That’s Amore: Family was Martin’s Rat Pack at home

Jan 29, 2002 3:41 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Ricci Martin is the third youngest of eight children born to legendary entertainer Dean Martin. The 48-year-old singer/writer lives in Utah with his wife and three children. Ricci is on a promotional tour for his book That’s Amore, a collection of stories about his beloved father, who passed away in 1995.

GT: What is it like to be the son of a famous celebrity?

RM: Not difficult at all. Everyone loved dad so much. I had a normal upbringing. He was an early riser, who played golf everyday in Beverly Hills. He would walk 18 to 36 every day. That’s how he kept fit and kept his tan. Would do shows twice a year in Vegas for six-week runs.

GT: Was it hard to gain an identity for yourself?

RM: At the height of his career, I was so young that it didn’t affect me as far as work went. In later years, his celebrity could have helped, but age was never an issue. Everyone enjoyed him so much.

GT: What was Las Vegas like during the Rat Pack days and do you like Vegas today?

RM: I came in at the tail end of the Rat Pack. Sometimes Frank (Sinatra) and Sammy  (Davis) would drop by our house. Dad kept all that play stuff at the office. I didn’t see a lot of that at home. He was a private man, not a partier.

GT: What was behind the Martin and Lewis breakup and who was right?

RM: It was a love affair of two very young men growing into superstars. Each had different likes and dislikes. The split was a natural progression.  Jerry was taking more control of production, which was good. However, he insisted dad wear a policeman’s uniform in a movie and by refusing walked away from an incredible career and lots of money. No doubt, leaving Jerry enhanced dad’s career, but it was frightening at the time.

GT: How important was gambling to your dad?

RM: My dad was a dealer in Steubenville and would smuggle cigarettes across the Ohio River. He would gamble after a show, but knew the odds and what it was all about. It was a no-win scenario. My dad loved doing card tricks, which originated from dealing.

GT: What was being around the Rat Pack like off stage?

RM: Frank wanted everyone to go out, but dad just wanted to have a sandwich, watch TV or play golf. He was a magnet around men and women. A man’s man as well. Great trait. Easy going. Same to me as he was in public. No act.

GT: How hard was it having Dean Martin for a father?

RM: Great role model for all my life. The tour started out to be a train stop tour, with each performer having their own car. Dad loved trains, but did not like to fly. Then, the big shots got involved and turned the show into everything he decided not to do. He was getting older. Frank wanted to re-live Rat Pack days and hang at the bar. A couple of times they were at odds. He had a short wick, but I never saw it. Dad eventually left and Lisa (Minnelli) replaced him.

GT: How did Dino, Desi and Billy get started?

RM: We all went to Beverly Hills Catholic schools. Taught by nuns. Billy and Dean Paul got together and played. Desi was younger. They played events, simple safe things. They rehearsed at the house. Frank had started Reprise records and Jeannie asked him to come over and hear them. The group recorded “I’m A Fool,” which became a top-10 hit. Gary Lewis (and the Playboys) came after their popularity. I don’t see Gary very much.

GT: What made you settle on Utah as a home?

RM: I live about a half hour east of Park City. I spent 38 years growing up in L.A. My wife, who worked as a stewardess, was originally from Salt Lake City. I was living on a boat in Marina Del Rey. We found 53 acres on the Provo River and built a log home. I don’t ski or fish, but I did build a recording studio.

GT: Do you plan on getting involved in show business?

RM: Yes. I started a few years ago with my band called Ricci, Desi and Billy. We played the MGM Grand two years ago and will be at Sunset Station on April 6.

GT: Did all the divorces hurt your relationship with your dad?

RM: I didn’t know of the divorce with his first wife (Betty). Dad was married to my mom Jeannie for 20 years. For me, it was not so difficult. I was 17 when they broke up. I thought they would both be happier. However, it was difficult on my sister Gina, who was 14. People do tell me there is a resemblance between my dad and I.

GT: What did your dad feel was the highest point in his career?

RM: He wasn’t a big talker about his career. He didn’t glorify himself. I know he liked making Toys in the Attic, Young Lions and Ada. He spoke of them with great pride.

GT: Did people find his cowboy role in Rio Bravo hard to accept at first?

RM: People had skepticism that he could pull off the Westerns, which he loved doing. Hanging with John Wayne, who wouldn’t like that? My favorites were Sons of Katie Elder, Rio Bravo and Bandalero with Raquel Welch. Usually I stayed off the set.

GT: What did you think of the Oceans 11 remake?

RM: I’m glad they made the movie because it keeps everything alive. I haven’t seen it. They couldn’t capture the Rat Pack era. The Rat Pack was incredible. There was a point where it disappeared. Glad to see it’s alive again.

GT: Did you believe you could be famous on your own in show business?

RM: There was no concern trying to overcome my dad’s aura. With the book, people are so interested in him. I am going to incorporate part of that into my show at the Sunset.

GT: What made you write That’s Amore with Christopher Smith?

RM: Those 10 years I lived with him were so unbelievable. I saw it slipping away and needed to put something down on paper and in pictures. At least, I would have it for my family. I felt a need deep down to write it, but  I’m not going to get rich off of the work.

GT: Did your father really like to drink, or was that apple juice in his glass?

RM: Having all these careers, you have to hit the marks, know the lines. Can’t do that if you are smashed. He knew exactly what he was doing all the time. For the most part, he drank apple juice. Dad loved to sing. In Steubenville, he knew show business was in his blood.

GT: How would you like to see the public remember your father?

RM: A sweet, devoted man who was kind and didn’t differentiate. Everyone was treated the same. No politics involved. I admire and look up to him. He was and will always be dad to me.