OpEd: Dean Martin’s Christmas Classics Reign Supreme

Original studio publicity photo of Dean Martin for the film Bells Are Ringing (1960)

Make way, Mariah Carey. Hit the road, Jose Feliciano. Bye-bye, Bing Crosby.

Christmas is Dean Martin’s domain.

Yes, winter is coming. But it need not be a season of unremitting gloom and doom. Let’s put aside our political differences and pandemic fears — at least for one day — and celebrate a festive Yuletide Saturnalia with Dean Martin, the King of Cool.

And Long Island, which boasts a bevy of Dean Martin impressionists, is wall-to-wall Dino country.

As Christmas crooners go, Dino Paul Crocetti evokes the warmth of a hearth fire on a snowy winter’s morn. Listening to his mellifluous Italianate baritone has long been a Christmas tradition in households around the world. From “Let It Snow” to “Marshmallow World” to “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” Dean’s wintry melodies embody both the mirth and the majesty of the holiday season.

Social distancing has made it difficult for families to congregate this year, but Dino’s rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” will warm the cockles of even the most Scrooge-like relative’s heart. Not to mention Dean’s “Silver Bells.” And his melancholy “Blue Christmas” puts the Elvis Presley platter to shame.

Throughout his fabled career, Dean Martin was no stranger to outperforming other musical stars. In 1964, he topped the Beatles’ “Heart Days Night” on the music charts with his smash single, “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.”

In 1977, Dino sang a heartfelt “White Christmas” on his Christmas in California TV special. Afterward, Greg Garrison, Dean’s longtime producer-director, received a telephone call from Irving Berlin, who’d penned the iconic song long ago: “Mr. Garrison, I just want to tell you I just love your (show’s) star, and I want you to know that the White Christmas Dean did on the air was the best version I have ever heard.”

So there, Der Bingle!

And Dean Martin’s “Silent Night” is a reverential ode to the season’s spirituality.

On the cheeky side of Christmas, Dino warbles “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” a saucy take on a snowbound couple’s duet of flirtation and love. Politically correct pundits who rail against this holiday classic are nothing more than modern-day Ebenezers.

Manning a one-horse open sleigh, the Dean of Christmas takes us for a frolicsome trek through a winter wonderland in his jaunty version of “Jingle Bells.”

At the 75th anniversary celebration of the NBC television network, comedian Bob Newhart poignantly praised Dean as “the most talented man” he’d ever known. Along with his films, which throughout the 1960s were never out of the top ten at the box office, Dean Martin hosted a TV variety show for nearly a decade — making him an American icon.

During Apollo 7’s mission in space, Commander Wally Schirra echoed Dean Martin’s bon- homie by holding aloft a sign for all of Earth to see: “Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks.”(It was Dino’s tag line, which he invoked at the end of his hourly variety show every Thursday night.)

In truth, Dean Martin was a multi-threat entertainer whose image as a boozing bon vivant belied an artist of considerable range and diversity. Whether starring with John Wayne or Montgomery Clift in classic Hollywood films, recording smooth romantic ballads, or hosting one of television’s greatest programs, Dino Paul Crocetti achieved international stardom by holding true to his inner creative voice.

When Howard Hawks needed a highly emotive actor to play the drunken deputy to Duke Wayne’s stolid sheriff in “Rio Bravo,” the last person he envisioned was the singing straight man of a disbanded comedy team. Yet Dino’s nuanced Oscar-caliber performance as the fallen lawman who reclaims his honor — and the respect of his peers — wowed the veteran director.

Vincente Minelli, Billy Wilder and George Seaton also found Dean Martin to be a conscientious thespian whose cinematic appeal was equaled by a strong commitment to his craft.

Though not a practitioner of the Stanislavski “Method,” Dean brought an uncommon emotional intensity to his roles. This is especially evident in such dramatic films as “Rio Bravo,” “The Young Lions,” “Some Came Running,” “Ada” and “Career.”

Dino also delivers a powerful performance in the film adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play, “Toys in the Attic.”

Martin is superb as Captain Vernon Demarest, a debonair, nerves-of-steel airline pilot who must contend with a morose bomber aboard a flight to Rome in “Airport.” This film is as suspenseful today as it was in the movie theaters half a century ago.

And in “Mr. Ricco,” his last starring movie role, Dean Martin plays a principled defense attorney who champions civil liberties and upholds the rule of law while solving a bizarre murder mystery.

After a cozy Yuletide dinner — serenaded by Dino’s dulcet holiday tunes — kick back and relax with a classic Dean Martin film. Though he passed away on Christmas Day twenty-five years ago, Dean Martin remains evergreen in our hearts.

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