Martini Man goes beyond the simple caricature of the boozy lounge singer with a penchant for racy humor to reveal the substantive man behind that mask.
Written to dispel the image of Dean Martin (1917-1995) as "a skirt-chasing, heavy-drinking, wholly insensitive, minimally talented philanderer and mob pal who dropped friends and wives as casually as he'd discard a candy bar wrapper," this whirlwind bio takes Martin out from the shadows of Jerry Lewis and the Sinatra-led Rat Pack and puts the popular crooner, film actor, comedian and TV personality center-stage. Schoell, whose previous work includes eight novels as well as a biography of Steven Spielberg, makes a case for Martin as a serious actor in such films as Toys in the Attic, Rio Bravo, Bells Are Ringing and Kiss Me, Stupid, though his take on the movies themselves can be withering. He artfully re-creates the magic of the Martin and Lewis partnership, which began in a Manhattan nightclub in the mid-1940s, and pries open the cauldron of jealousies, paranoia and mutual recriminations--the way that Lewis would really pull Martin's hair when he was only supposed to pretend to; the way Martin retaliated by breaking Lewis's toes--that led to their breakup in 1956. Schoell addresses allegations that Martin was a "Mafia singer," maintaining that his contacts with mobsters were inevitable since they owned the clubs and casinos. As for Martin's boozing and philandering, his three marriages and divorces and his neglect of his children, Schoell gives him something of a free pass. Nevertheless, his book provides a counterbalance to Nick Tosches's scathing 1992 Dino, and it's studded with entertaining cameos of Marilyn Monroe, Lou Costello, Rock Hudson, Harry Cohn, Marlon Brando and Shirley MacLaine (panting with unrequited love for Dean). Photos.