8/3/12 - a woman with an oomphy chassis

In today's excerpt - Dino Crocetti, who from the time he was a kid in Steubenville, Ohio had dreamed of being a singer, was recruited to Columbus by a bandleader named Ernie McKay -- who promptly changed his name to Dino Martini after the then-Hollywood-heartthrob Nino Martini. There he caught the eye of Cleveland bandleader Sammy Watkins, but these were the years of World War II and the shadow of Benito Mussolini, so another name change was in order -- to the anglicized Dean Martin. Cleveland was the big time -- flush in the wake of its strategic hold on the Erie canal and John D. Rockefeller's early oil success - - and this was Martin's big break. Here we see Cleveland's Vogue Room on the night of the twenty-three-year-old's 1940 Cleveland debut:

"The classiest joint in [Cleveland] was what Variety called the 'ultra-modernistic, intimate' Vogue Room. ... Variety observed, in its finest remedial heptalk, 'Besides being the hangout of political nabobs, track pro­moters and money-boys,' the Vogue Room 'manages to hold a good class trade.'

"On Friday night, the first of November 1940, that good class trade, for a buck-fifty minimum, was privileged to enjoy the fruits of many muses. To open the show, there was Sigrid Dagnie, the 'Beau­teous Ballerina.' Glen Pullen, who was there that night for Variety, remarked on her 'Andalusian song-and-dance bits' and the 'neat gown of burgundy and chartreuse that reveals her oomphy chassis.' Next came Floretta and Boyette, 'Mental & Mystic,' with 'a pot­pourri of mind-reading, magic and broad gags.'

"Rex Weber, still billed as the 'introducer' of the 1932 song 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?' performed his 'standard routine of ventriloquistic sing­ing.' The pianist Marion Arden filled the lulls of passage between acts, while Sorelli the Mystic roamed the audience, offering what the Vogue Room advertised as 'Tableside Divinations.' None of these acts was new that night to the Vogue Room; and, of course, neither was the featured attraction, Sammy Watkins and His Or­chestra. But the young man whom Sammy introduced as Dean Mar­tin, the young man who stepped forward acknowledging that im­probable name -- he was new.

"A few days later, Pullen's review in Variety gave him his first national notice. 'Nostalgic semi-swing arrangements of old pop numbers are its longest suit,' Pullen wrote of the orchestra. 'For another asset, Watkins has acquired a new vocalist, Dean Martin, who backs a personable kisser with a warm, low tenor and an agree­able manner.'

"Watkins was paid $1,000 a week at the Hollenden. Ten percent of that went to MCA, his agency. The seven bandmembers on the payroll received from fifty to seventy-five each, depending on what Sammy thought they were worth. Dean started out at thirty-five dol­lars a week, plus a free room and a 50-percent discount on food at the hotel. His salary rose as his local popularity increased. By February 1941, he was a featured part of the billing."


Nick Tosches


Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams


Dell Publishing a division of Random House, Inc


Copyright 1992 by Nick Tosches, Inc.


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