Deana Martin Interview: Duet with Iconic Dad, Dean Martin, an Overwhelming Experience: "It Was Way Too Emotional for Me"
Image attributed to Deana Martin
Making her television debut in 1966 on her father’s legendary television show, Deana Martin soon became a frequent guest, taking part in both musical and comedy numbers with a wide variety of guests on The Dean Martin Show.
Other television appearances over the years have included The Joey Bishop Show, The Merv Griffin Show and The Mike Douglas Show. She also starred in her own talk show, The Deana Martin Show, which ran for 4 seasons and over 40 episodes. Film credits are Young Billy Young, Strangers at Sunrise and A Voice in the Night.
“When I heard my father’s voice come through the headset, I had to stop. I couldn’t go on right then. It was just too real. It was way too emotional for me. It was quite overwhelming for me. Our voices are so similar. The tone was the same. It was like we even breathed in the same places. The mix was so perfect. It’s like it was just meant to be, and it was like he was just right there with me. I know it has a lot to do with the arrangement, and Al putting it together so beautifully.”
Martin amassed an impressive array of theatrical credits including the English productions of Romeo & Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, A Taste of Honey and made other stage appearances in The Star Spangled Girl, Wait Until Dark, 6 Rms Riv Vu, A Shot in the Dark and The Tunnel of Love.
In 2004, Martin released Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes, which became an instant bestseller in the US and subsequently attained No. 6 on the Australian bestseller list and reached to 10 on the UK bestseller list. Her debut album, Memories Are Made of This, released two years later, remained on the Top 10 charts for 40 consecutive weeks.
The talented, versatile performer recently released an album entitled Destination Moon that includes selections made famous by Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Nat King Cole, Bobby Darin and other legends of song. She also shares the spotlight with her father in the duet “True Love.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Deana, thanks so much for taking the time today.
Deana Martin: It’s my pleasure. Absolutely!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, when you and I spoke last, you told me that you did not like speaking on the phone (laughs).
Deana Martin: (laughs) Oh it’s fine. It’s like doing a radio interview. My husband’s the good talker on the phone though.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I love the new album! Are you on tour right now?
Deana Martin: Yes I am. I love this album. It turned out exactly the way we wanted it, and people love it. It’s a nice mix of songs. We think it just came out perfect.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you choose the songs yourself?
Deana Martin: Oh yes. Well, my husband and I work very closely together. We’re 24/7. I always write down songs that I love and would like to record or put in my show. Of course, some people have given me songs. They will come to my show and say, “I think maybe you need to do this song.”
There’s something about Peggy Lee I’ve always loved, and “I Love Being Here With You” is such a great show opener. So I started singing that song in the shows because it’s wonderful to start a show that way. I thought, “I’ve got to record this. We always have such a great reaction to it.” We picked out some of the songs, and then we went to talk to Charlie Calello, the arranger and figured out how we wanted to do it. Then we just started thinking about the album.
I had been singing “G.I. Jive” for a year because I wanted to originally do that for the veterans. I thought that might be a fun song for the GIs and the vets. So putting the group of songs together, I thought, “Gee, I don’t know if all of them will fit on one album or if it will make sense.” I wanted to do “Stuck in a Dream With Me,” and I always wanted to do “Break It to Me Gently.” So I’m thinking, “I don’t know if this is going to work.” But we worked on different arrangements, and then of course, I love “Beyond the Sea” because I love Bobby Darin.
All of the songs just seemed to fall into place. We found that we could put all of them on the album because they all kind of blended beautifully together, and the album doesn’t sound the same all the way through.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): My favorite, other than the duet with your dad, is “Break It to Me Gently.” One of the reasons is that you get more bluesy, and your voice gets a bit more throaty. I really like that sound.
Deana Martin: I’m so glad you said that because it’s my favorite song. I love the duet with my dad of course, but there was something that touched me about “Break It to Me Gently.” I loved it when I heard Brenda Lee sing it, and I loved Juice Newton’s version. But there is something about it with the Big Band and the strings that was so much fun for me.
Actually when I was singing it, my husband and Charlie stood up and walked into the studio and asked, “Who was that?” They were so cute saying that and standing together. That was a special moment for me. I said, “I don’t know what happened. I was just singing, and I love to sing like that.” There have been a few songs that are more bluesy, and there’s some connection that I have with it. I love the Great American Songbook, and I love the Big Band arrangements and all of it. But when I started to sing “Break It to Me Gently” and “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” and a couple more bluesy songs, all of a sudden I felt great, and it touched me in a different way. It touched my heart in a soulful place that I really wasn’t using before.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s great because I think you definitely need to sing more bluesy songs.
Deana Martin: I think I do too. When I was recording, we were out at Capitol. I was visiting a girlfriend, Georgia Durante, and I had just finished recording “Where Did You Learn to Love Like That?” Georgia said, “Deana, I think you have missed your calling! I think you’re more bluesy and soulful. I love what you do, but this is a whole different you. You’re maybe like a torch singer or something!” I said, “Really?” So it’s real interesting that you said that. It just touches me in a different way, and I really love that. I’m going to look for more songs like “Break It to Me Gently” because I love the sound, and it feels right for me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It sounds great too.
Deana Martin: Thank you. Maybe that next album will be all of that! I still love singing songs like “Nothing But the Best” and “Beyond the Sea,” the standards. But I was singing those for my dad. Now I’m singing them for myself as I mature and develop more of my style. That’s what I’m really enjoying doing now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Let’s talk about the duet with your dad, “True Love.” Was that song difficult to mix and record?
Deana Martin: First of all, Al Schmitt, Grammy Award-winning engineer and producer, did this. He’s the one who did Nat and Natalie’s “Unforgettable.” So I knew I was in good hands. I knew he would do it just right. I was looking for a song to do with my dad, and I always loved his version of “True Love.” I thought that it was an appropriate song for a father and daughter.
My handsome husband John located the original handwritten Nelson Riddle arrangement. When I went in to do my part to sing, I put on the headphones, but I was holding my dad’s original chart, and the name “Dean” was handwritten on it. Then it said Cole Porter’s “True Love,” and then it said “Nelson Riddle” on the right-hand side. The paper was kind of yellow.
My dad was probably holding that piece of sheet music when he sang, and then when I heard my father’s voice come through the headset, I had to stop. I couldn’t go on right then. It was just too real. It was way too emotional for me. It was quite overwhelming for me. Our voices are so similar. The tone was the same. It was like we even breathed in the same places. The mix was so perfect. It’s like it was just meant to be, and it was like he was just right there with me. I know it has a lot to do with the arrangement, and Al putting it together so beautifully.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you and your dad sing together often?
Deana Martin: I sang with him a few times on his TV show and did some duets with him. He made everybody feel comfortable. He had that easy laid back style, and if we were nervous, he’d say, “Don’t be nervous. People are going to love you.” He was great that way. But our voices did meld and blend together beautifully just like in this duet. I felt he was there with me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do fans at your shows still want to talk about him, or is it more about you now?
Deana Martin: You know, it’s funny. Usually the first thing they say is, “Great show! I’m your dad’s biggest fan!” I say, “Thank you very much.” Then they say, “But we’re a huge fan of yours now.” They tell me sometimes they see my dad in me with my mannerisms or my sense of humor. That’s a huge compliment for me. Though the years, it has been much more, “Deana, we love the show!” That’s always nice. But I hope they never stop telling me about my dad.
I hear new stories about him all the time, how he has touched people. A couple had their anniversary in Las Vegas in ’62, and they say that dad came up to their table, sent over a bottle of champagne for them and paid for their hotel room for the night. He was in the restaurant with them and said, “You shouldn’t be here! You should be up in your room. It’s your honeymoon!” Lots of stories how he touched lives every time I do a show. I’m always kind of shocked, however, when people come up and say, “I didn’t know he had any daughters!” I go, “Really?” (laughs) Some people forget things. But it’s great. Hopefully, they’ll always remember him. I can always bring new memories to them and bring back old memories from them.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I know that Dean Paul Martin, Jr. was a singer, but what about your other siblings?
Deana Martin: My brother Ricci does a tribute show and sings dad’s songs. He’s adorable. My sister Gail sang a long time ago, but she stopped probably 30 years ago. My sister Claudia who passed away was an actress. She was in some of those beach blanket movies. My sister Gina was in the Ica Capades with Dorothy Hamill. So we’re a little showbiz family (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Deana, I just recently interviewed Rich Little.
Deana Martin: Oh my gosh! I adore him! So what did Rich say? He is so funny.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When Rich impersonated your dad on the phone, he did a joke in Dean’s voice that was corny and just a little risqué.
Deana Martin: He did like corny jokes (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did your dad enjoy Rich’s impersonation of him?
Deana Martin: He loved Rich Little. He got such a kick out of him. You could even see the joy on my dad’s face when Rich would get up at those roasts and do him. Last year I was in Las Vegas. I did my Christmas show at the Smith Center. Usually we put a door on the stage like it was on my dad’s TV show. Remember when he’d open the door? He never knew who was going to come out.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Right.
Deana Martin: Well, as I’m doing my show, there’s a knock on the door. I never know when it’s going to be during the show or who it’s going to be. One time it was Mary Wilson from The Supremes. This past Christmas, I asked, “Who is it?” Rich Little walked out of the door. First he came out as Ronald Reagan, then he left, and later there was a knock on the door, and it was Rich doing dad. He came out again, and he was Jimmy Stewart. Rich came out on the stage 3 times as 3 different characters. But my dad just thought Rich was hysterical.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I remember those roasts like they were yesterday.
Deana Martin: They were so funny. It was unbelievable who was on those shows – Henry Kissinger, for heaven’s sake! There was Ronald Reagan, Muhammad Ali, Angie Dickinson and Ruth Buzzi, all of the comedians and all of the stars. It was quite something, and they had so much fun. Just to watch my dad’s reactions to everything was just hysterical.
Rich told me a cute story a few months ago. He said, “Your dad never really knew who we were roasting. We would walk out of the green room and your dad would turn to me and say, ‘By the way, who are we roasting tonight?’” Rich would say, “You’re kidding me! It’s Michael Landon!” Then my dad would say, “Oh, good choice.” Rich is such a national treasure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He is indeed. I heard that your book, Memories Are Made of This, is about to be made into a film.
Deana Martin: Yes. It’s moving glacially slow, but I’m in no rush. It has to be just right. Bonnie Hunt is writing the screenplay, and she is unbelievable! She’s such a huge Dean Martin fan. Joe Mantegna is going to direct.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The star of Criminal Minds?
Deana Martin: Yes. Joe also played a pretty good Dean in the film The Rat Pack (1999). Jennifer Love Hewitt is going to play me. She’s fabulous. We’re still trying to figure out who could be Dean Martin. I haven’t found anyone handsome enough who could sing who has that magic that dad had.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will you have someone play him at a young age and another actor to play him older?
Deana Martin: I think just one actor who they can make age. It all depends on what Bonnie comes up with, a feature or a mini series. It all depends on how we go. Bonnie has just been so busy lately. It has been tough. But I was thinking Johnny Depp because he’s such a great actor, and he has the Dean Martin hairline. He can sing, so he can become anything.
I don’t want any Dean Martin impersonators or anything like that. It has to be done with respect and love and done right, so I’m in no rush. I own the book and the story (laughs). We’ll find just the right people, and it’ll all fall into place. Just like with this album. I almost put the duet on the Christmas album, but then Andy Williams did the White Christmas duet with me, so I didn’t want two duets on that record.
I’m just trying to say that I think there’s a time for everything in this world, in this universe. So this time is the time for “True Love” to be on Destination Moon, and there will be a time for the movie. I think there’s a bigger plan out there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, I loved the album and the book and will look forward to the movie. Enjoyed the chat!
Deana Martin: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking to you again. As you know, I’m not a big phone talker (laughs). Thank you Melissa.
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