Tuesday, April 1

Who Is Dewey Martin?

I knew of him because his decade of fame was the 50s.  He was talented, handsome, mercurial and mysterious.  He appeared in a few films that I quite liked and then he disappeared.  Forever.  Has he passed away?  I'm thinking not because even the deaths of long-ago movie actors usually still get reported, but who knows?  It would be just like Dewey Martin to handle his death as mysteriously as he did his life.

He had it in for Hollywood.  It was the enemy.  Perhaps Hollywood had it in for him as well and booted him out because he was simply more trouble than he was worth.  But what glimmer of rumors I have come across, it seems that Martin turned his back on Hollywood.  But why?  And when he walked away, he walked away.

Not much is known about his life pre-Hollywood.  He was born in a tiny Texas town in 1923.  It may be that he was an only child but what is known is that he lived with his mother and was very close to her.  He spent most of his childhood dreamily wiling away the hours in the town's only movie theater.  He would watch films over and over, resulting in his mother coming to the theater to collect him.

In his late teens he was itching to ditch his hometown and did so by joining the service.  He yearned to see the world.  Returning to Texas after his military stint, he was again at loose ends.  For most of his young life he had never considered being an actor, despite his great love for the movies, because, he says, he thought men who acted were sissies.  Coming to terms with that, he jumped in his car and headed off to Maine in the hopes of getting some stage work.  Presumably he got his first acting gigs at the Ogunquit Playhouse which opened about 10 years before Martin discovered it and is still operating today.  While there a talent scout took notice of him and encouraged him to try Hollywood but Martin felt he was too green and he passed on the offer.

Instead he headed for Manhattan to try his hand at Broadway, although I am not aware of anything he appeared in.  From there Martin decided to give Hollywood a try after all but it was still stage work that captured his imagination.  It's been said he was "discovered" in a play there by someone who found his good looks, buff body and obvious talent as something Hollywood would want.  He also took on a wife but the marriage didn't last long.

His first credited part came in 1950's The Golden Gloves Story and he looked so real as a pugilist that he repeated it in 1954 for Tennessee's Champ.  He is known to sci-fi fans for his role in the thriller The Thing from Another World (1951).  Co-director Howard Hawks took a shine to the young actor and would use him twice more.  What's surprising about this is that Hawks was a cantankerous s.o.b. and tended to bully his actors.  It's certainly known that Martin was not able to be bullied.  Perhaps the director was initially taken with Martin and a couple of films later had it in for him.  Maybe Hawks was the force behind Martin's exit from the film capital.

His next film, also for Hawks, was 1952's The Big Sky, the first time I saw him.  A big, brawling western about fur traders traveling through hostile Indian territory, Martin and Kirk Douglas formed a sometimes-uneasy alliance.  It was a buddy movie with the two actors' styles perfectly suited to one another.  Martin joined Van Johnson and Walter Pidgeon for 1954's war story, Men of the Fighting Lady, in a role that garnered more attention.

Much was made of Howard Hawks's The Land of the Pharaohs when it was released in 1955.  The esteemed director's attachment to the routine, sand n' sandals project likely caused some tongue-wagging along with the casting of relative newcomer Joan Collins as a temptress.  Martin played an architect who was commissioned to build a pyramid for pharaoh Jack Hawkins.  Martin's buff bod looked good rolling around with Collins, who was no slouch either.

That same year he made his best film.  That is to say the film itself was the most prestigious in his career.  He played Humphrey Bogart's brother in The Desperate Hours, about three escaped convicts who keep a family hostage in their own home.  It plays as well today as it did all those years ago.

Martin never took to the publicity side of movie-making.  Despite a few beefcake pictures, he eschewed everything except showing up and hitting his marks.  This likely also contributed to his war with Hollywood.  He was not attached to any studio so he could perhaps get by with such behavior.  He seemed to miss the part about publicity being good for his career.

Publicity, tons of it, nonetheless, came in 1956 when he married popular songbird Peggy Lee.  Every time I turned around there was something else in the movie magazines about the couple.  Ultimately, however, the news turned from warm and fuzzy to wild and woolly as the couple's every fight made the papers.  When she divorced him three years later, she said his jealousy was out of control.  She didn't mention that she kept two ex-husbands, musician Dave Barbour and actor Brad Dexter, around for fun and games.  She would not do the same for Martin.

This was also around the time that Martin's career took a dive.  In the press he certainly took the hits for the failure of the marriage.  She was highly regarded and he was considered a trouble-maker.  He would work for another 20 years or so but mainly in television and a few forgettable films.  And then... poof.  Gone.

Writing this offers some guesswork as to what may have happened with Martin's career.  But guesswork it is.  And I see some things here that could also lead to the question of whether he was gay or bisexual.  Yes, I know I often come up with that, but that fact doesn't make it inaccurate.  It takes one to know one.  Gay men do become actors.  And some who aren't comfortable with it may slink away lest their story becomes known.  He had the looks, the mystery, being married to a famous woman for 10 minutes, the temperament, the brief career.  I've seen his name on lists of supposed gays or bisexuals and I'm not surprised.  But hey, it's guesswork. 

Much after Dewey Martin left the scene so mysteriously so did actor Christopher Jones, who died recently.  He only had two good roles, in Wild in the Streets (1968) and Ryan's Daughter (1970).  He at least made an announcement that he hated the Hollywood pigs and was moving away from the trough forever... and he did.  Years later still, handsome Michael Schoeffling made a splash in Mermaids (1990), Longtime Companion (1989) and Sixteen Candles (1984) and then upped and left to open a hand-crafted furniture business in his native Pennsylvania.  So it does happen that actors with promising careers just walk away.  But Jones made an announcement and then disappeared while Schoeffling simply left without saying goodbye but we know where he is.

Dewey Martin simply vanished.

(An aside... I just noticed this is my 300th posting.  Damn, I'm impressed.  LOL.)

An actress celebrates her 90th birthday


  1. Great post. Christopher Jones dated Olivia Hussey...lived in the cottage on the property after Sharon Tate was murdered...went AWOL and stood in James Dean's bedroom? I mean, really, how is it there's not a movie about him?


  3. Apologies if this turns up as a double post. As you noted, he did continue to act into the mid 1970s before his career came to a sudden stop. Perhaps the roles became too infrequent and he decided to call it quits when he was in his 50s. I thought maybe he might have died shortly thereafter and that he slipped between the cracks of history as old media began to transition to the Internet, but as I thought it over it didn't make sense. He was an actor of note, even if he was a B actor, appearing in movies such as The Big Sky and The Thing, and then tons of TV shows popular with Baby Boomers, including The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Lassie, Mission: Impossible, etc. He appeared with many great actors, so it didn't possible his passing would not have been noted. I'm happy to report that after digging around on IMDB that Dewey Martin appears to still be with us. One poster mentioned he lived a few blocks from her, he's quite friendly and still looks the same but older with a shock of white hair. More interesting, someone claiming to his "pseudo-grandson" wrote that Dewey "left the industry because he felt the era in which he started and he had enjoyed had kind of ended. He didn't particularly enjoy Hollywood like he did before, and simply decided to retire." In another note he added that he lived in Italy for about seven years before returning, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s raised him along with his grandmother. He lives comfortably on his SAG pension. Another poster, a reporter, said he interviewed Dewey Martin around 2001 and remains in touch with him to this day, calling him a "wonderful man." I know this doesn't add too much about what's been doing, but it does seem he remarried based on the "grandson by marriage" comment, and most importantly he is still alive, happy and seemingly healthy. Cheers.

  4. Thank you, Robert, thank you for writing. For those few who seem to vanish, how wonderful to hear the things you had to say. I still know there's a story there... so far it seems like a good mystery. Maybe one day you'll be writing again with those answers. All the best...

  5. was wondering why you never hear much about dewey hope he is living a happy life

  6. My mother dated Dewey Martin between 1945 and early 1947...She lived and worked in Phoenix at the time.She worked at Wards downtown and his step father was her boss...He used to come in the store and flirt until he got a date with her...I have a picture of hi he gave to her and we used to have one of Dewey my mom his mom and step dad at a club in Phoenix!!

  7. Denise, this was great. Your lucky mom. Thanks for the treat... you make us Dewey fans quite happy.

  8. You sold Dewey Martin short when describing his military career as just a "military stint." Per Wikipedia, he "joined the U.S. Navy in 1940 and served as a Grumman F6F Hellcat pilot in the Pacific Theater of the war. He was shot down in 1945 and was held as a prisoner of war until Japan's surrender."
    The man is a real-life hero! He is still alive and is 92 years old.
    I can fully understand an actor getting fed up with Hollywood and getting out for good.

  9. Good to hear he is alive and supposedly well. Getting out of Hollywood is certainly a difficult but sometimes necessary choice. Long live Dewey Martin.

  10. THE BIG SKY was on AMC last month; I recorded it. A great movie. I see Kirk Douglas turns 100 next month and Dewey Martin is still alive in his 90's. Too bad those two splendid actors couldn't reunite.

  11. My name is Daubi Piccoli and live in South Brazil.

    I came until your blog due Peggy Lee bio. Love to know that older gays like you are online and writing about the past movie stars.

    Wish you keep doing this.

    And, if you want, add me on Facebook, please.

    Have a great life! ������������

  12. Daubi, thanks for your lovely comments. Glad you like the blog which I have no plans to quit. I may be one of the few people in the world not on Facebook but contact me here for now and maybe we can exchange email addresses one day. Love having new friends, especially in other countries.

  13. Just watched "I Shot an Arrow' an episode of The Twilight Zone ' from 1960 starting Dewey Martin. Great to see he is still with us at 93.

  14. Unfortunately Dewey passed away recently at the age of 93 - He lived a long happy life after his retirement - he remarried and they stayed together until his death - I know his family.

  15. Thank you. If you have more details (when? where?), how about sharing them?

    1. He was buried at sea off the coast of Los Angeles on Mar 30th with military honors.