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Come Swing With Me

[whitespace] Dean Martin Don't get us wrong--Dino could hold a note, and his acting was passable. But Martin's charm was in his lethal double-punch of drop-dead good looks and who-gives-a-damn swagger.

Dancing in the dark till the tune ends
We're dancing in the dark and it soon ends
We're waltzing in the wonder of why we're here
Time hurries by, we're here and we're gone
"Dancing in the Dark" (Schwartz/Dietz)

By Kelly Luker

DINO AND BOOZE. Booze and Dino. The two went together like scotch and soda, like gin and vermouth. Try to remember a photo of Dean Martin--on stage, hanging with the Rat Pack, fronting the Golddiggers on The Dean Martin Show. Now, try to remember him without that precious shot glass of brown elixir clutched in one hand and a cigarette dangling carelessly between the fingers of the other.

Leave running the Rat Pack to Ol' Blue Eyes--we'd pick Dino to show us how to drink in this town. Of course, if Martin wasn't already dead, he'd up and croak again when he saw what passes for gin mills near the millennium. No smoking in bars? Midori shooters? A long, sloe screw against the wall, for cryin' out loud?

Who knows how much the man actually drank. Some say it was an act, like W.C. Fields' legendary dislike for children. But like most good legends, the truth is irrelevant. We remember the crooner for his martini-fueled cool. Sinatra played at cool, but those who knew him swear that Martin was the one who truly didn't give a rat's pack about that group's opinion--or anybody else's, for that matter. Rumor has it that it was the Chairman of the Board who was hungry for Martin's approval--never, ever the other way around.

But that's the secret of cool, of course. To not give a damn who loves you, who likes you--or who hates you. Unlike pathetic little Sammy Davis Jr. Davis sold his soul to be a member of the Pack. It's ironic, since Davis had the talent. Don't get us wrong--Dino could hold a note, and his acting was passable. But Martin's charm was in his lethal double-punch of drop-dead good looks and who-gives-a-damn swagger. Those curaçao-blue eyes and gorgeous Italian puss could melt the hearts of the most forbidding ice queens.

Martin hit his stride playing straight man to Jerry Lewis' pratfalls and yucks. "The organ grinder and the monkey," as some called them. The bucks were rolling in and the laughs never stopped when the two were on stage, TV or the silver screen. Of course, that was the audience chortling--not the duo. Within years, Martin came to loathe Lewis, and it got harder and harder to keep up the front. So, he stopped bothering, and after a string of stunningly successful movies, Dino bid that clown arrivederci.

Dino kept cranking out the music, and except for a hit or two like "That's Amore," most were execrable messes. Think "My Rifle, My Pony and Me." Or when the Italian stud "stretched" with an album of Southern ballads.

It didn't matter, really: Dino had the world by the short hairs. He was a made man in the Pack--swingin' and singin' and swearin' with Sinatra, Davis and Bishop. His adoring audience would pay to see that kisser in movie after movie no matter how bad the role. Of the 55 flicks notched on his belt, only a few even make it to late-night TV anymore (Some Came Running, Rio Bravo, a few from the Matt Helm series, a smattering of the Jerry Lewis movies).

But the downside to not caring is just that--not caring. Like most of his Hollywood cronies, Martin went through wives and gorgeous starlets like Kleenex. But as Wife No. 2, Jeanne Martin, put it, "Dean doesn't have an overwhelming desire to be loved. He doesn't give a damn. He doesn't get involved with people, because he really isn't interested in them."

That's a deadly way to go through life. After the glitter of gold and the glow of the spotlights wears off, after enough booze to sink a battleship and enough broads to fill a dancehall, it's empty. Over the years, Martin slowly retreated into himself. If truth be known, a game of golf was more satisfying than the applause of the crowds or the cooing of a gorgeous gal on his arm. It all just got to be ... Too. Much. Work.

But that's not the Dino we see strolling down First Street, taking in the Fairmont, rolling down El Camino or up Santa Cruz Avenue towards his watering hole du jour. Close your eyes and listen for the background music. No, not his Italian love songs but instead the funky, rinky-dink jazz riffs behind those Rat Pack movies. Now throw on a peach-colored angora sweater, pour a few fingers of Haig & Haig into a flask and start walking.

It's late at night and you can almost see Martin moving on ahead, breaking through the fog, just settling in around the neighborhood. He's whistling one of his favorites, a light sports jacket thrown casually over one shoulder. He'll take a pass on lowdown dives and neighborhood nooks, thank you, and head to where the women are red-hot and the martinis ice-cold. Look for Dino to find a welcome mat wherever Earth Shoes wouldn't, if you get our drift. The man exuded style and didn't have much use for a place that didn't have a dress code.

After leaving the hatcheck girl with a 20 and a wink in exchange for a phone number, Dino would stroll in, bigger than life. Most men pretend not to notice the hungry stares from women, the envious looks from men. Martin noticed--he just didn't care. Grabbing a pack of Viceroys from the cigarette girl, the debonair Dino would find himself with one elbow on the bar as he surveyed the ebb and flow of humanity around him.

At the end of the evening, follow the slow fade-out. A baby spot remains on Dean Martin and his eyes are closed now, listening to the music that will always define him: The tinkle of ice cubes in a glass, the roar of a blender, and the gentle shoosh shoosh of a martini shaker.

A Dean Martin Kind of Place

Angelo's Arena Cafe
11 Race St., San Jose (408/295-7765)

Bay 101
1801 Bering Dr., San Jose (408/451-8888)

1800 Barber Lane, Milpitas (408/432-6311)

C.B. Hannegan's
208 Bachman Ave., Los Gatos (408/395-1233)

Cielito Lindo
195 E. Taylor St., San Jose (408/995-3447)

Club Max
Doubletree Hotel, 2050 Gateway Pl., San Jose (408/453-4000)

Compadres Mexican Bar & Grill
3877 El Camino Real, Palo Alto (650/858-1141)

Dos Locos Cantina
150 S. First St., San Jose (408/993-9616)

Empire Tap Room
651 Emerson St., Palo Alto (650/321-3030)

French Quarter
193 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale (408/773-8700)

Johnny's Northside Grill
532 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/395-6908)

300 Orchard City Dr., Campbell (408/379-6340)

Latin Village
1899 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose (408/259-7712)

The Lion and Compass
1023 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Sunnyvale (408/745-1260)

Los Altos Bar and Grill
169 Main St., Los Altos (650/948-4332)

Los Gatos Bar and Grill
15 1/2 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/399-5424)

Left at Albuquerque
445 Emerson St., Palo Alto (650/326-1011)

151 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose (408/971-6096)

Sundance Mine Co.
1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto (650/321-6798)

World-Famous King of Clubs
893 Leong Dr., MV (650/968-6366)

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From the June 11-17, 1998 issue of Metro.

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