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A TOAST FROM DEAN MARTIN'S DAUGHTER

Memories Are Made of This:

Dean Martin Through His Daughter's Eyes

By Deana Martin with Wendy Holden

Harmony/Crown

288 Pages, $24

It was 1987 when tragedy started Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on the road to reconciliation.

The famed comedy team broke up in the 1950s, and each partner became a star as a solo act. The split was personal as well as professional.

Then, as Deana Martin writes in her insightful book, the death of her brother helped heal the wound between her father and Lewis.

Dean Paul Martin, 35, also a singer and actor, was killed in the crash of a jet he was flying for the California National Guard. On the day of the funeral, friends and relatives headed to Dean Martin's house. One friend told Martin that Jerry Lewis came to his son's funeral. Deana Martin describes the scene this way:

"You know, Jerry was there today."

"Jerry?" Dad asked, his eyes not his own.

"Jerry Lewis."

"Really?"

"Yes, he slipped in the back and didn't let anyone know he was coming."

"Well, why didn't he say hello?"

"I guess he didn't want to bother you."

Drawing deeply on a cigarette, Dad said: "Get him on the phone." Going to his den, he spoke privately with Jerry for almost two hours, the first time they'd talked like that in years. At the end of the call, Jerry told Dad, "You know I love you, Dean."

"I know," Dad said. "I love you too, Jerry."

The book is filled with such personal anecdotes.

Martin's public persona was the fun-loving, boozing, life of the party. Off stage, life was a lot tougher for Martin, his ex-wives and four children. "He wasn't a good father, but he was a good man," Deana Martin writes.

Martin's first wife was an alcoholic, and he was granted custody of the children after their divorce. His daughter writes how he struggled as a card dealer until he teamed up with Lewis in Atlantic City.

Martin perfected the act of being drunk on stage, subbing apple juice for Scotch, as the audience fell in love with him as a singer, straight man and performer.

Life was tough after the break-up with Lewis. Martin struggled for a few years, but eventually became a recording star, and translated that success to pictures and television. In later years, especially after the death of his son, Martin became reclusive.

His public image, however, always remained.

"His mystique was intangible," his daughter writes, "and nobody in his presence could escape it. He was undoubtedly a complicated man . . . and sometimes he would say or do hurtful things without realizing it.

"There must have been a mass of emotions going on beneath the surface that we didn't know about, but Dad never revealed them. Instead, he made it his business to present the image of a sweet guy who was everybody's pallie."

Martin was a hard man to know.

"I married him knowing nothing about him. I divorced him 23 years later, and I still knew nothing about him," said his second wife, Jeanne.

Dean Martin died on Christmas 1995.

Jerry Lewis may have summed him up best when he spoke in a eulogy, of his old partner's "exquisite tranquility despite a great inner turbulence."

Deana Martin captures all that and more in telling her father's story.

aviolanti@buffnews.com