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The Miserable, Crazy, Wonderful Life of Jeanne Martin!

When I was a little girl I always dreamed I would someday marry a prince and live happily ever after.

I was sure my childhood dream had come true the day I married Dean Martin.

He was everything a girl could want. Tall, handsome, successful, famous; and so romantic that when he sang, girls would practically swoon. So delightful in his zany comedy act with Jerry Lewis that life with him promised laughs as well as romance. And we were deeply in love.

But it wasn’t long before I discovered that life with my happy-go-lucky Prince Charming was not so happy-go-lucky after all. The man I married was not the live-wire to whom life was one big field of four leaf clovers, but a person who had moods and deep-seated fears.

Suddenly, I found we were knee-deep in lawsuits, debts and problems. I was faced with an entirely new way of life. And within a few years with seven children—three of our own, four of Dean’s by a previous marriage—I, who had never had responsibilities, had to learn how to diaper the youngest baby while handing out advice on boys to teen-age Claudia and Gail.

We’ve licked most of our troubles now and I can look back and see that what started them was that although Dean and I had gone together for almost a year before we were married, we hardly knew each other at all.

We fell in love the moment we met. And floated on a billowy cloud from that time on. Dean was playing at the Beachcombers—a night club in Miami Beach, Florida—at the time, where he was teamed with Jerry Lewis. I’m a Florida girl myself and I was at the club with friends who also happened to be friends of Dean’s. Dean came to our table. We were introduced. That was it!

How could I help but fall for this handsome man with dark, curly hair, the ready smile and the witty banter? Women in the audience openly sighed over him. But when his dark eyes fastened on mine and he said, “Please stay for the second show—I want to see you again,” I knew something had kindled inside of him, too.

Back on the stage again, he sang Embraceable You and looked directly at me.

After the late show we went out and Dean began to tell me about himself. He told me something of his childhood in Steubenville, Ohio, a mill town where he had grown up. His father was a barber and as a boy Dean was poor and believed himself to be homely and unpopular. From a distance he had loved the mill owner’s daughter—a pretty, blue-eyed blonde girl who lived in a magnificent house on the hill. She represented everything he wanted in life: beauty and class. But she didn’t know he existed.

“I’ve looked for a girl like that all my life,” Dean told me, “and now I’ve found her—in you.”

Were we kidding ourselves? Maybe. I fell in love with a dream, and so did he. The man I saw was half of the fabulous team of Martin and Lewis, breaking all records, earning a fantastic salary, living a glamorous life, traveling all over the country, sought after by hordes of people. In me he thought he saw the image he’d been seeking: a blue-eyed blonde, a beauty queen (I was “Miss Orange Bowl” and a model), a girl who had been reared gently by an indulgent family and had had the advantages of going to college.

He was also to tell me that he was in the throes of a divorce from his wife, Betty. Their marriage of eight years had produced four children, but even the children didn’t blot out their differences.

No troubles in sight

If he was a troubled man then, I didn’t see it. We had a blithe courtship, as romantic as the love songs he sang. We spent glamorous evenings in the night club, glorious days on the Florida beaches. When Dean left for night club engagements in New York and Hollywood it was with plans for us to get married as soon as his divorce became final.

When he was settled in Hollywood again, I flew there and on September 1, 1949, we were married.

We had a fairytale wedding reception in the Beverly Hills home of a friend of Dean’s, where hundreds of white orchids were set in the lawn, a beautiful, glamorous picture—but an unreal one. Before leaving on our honeymoon, Jerry found Dean’s blue traveling suit, put it on and dived into the swimming pool. Our departure was delayed. I was close to tears, but the guests were laughing so I decided to be a good sport and take it.

But I couldn’t always take what was to follow. After a week end in a honeymoon hideaway, we went on to Las Vegas where Dean and Jerry had a long engagement at the Sands Hotel. I was twenty years old then and had never had any contact with show business. In fact, I loved mostly the great outdoors, and sports like sailing and fishing.

In Las Vegas—just three days after our wedding—I found my life turned topsy-turvey. Dean worked until 3:00 am. The first night, when I thought Dean and I would go directly to our suite, a crowd of fun-lovers surrounded Dean and we made the rounds to all the other night spots. Dawn was breaking when we finally got back to our hotel. I was beat.

It was like that all the time. We were never alone. We stayed up most of the night, slept most of the day. It was so new to me I thought I’d get sick.

One day I managed to get Dean alone and we had what I considered a typical honeymoon day. We drove up to Boulder Dam and took pictures of each other. I was very happy that we managed to get away from the noise and razzle-dazzle and spend a peaceful day by ourselves in a scenic spot, like most honeymooners do.

But there weren’t many days like that. We tried to be together—no matter what. I traveled with Dean and the show when they played theater dates. Dean did seven shows a day, from 9:30 in the morning until 1:00 at night. The first day was a mess. I’d expected show business to be glamorous, but it was something else. I sat in Dean’s dressing room and saw him for only brief moments—when he’d come in, wet with perspiration, and flop into a chair. He’d shower, change, then run out on the stage again. It was like that all day and all night. We never left the theater. I sat in the dressing room day and night for weeks. It was either that or staying alone in the hotel room in a strange city, with nothing to do.

I traveled with him this way until the expected arrival of our baby made it impossible for me to continue.

Dean and I had to be separated many times while I was waiting for the baby. But there were also times when we were together. Infrequent as they were, we were grateful for them. His four children would visit us occasionally, and I thought how wonderful it would be when our own baby was born and had three sisters and a brother already here.

Although Dean had a heavy financial responsibility toward his first wife and the children, besides a load of debts to be paid, I wasn’t too worried. He was doing extremely well and the team of Martin and Lewis was growing hotter by the minute. I was certain that all of our money problems would clear up soon and Dean would be out of debt.

Then, that dream exploded, too.

One after another, four people who had known Dean in the past filed separate lawsuits against him claiming they had helped him in his career and were entitled to a cut of his earnings. Lawyers were on the phone constantly and I was very much upset by the whole thing. It made Dean very nervous, too, and he’d come home silent and glum. Eventually all the lawsuits were settled. We’d lost every one of them, and it cost us a small fortune.

Dean and I felt extremely lucky that he was able to be home when Dino was born. But a few days later, he had to take off on the road again. This time, because of the baby, I couldn’t go. It was probably just as well. The conditions under which I traveled with him had begun to create tension rather than harmony. It wasn’t exactly a picnic for Dean to clown on the stage while worrying about me cooped up in his dressing room.

Since Dean was home only about three months out of the year, this left mighty little time for us to share our life as man and wife. I think it was at this time that I discovered the real Dean. One far different from the cocky, fun-loving Dean Martin that most people knew. Perhaps it was his insecure childhood, but I soon learned that my husband was a deeply sensitive man—quick to be hurt and inclined to withdraw into a shell of his own. At home he’d flop on the sofa and have long spells of silence, doing little more than watch TV. I’d be home most of the day and wanted to go out and be with people.


I tried to get Dean to dress up and go out, but he wanted to stay home. This could have led to arguments, except that Dean positively hates to argue. He finds it hard to express his feelings, and it tears him to pieces to have a quarrel. He and Jerry were having some differences then and it was deeply distressing to him, but he kept things to himself and brooded about them instead of talking them out.

Once, things got so bad at home I said, “Dean, let’s sit down, just you and me, and thrash things out.” He looked at me, his face drawn, then turned and walked away. I wish I could have understood him then as I do now. But I didn’t. I felt rejected. I was furious. Several times after that I tried to get to the bottom of things, but instead of talking, Dean would withdraw. We never had fights with screaming and yelling; only a tight kind of silence for Dean—and tears for me.

I knew that Dean was going through great emotional strain. He and Jerry were about to split up as a team. Dean had the greatest respect for Jerry, but he thought it was time for him to be on his own. He wanted to establish his own identity as a performer and he felt if he remained part of the team he would never find himself. Well, the excitement this created all over the country! If Sears had tried to leave Roebuck the blast couldn’t have been greater.

The talk of Hollywood

The whole town talked about it. And everyone told Dean he was crazy. They predicted that he would starve if he left Jerry. For a man with Dean’s basic insecurities, this was enough to give him a ease of the screaming meemies. He sank deeper and deeper into thought.

One night I managed to get Dean to go to a party. I thought he’d forget his troubles if he mingled with people again. But the minute we got there, the guests began to bombard Dean with questions about the impending split-up. Dean looked pained and clammed up. A few well-meaning friends took him aside and tried to persuade him not to leave Jerry. This made Dean so confused that he left the group. A couple of other guests got him alone and started to knock Jerry. This made Dean feel even worse, because he really liked Jerry. We left early.

He couldn’t stand these discussions. No matter what friends said, they managed to upset Dean. In order to avoid hearing all this talk, Dean decided to avoid being with people.


We’d gone out little enough before, now we didn’t go out at all. Staying home night after night, I saw my husband grow more worried, more silent, as though he were wrestling with some great problem that he alone could solve.

And that was true, in a way. Because I couldn’t help him either. I wanted desperately to have him confide in me and see if we couldn’t talk over this important decision on which our futures depended. But Dean had to find the answer. himself. So I left him alone. But I was miserable.

Although I didn’t influence Dean one way or another, I soon learned that people were blaming me for the break-up of Martin and Lewis. “It must be that new wife of his,” they were saying. “Everything was fine until she came along.” Even though it was untrue, it killed me every time I heard those rumors.

I found myself living with a stranger. At home Dean was morose and silent. Either that, or he’d leave the house and try to work off his tensions by playing golf all day.

We had another baby boy by this time, Ricci, and Dean would forget his troubles when he played with his two little sons. Other than that, he was still tied up in a knot of silence.

I couldn’t stand it. All of my close friends were in Miami; I had no one to talk to. So we kept our tensions to ourselves until they mounted higher.

The last straw

Things had to come to a head. One morning, after a sleepless night, I said to Dean again, “Let’s talk things over.” Again the pained look on Dean’s face and he walked away. I wanted to scream. My voice was actually trembling when I said to him, “Dean, I’m leaving you.” He whirled around and I’ll never forget the stunned look on his face.

I packed and got ready to take the two children to Palm Springs for a long rest. When Dean saw how distraught I was he was afraid to let me get behind the wheel of the car. He drove me and the children to Palm Springs and we didn’t say a single word all the way. After he found a little house for us, we said good-bye. At the door I was amazed to see him suddenly break into tears and walk away.

After two months, I came home. Dean was living in an apartment and when he learned I was back in town he phoned me. This time he sounded more like the charm boy I had fallen in love with.

“Can a guy buy you dinner tonight?” he asked. There was a lilt in his voice. I found myself dressing for him with the enthusiasm of a girl dressing for her first date.

We had such a wonderful time that we made a date for the next night, too. Soon I was being courted by my husband all over again. We’d have dinner and go dancing and hold hands and kiss like a boy and girl who were falling madly in love. We found ourselves talking and laughing and confiding in each other as we had during those romantic nights in Florida. The thrill of being together had been recaptured. Slowly, we came to our senses and it seemed natural for Dean to move back into the house.

It?s as though we’d discovered each other all over again.

All the pieces began to fall into place. Dean was on his own now, and from the beginning he was a sensation. In his first picture without Jerry, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, he clicked as a romantic actor. His stature as an actor is rising with his two latest pictures, Rio Bravo and Some Came Running. In night clubs and theaters he was such a smash that he’d have to be quintuplets to accept all the offers. And his recordings were all hits.

With success he found security and confidence for the first time in his life, It wasn’t just the success and the money—for he’d had all that when he was with Jerry. It was the fact that he did it on his own. He had to know that audiences liked him for what he could offer them, without wondering if it was actually the talent of Jerry that was carrying him.

Last year, to make our happiness greater, our family grew much bigger. Gina was born, and Dean’s four children came to live with us. We thought our large home on two acres of ground in Beverly Hills could be stretched to hold Craig, sixteen, Claudia, fourteen, Gail, thirteen, and Deana, nine, besides our two lively boys and the baby. But how delightfully crowded we became! Upstairs and downstairs the house became a bedlam of noises and hi-fi sounds ranging from Mother Goose to Elvis Presley.

Before Dean and I discovered ourselves, we might have been thrown by all this change and confusion. But not this time. We simply called in an architect and asked him to add as many bedrooms as the house would accommodate. In the meantime, the kids are doubled up.

Maybe Dean and I don’t have all the privacy we need, but we’re too busy to care. I had to learn to grow up fast and take on the responsibilities of raising and guiding: seven children of different ages, sizes and types.

Of all the children, Gail, a freckle-faced teenager who is in a state of constant motion, seems most likely to follow in her dad’s footsteps and turn to show business. She dances superbly and has the drive to become a professional dancer. We think she’ll make it, too. Other than that, the children are normal and noisy. Although it was practically overnight that I found myself the mother of three teenagers, I find it stimulating and a challenge.

Craig is a lanky, broad-shouldered sixteen-year-old who has so many friends I think he could run for President. He’s in love and he’s going steady—this week, that is.

Like teenage girls all over the country, Gail and Claudia are interested in clothes, boys and rock ’n’ roll. They couldn’t wait till Dean came home every night from the set of Rio Bravo to badger him with questions about Ricky Nelson, who was his co-star.

Dean is basically a family man and when I can’t handle the kids he takes over. He can be mighty strict, too, like the time he had to punish Craig for not driving the younger children home from the movies as he was supposed to. Craig had dropped in to see his girl friend and had forgotten all about picking up the children, so Dean took away Craig’s car for a week.

On the whole though, Dean’s inclined to be pretty easy with the children. He gives Claudia and Gail an allowance of three dollars a week, for instance, then “lends” them five or ten dollars in between weeks. He lets the baby and the two younger boys muss him up, and Deana can twist him around her little finger just by smiling at him.

Dean used to say, “With so many mouths to feed, I should have a restaurant.” So this year he bought one. It’s called Dino’s Lodge and it’s on the Sunset Strip, not far from our home. Two or three evenings a week we troop down, all nine of us, and have a family dinner there. Dean says when we come in there’s no room for the paying customers!

We’re not floating on a cloud the way we did when we first met. Our feet are on the ground, but we know where we’re going. We’ve worked out a lot of our problems and we’ve found peace of mind. Many new problems will arise, but at least now we can talk things over.

It took a lot of time, and a lot of tears, for me to find the marriage I dreamed of as a little girl. It may not be exactly as I pictured it, but I know my dreams have come true.



Watch for Dean in Warners’ RIO BRAVO.