Wednesday, June 20, 2012 | 2:17 p.m.
Deana Martin has this whole curse-or-blessing issue figured out.
“I’m Dean with an A,” the daughter of Dean Martin says. “I am proud to be his daughter. He had such a positive influence on people, and I want to pay tribute to him.”
Martin will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at South Point Showroom, which for two nights will hint to the heady days of the Copa Room at the Sands when her father and fellow Rat Packers Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. lorded over the Strip. The show samples from the songs made famous by the men she still refers to as “Uncle Frank” and “Uncle Sammy,” with Sinatra’s longtime music director Vinnie Falcone conducting from the piano.
Such classic artists as Nat King Cole and Bobby Darin will be resurrected in a show that Martin, whose primary residence is Branson, Mo., performs 280 nights a year across the country.
“There are a couple of originals, but really it’s just ‘Deana sings Dino,’ ” she says.
Martin well remembers the mood of the Copa Room in the days her father headlined at the Sands, which was reduced to rubble in 1996 to make room for the Venetian.
“The tables were lined up, you could hear the glasses clinking and all the hustle and bustle before the show,” she says. “All of the people were excited and dressed beautifully. There were no ball caps and T-shirts. You really knew you were going somewhere and you were going to see something special.”
Then the lights dimmed, and the introduction of Martin was always preceded by a rumbling drum roll, “Ladies and gentlemen, direct from the bar, Dean Martin!”
“He looked so handsome in his tux, the first thing he would do was look at the conductor and say, ‘How long have I been on?’ ” Martin recalls. “I sat right up front, so close you could practically see up their nostrils. We had a drink ready for him at the table, and he would pick it up -- and it was not booze. It was Martinelli’s apple cider. But you really did feel like you were in his living room.”
The power of the moment vaulted Martin into an entertainment career of her own.
“When he would introduce me, I remember standing up and feeling the light shining on me and knew right then that’s what I wanted to do,” she says. “I wanted to be onstage and sing these great songs. That’s what I was supposed to do. I got the bug. Anyone who was there will tell you they loved the Sands, and many of them would see the same show 50 times. They loved it. Those guys brought the house down.”
Martin has achieved a noble and successful career while sustaining her father’s legacy. Her 2006 CD release “Memories Are Made of This” spent 10 weeks on Billboard’s Top 10 list. She has just released an album, “Volare,” on which she duets with her father on “True Love.” Backed by a 42-piece orchestra, Martin worked with renowned producer Al Schmitt on the CD at Capitol Records in Los Angeles.
Martin is well aware that entertainers in Las Vegas, on and off the Strip, have for decades attempted to revive the old swagger of her father and his legendary friends.
“Dean, Frank and Sammy were the most multitalented superstars ever. What they did was not to be believed,” she says. “But beyond that, they were so giving and generous. They loved each other. It was not a competition. They knew that together they were great, apart they were great, and what they brought was cool, classy and classic. There were no video screens or pyrotechnics in those days, just the performers, and it’s easy to see why other entertainers would want to capture that.”
Martin remains close to her father’s renowned comic partner, Jerry Lewis, who at 86 is director of the musical “Nutty Professor” and has a show booked at Buffalo Bill’s Star of the Desert Arena in Primm on July 14. It’s only fitting the two would remain in contact, as Martin was born on Aug. 19, 1948, while Martin and Lewis were performing at the famed New York nightclub Slapsy Maxie’s.
Martin and Lewis sang together on “Time After Time” at South Point on the last MDA Labor Day Telethon that Lewis would host, in 2010.
“I have always loved Jerry Lewis,” she says. “He has always been so kind to me, ever since I was born.”
Martin remembers visiting Lewis several years ago on his yacht and water-bound San Diego hideaway, Sam’s Place. Martin was collecting anecdotes for her memoir, “Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes.”
“I was walking up to the boat, and I heard him before I saw him, ‘Laaaaady! Deaaaaana!’ ” she says, laughing. “He came over, gave me a hug and put his hands on either side of my face. He said, ‘I see my partner.’ We were both crying.”
For hours, Lewis told his partner’s daughter stories about their time together as the country’s most popular entertainment act.
“I called a couple of weeks later and asked him to read the manuscript and asked him to write a foreword,” Martin says. “He wrote a beautiful, beautiful foreword for me. It was incredible, just incredible.”
Martin laughs again as she abruptly remembers a moment when Martin and Lewis were performing a live skit on “The Colgate Comedy Hour” variety show.
“They were on a ship, I think, and water started pouring through a hole in the wall,” Martin recalls. “Dad puts his hand up to stop the water, and Jerry gets this funny look on his face and says, ‘You left your watch on, didn’t you?’ ”
Martin was notoriously protective of his timepieces, and this one, unwittingly, had likely been ruined. The two giggled at the unscripted line, a moment only a close friend would notice.
You really cannot script this stuff, not today, not ever.