Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti on June 7, 1917, in Steubenville, Ohio, the son of Italian father Gaetano Alfonso Crocetti and Italian-American mother Angela Crocetti. His father, who was a barber, was originally from Montesilvano, Abruzzo, and his mother’s origins are also believed to be from Abruzzo.
Dean Martin’s first language was Abruzzese, a dialect of Neapolitan. He did not speak English until he started school at the age of five.
Dean attended Grant Elementary School in Steubenville, where he was bullied for his broken English.
As a teenager, he played the drums as a hobby. He dropped out of Steubenville High School in the tenth grade because he thought he was smarter than his teachers. He bootlegged liquor, worked in a steel mill, served as a croupier at a speakeasy and a blackjack dealer, and was a welterweight boxer.
At 15, he was a boxer who billed himself as “Kid Crochet”. His prizefighting earned him a broken nose (later straightened), a scarred lip, many broken knuckles (a result of not being able to afford tape used to wrap boxers’ hands), and a bruised body. Of his 12 bouts, he said that he “won all but 11”. For a time, he shared a New York City apartment with Sonny King, who was also starting in show business and had little money. The two reportedly charged people to watch them bare-knuckle box each other in their apartment, fighting until one was knocked out.
Soon Dean Martin gave up boxing to work as a roulette stickman and croupier in an illegal casino behind a tobacco shop, where he had started as a stock boy. At the same time, he sang with local bands, calling himself “Dino Martini” (after the Metropolitan Opera tenor Nino Martini).