Hey pallies, Dino's girlpallie Deana sings with a Rat Pack tribute group at the Sands, Gainsborourgh on August 30. Here Caroline Scott of the Times interviews Miss Martin about being the daughter of Dean Martin. As usual, Deana appears all to happy to ride the coat tail of our Dino to gain fame and fortune while as the same time airing dirty family linen in public. If you want to read this in it's original context, please click on the tagg of this Dinogram. Dinodevotedly, DMP
Best of Times, Worst of Times: Deana Martin
Deana Martin, 59, a singer and actress, recalls a childhood scarred by both the lavish lifestyle of her father, Dean Martin — then at the peak of his Hollywood career — and by her mother Betty’s alcoholism
I can vividly recall standing, aged nine, in the foyer of my father’s Beverly Hills mansion with my two older sisters. Next to us were cardboard boxes — Claudia’s, Gail’s, mine — into which our mother had hurriedly pushed our clothes. Jeanne, my father’s new wife, picked over our stuff with her pretty pink nails, deciding what could come into the house and what would be thrown away. She was tiny and blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and she wore pressed slacks and white sneakers that were always perfect. The exact opposite of my mom. It’s an image that still makes me cry.
Mom had been pregnant with me when Dad met Jeanne, so I never knew what it was like to have him at home. Already successful by then, he gave Mom money — $60,000 cash and $3,600-a-month alimony — and she tried to keep it together. To begin with we had a big, beautiful house. But we lost it. She’d wake us up in the night and say: “We’re all going to Las Vegas.” Or somewhere. We moved and we moved. You’d wake in the morning and there’d be liquor bottles everywhere and strange men, and piles of dirty clothes stuffed in closets because she didn’t want to deal with things. Mom tried to make it fun, but it was disturbing. And after a while she couldn’t do it any more. She’d pour liquor into her coffee in the morning and drink all day. She needed help and it’s too bad that Dad didn’t see that. But then a lot of people did try to help, and failed. She was probably beyond it.
Dad was from Steubenville, Ohio. His father had come from Italy to Ellis Island speaking no English. He worked his butt off to get where he did, and to stay there among the Hollywood elite. But he owed my mom a lot and I think he forgot that. When they were first married, she helped him refine his speech. She persuaded him to get his nose fixed. And she’d sit on the floor of cheap rented rooms and iron his shirts. He was a traditional man and he attracted dutiful women. The last thing he wanted when he’d been at the studio all day was to come home to a woman who was too drunk to look after his kids. In the end he hired a private detective to watch us, and won custody. She never fought to get us back and he never spoke of her at home. Even as an adult, I couldn’t bring the subject up with him. One time I asked: “How could you leave us?” But he didn’t want to talk about anything that wasn’t fun. He wanted a fairytale life for all of us.
Over the years the contact with my mother got less and less. The few times we did see her, her hair was greyer, her clothes shabbier. Her teeth fell out. She gradually withdrew from us. I had to let her go. At Dad’s house there was order and luxury. There were maids, a swimming pool and a tennis court.
Our neighbours were Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. It can’t have been easy for Jeanne, being married to Dean Martin — girls were throwing their keys at him all the time, but she managed to raise us as well as her own three kids.
There were some special times. Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr would come over. Sammy Cahn. Marilyn. Dad knew everyone in Hollywood. Elvis Presley idolised my dad and used to drive his motorcycle past the house. One day Dad said: “Put on something nice tomorrow. You’re going to meet Elvis.” Elvis was utterly charming. “Hey, Dean,” he said. “Now these beautiful girls can’t all be your daughters!”
It was an odd juxtaposition, our life and Mom’s. At the premiere of Dad’s favourite film, Rio Bravo, the whole family climbed out of a limo with lightbulbs popping, and there was Mom, who’d caught the bus and waited in the cold to see us, screaming our names.
Dad was fun to be with, but emotionally I never really felt I had him.
I don’t think anyone did. He didn’t remember anybody’s birthday. And I’d have loved him to come to my shows, but he never did. But he was good to his friends and he gave to charity. He projected an image of a nice guy who was everyone’s pal. But there was a point beyond which he didn’t go.
Shirley MacLaine once said of him: “He was nice to everyone. He just didn’t want nice to go on too long.”
But what can I say? He was my dad.
I know he loved me. I just wish he’d been there more for me. I’d like to say I’ve moved on, but the feeling of loss still creeps back in. But I’m the only one in the family who ever stood up to him, and in the end I think I had the best of him. When he was ill I’d make him his grandmother’s pasta fagioli. It was the only time in his life he asked me for anything. He’d call and say: “Hi, baby. This is your dad.” Those words were musical to me. People like him don’t come along that often. What you saw was what you got. Just don’t make the mistake of asking for more.
Memories Are Made of This by Deana Martin (Pan, £7.99) is out now.
Deana performs with the Rat Pack on August 30 at the Sands, Gainsborough
Interview: Caroline Scott.
Portrait: Sam Holden