Dino's First Hit | Cole Porter Redux

Dean Martin, Beastie Boys Save Capitol Records

Dean Martin, the king of cool, has his first Top 40 album this week.

And I do mean his first. The great "Dino: The Essential Dean Martin," on Capitol Records, has turned into a surprise hit. This week it should land around No. 28 on the charts, up from around 42.

Martin's only other chart album was in 1972. Back in the '50s, when Dean was a singing sensation, he was a singles artist only. Now, dead since 1995 at the age of 79, he's the oldest person on the charts by about 40 years.

This comes as terrific news to beleaguered Capitol/EMI/Virgin Records. It's also pretty funny considering they've also got The Beastie Boys' latest release, "To the 5 Boroughs," which will debut at No. 1 this week with a whopping 400,000 copies sold.

The Boys first became popular in 1986 with their anthem "Fight for Your Right (to Party)," an ode to white guys who wanted to rap. They rarely record now, but when they do, there is obviously a devoted fan base waiting for them.

But what about Dino? Martin is remembered as part of the Rat Pack along with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. That's what makes the Dino success so nice, I think — this is all his own.

Martin's legacy from TV is as a comic drunk, but he was a great, underrated singer. Me, I could listen to "Memories Are Made of This" all day long. And in case you missed it, Dean's hometown of Steubenville, Ohio, just had its annual Dean Martin Weekend, with Regis Philbin — the great Dean fan — as guest of honor.

This should do a lot, I hope, to restart interest in Martin Scorsese's "Dino" film, based on Nick Tosches book.

Rebecca Barkin, Dean's 24-year-old publicist at Capitol, is all over this project, too.

"We really decided to skip all the Rat Pack associations and concentrate on Dean as a singer and artist," she told me yesterday.

They've also downplayed the martini aspect of Martin's career.

"When you look at all the videotapes of him," she said, "he was so debonair!"

Little Steven Van Zandt, of Bruce Springsteen and "Sopranos" fame, wrote the liner notes to "Dino," by the way. This man is everywhere!

It turns out he's a Cole Porter fan, too. Who knew! He was one of the guests Monday night at the premiere of "De Lovely" and couldn't stop raving about the music.

That's a segue, by the way....

MGM Parties With 'De Lovely' Like It's ... 1929

Does Irwin Winkler, the man who brought us the "Rocky" movies, have something on someone at MGM?

You'd think so, considering how much money the struggling movie studio has lavished on Winkler's new picture, "De Lovely," a musical biography of Cole Porter starring Kevin Kline.

For "De Lovely," a movie set largely in the swinging 1920s and '30s, MGM has acted like a company enjoying a last hurrah.

In May, at the Cannes Film Festival, MGM spent a reported $2 million, maybe more, on a huge closing night party for "De Lovely." That's a lot for a company that pretty much lives on James Bond movies.

On Monday night, MGM opened its piggy bank again, forking over what had to have been upwards of $100,000 to decorate the otherwise murky Supper Club on West 47th St.

The flower arrangements, the lighting, an orchestra on stage performing Porter songs and other hits of the '20s and '30s, not to mention a complete installation of Art Deco-inspired wall coverings — all gave the Supper Club the look of a really cool nightclub from the Jazz Age.

It was all in stark contrast to the minimal, concrete tomb-like feel of the Bill Clinton book party that preceded "De Lovely" uptown at the Metropolitan Museum. (Is it a coincidence that that party was held right next to an exhibit of sarcophagi entitled "Early Funerary Art"?)

I asked Winkler who he had something on. Was it Michael Nathanson, the head of MGM?

Someone else snapped: "The real question is what does Nathanson have on [fellow MGM honcho] Chris McGurk?"

Winkler's eyes twinkled behind round spectacles as he laughed. "No, no. They just really like the movie."

I'll say. All this spring, Peggy Siegal has been throwing word-of-mouth dinners for "De Lovely" at the Plaza Athenée Hotel following small, intimate screenings.

One night Marvin Hamlisch played a medley of Porter songs on a baby grand brought into the dining room. Another night it was Peter Cincotti. Lots of society types were entertained to varying effect.

The fact is that "De Lovely" is not for everyone.

Who exactly is it for? I won't mince words here: Women and gay men. The "Will and Grace" audience, definitely.

"De Lovely" boasts a contingent of pop stars who perform Porter hits — Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, the ubiquitous Sheryl Crow, Robbie Williams and the startlingly good Vivian Green.

But most "guy" guys will likely fall into a comfortable sleep right after Ashley Judd, playing Porter's wife Linda, allows that she doesn't mind that Porter — in a certain-to-be Golden Globe-nominated performance by two-time Tony winner Kevin Kline — has a separate life with men.

"Guy" guys, you see, won't understand how you could say that to Ashley Judd. It does not compute.

The whole notion of "De Lovely" is that Porter is reviewing a film of his life with actor Jonathan Pryce. I'm still not sure why this gimmick was employed, but it's enough to know that Kline, wearing "old" makeup as the aged Porter, closely resembles Otto Preminger playing Mr. Freeze on the old "Batman" TV show.

("I've heard a few comparisons," Kline said. "Carl Reiner was one of them.")

Kline plays the piano pretty well and couldn't be better performing the musical numbers. But the pop stars have uneven luck.

Winkler came up with the idea, he told me, and he especially likes Costello. "Just seeing him in a white dinner jacket does it for me," he said.

But Krall looks nervous while she's singing, and Crow is completely out of place. Robbie Williams makes a good show of it, and Alanis Morissette is such a weird choice that it works.

But the real stunner among the pop stars is Green, a 24-year-old R&B singer whose second album should be out this fall from Columbia Records.

Since maybe three people in the country know who this young lady is, the effect of her performance of "Love for Sale" is like watching a new winner of "American Idol" wow the crowd. This is the next Whitney/Mariah, for real.

Less successful is Cole, whose voice is like shimmering glass and can do no wrong. Cole, however, is not featured well.

When she starts "Every Time You Go Away," anyone who knows the second line cringes. As an aged Linda Porter lies on her deathbed, Cole warbles: "Every time you go away, I die a little."

It's a poorly timed moment, as you can imagine, and takes away from Cole. Buy her albums instead. She is this generation's Ella Fitzgerald.

There are other problems with "De Lovely" as well. Featured characters are Sara and Gerald Murphy, the real-life couple who were all the rage in the '20s. They were famously friends of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and perhaps the inspiration for several Fitzgerald characters. Sara is said to have had an affair with Picasso.

Amanda Vaill has written an excellent, entertaining book about them called "Everybody Was So Young."

If only somebody associated with this film had read it! The poor Murphys are treated like second-class citizens in "De Lovely," stripped of all their legend.

On top of that, Sara Murphy, who must have been some sexy character, is rendered frumpy by actress Sandra Nelson, Winkler's real life daughter-in-law.

Winkler is a very nice man who's directed some good movies like "Life as a House," "Night and the City" and a personal favorite of mine, "Guilty by Suspicion."

You want to like "De Lovely" simply for its good intentions. But several times along the way, Porter advises, "Never end a show on a ballad."

Then "De Lovely" ends just that way, and you wonder why no one bothered to listen to his advice.