Oct 25, 2015

Dewey Martin: Forgotten Screen Hunk

When I was a kid in the 1960s, the Mean Boys made fun of everybody's name, but a few made them downright apoplectic: Clyde, Abner, Dewey.  Especially Dewey, since that was the name of the proprietor of the candy store across the street from Denkmann School, a fat elderly man who kept muttering about "longhaired hippie freaks."  Any kid named Dewey had better find a new name, pronto!

So I was surprised to discover that there was a screen hunk named Dewey Martin, a Texas boy who got his start in the gay-subtext Knock on Any Door (1949) as a young boxing tough.

He immediately got the starring role in The Golden Gloves Story (1950), playing a boxer who is sparring with his competitor (Kevin Morrison) for the affection of a girl.

And The Big Sky (1952), about two cowboys (Dewey Martin, Kirk Douglas) making a perilous cross-country journey and sparring for the affection of a girl.

And Tennessee Champ (1954), reprising the plot of an old Kane Richmond movie of the 1930s, except when Dewey goes on the lam after believing that he's killed someone, he falls in love with a girl, not Frankie Darro.

Plus Westerns, sci fi, war, an ancient Egyptian epic, anything that would allow him to shed his shirt and display his tight, rugged physique, back in the days when shirtless men were practically unheard-of on screen.

They may have had gay subtexts, too; I haven't seen them.

Later in the 1950s, though he continued to work steadily, starring roles became increasingly rare. Dewey played Dean Martin's buddy in the comedy Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), several different roles on the anthology series Climax! (1956-58), a Daniel Boone knockoff on The Wonderful World of Disney (1960-61), and Lester White, gay-vague "partner" of Uncle Beck (Brian Keith) in Savage Sam (1963), with Tommy Kirk.

In the 1960s he moved into television, becoming a familiar character actor.  His last starring role was in Seven Alone (1974), as the head of a family crossing the wilderness during the 1870s.

Dewey was married for three years to singer Peggy Lee ("If that's all there is, then let's keep dancing....").

He's still alive, retired, age 89, mostly forgotten by both Boomers and the modern generation.  But the photos, glimpses of beefcake past, remain intact.

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