TIME Actors

Dean Martin: Rare and Classic Photos of a Laid-Back Legend

On what would have been his 97th birthday, LIFE pays tribute to Dean Martin, one of show business' enduring -- and most laid-back -- legends.

In the early- to mid-1960s, Dean Martin emerged as one of the most popular entertainers on the planet, starring in major films, knocking the Beatles off the top of the charts with what would become his trademark tune, “Everybody Loves Somebody,” defining an entire new genre of cool with Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack, starring in his own long-running TV variety show — achieving all of this with the air of a man who had just woken from a nap and was still charmingly groggy.

In 1958, meanwhile, when the pictures in this gallery were made, Dino — while famous as one-half of the Martin & Lewis comedy duo — had not yet crossed over into genuine superstardom. But he was certainly enough of a draw that LIFE magazine devoted a photo-filled seven-page feature to the man they dubbed “Make-a-Million Martin.”

[To] his skillfully used musical and comedy talents, he adds an ebullience that pervades everything he does. . . . Uninhibited, spry of mind and muscle, he maintains a state of relaxation that “makes Perry Como look like a nervous wreck.”

Keeping carefree appears to be the common denominator of the many Martins — showman, businessman, prankster, family man, self-styled hell-raiser and Hollywood social lion. In each role he works hard at making hard work look easy.

On what would have been his 97th birthday (b. June 7, 1917, in Steubenville, Ohio) LIFE pays tribute to one of show business’ enduring — and most laid-back — legends.

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