In his day, Dean Martin was a force of nature. He was a crooner, an actor, a lover of all things alcoholic, and people worshiped him for it. He was the lovable lush of the Brat Pack, and he starred in “The Cannonball Run” (and its lackluster sequel) and had a clip appear in one of my guilty pleasure movies, “Terror in the Aisles.” Ironically, Jesus took Dean’s life on Christmas of 1995, turning a day of joy into a day of sadness and acidic rage for all of America. I wondered if anyone remembered the man or his untimely death, though, so I made a few phone calls recently to see if people actually knew anything about the legend.
The first place I called was a local DVD retail store. I’ve been playing pranks on this place since it opened. (My favorite involved me buying a copy of “Tourist Trap” on DVD. An older female clerk saw my choice and said, “Oh, you’re ready for DVD?” “Yeah,” I replied. “They’re just like CDs.” She told me they were a little different than CDs because CDs played music, while DVDs played movies. “But,” I countered, “I can put this in my CD player and see the movie on the little LED screen that runs the track numbers and whatnot, right?” She didn’t find that amusing.) The person who answered the phone was a young woman who seemed extremely wired on coffee.
“Do you have any movies with Dean Martin in them?” I asked her.
“We do,” she said happily.
“Thank God! I have to get them before they go up in price.”
There was a moment of silence. “Why would they do that?”
“He just died.”
“He did? Didn’t he die like years ago?” She scores points for almost being sure.
“No,” I replied. “That’s Don Knotts you’re thinking of. Dean Martin just died. He was a senator from Rhode Island.”
“I thought you meant the actor. Not the senator.”
Oh, that was good. “I do mean the actor. He became a senator after he was denied a role in the sequel to ‘The Godfather’.”
“Wow. What did he die of?” She just lost those points.
“Well, I imagine a broken heart. Apparently nobody knew what he was up to.”
I hung up after that, and I’m pretty sure that woman felt kind of bad about the whole thing. My next call went to one of those huge video rental chain stores that are a blight on every neighborhood they invade. I got a male this time. I believe he said he was the manager.
“Got any Dean Martin movies?” I asked.
“We have several,” he told me as professionally as possible. “We have…”
“He just died.” I figured I’d cut to the chase before getting a filmography.
“That’s Bob Hope,” he corrected without missing a beat.
As of the date of the call (April 25, 2003), Bob Hope was still alive.
“No,” I told him. “It was Dean Martin. I just watched CNN. It was Dean Martin. Hope said he was sad to hear it.”
“I heard it was Bob Hope.” This guy was obviously crazy.
“Well, I think Hope will die soon, but he’s not dead today. Martin died today.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s still alive.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“When a star dies, especially a star of his caliber, people come in and rent his movies. We haven’t seen a spike in his rentals.”
“I just heard he died ten minutes ago. Maybe people are on their way.” I imagined a mad rush of sobbing Dean Martin fans descending upon the store like the Four Horsemen.
“Well, someone did just rent a Bob Hope movie,” the man explained.
“Look!” I exclaimed. “CNN just reported that Dean Martin died! Not Bob Hope. Bob Hope is still alive!”
“How did Mr. Martin supposedly die?”
“They were looking into that. My guess is that it was O.J. Simpson. You got any of his movies?”
The guy hung up on me, but boy that was worth it. I placed one more call to a local video rental place, though I decided to change my tactic.
“Do you have the Dean Martin movie where he plays a young man who thinks he’s a vampire?” I was making a reference to “Martin,” but the female clerk didn’t catch it.
“I’m pretty sure we do. Do you have the name of it?”
I pretend to think by making all kinds of weird “thinking” noises with my mouth. “I’m thinking it’s ‘Hope is Dead’.”
I heard her typing on her computer. “No. Could it be something else?”
“It could be. My memory is shot from some speed problems a few years back. Do you know anything about Dean Martin?”
“Isn’t he dead?” Points for her!
“No, he’s a senator from Rhode Island. I just watched an interview with him on CNN. He was talking about Bob Hope’s death.”
“Bob Hope died?”
“Well, I don’t think Dean Martin would lie about that.”
“And the movie you want is called ‘Hope is Dead’?” she asked.
“Ironic, isn’t it?”
“That is so strange.”
“So you don’t have that?”
“No. I don’t think I ever even heard of it.”
“Okay. Do you have any porn with anyone that may look like him?”
“What?” She was catching on.
“Never mind. I think Blockbuster does.”
Some may think my calls were mean-spirited, but I can guarantee you that for the rest of the day, these people and all the people they talked to remembered as much as they could about the screen god. For one day, I brought the memory of Dean Martin back to life and gave him the attention he deserves.
Long live Dino!
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Posted on June 5, 2003 in Features by Doug Brunell
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