That's Amore: A Son Remembers Dean Martin

Ricci Martin w/ Christopher Smith
Hardcover: 256 pages 
Publisher: Taylor Pub
ISBN: 0878332723

That's Amore: A Son Remembers Dean Martin is the fourth book about the laid-back crooner to reach the bookshelves in the past decade.  The first, and best, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams by Nick Tosches, pleased the critics but was too "literary" for those, like Martin himself, who wince at pretension.  William Schoell's Martini Man was more reader friendly, but devoted too many paragraphs to Martin's movies, few of which lend themselves to analysis deeper than their plot summaries in TV Guide. Lee Hale's Backstage at the Dean Martin Show wasn't really about the man at all, but the variety show he spent a mere three hours a week taping in the mid-60s and early 70s.  Now Ricci Martin, the youngest of the singer's children, steps up to the plate with a likeable but skimpy memoir that suggests the first biographer got it right: the man born Dino Crocettiwas unknowable.

Life in the household of this Rat Packer was fairly ordinary give or take the fact that Dad was a superstar of movies, TV, records, and nightclubs, and didn't see anything wrong when his kids decided they wanted a tank.  Except when filming on location or performing in Vegas, Martin was home by six p.m. for dinner with the family.  Although his persona was of an affable drunk, Martin was a sober if distant parent.  Conversation at the dinner table was nil because Martin disliked chit-chat. "It's not the chat I don't like," he'd say, "it's the chit." 

The younger Martin, aided by journalist Christopher Smith, sees the old man the way his previous biographers did, but unlike Tosches, never attempts to read his subject's mind.  Whereas Tosches concluded that Martin was indifferent to life, incapable of passion and content to stare at westerns on TV when not playing golf, young Martin's hunch is that his Dad was aware of his and other's lack of importance in the grand scheme of things.  "His style didn't indicate a lack of sincerity," Ricci writes.  "It indicated a lack of pretentiousness." 

The most interesting parts of this memoir concern loner Martin's relationship with Frank Sinatra.  The Chairman of the Board took his honorary title seriously and tested the non-combative Martin's patience with his constant demands for the latter's companionship.  While Sinatra emerges as a short-tempered bully, dumping a plate of spaghetti on his friend's head when he was reluctant to join the after show parties on their 1988 concert tour, Martin always seems likeable, a simple man with simple tastes who refused to alter them to accommodate the demands of stardom.  Even when his marriage crumbles following one extra marital affair too many, he's a decent guy at heart, agreeing to give his ex-wife whatever financial settlement she seeks.

One has to be a Dino fanatic to wade through much of the book since the star is a peripheral figure in pages devoted to the rest of the clan, including Dean-Paul, Martin's eldest son whose 1986 death in a plane crash devastated the old man who spent his last years eating alone in restaurants and shunning the spotlight.

That's Amore is an easy, but ultimately forgettable read.  There aren't any revelations here, but with a man as enigmatic as Dean Martin, none can be expected.

Brian W. Fairbanks
Entertainment Editor