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Delanceyplace: Dino

Dino Crocetti, who from the time he was a kid in Steubenville,
Ohio had dreamed of being a singer, was recruited to Columbus by a bandleader named Ernie McKay -- who promptly changed his name to Dino Martini after the then-Hollywood-heartthrob Nino Martini. There he caught the eye of Cleveland bandleader Sammy Watkins, but these were the years of World War II and the shadow of Benito Mussolini, so another name change was in order -- to the anglicized Dean Martin. Cleveland was the big time -- flush in the wake of its strategic hold on the Erie canal and John D. Rockefeller's early oil success - - and this was Martin's big break, writes Nick Tosches.

The classiest joint in Cleveland was what Variety called the 'ultra-modernistic,
intimate' Vogue Room. ... Variety observed, in its finest remedial heptalk, 'Besides
being the hangout of political nabobs, track promoters and money-boys,' the Vogue
Room 'manages to hold a good class trade.'

On Friday night, the first of November 1940, that good class trade, for a buck-fifty
minimum, was privileged to enjoy the fruits of many muses. To open the show, there
was Sigrid Dagnie, the 'Beauteous Ballerina.' Glen Pullen, who was there that night
for Variety, remarked on her 'Andalusian song-and-dance bits' and the 'neat gown
of burgundy and chartreuse that reveals her oomphy chassis.' Next came Floretta
and Boyette, 'Mental & Mystic,' with 'a potpourri of mind-reading, magic and broad
gags.'

Rex Weber, still billed as the 'introducer' of the 1932 song 'Brother, Can You
Spare a Dime?' performed his 'standard routine of ventriloquistic singing.' The
pianist Marion Arden filled the lulls of passage between acts, while Sorelli the
Mystic roamed the audience, offering what the Vogue Room advertised as 'Tableside
Divinations.' None of these acts was new that night to the Vogue Room; and, of course,
neither was the featured attraction, Sammy Watkins and His Orchestra. But the young
man whom Sammy introduced as Dean Martin, the young man who stepped forward acknowledging
that improbable name -- he was new.

A few days later, Pullen's review in Variety gave him his first national notice.
'Nostalgic semi-swing arrangements of old pop numbers are its longest suit,' Pullen
wrote of the orchestra. 'For another asset, Watkins has acquired a new vocalist,
Dean Martin, who backs a personable kisser with a warm, low tenor and an agreeable
manner.'

Watkins was paid $1,000 a week at the Hollenden. Ten percent of that went to MCA,
his agency. The seven bandmembers on the payroll received from fifty to seventy-five
each, depending on what Sammy thought they were worth. Dean started out at thirty-five
dollars a week, plus a free room and a 50-percent discount on food at the hotel.
His salary rose as his local popularity increased. By February 1941, he was a featured
part of the billing.

Author: Nick Tosches
Title: Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams
Publisher: Dell Publishing a division of Random House, Inc
Date: Copyright 1992 by Nick Tosches, Inc.
Pages: 83-85


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