Morning Man Classic: Dean Paul Martin!
Somebody who lived a very full life was the late Dean Paul Martin.
The son of legendary entertainer Dean Martin was a golden boy who emerged from his father’s shadow as a pop star (Dino, Desi and Billy) and an actor (Players, Misfits of Science). He married and divorced actress Olivia Hussey then Olympic Gold Medalist Dorothy Hamill and sadly died at the age of 35 while piloting an F-4C Phantom jet on a routine exercise for the California Air National Guard.
Known as Dino, Martin was described this way by friend Morgan Mason in a People Magazine article at the time of his death in 1987.
“His life was fuller than most people 100 years old,” Mason said. “The problem with Dean is that he was too good at too many things. He had a lot of money and he’d spend it freely. He went through Ferraris when he was a kid. He was terrific looking, from a famous family, and he had talent. When you have all those things on your plate—well, it’s hard to resist someone like that.”
At 11, coached by tennis ace Pancho Segura, Dean began playing junior tournaments. At 13, he abandoned tennis and formed a rock band with his friend Desi Arnaz Jr. and a neighbor, Billy Hinsche. The group was called Dino, Desi and Billy and produced several teenybopper hits (remember I’m a Fool?).
Eventually Dean returned to tennis at UCLA, where he joined the NCAA championship squad, which included Jimmy Connors. At 19, after two semesters, he dropped out of college to marry 19-year-old actress Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet), who would become the mother of Dean’s only son, Alex. Within four years they were divorced.
Then in the mid-’70s, the 6′,175-lb. Martin played briefly as wide receiver for a semipro football team, the Las Vegas Casinos before trying a stint as a race car driver and seriously trying the pro tennis circuit.
After another brief try at college (this time premed studies at USC), Dean continued pro tennis, and although he never rose above 496 in world ranking, he recalled his seven years on the circuit as “the happiest time of my life.”
His athletic flair served him well in his lead in a tennis picture, Players, with Ali MacGraw.
Meanwhile he returned to flying, a thrill since getting his license at age 16. Encouraged by his mother, who noted that he was the only one among his six brothers and sisters to share her love of flying, he joined the Air National Guard, earning his wings and commission in 1981.
The next year, in a star-filled, Beverly Hills ceremony, he proudly donned his dress uniform to marry Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill. Friends for the previous five years, the storybook lovers overcame the strain of constant separation—she was skating and he was on the tennis tour. They were divorced in 1984.
Tina Sinatra, daughter of Frank and a friend of Dean’s since childhood, recalled his supreme confidence: “There was nothing he felt he couldn’t get. We were once in a movie theater watching Romeo and Juliet, and Dean pointed to Olivia Hussey on the screen. He said, ‘I’m going to meet her one day and marry her,’ which of course he did.”
For all his bold career forays, Dean remains a promise unfulfilled even in the eyes of many who loved him. At his engagement party to Hamill, his father remarked, “I’m proud of him. I’d be proud even if he didn’t become a jet pilot, because he’s a good boy. He just doesn’t know what he wants to be.”
Martin began acting in earnest in the years before his death landing a lead, for instance, as a science whiz in the 1985 TV series Misfits of Science and as a divorced man in the comedy pilot A Single Man.
But flying remained a great joy. He eagerly met his Guard requirement, flying about 125 days a year. While aloft, he once said, “The high I get seeing the sun come up is so great that if I die, it would have been worth it.”