Dean Martin was the slackest superstar ever. There are always stories about micromanaging divas (male and female) who barely sleep a wink as they rewrite, reshoot and fire anyone that doesn’t give 150 hours a week to their show. They go completely nuts altering every detail until the last possible minute. This was not the case for Dean Martin. He hired people with talent to run his variety show. He trusted them to get things ready so all he had to show up at the studio in time to put on a fresh tuxedo and record the episode. He was not a big fan of rehearsing because people wanted the loose Dean who might just be drunk. He was not making Game of Thrones with Joey Heatherton and Slappy White. Dean would rather be on the golf course instead of the writers room searching for the perfect word. During what turned out to be the final season the producers figured out a great way to be extra slack. Half the show would be turned into cleaner version of the legendary Friars Club Roasts. Dean would have even less to do on the set. He merely had to introduce the roastee and the various roasters. The guest stars did all the heavy work while Dean laughed and drank the second half of his hour long show away. It was so perfect that it kept Dean Martin on TV after he finished with his weekly series. Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Complete Collections has all 54 roasts that ran until the winter of 1984.
If your only exposure to celebrity roasts are the ones from Comedy Central, you’re in for a major awakening. The recent James Franco roast consisted of his old pot buddies pretty much being his old pot buddies. Instead of laughing, the roast made viewers question why they needed 90 minutes for him to hang out with his co-stars of This Is The End. Dean’s producers wisely picked major stars and packed the dais with over a dozen roasters even when it was only a 30 minute portion of the variety show. This meant that if a guest’s jokes were duds, they didn’t have to creatively juice up their badness in post production. The flailing star was just snipped out of the program. The stars understood to bring their “A” game else they’d have to explain to people why they never got up from the table. The first roast turned out to be the prolonged launch of Ronald Reagan’s run for the White House. The former actor was wrapping up his second term as governor of California. By sitting next to Dean, Reagan was able to buff up his public persona for a national audience. Reagan had fun with Nixon’s Watergate scandal by saying, “I’ve listened to the entire show and the best thing I can do to show my appreciation to all of you is to invoke executive privilege and refuse to release the tape.” He was already positioning himself as the savior of the Republicans with that warmth and wit that landed him the presidency in 1980. Hubert Humphrey and Barry Goldwater use their roast to burnish up their image after taking hits while running for the Oval Office. This is what they had to do in the era before Fox News and MSNBC would hire their type as pundits. A lot of people tried their best to use the roasts to further their ambitions. One perfect example is Mark Spitz. The swimmer with with the mustache had scored a massive haul of gold medals at the Olympics. He felt he was ready to play in the big pool with Nipsey Russell, Foster Brooks and Phyllis Diller. Sadly when Spitz swims up the microphone, he’s more gimmick than comic genius.
At that end of the ninth season, the roast was spun off by NBC to be its own hour long specials that would run during sweeps weeks to help goose the ratings. Freed of the The Dean Martin Show, the roasts no longer needed to be taped inside a Hollywood Soundstage with a small audience. The show moved to the big room at the MGM Casino in Las Vegas. This must have been a major boon for the production. The MGM must have bore the brunt of production costs which made the show very attractive to the network. Whatever the crew saved, they probably blew it in the casino. The expanded version wisely opened with Bob Hope, a man who could take a joke. “As a young boy in England, Bob never had much to say; he couldn’t afford writer then,” Dean cracks. Howard Cosell gets in a few licks too including complimenting Bob’s “orthopedic tuxedo.” As the roasts progress, the show becomes an historic summit of ’70s pop culture. Evel Kinevel was a descending star at this time having failed on the Snake River jump. He’s just not a good guy for ribbing as noted by the lack of reaction shots from him. There are moments when he seems eager to punch the speaker. Muhammad Ali seems in the same position, but he lightens up after taking a rain of blows from Ruth Buzzi. Mr. T isn’t quite as hard as he gets bounced around at his A-Team height.
While the stars are fun, it’s the supporting roasters that make this boxset addictive. Nipsey Russell secured his legend with his poetry punchlines. He got away with telling Ali to clam up. Foster Brooks doesn’t merely perform his drunk schtick. Instead he comes out claiming to be someone from the roasted’s past. Although normally this past character is drunk. He knew his talent. Jonathan Winters also did the same approach except with sober character who overshare for the satire. Orson Welles makes frequent guest spots. He likes to pour forth the compliments. The icon might have had the hope that the Man or Woman of the Hour will invest in his next film. Betty White gets to roast and be roasted over the decade. Strange to think that they thought she was old back in the ’70s. The show took a hiatus in the early ’80s, but was brought back in 1984 for three final specials. The finale with Michael Landon is a bit more touching than his earlier roasting. “You can’t roast a man like this,” declared Dick Shawn (The Producers). “You roast a man like Don Rickles because he’s mean and built like a pig.”
The Roasts are a marvel to behold for fans of ’70s TV. There’s an outstanding mix of stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age such as John Wayne and Bette Davis to hot new TV stars of that time including Grizzly Adams‘ Dan Haggerty. There are a few specials that go over the hour time slot including a massive roasting to Frank Sinatra that rivaled the audience at the Oscars with dozens of famous faces. This must have been the first Night of 100 Stars. In the midst of the cracks, snarks and sympathies was Dean Martin. He was always ready to let out a laugh and remind the roasted that they were a great sport. He knew that this was better than really working for a living. He made being Roasted a higher honor than a Nobel Prize. The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Complete Collection is a treasure chest filled with ’70s gems.
Roastees & Air Dates
Ronald Reagan, 9/14/1973
Hugh Hefner, 9/21/1973
Ed McMahon, 9/28/1973
William Conrad, 10/5/1973
Kirk Douglas, 10/12/1973
Bette Davis, 10/19/1973
Barry Goldwater, 10/26/1973
Johnny Carson, 11/2/1973
Wilt Chamberlain, 11/9/1973
Hubert Humphrey, 11/23/1973
Carroll O’Connor, 12/7/1973
Monty Hall, 12/14/1973
Jack Klugman & Tony Randall, 12/21/1973
Zsa Zsa Gabor, 1/11/1974
Leo Durocher, 1/18/1974
Truman Capote, 1/25/1974
Don Rickles, 2/8/1974
Ralph Nader, 2/15/1974
Jack Benny, 2/22/1974
Redd Foxx, 3/1/1974
Bobby Riggs, 3/6/1974
George Washington (portrayed by Jan Leighton), 3/15/1974
Dan Rowan & Dick Martin, 3/22/1974
Hank Aaron, 3/29/1974
Joe Namath, 4/5/1974
Bob Hope, 10/31/1974
Telly Savalas, 11/15/1974
Lucille Ball, 2/8/1975
Jackie Gleason, 2/27/1975
Sammy Davis, Jr., 4/25/1975
Michael Landon, 5/16/1975
Evel Knievel, 11/10/1975
Valerie Harper, 11/20/1975
Muhammad Ali, 2/19/1976
Dean Martin, 2/27/1976
Dennis Weaver, 4/27/1976
Joe Garagiola, 5/25/1976
Redd Foxx, 11/26/1976
Danny Thomas, 12/15/1976
Angie Dickinson, 2/8/1977
Gabe Kaplan, 2/21/1977
Ted Knight, 3/2/1977
Peter Marshall, 5/2/1977
Dan Haggerty, 11/2/1977
Frank Sinatra, 2/7/1978
Jack Klugman, 3/17/1978
Jimmy Stewart, 5/10/1978
George Burns, 5/17/1978
Betty White, 5/6/1978
Suzanne Somers, 11/21/1978
Joe Namath, 1/19/1979
Joan Collins, 2/23/1984
Mr. T, 3/14/1984
Michael Landon, 12/7/1984
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was recorded on standard definition so the image isn’t quite so crisp. There are a couple moments that things appear to be missing from the broadcast version although it’s hard to tell if it’s a snip for unclearable music moment or the show originally had to slice off a dead joke. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels bring out the beauty of Nipsey Russell’s genius.
The Ladies of the Dais (35:34) focuses on how the Roasts allowed women to show off their comedy skills. They could be as funny as Mark Spitz.
Beauty & The Beast: Ruth Buzzi vs. Muhammad Ali (6:06) lets her tell the twisted history between herself and The Greatest. She had a bit of revenge for an earlier incident when she nailed him with her pocket book. She unleashed more blows on his head than George Foreman.
Roast in Hell – Politicians Under Fire (25:21) explores how elected officials did in the hot seat. Most of the politicians were good sports since they’re used to being burned in the opinion section.
Primetime Ribbing: Roasting Small-Screen Stars (24:19) covers how TV actors had a chance to mingle thanks to Dean’s dais. It also allowed drama stars to show off their comedy chops.
Legends of the Roast (21:28) lets the guests gush about their fellow roasters.
The History of the Roast (18:30) gives background on the original Friars Club Roasts and how they were adapted for Dean.
The Art of the Roast (19:40) allows the stars to explain the delicate way to deliver a roast joke that sizzles without burning the honoree. You don’t want to be punched out.
The King of Cool: Always in Fashion (12:48) focuses on Dino’s ability to look good. The man wore a tuxeudo better than James Bond.
Sports Stars: Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts (27:36) rates how athletes gave and take on the dais. Johnny Bench’s tuxedo needs to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Most of them had a good time and those turned into good actors like Joe Namath, Bubba Smith and Dick Butkis.
Interviews with Phyllis Diller, Ruth Buzzi, Shirley Jones, Tony Danza, Angie Dickinson, Carol Burnett, Sheila Kuehl, Jimmie Walker, Abe Vigoda, Fred Willard, Ed Asner, Norm Crosby, Rich Little, Betty White, Don Rickles, Jackie Mason, Tim Conway, Dan Haggerty, Tom Dreesen, Jimmie Walker, Rip Taylor, Jack Carter, Mitzi Gaynor, Bill Nye, Barry Dougherty, Jonathan Winters, Florence Henderson and others.
Dean’s Place TV Special #1101 (30:28) aired September 6, 1975 with guests Angie Dickinson, Robert Mitchum and Ronald Reagan. Was shot at Dean’s bar and restaurant in Beverly Hills. Foster Brooks is at the bar. This might be missing some musical numbers.
Dean’s Place TV Special #1102 (26:17) is a second visit to Dean’s huge restaurant. The new Gold Diggers strut their stuff as the floor show. Peter Graves pops up.
Dean Martin’s Red Hot Scandals of 1926 #1201 (15:21) is a strange special he did with Abe Vigoda, Dom DeLuise and Jonathan Winters. It’s a bit of throwback entertainment with Dino as a radio host and a silent movie director.
Dean Martin’s Red Hot Scandals of 1926 #1202 (19:56) is dominated by Jonathan Winters and Dom DeLuise.
The Best of the Dean Martin Variety Show is a two DVD set with 7 incomplete episodes sampled from the show’s run. This is a great idea to know what Dean show was like before the Roast element arrived.
Sketches from the Ninth Season of The Dean Martin Show include:
Show #901 (17:55) with Dick Martin, Howard Cosell, Audrey Meadows and Rat Packer Joey Bishop. Cosell announces a domestic fight when Dean shows up late for Audrey’s dinner.
Show #902 (16:54) includes Dom DeLuise, Ernest Borgnine, Carol Arthur and Charo! Dean predicts cosmetics for men with Ernest Borgnine selling it. Ernest eventually promoted his wife’s cosmetics line.
Show #905 (14:46) has Jack Burns (Fridays), Ted Knight and Tim Conway in the sketches. Dean drinks from a brandy glass that’s the size of a fishbowl.
Show #906 (6:39) brings on Foster Brooks, Charles Nelson Reilly and Buddy Hackett. It’s like getting to watch Tinkers, Evans and Chance play ball.
Show #907 (9:04) with Dan Rowan, William Holden (The Wild Bunch) and William Conrad (Cannon). Dean and Holden play monks that get three minutes to talk every 20 years.
Show #909 (10:40) that aired October 19, 1973 includes Dean having fun with Vincent Price and Howard Cosell. Vincent Price auditions to be the Tidy Bowl Man. Things get weird when Howard puts Dean over his knee for spanking. These sketches went with Bette Davis roast episode.
Show #910 (7:28) features Dean, Ruth Buzzi and Gary Burghoff. Ruth is sauced at Dean’s bar.
Show #911 (8:36) have Dean mocking Superman and the Godfather with George Kennedy and Audrey Meadows. Dean shows off his red S.
Show #916 (7:52) with Foster Brooks and Vincent Price.
Show #917 (4:59) includes Dean getting a laugh out of Chuck Connors (The Rifleman).
Show #919 (2:55) featuring Dean and Ruth Buzzi in the doctor’s office and his piano bar.
Show #920 (5:06) brings Ted Knight (Too Close for Comfort) to the piano bar.
Show #921 (6:06) brings out Dean’s old Rat Pack pal Joey Bishop.
Show #922 (0:34) has Lee Nolting rush into Dean’s doctor office with her tale of a mugger.
Show #924 (2:46) has Steve Lawrence play a Groucho Marx detective investigating a homicide on Dean’s shag rug. There’s a hat rack joke that is beyond belief.
If the Supreme Court had approved people getting to marry DVD sets, I’d be Mrs. Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Complete Collection. The roasts themselves are amazing to watch after all these decades. The extra sketches from the final season of the The Dean Martin Show flesh out how the hour was constructed. The bonus features are informative and let so many stars revisit their time on the dais. This collection truly captures what made the roasts a special event for the guest of honor and the audience at home. The collection can be ordered at Deanroasts.com.
Time Life and Star Vista Entertainment present The Dean Martin Celebrity ROasts: Complete Collection. Starring: Dean Martin, Nipsey Russell, Jonathon Winters, Foster Brooks, Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller and Betty White. Boxset Contents: 54 episodes on 23 DVDs. Released: September 24, 2013.