An Open Letter — and a Plea — to the man whose Midas Touch made music for Dean, his guests and his girls…and fashioned marvelous melodies that were music to the ears of millions.
…making a rare on-camera appearance in a 1966 Dean Martin Show sketch…
…being “examined” (in a 1972 bit) by “Drs.” Dean Martin and Danny Thomas (he should have asked to see their diplomas)…
At the very outset, we want to make it abundantly clear that we think the world of you, and consider you to be nothing less than a genius (yes, truly…please read on).
During your years working on The Dean Martin Show (1965-74) — and with Dean, Greg and company on various specials for years thereafter — you wore many hats.
Initially, when Dean’s new television vehicle began to sputter during its first few laps out of the starting gate, you were wooed away from your music industry career in New York to come out to Hollywood and help steer the series back on track.
As the newly-installed Musical Director of the show, you tinkered with the engine that made it run, gave it a tune-up, and always managed to find the perfect musical parts for Dean, his guests, and the choir that backed them.
You selected songs, arranged them, often wrote special lyrics for them, and — resulting from Dean’s unique contract with NBC that gave him every day off except the one on which the show was actually taped — you stood in for him during all of the rehearsals.
Thanks to the intervention of you and Greg Garrison, who replaced the original producer of the series when he was fired after the first few low-rated outings, The Dean Martin Show was set on the right course, and by its second season, had zoomed to the front of the Nielsen pack.
In 1968, when Greg Garrison was seeking something different to fill the bill as Dean’s summer replacement series, and the idea was hatched to construct a show around a 1930s theme, you reached back to your youth to come up with a title: The Golddiggers.
But the name by itself wasn’t enough to make the show a success. Charged with the responsibility of selecting the young women who would breathe life into the title, you had a knack for picking performers who not only looked and sounded good, but would leave a lasting impression on viewers, as well.
Maybe you and Greg didn’t realize at the time just how effective your efforts would be, but certainly, your instincts for choosing and overseeing Golddiggers proved every bit as canny as they were for choosing and overseeing the music on both their series and Dean’s.
For many of us who came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Lee, your arrangements of pop standards and show tunes gave us our first meaningful, in-depth exposure to these classics (many of them, endearing Tin Pan Alley treasures overlooked even by other variety shows), thus opening our eyes and ears to a whole world of music beyond what was playing on contemporary radio and television.
And among your cleverest contributions to The Dean Martin Show were those ingenious ditties of your own creation that were used to introduce various regular segments and serve as continuity between different elements of the program. Some of them you wrote alone, others in collaboration with either the great Van Alexander or the equally great Geoffrey Clarkson (to appreciate just how great, one need only listen to the latter’s “Home” as sung by Dean on the first CD of his Bear Family boxed set Lay Some Happiness On Me).
Simply replaying these delightful little strains in one’s head is enough to conjure fond memories and bring a smile to one’s face: “Let’s Play (What Do You Say?)” and “It’s A Dingaling World” for the Musical Questions vignettes; “(It Makes Us Feel So Nice and Warm) When Dean Sings” and “Come On Down (Dean)” for Dean’s medleys with The Dingaling Sisters; “Here We Go Again”, “Everybody’s Got A Song”, “Records (‘Round and ‘Round)” and “Movies” for back-of-the-show production numbers and finales — plus, as they say on those greatest hits TV ads, many, many more.
How unforgettable were these juicy little jingles? Well, to paraphrase a couple of your own lines from “Movies”: Our hearts still belong / to all of the songs / the wonderful songs of Dean’s show. Our memories are stirred / by each little word / of songs that we heard on Dean’s show.
And then, of course, there was “Whole Lot of Lovin’”, the tune that began life as an instrumental, replacing “Everybody Loves Somebody” in 1970 as the theme for The Dean Martin Show, and with the addition of lyrics and an electrifying performance by The Dingalings, not only made for a gangbusters opening to every episode during the 1971-72 season, but was deemed such a rousing, crowd-pleasing signature piece of the series that it was used at the top of every volume of the Dean Martin Variety collection from the fifth in the series to the 28th and last.
But as aficionados of The Golddiggers know, Lee, your songwriting skills extend far beyond just the realm of interstitial program material. Those fortunate enough to have purchased any of the three Golddiggers record albums when they were originally released, or lucky and resourceful enough to have been able to find used copies in the years thereafter, are well aware of your gift for crafting full-length pop songs with catchy hooks, intelligent and often witty, even moving, lyrics, and rich, inventive melodies that could stand up to any top ten hits of their day.
To us, the final Golddiggers LP, Today, released in 1971, ranks as your chef d’eouvre. Of the twelve compositions on it, eight were penned by you and Geoff Clarkson, with marvelous selections ranging from such peppy confections as “Nobody Else Like You”, “I Like To Walk In The Rain” and “The Time Is Now” to haunting ballads like “Last Summer” and “Cloud Hill”.
The only way in which one could appreciate these numbers better than listening to them on vinyl was to watch The Golddiggers actually perform them on television. In that context, rarely have sight and sound dovetailed to form such a harmonious marriage.
In fact, not only did you write and arrange music for The Golddiggers, Lee, but you also produced what arguably represented the pinnacle of their achievement — their weekly syndicated TV series, sponsored by Chevrolet, that ran from 1971 to 1973.
Regrettably, as you know, not a single moment from any of those shows has been seen publicly since their last telecasts almost 35 years ago. Nor have any of The Golddiggers summer series been available for an even longer length of time.
And while we and countless others around the world are grateful to you, Lee, for the untold hours that you spent culling the archives for the clips that Greg Garrison approved for inclusion in Guthy-Renker’s Best of The Dean Martin Variety Show series, for fans of Dean Martin and The Golddiggers, there remains an emptiness in our souls and a longing in our hearts for all that has yet to be re-released.
One has only to survey the opinions that can be found in listings of Dean Martin DVDs and CDs on the Websites of merchants such as Amazon.com, as well as the comments posted on numerous Internet fan sites and discussion boards, to see that there is a huge, thus-far unfulfilled demand for the issuance of complete season sets of all nine seasons of The Dean Martin Show, all three seasons of The Golddiggers summer series, and both seasons of The Golddiggers syndicated series.
Now, before you roll your eyes as you contemplate all of the substantial obstacles standing in the way of this ever happening, let us say that we are fully aware of the hurdles involved, including what is likely the most onerous: obtaining the sundry music rights and talent clearances that would have to be negotiated on a piecemeal basis.
Yet there are many examples of similarly intimidating projects where persistence paid off and the goal of DVD release was accomplished:
A number of episodes of Frank Sinatra’s ABC series from the late ‘50s and NBC specials from the ‘60s, replete with music and big-name guest stars, have made their way intact to DVD.
Complete season sets of the first two years of The Muppet Show, loaded with musical numbers and guest stars, have been issued.
Movie musicals with scores containing songs by multiple composers have been cleared for release, and none could have been more challenging than That’s Entertainment, bringing together, as it does, so many numbers from so many authors, performed by so many artists. Nonetheless, not only all three films from the series, but also a fourth volume containing still more material, were compiled as a boxed set and issued on DVD several years ago.
And, of course, the Best of Dean Martin volumes from Guthy-Renker themselves provide an example of what can be done.
Moreover, don’t underestimate the willingness of Dean Martin’s huge worldwide fan base to contribute their share to the cause. A review of the hefty sales figures racked up by the pricey Guthy-Renker volumes, combined with the yearning for complete, uncut episodes widely expressed all over the Internet, clearly demonstrate that vast numbers of both Dean Martin and Golddiggers devotees would be willing to pony up hundreds of dollars per season set if that’s what it took to get their hands on this material — and sums like that would doubtless go a long way to defray the potential costs of clearing the necessary rights.
Of course, there are alternative avenues of getting these shows out to a longing public that might prove easier to travel. The most obvious is a return to the medium on which these series were born: Television. And taking this path would likely circumvent some of the thornier rights issues involved in DVD release.
After all, whole episodes of The Dean Martin Show (with only a few minutes per hour cut to make room for more commercials) DID air in syndication not only in the U.S., but around the world, for two years between 1979 and 1981. And today, more than a quarter century later, the number of available outlets for carrying such programming is exponentially larger, and includes a wide array of felicitous basic and pay cable platforms, and combinations thereof, on which these series could play, preferably in unexpurgated form.
Case in point: For the first quarter of 2007, ratings for TV Land plummeted 10% in total viewers and were down a whopping 37% in the all-important 18-to-34 age bracket (source: Nielsen Media Research, as reported in Variety, 4/4/07). Perhaps that cable web’s powers that be could be persuaded that what they need is a break from the same stale, tired lineup of sitcom and drama repeats by scheduling something that’s fresh and different, yet classic.
And that’s just one possibility; others abound up and down the dial.
Properly positioned, series like The Dean Martin Show and The Golddiggers would appeal not just to older audiences that enjoyed them when they first aired, but also particularly to young, male viewers who have in recent years caught on to the phenomenon of “lounge music”, and for whom Dean Martin symbolizes the epitome of that aesthetic. In his commentary for the Guthy-Renker sets, Greg Garrison himself pointed out that Dean was cool in his time, and that today’s kids would consider him cool, as well. Oh, and yeah, young men would probably find The Golddiggers and Dingalings pretty captivating, too!
While obviously purists would like to see all of this retro-cool material reissued in toto, we acknowledge the difficulties involved, and therefore also propose some further alternatives that would likely prove less complicated to bring to fruition—to wit, Special Editions (packaged for television, for home video, or for both) that have a narrower focus. Such volumes would represent a compromise solution, and hopefully just a temporary one, but at this point, we starving fans will take what we can get.
For instance, one idea would be to offer a compilation of those wonderful “Welcome To My World” medleys that you arranged, from the 1970-71 season of Dean’s show. (We could go on at length about these glorious segments, and if you take a look at the Striking Gold section of this site, you’ll see that we do!).
Since three songs were interwoven into each medley, only a limited number of music clearances would have to be procured for a batch of medleys that would fill a one-hour disc. And since the issue of compensation for appearances by each of The Golddiggers in sequences included on the Guthy-Renker sets has already been settled, the precedent has thus been established for obtaining releases from those same performers for a “Welcome To My World” anthology.
The same principle could apply to a highlight reel of numbers by The Golddiggers, except that we realize that some of the members who appeared only on the syndicated series but not on Dean’s show would have to be newly approached. But the music clearances on this one could really be a piece of cake if the program stuck just to numbers co-written by you, Lee.
The Golddiggers’ performances of your compositions alone would be more than enough to fill several DVDs, would provide a varied selection of tunes, and (needless to add) would also put a nice chunk of change from publishing royalties into your pocket. The foregoing assumes, of course, that you’d be willing to give yourself permission to use your own tunes!
And some of the women who took part in those performances could even provide wraparound commentary, à la Greg Garrison’s reminiscences on the Dean Martin Variety volumes.
Finally, let’s not forget about Dean (for that matter, who could?). One suggestion for a new compendium of his work would be a disc filled with some of the ballads that he sang on his show while seated on the couch — specifically, couch songs not already included in the Guthy-Renker sets. It’s just Dean in those numbers, so no other performer clearances would have to be sought, and again, music rights would have to be obtained for only a restricted list of songs.
Given all of the many and varied possibilities, Lee, if sufficient effort and creative thinking were devoted to it, it seems hard to believe that it wouldn’t be feasible to revive these series, or at least portions thereof, in one form or another. As the old cliché goes: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Now, we understand that you don’t own these shows; rather, they are the property of Greg Garrison’s estate. But we also know that given the pivotal role that you have always played in almost every aspect of these series, it’s highly unlikely that they would ever be resurrected without your involvement.
Lee, as made clear by our delineation herein of some of the milestones of your career, you are a multi-talented multi-hyphenate (how’s that for a multi-mouthful?!). Have we gushed? Sure. But you can bet that the sentiments behind all of this praise are sincere.
Indeed, it is precisely because of your artistic background and virtuosity that we are now appealing to the artist in you to do what you can to see to it that these gems of television history, to which you committed and contributed so much of your talent, are at last fully unleashed from their moorings and rescued from oblivion.
With Greg Garrison sadly gone, you are the only one left in the world who could possibly spearhead such an effort.
We implore you to use your good offices to help enable the rest of the world to share in the exhilaration of watching — either again or for the first time — the splendid productions that you participated so actively in helping to create. Put plainly, this stuff is simply too good to remain forever locked away, gathering dust in a vault.
On our end, we stand ready to do anything that we can to help.
And if you’ve managed to wade through this wordy opus all the way to the end, then you deserve to have yet one more feather added to your already well-lined cap…and we thank you for your time and indulgence.
Respectfully and Sincerely,
The Golddiggers Super Site