Skip to content

the otto files

where the classics never go out of style

Here’s some vintage footage of a complete Martin & Lewis Dinner Show from the Copacabana, New York’s famed nightclub, supposedly from 1954. The boys broke up in July of 1956 and “That’s Amore” was written in 1953 and featured in their film “The Caddy,” so 1954 seems a reasonable date as to when this show was filmed.

When I was a kid, and when I say “kid” I mean 5-10 years of age, I absolutely loved Jerry Lewis. As I grew older, his “talent” grew thin to me. After awhile, a man in his 50s acting like a six-year-old just didn’t seem funny to me. However, I never tired of Dean. In fact, the older I grew, the more I appreciated Dean’s talent. I think Dean Martin was far more complex than history gives him credit for being.

One of the things that always frustrated me about Dino was that during and after his Rat Pack days, it was almost impossible to get him to finish a song when he was working live in a nightclub. I could never figure out whether it was a manifestation of low self-esteem or if he just loved making people laugh more than he loved singing. I think, like so many difficult questions in life, that the answer lies somewhere in between the two possible explanations.

I mean when he was singing and swinging with the Rat Pack, he was working with Sammy Davis Jr., generally considered to be the most dynamic performer of his time and Frank Sinatra, “The Chairman of the Board.” I don’t know if it was merely a question for Dean of how to compete with those two as much as it may have been, why bother? No one was going to come close to Sammy in terms of energy and eclecticism and Frank looked upon balladeering as an art form whereas Dean looked upon it as a living. I always got the feeling that Dean felt inferior to Frank when he was singing with him but that deep down, he knew that he, too, was a good singer. Of course, Dean was also a prisoner of his own creation. He took on the persona of the lazy, good-natured drunk who eased his way through a show, and a career, while paying as little attention to the details as possible. Forget about the fact that it would have been quite impossible to have been as successful in as many different areas of show business for as long as he was if Dean had actually been the intemperate stooge he pretended to be. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Dean Martin did not have the same level of ambition as Frank Sinatra or Jerry Lewis when it came to his career but he was no bum just stumbling through his success either.

And then there’s the whole idea of the comedian in Dean that eventually won out over the singer. As the Martin & Lewis partnership progressed and then deteriorated, Jerry’s ambition was to do everything and be seen as a genius at everything. At some point, Jerry even began insisting on having his own songs in their films. The original winning formula for their movies was that Dino was the singing straight man and Jerry was the comedic, childlike stooge. Somewhere along the way I think Jerry grew jealous of Dean’s singing talent and felt he needed to show everyone that he, too, could sing. He couldn’t, of course, but that didn’t stop him from trying. On the other hand, Dean was, by his very nature, funny. In fact, many of the people who knew and worked with both men through the years noted that Dean was naturally the funnier of the two men. This is particularly interesting when we move ahead a few years to Dean’s relationship with Sinatra too. Frank was painfully unfunny. If you listen to some of Sinatra’s live performances, his monologue is almost always cringe-worthy. He was not funny. I think he wanted to be funny and maybe he thought he was funny but he was not. Dino on the other hand was very funny. In the early years he contributed to some of his early material not by sitting down and actually working with his writers but by ad-libbing off their original ideas and material when on stage. As years went by, a lot of Dean’s material became somewhat cringe-worthy as well, particularly in the latter years of his variety show but if nothing else, Dean could always deliver a line better than most.

Anyway, here’s some real fun for a “Throwback Thursday.” It’s Martin & Lewis at The Copacabana circa 1954. By the way, please note the crowd noise. The Copa was known to be one of the toughest rooms to play on the club circuit but this is amazing to me. I mean this is Dean & Jerry at the pinnacle of their popularity and yet these people are still talking and going about their business as if these were two schmucks from Des Moines! Absolutely incredible!!!

Tags: , , ,