From humble beginnings in his hometown of Steubenville, Ohio, Dean Martin rose to international stardom in film, television and the recording industry. Martin entered the world on June 7, 1917 as Dino Crocetti, the second son of Gaetano and Angela Barra Crocetti and was born at home. His father was a barber who emigrated from Italy in 1913 and married Angela, a seamstress, who learned to sew from her upbringing in a children's orphanage after losing her own parents.
In his youth, Martin's whole life evolved around family, school and church. As he grew older, however, he became restless. Trying different jobs available, he worked as a service station attendant, a shoe-shine boy, a steel millworker, a store clerk and even as an amateur boxer known as "Kid Crochet." At age 16, he gave up boxing, realizing that getting punched around wasn't what he wanted in life. He turned to other work – running numbers and liquor and booking small bets – exciting jobs for a 16-year-old – especially for the money he was earning during a struggling economy.
Those jobs led him to gambling establishments around Steubenville, where he learned from the adults that he watched and became an expert cardsman himself. He became so proficient at dealing that for several months he traveled the area as a top level croupier. At a time when jobs were scarce, many would have envied his lifestyle, but he wanted more.
From the gambling establishments he also gained exposure to the entertainers who performed in them. The story goes that one night in August 1934, some of his friends pushed him onto the stage to sing since they had heard him carry a pretty good tune during his daytime job. At 17, the youth had found his niche.
In 1936, while still working other jobs, he began performing at clubs and small fairs. By 1939, he had made it to the "State Restaurant" in Columbus, when he was spotted by a local band leader Ernie McKay while using the name "Dino Martini." He then began performing as a vocalist in McKay's orchestra, when another bandleader, Sammy Watkins, heard about him in nearby Cleveland. Watkins grabbed him from McKay in hopes of bringing him even wider recognition as a feature vocalist in his band under the new name, Dean Martin.
In September 1943, Martin signed an exclusive contract with MCA to be able to perform at New York's Riobamba Room." He was now singing at the bigger places, including the famous "500 Club" where he met Jerry Lewis, a little known comedian on the same bill. The two began working together and for the next 10 years their incomes rose from $50 a week to the largest box office stars of that era, earning millions.
Martin began releasing hit song after hit song for his recording company Capitol, including "That's Amore," "Memories Are Made of this" and "Volare."
Then after a decade of working with a partner, Martin called it quits and went solo.
The world took notice as Martin's acting abilities came to the fore, starting with the critically acclaimed "Young Lions." Other popular films followed.
In 1960, another entertainment history-making event took place. Known simply as "The Rat Pack," a group of friends, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop joined Martin in a fun-filled romp through motion pictures with hits such as Ocean's 11, Sergeants 3, and a new forum, "Las Vegas." The Rat Pack took a then small gambling town and turned it into one of the biggest entertainment meccas.
The 1960s ushered in many changes in the entertainment industry, but Martin was able to retain a place of his own. Even as "Beatle mania" was sweeping the nation, Martin dug in his heels and was able to replace the Beatles from the top of the chart with his 1964 release of "Everybody Loves Somebody." Although he continued to record and turn out movies, Martin's next big leap came in television.
In 1965, he signed to do his own weekly television series, "The Dean Martin Show." The show was constantly in the top 10 ratings, with the "Dean Martin Christmas" episode earning the distinction as the single most watched television special of 1967.
His successful variety show ran for nearly nine years. He then changed formats and continued with "The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts" for nearly another decade, all the while conquering new heights in Vegas, the town that he loved. He was the first performer to open the MGM Grand, and whose attendance record still has not been broken at Bally's.
Married three times, Martin was the father of seven children, four to his first wife and three to his second wife.
Though Martin died on Christmas Day 1995, he still has thousands of fans. Many turn up each year in his hometown for the annual Dean Martin Festival slated for June 15-16 this year.