Tuesday, January 19, 2010
THIRD EDITION OF OHIO INTEREST
Born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio to Italian immigrant parents, Gaetano and Angela Crocetti (née Barra), his father was an immigrant from Abruzzo, Italy and his mother was an Italian of part Neapolitan and part Sicilian ancestry. Martin was the younger of two sons. He had one brother, Bill. Martin spoke only Italian until he started school at the age of five. He attended Grant Elementary School in Steubenville, Ohio and took up the drums as a hobby as a teenager. He was the target of much ridicule for his broken English and ultimately dropped out from Steubenville High School in the 10th grade because he thought that he was smarter than his teachers. He delivered bootleg liquor, served as a speakeasy croupier, wrote crafty anecdotes, was a blackjack dealer, worked in a steel mill and boxed as welterweight. He grew up a neighbor to Jimmy the Greek. At the age of 15, he was a boxer who billed himself as "Kid Crochet". His prizefighting years earned him a broken nose (later fixed), a permanently split lip, and many sets of broken knuckles (a result of not being able to afford the tape used to wrap boxers' hands). He won 11 of his 12 bouts. For a time, he roomed with Sonny King, who, like Martin, was just starting in show business and had little money. It is said that Martin and King held bare-knuckle matches in their apartment, fighting until one of them was knocked out; people paid to watch. Eventually, Martin gave up boxing. He worked as a roulette stickman and croupier in an illegal casino behind a tobacco shop where he had started as a stock boy. At the same time, he sang with local bands. Calling himself "Dino Martini" (after the then-famous Metropolitan Opera tenor, Nino Martini), he got his first break working for the Ernie McKay Orchestra. He sang in a crooning style influenced by Harry Mills (of the Mills Brothers), among others. In the early 1940s, he started singing for bandleader Sammy Watkins, who suggested he change his name to Dean Martin.
In October 1941, Martin married Elizabeth Anne McDonald. During their marriage (ended by divorce in 1949), they had four children. Martin worked for various bands throughout the early 1940s, mostly on looks and personality until he developed his own singing style. Martin famously flopped at the Riobamba when he succeeded Frank Sinatra in 1943, but it was the setting for his introduction.
Martin repeatedly sold 10 percent shares of his earnings for up front cash. He apparently did this so often that he found he had sold over 100 percent of his income. Such was his charm that most of his lenders forgave his debts and remained friends.
Drafted into the United States Army in 1944 during World War II, Martin served a year stationed in Akron, Ohio. He was then reclassified as 4-F (possibly due to a double hernia; Jerry Lewis referred to the surgery Martin needed for this in his autobiography) and was discharged.
By 1946, Martin was doing relatively well, but was still little more than an East Coast nightclub singer with a common style, similar to that of Bing Crosby. He drew audiences to the clubs he played, but he inspired none of the fanatic popularity enjoyed by Sinatra.