Recent recollections of "Old Blue Eyes" Frank Sinatra on his birthday (Dec. 12) brought back memories of his Rat Pack buddy, "Ol’ Brown Eyes" Dean Martin.
Following Martin’s death on Christmas Day, 1995, I wrote a column about Dino’s friends and their fond memories. It went like this:
If Mike Bonfiglio wasn’t on a golf holiday somewhere in Florida, this tribute in writing could be the first in a long series. The retired casino top gun was uptight with Dino. Guys who golf together always have the best stories to tell.
Al Facinto, the retired dean of casino managers, knew Martin long before Las Vegas. The two go back together to Steubenville, Ohio. "He dealt craps at a joint called Rex Cigar Store. It was about a year or so before he tagged up with Jerry Lewis. We also mucked chips together," Mokey added. "They used five-cent chips in those days. There was a lot of mucking to do”¦ As usual, Dean made it look so easy."
Mort Viner, a sidekick of Kirk Kerkorian, was a close friend of Dean Martin. Ditto scores of other Vegas guys and gals who remember Dean as just being Dean, plain and simple.
There’s another Dean Martin story. It gives an insight into how he was always there for friends. One such gent was Carl Torogian, who was known as Koko. There must be a story that goes with his nickname. I wish I knew it. At any rate, how Dean loved Koko. I think they met in one of the horse rooms along the Strip years ago. Probably at the late Sammy Cohen’s Santa Anita.
Koko was great at picking friends, but not so great at picking horses. He was frequently in need of a fix ($$$)! Whenever Dino was playing the Strip, Koko would put on his Sunday suit and pay his friend a call. There was always an envelope in his pocket as he danced his way back to the nearest book. He would never admit that he had been given a transfusion. Koko hinted that Martin was one of his sponsors.
"Don’t ask any more questions”¦It’s a secret between me and Mr. Martin," explained Koko in his typical don’t-kiss-and-tell fashion.
Koko remained loyal to Martin the rest of the days of his life.
How loyal? There’s a story that says it all.
Near the end, Koko divided his time between working behind the windows in the summer at Arlington Park and cooking for his pal, Benny Abrams. They were roommates in Las Vegas. Koko had been plagued with diabetes for years. It got worse. Soon, he ran out of options.
He called Dean Martin.
"They want to saw off one of my legs. What should I do?" Koko asked. Dean set him straight. He told him to do what the doctors wanted him to do.
Koko fought as long as he could. He was one depressed horseplayer when they wheeled him into the hospital.
The surgery was a success, but Koko’s depression failed to get out of the starting gate. After days of him not wanting to get out of bed, Benny insisted: "Call Dean, see what he tells you!"
Koko did. No one will ever know what was said. But, before the day was over, Koko called for the therapist to help him walk on one less pin.
Dean’s words gave Koko another four or five years of life.
Forget the big Pizza Pie.
Forget the Pasta Fagiole.
That was Amore!