EXCLUSIVE: Move over, Steve McQueen, there is a new “king of cool” in town. You might recall the excellent 1998 documentary titled Steve McQueen: The King of Cool. Well, now a similar name has been awarded to none other than Dean Martin, the subject of a comprehensive and compelling new docu premiering November 19 on Turner Classic Movies, preceded by its world premiere November 14 as part of the program for DOC NYC at the SVA Theatre in New York City. “Cool” defines Martin in every sense of the word.
TCM will not only be hosting the broadcast premiere of Dean Martin: King of Cool but also a film retrospective as a companion to this long-in-the-works look at the talent and mystery of the legendary entertainer, who died at age 78 on Christmas Day 1995 but has never really gone away thanks to an iconic career that covered uncanny success in movies, TV, music, nightclubs and just about anything he touched. Although through archival and previously unseen footage and rare performance clips, King of Cool exhaustively covers every aspect of his personal and professional life since being born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio on June 7, 1917, the big takeaway is that even those closest to him including his family never really knew him. It is a fascinating premise on which to hang a nearly two-hour examination of the life of this beloved entertainer, and that makes it unique in the canon of showbiz bio-docs.
As TCM puts it, “King of Cool dives deep into Martin’s life through never-before-seen archival footage including from his time with Jerry Lewis, his movies and his TV Variety Show and Roasts. Interviews with friends, family (primarily one of his daughters, Deana Martin), and admirers give an intimate and personal account of his life, and the film tries to understand why Martin was such an enigma.”
Director Tom Donahue and his team have gathered a remarkable group of interviewees who give real insight into the man. Among them are various smart takes on Martin from the likes of Bob Newhart, Alec Baldwin, Angie Dickinson, Norman Lear, the late Florence Henderson (who has since passed away since her interview), Carol Burnett, Peter Bogdanovich and so many more including authors, relatives, and historians like Jeanine Basinger. Jon Hamm and RZA are effectively weaved in and out, adding intriguing insight as well. What we learn for certain is he was a true family man, he loved to play golf, but ultimately he kept his true thoughts to himself. Yet there is so much more, all the way up to touching stories of the personal tragedies that so affected his later years. This docu will be a must for the legions of Martin fans still out there.
Although all of them are now dead, of course, the so-called Rat Pack looms large here, especially Frank Sinatra, who clearly had a big impact on Martin’s life and famously reunited him with Lewis on that 1976 MDA telethon that turned out to be an all-time show business moment. The creation, rise, mad success and infamous breakup of Martin & Lewis is also covered in detail with great archival footage, as well as Martin’s initially uncertain but ultimately triumphant solo career in which he also showed real chops as a dramatic actor beginning with a role opposite no less than Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift in 1958’s The Young Lions. That movie won’t be part of the TCM retrospective playing with the docu, but Rat Pack classics (the 1960 original) Ocean’s 11 and Robin and the Seven Hoods will, along with early Martin & Lewis hit The Caddy and the 1959 classic Howard Hawks Western Rio Bravo which also gets extensive attention in the docu.
“Despite his extensive discography and his lengthy list of film and television credits, not much is known about Dean Martin,” said Charlie Tabesh, SVP Programming at TCM. “We are thrilled to premiere the definitive look at Martin’s life and explore what made him so cool – and mysterious.”
“What an incredible, joyous labor of love it has been to tell the story of one of the 20th century’s greatest entertainers,” said Donahue. “The more I learned, the greater and deeper my appreciation and affection for this man became.”
Dean Martin: King Of Cool was produced by CreativeChaos vmg in association with Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way and Danny Strong’s Danny Strong Productions. It was executive produced by Paul Barry, Deana Martin, John Griffeth and Steve Edwards. Ron Marasco was the story producer and it was co-produced by Mandy Stein, Peter Greenwald, Tina Potter, Jessicya Materano and Chantel Ellis.
“As a huge Dean Martin fan, I was so honored to be part of this amazing team led by Tom Donahue and Ilan Arboleda to tell the story of one of the greatest talents of the 20th century,” said Strong. “Dean is an icon, a legend and a mystery. By telling his story we hope to shed some light on that mystery and to keep his legend living on.”
Here’s TCM’s full lineup of Martin programming (all times ET):
Friday, November 19
8 p.m. – King of Cool (2021) – Documentary telling the story of actor and singer Dean Martin through film clips, photographs and interviews with family, friends and colleagues.
9:30 p.m. – The Caddy (1953) – A master golfer suffering from performance anxiety caddies for a man he’s taught everything.
11:15 p.m. – Rio Bravo (1959) – A sheriff enlists a drunk, a kid and an old man to help him fight off a ruthless cattle baron.
Friday, November 26
8 p.m. – Ocean’s 11 (1960) – A group of friends plot to rob a Las Vegas casino.
10:15 p.m. – Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964) – A Chicago gangster stumbles into philanthropic work during a gang war.
12:30 a.m. – King of Cool (2021) – Documentary telling the story of actor and singer Dean Martin through film clips, photographs and interviews with family, friends and colleagues.
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