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Dino - Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams.

DINO--Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams by Nick Tosches (Doubleday, 569 p.) is, by most standards, a somewhat depressing book, partly because it is so well written. It tells the story of Dean Martin in colorful detail and, in so doing, also very successfully paints a picture of the period of his great success--as a singer, as Jerry Lewis' straight-man, as a member of the Sinatra-Sammy Davis Jr.-Peter Lawford outrageous "ratpack" and as star of the Dean Martin TV show on NBC.

Woven into all this is the strange pattern of the perpetual drunk, the man who cares about nothing, the handsome, tousle-haired hedonist who simply lost his zest for life, the totally laid-back almost instinctively vulgar performer, the person whom nobody knows (or eventually cares to know).

Thrown in for good measure are the stories of Dean and the Mob, the gangster connection being clear and inevitably destructive. Tosches is a first-rate story teller, and it needs that kind of talent for any attempt to come to grips with the Martin personality, with "the man nobody knows" and the romantic performer without a heart. It's not easy to figure out where the "dirty business of dreams" in the subtitle comes from. Going by the book, Dean's dreams mostly revolved around women and booze and making a specialty of being uninvolved, unreliable, disloyal and ultimately unprofessional.

Tosches gives credit where credit is due--after all, Martin did cut a large batch of extraordinarily good records, and he appeared in an impressive number of films (from My Friend Irma in 1949 to The Young Lions, with an astonishing number of mediocre westerns along the way). What's more, his TV show was, for years, the top-rated NBC attraction, and he provided great entertainment opposite the irrepressible Jerry Lewis.

But then there is Martin's dark side, which becomes progressively darker and more depressing as the book goes along and charts the pathetic decline of a personality. There are quotes aplenty from all involved, plus great, illustrative anecdotes (including some violent and disgusting ones).

But, ultimately, Tosches fails to identify the core of Martin, who by all accounts is a remote (and by now reclusive) person, totally addicted to drugs and the bottle, without a conscience and--despite his considerable fortune--apparently frustrated by the meaninglessness of his life. As the late Sammy Davis noted, "He was a friend, but I never got to know him."

The Christian Science Monitor said of his first TV show: "If (Martin) were any more relaxed, he'd fall on his face." That's the public image of Dean Martin, and the Monitor was quite right---he eventually did just that (fall on his face).

Tosches' book does rich justice to the Martin career, and it fills in the private details which are, to put it mildly, quite ugly and unpleasant in theft sharp contrast with Martin's public image.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Hift, Fred
Publication:Video Age International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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