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Interview INTERVIEW Deana Martin: “Leave People Happy”

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Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 12:12 pm

Editor’s Note: Jim Monaco is regarded as the ultimate Dean Martin collector with a fantastic collection of Dean Martin memorabilia. His relationship with the Martin family goes back many years. In advance of the Dean Martin Expo in New York City this June, Jim has prepared this interview with Dean Martin’s daughter, Deana.

JM: You have appeared extensively in plays, movies, and television. At what age did you start performing?

Deana Martin: It was at a very young age—in fact, my first play was at Judy Garland’s house when I was 4 years old. It was one of those “Hey, let’s put on a show” type things and after the play Judy Garland came up to me and she leaned down and said “Deana, you were the best tree I’ve ever seen.” [laughs]

JM: So that was the first time you performed in public?

Deana Martin: That was my first public performance, and then I went on to my first dance recital which was in Beverly Hills and I danced to Mr. Bojangles. I had on a fabulous outfit, and Dad and Mom and everybody was there so that was a lot of fun.

JM: I remember you telling me that you had a dance partner when you were very young. He is now an award winning actor, Jeff Bridges. How did your dancing with him come about?

Deana Martin: When I was 13 and [Jeff] was 14, Paul Henreid, the actor, had a cotillion in Beverly Hills and it was at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, and we would go once a week to dance class and we would have a big cotillion once a year. It was a big deal, and Jeff and I won all sorts of awards for doing the cha-cha, the Viennese Waltz, and the mambo. Jeff was a wonderful dancer.

JM: You made a movie with Angie Dickinson and Robert Mitchum, a western titled Young Billy Young which also starred Robert Walker, Jr.

Deana Martin: Yes, and it also starred David Carradine and John Carradine and some other great character actors. It was so much fun [with] Angie and Robert. And I remember after shooting some scenes, looking up on the mountain and I could see Bobby Walker meditating! [laughs] It was great.

JM: You took a break from show business for a few years. Why did you stop performing for a while?

Deana Martin: I gave it up for a while to raise our son. You know, going on the road doing plays and nightclubs and all that was very very difficult and I decided, well, let’s just settle down and take care of him and have a normal life, and then go back out on the road.

JM: I know that when I met you fifteen years ago you were getting back into performing full time, and it’s been non stop since then.

Deana Martin: It has been non stop, Jimmy, and it was so great to meet you and [your wife] Debbie, of course, and to see everything that you had in your collection was so remarkable.

JM: The live show that you are doing now kind of started out as a tribute to your father, mostly singing his songs, Frank Sinatra’s, and other classics. Now you are doing part tribute and so many other songs of all types and you have taken over the stage with your own style and energy. How did this go from one extreme to the other?

Deana Martin: To tell you the truth I don’t think it is from one extreme to the other. I think it’s all the great American song book and it’s working the stage, and the more you do it the more you get to develop your own style, for me especially because I was brought up around all these incredible legends and icons. When I think about Ella Fitzgerald and Bobby Darin and of course Uncle Frank and Uncle Sammy and Rosemary Clooney—it’s all part of me, it’s almost like it’s in my DNA to do this. I of course love singing my dad’s songs and I am honoring him and that whole group of entertainers that really formed the soundtrack of our lives. It is my honor to continue all of this and to bring my own style and energy and interpretations of the songs to the stage. And people have been loving it—these are people of all ages.

JM: You have written a book titled “Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin through His Daughter’s Eyes.” Was it a hard book to write? I know your father was a very private person when it came to his personal life.

Deana Martin: Yes, it was, and you know it was about time for me to do it. It was difficult for me . . . sometimes joyful, but it was also painful to go through your life, you know, with everything that happened in our lives, losing my brother and sister, then my father and mother . . . everybody goes through those things during their life.

It was also joyful and fun to remember all the wonderful things that happened. First of all, to be Dean Martin’s daughter is so amazing—I mean what a treat to grow up with all of these people, to live life like that and to take it a day at a time because there was heartache and joy, and just everyday life. Just like every other human being. So for me to put it into that form—and people have been loving the book. As Jerry Lewis said in the foreword, “This is a love letter to her father.” And it is.

JM: Over the years I saw your father perform thousands of times and now I can watch his performances over and over again on DVDs and it seems to me—except when he sings ballads—he is always smiling when he sings. It comes across on his recordings, too. He always looked like he was having fun. Did he?

Deana Martin: Yes, he did, and you know what? I’m smiling right now with you just saying that because I can see his face. It was joy for him to sing. He adored what he was doing and he did make it look so easy. And for me, when I think about The Dean Martin Show when he would go and sit on the couch and sing a ballad with his leg under him—he would sit on his leg [laughs]—and then just sing! He was so handsome and every other time he would just have that smile

on his face and you could hear it and he knew how to deliver a song with such ease and grace and he just made you feel good.

JM: Yes, that’s what he did!

Deana Martin: And I think that’s why he was so welcome in everybody’s living rooms for ten years, twenty years of the TV show, the roasts and the specials, because you felt like you really liked him, like he was a part of your family. Many people have said to me “He was like my fun uncle.” And he had that way about him and he was easy. You know, nothing really bothered him—or you couldn’t tell that something bothered him—he was just that way.

JM: You have also released many best selling CDs and a special edition vinyl LP recently. How do you choose which songs you are going to record?

Deana Martin: I love that question. What I do is, I have a list, and John [Deana’s husband] will think of a song he thinks will be great for me to record—he can kind of hear in his mind how I would sound singing this song—and he’ll make some suggestions. I will hear a song and think it’s a song I want to do and put it on our song wish list and then as we’re getting closer to the time of recording, we’ll sit down with our arranger and discuss which songs would go well together and make it an exciting album, a pretty album, and then we sit down and kind of narrow it down with the arranger and go over how we would like the songs, how I would like to interpret the songs.

Once we get that, then we start recording, and I think once it’s recorded—you know, great songs with wonderful arrangements and all the right musicians—then it’s finding the order to put them in so that it’s almost like a show. You want to have an opening, a middle and an end. That’s what we’ve done to all of the albums including my latest, “Destination Moon,” where I begin with Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You” and end with the duet with my dad, “True Love.” It’s just a great album, great songs, and it was fun for us to record.

We love being in the recording studio—John produced the album—and the work we put into it is monumental. I don’t know how he does it. It’s crazy, hard, hard work. But then when you come out on the end, we have this gorgeous CD/album that will last forever.

JM: Did your father ever give you advice about being in show business?

Deana Martin: Actually he did and it was all very . . . it was so Dean Martin. He told us always be prepared, always know your lines and lyrics to the songs, arrive early, stand on your mark and sing from your heart. And he said always leave them liking you—leave people happy. That’s what I try to do.

Note: Deana plans to attend The Dean Martin Expo in New York City on June 28 to greet fans. See the ad for the Dean Martin Expo in this issue. For updates on the event, see the website: