Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013

Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts

By David Luhrssen
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Dean Martin was a talented entertainer from the old school—a singer as well as a comedian. He began as a nightclub vocalist in the Bing Crosby mode, but came to attention as Jerry Lewis’ straight man at a New York club. They drew much laughter in the late 1940s, appearing on television and radio and starring together in a string of movies, starting with My Friend Irma (1949). He went on to serious roles in Hollywood, became a charter member of the Rat Pack, and enjoyed a long afterlife on TV with “The Dean Martin Show” (1965-1974) and the occasional “Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts” (1974-1985).

A six-DVD set of “Celebrity Roasts” was released a few months back. Now comes the big holiday present for his fans, “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Complete Collection.” The hulking box set features 54 roasts, including those that were originally part of his weekly series as well as the specials, plus a book with production materials and photos and a brace of documentaries shot for this set.

Martin looked a bit tipsy at times while hosting his roasts, but that only infused the scripted romps with spontaneity. The casts assembled for a single episode were often a little mind-boggling. Picture fright-wigged Phyllis Diller with Gen. Omar Bradley in full dress and Nipsey Russell tossing a barb at Gov. Ronald Reagan. Some of the humor has evaporated over time but many moments still crackle with hilarity. The “Complete Collection” amasses a who’s who of mid-century American entertainment, with Sammy Davis, Jr., Hank Aaron, George Burns, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Muhammed Ali, Don Rickles, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny and Ronald Reagan—to name just a dozen.

 

 

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