Last time Appellate Judge James A. Stewart sang "Welcome to My World," someone came up with Mars One.
"It sounds so good I may even be here for it myself."—Dean Martin
"Welcome to My World" is a song that Dean Martin sings twice in the six episodes on The Dean Martin Variety Show. It certainly looks like he's enjoying that world of his. He's hanging out in a groovy pad with abstract art, a firepole (which becomes a descending balcony in later seasons), a piano, and an animal print couch. Visitors like Bob Newhart, Leslie Uggams, Orson Welles, Joey Heatherton, and Zero Mostel drop by to joke around or sing a medley with him. The men wear tuxes. The women wear glittery and often revealing outfits. That's the world of the variety show, something they still had on TV when I was really little.
Just in case you didn't know, the DVD case tells you that The Dean Martin Variety Show was a top ten ratings grabber from 1965-74, so a lot of people enjoyed Dean Martin's world.
Facts of the Case
The Dean Martin Variety Show features six episodes on three discs:
• January 12, 1967—Music from Leslie Uggams; comedy from Allen & Rossi and Jackie Mason; tap dancing from Eddie Foy. Pat Boone does a cameo, bringing milk, but forgetting the cookies.
• December 14, 1967—Music from Caterina Valente; impressions from Guy Marks; comedy from Bob Newhart and Dom DeLuise.
• February 25, 1971—The Dingaling Sisters do the Funky Chicken; comedy from Jackie Vernon and Fred Smoot; comedy, song, and dance from Zero Mostel. Robert Wagner has a cameo and Tommy Tune plays Mostel's "Huckleberry Tiparillo" shadow in a "Me and My Shadow" song-and-dance bit.
There's a lot of risque business on The Dean Martin Variety Show, whether it's sultry singing from the likes of Abbe Lane or Joey Heatherton, or Bob Newhart playing a topless bar visitor, or Dean Martin clowning around with the lovely dancers, or the Murphy bed in Dino's pad that comes occupied by a woman in lingerie. It's all joined together with quips by Dino ("Joey Heatherton has such a beautiful singing voice, I could look at it all night"), often delivered with flubs.
Of course, Martin lets you know that he's not swinging that much. His wife Jeannie just wouldn't let him ("My wife worries every time there's a beautiful girl on this show" or, as Sid Caesar puts it, "In the morning, we're going to get clobbered"). Moreover, even as he's making lustful one-liners, he's also talking about his family. The rapport that Martin has with his guests helps to take the edginess off some of the risque lines even more. Still, the double-entendres can be surprisingly wild if you think of old TV as G-rated.
I much prefer actual full songs to the handful of medleys, which seem to be a variety show tradition that I'd blessedly forgotten. The best medley came from Leslie Uggams, with "Fascinating Rhythm" at its core; the worst was a Reduced Shakespeare Company-style version of West Side Story from the Lettermen. When you do get full songs (fortunately, more often than not), whether from Dino or his guests, they're usually a delight, and the strength of the show. You'll hear "Whatever Lola Wants" from Abbe Lane, "Santa Lucia" from Martin and Marguerite Piazzi, "Music to Watch Girls By" from Cyd Charisse, "Nothing Can Stop Me Now" from Barbara McNair, "On a Clear Day" from Caterina Valente, "You Came a Long Way from Saint Louis" from Joey Heatherton, and "How Long Will My Baby Be Gone" from Buck Owens. Martin sings two songs per episode by himself usually and cuts up with pianist Ken Lane every week. He's also up for duets and group numbers (yeah, they even got Bob Newhart to sing).
The comedy's more scattershot, but Bob Newhart, as always, is hilarious as he helps defuse a bomb; there's a silly Superman parody with Dom DeLuise; Sid Caesar singing "Real Live Girl" as a bashful suitor to Abbe Lane; George Gobel recreates his old hillbilly radio show; Jackie Mason riffs on the IRS; and magician Orson Welles gives Martin a scare with a guillotine. You may notice that some comedy routines—Newhart is a prime example—have elaborate intros that would probably lose the audience before they actually started the routine today.
The picture quality isn't bad. The Dean Martin Variety Show was done up in bright colors, since color TV was a new thing back in 1965. The standard definition 1.33:1 full frame image still holds up, with occasional fading. Lines and flecks are more prevalent. The Dolby 2.0 Mono audio does okay, but the mix offers nothing special. There aren't any commentaries, but there is a booklet with full music lists.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yeah, some of you may just not like this. The music leans toward standards, the jokes lean toward double entendres, and the glitzy production numbers are…well, glitzy. Since it's variety, there are a couple of clunkers, like some ancient jokes from Marty Allen.
Those of you who do like this will probably wish Time-Life would have gotten a full season set together. I don't know for sure what the Time-Life folks were thinking, but I suspect the usual DVD music rights hangups were involved.
I can't imagine The Dean Martin Variety Show getting on the air, let alone lasting nine seasons, in our modern world. Of course, I could imagine a camera crew following Martin and his family around at home or something like that; I'd rather not, though. Some jokes fall flat, and I craved full songs every time there was a medley, but, for the most part, it works. It's an agreeable hour, if you'd like to get a little naughty—but not too naughty—or if you'd just like to hear some standards. Dean Martin's world is a nice place to visit, even if you wouldn't want to live there.
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