they own the Earth!” bemoans Orville. “Riding around in their white chariots, raping and looting, and wearing cuffs on their sleeves!”
Orville’s final gripe refers to the unique gauntlet cuffs (or “turnback cuffs”) affixed to the end of each sleeve on Dino’s sports coat. This neo-Edwardian detail had undergone a revival through mid-century and the height of the Rat Pack’s fame in the early ’60s, ranging in width and subtlety as typically found on their dinner jackets. (Even James Bond wore gauntlet cuffs during this time, as explored by Matt Spaiser for Bond Suits.)
Dino’s gauntlet cuffs represent the excess of this sporty style, with the turned-back portions wider than some trouser cuffs and uniquely shaped with two suggestive bumps. Each cuff cuts away at each sleeve seam, where there are two recessed two-hole “kissing” buttons.
Our laidback lounge singer dresses for a casual evening in a light gray knitted short-sleeved polo shirt, a style popular during this period of the early ’60s that has also been seeing a recent retro-inspired renaissance. He buttons both of the smoke-gray plastic buttons that are sewn onto the short, “French”-style placket. The short sleeves are set-in at the shoulders and banded at the bottoms, just above the elbows, echoed by the widely banded waist hem.
Dino’s dark charcoal double reverse-pleated trousers appear to be self-suspended with a set of side-tabs to adjust the fit around the waist. There are hand pockets, and the bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
Having changed out of his patent leather performance shoes, Dino now wears a pair of less formal single monk-strap shoes with dark leather uppers, likely black and worn with black socks to be consistent with the outfit’s overall color scheme.
Despite the pinky rings, ID bracelets, and fancy watches associated with the Rat Pack, the only jewelry Dino wears is a thin gold necklace with a pendant that drops low onto his chest, likely the entertainer’s own St. Christopher medallion that he wore in real life.
Under it all, Dino wears a white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt and light-colored cotton boxer shorts.
The opening act featured Dean Martin’s actual Las Vegas performance, so he’s dressed in one of his famous dinner suits that bridges the sleek tuxedo he had worn in Ocean’s 11 as well as how he would appear weekly on his long-running variety show.
Constructed of slubby black silk, Dino’s tux consists of a single-breasted jacket with slim, satin-faced peak lapels that roll to a low-slung single button flatteringly positioned at the trouser waistline. While the sleeves are also finished with turnback cuffs, these are narrow silk strips around the end of each sleeve rather than the wide, intentionally misshapen gauntlets of his sport jacket. The three buttons on each cuff are also covered in black silk. In addition to the jetted hip pockets, the ventless dinner jacket has a welted breast pocket where Dino wears a colorful pocket square, likely red.
An offbeat yet consistent and characteristic element of Dino’s oft-seen black tie appearances was his penchant for wearing shirts with button-down collars. This bypassing of traditional black tie expectations signaled that our easygoing entertainer wasn’t going to let a little thing like sartorial decorum get in the way of his taking it easy.
Despite their dressed-down button-down collars, Dino’s performance shirts were also rigged with fussier double (French) cuffs, a seemingly incongruous combination that was also worn—albeit less formally—by his friends Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. Like his Rat Pack pals, Dino had his shirts made from Nat Wise, now Anto Beverly Hills , which continued to offer “the Dean Martin—cotton voile, button-down collar, ⅜-inch-pleated front, French cuffs,” according to Lisa Eisner’s Vanity Fair article published in 2008.
This white cotton shirt has a plain “French” placket and the double cuffs are fastened with flat mother-of-pearl links. He loosens his black silk “butterfly”-shaped bow tie as soon as he comes off stage, wearing it untied but secured by his button-down collar as he travels into Climax.
Both on stage and on the road, Dino wears black patent leather cap-toe oxfords, rather than the Prince Albert slippers he would be seen wearing on The Dean Martin Show over the following decade… a wise choice, as desert dust would be a formidable enemy against black velvet.
For his drive through the desert, he also accessorizes with a pair of sleek black wraparound sunglasses with a straight-top frame.
What’d Ray Walston Wear?
“Let’s not monkey around with Beethoven, shall we?” insists finicky piano teacher Orville Spooner (Ray Walston), appropriately dressed for his passion in a crew-neck jumper emblazoned with the famous German composer’s likeness.
In addition to his own clothing and personality, Dino arrives in Climax at the wheel of his personal set of wheels, a sleek white 1957 Dual-Ghia convertible. This Italian-styled, American-powered car was perfect for Dean Martin, the son of Steubenville, Ohio who proudly represented his Italian heritage in his image and his music.
Eugene Casaroll, owner of the Detroit-based Dual-Motors Corporation, developed the idea that would evolve into the Dual-Ghia after he was impressed by the Dodge Firearrow concept at the New York Auto Show. Designed by Virgil Exner and Luigi Segre and built by Turin coachbuilder Carrozzeria Ghia, the Firearrow was likely intended to be Chrysler’s response to the Italian-styled Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird. While none of the Firearrow series ever hit the road, the concept was enough to inspire Casaroll to work with Chrysler to create a stylish automotive cassarole of his own.
Armed with the newly purchased rights to the Dodge Firearrow design, Casaroll tasked Ghia’s American rep Paul Farago to make the car a road-ready reality. The Firebomb prototype turned heads when introduced in the summer of ’55, but wise minds eventually vetoed such an explosive name for an experimental machine, which would be re-dubbed the Dual-Ghia by the time production began for the 1956 model year.
Kurt Ernst described the “world’s longest assembly line” process for Hemmings:
As with any low-volume automobile with an Italian coachbuilt body, no two Dual-Ghias were alike. Dodge frames were shipped from Detroit to Turin, where Ghia’s staff would shorten the length by seven inches before adding a hand-hammered, step-down body that was welded to the frame in a variety of locations. The interior was fitted, and then the rolling assembly was shipped back to Detroit for final assembly and installation of the Dodge V-8. Both Hemi- and polyspheric-head engines were used, depending upon availability and buyer’s preference, but the only transmission used in Dual-Ghia’s was Chrysler’s two-speed PowerFlite automatic.
While some of the ’57 models were indeed powered by Dodge D-500 361 cubic-inch dual-quad carburetors, most Dual-Ghias had the 315 cubic-inch hemispherical-head short-stroke V8 under the hood, delivering up to 260 horsepower that launched the car from 0-60 in less than nine seconds with a top end around 120 mph.
Body Style: 2-door convertible
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 315 cid (5.2 L) Dodge “Red Ram” V8 with 4-barrel carburetor
Power: 260 hp (194 kW; 264 PS) @ 4800 rpm
Torque: 330 lb·ft (447 N·m) @ 3000 rpm
Transmission: 2-speed PowerFlite automatic
Wheelbase: 115 inches (2921 mm)
Length: 203.5 inches (5169 mm)
Width: 73.8 inches (1875 mm)
Height: 52.5 inches (1334 mm)
Only 117 Dual-Ghia automobiles were produced during the short production timeline from 1956 to 1958, with its rarity and then-substantial $7,500 cost limiting its owners to primarily celebrities like Rat Packers Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Peter Lawford, as well as Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Glenn Ford, Sterling Hayden, Ronald Reagan, Debbie Reynolds, and Rick Danko, founding member of The Band.
“Dual-Ghia” (Wikipedia, accessed 5/25/2021)
“Dual Ghia” by Mal Pearson (The Makes That Didn’t Make It, accessed 5/25/2021)
“Hemi power, Italian style – 1957 Dual-Ghia convertible to cross the block at Owls Head” by Kurt Ernst (Hemmings, accessed 5/25/2021)
What to Imbibe
Dino pours chianti into one of Polly’s shoes.
Decades after the Rat Pack’s heyday, it’s now well-known that Dean Martin’s drunken stage persona was just primarily a well-cultivated part of the image. Of course, Martin was not averse to tippling (Scotch being his favorite), but he was a relatively conservative drinker and certainly not as tempted by some of the more damaging narcotic vices as some of his contemporaries and Rat Pack pallies.
Given Dino’s image, Orville is floored when he turns down his offer for “Martini, Old Fashioned, vodka on the rocks?” until Dino clarifies that all he needs is “just a bowl of Bourbon and some crackers!”
Orville doesn’t have genuine Kentucky bourbon in stock, but he does have Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey—the known favorite of Dino’s pal Sinatra—and pours it into a tall glass with ice.
“Well, drink up and be somebody!” Dino toasts, an appropriate sentiment given Polly’s deception as Zelda. Despite some mixing (including sipping chianti out of one of Polly’s shoes), Dino primarily sticks to Jack as his elixir of choice for the evening. After Orville kicks him out of the house, Dino takes refuge at the notorious Belly Button bar where Polly works, now drinking his Jack Daniel’s neat as he registers the tragedy of his available options for, uh, relieving himself of his morning headaches.
What to Listen to
Why, Dino, of course!
Dean Martin’s 1962 Capitol album Italian Love Songs is prominently featured on screen. Recorded over three days in September 1961, the album boasts a dozen distinctly Italian tracks, notably the stirring renditions of “Arrivederci Roma”, “Non Dimenticar”, and “Return to Me”, as well as the jauntier “On an Evening in Roma.”
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1. “Arrivederci Roma” — DEAN MARTIN
2. “Non Dimenticar (Don't Forget)” — DEAN MARTIN
3. “Return to Me (Ritorna-Me)” — DEAN MARTIN
4. “On an Evening In Roma” — DEAN MARTIN
Although Martin had already moved to his buddy Sinatra’s Reprise label by the time Kiss Me, Stupid was produced, Italian Love Songs was likely chosen as it was the singer’s only album where he was credited only as “Dino” on the album cover, consistent with his on-screen characterization.
Dean Martin in Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
Zelda Spooner (Felicia Farr) pulls out the perfect soundtrack for an evening in Climax.
What’s your favorite Dean Martin album? Mine may be the 1960 release This Time I’m Swingin’! with tracks like “Just in Time”, “Mean to Me”, “Until the Real Thing Comes Along”, and “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You”.
How to Get the Look
Dean Martin with Kim Novak and Ray Walston in Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
Playing himself, Dino’s screen wardrobe was almost certainly pulled from his own closet and the uniquely cuffed plaid sports coat, soft knitted shirt, monk shoes, and side-adjuster slacks perfectly work together to communicate Dean Martin’s image of a man who dresses comfortably but interestingly.
Black-and-white glen plaid grid-overchecked wool single-button sport jacket with notch lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, two-button “bumped” gauntlet/turnback cuffs, and double vents
Light gray knit short-sleeved two-button polo shirt
Charcoal double reverse-pleated trousers with side-adjuster tabs, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
Black calf leather single-monk strap shoes
White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt/A-shirt
Light-colored cotton boxer shorts
Thin gold necklace with St. Christopher medallion
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
There was the one about this doctor, you see? He was examining a girl’s knee and he says, “What’s a joint like this doing on a pretty girl like you?”