Peggy Lee


Peggy Lee and Dewey Martin: Their Love Story

author unknown

One afternoon, back in 1945, a young Navy flier on leave in San Francisco paid seventy-five cents at the box office and groped his way to a seat in the Golden Gate Theater. He had just been through a hell he didn’t care to think about and he kept his medals out of sight. All he wanted was some beauty for a change, and a different, softer kind of feeling inside. Right away he got them both.

On the stage a girl was singing a love song like Lieutenant Dewey Martin had never heard one sung before. His heart zoomed like his fighter planes had so recently done from carrier decks in the South Pacific.

“I flipped – quietly,” says Dewey Martin today.

The girl, who was Peggy Lee, didn’t know he existed. How could she? Her world and that of the lonesome sailor in the audience were as far apart as the poles. Peggy was already a great singing star, who made a steady $200,000 a year. Except for one year when she made $500,000. Lieutenant Martin was only one of several thousand rank-risen mustangs, tailing off a war with no visible peacetime prospects ahead, least of all in show business. Besides, Peggy Lee was already married, although Dewey Martin didn’t know that.

All this made the sudden crush strictly for moon dreams – or so you’d say.

Yet, for the next ten years that love song never quite faded for Dewey Martin. And ten years is a long time. It brought a lot of changes in the lives of both Dewey Martin and Peggy Lee.

Peggy stayed on the merry-go-round of glamour and success, stayed at the top. She sang. She penned lyrics for hit movies like Lady and the Tramp. She acted in Pete Kelly’s Blues and won an Academy Award nomination.

But happiness? Her first marriage with Dave Barbour broke under the strain, and then her second with Brad Dexter. Periodically her health broke too, but being the kind of girl she was, she couldn’t stop, gain control of her private existence or her galloping career. Everybody grew to love Peggy except the one special guy who could bring peace, security and sense to her life. Somehow, she never met him.

As for Dewey Martin, most of those years he was scouting busily for breaks. For a long time there weren’t any. For a while he traded with the Indians in the Navajo-Hopi country of Arizona; then worked around Phoenix, sometimes driving a truck. On a sudden wild inspiration he boarded a bus to Ogunquit, Maine, to learn acting in summer stock. And Dewey did, quickly and well. So he went down to New York to crack Broadway, but wound up running an elevator instead. He tried Hollywood next hoping for a job in pictures, but the only one he got was ushering at CBS radio studios. There he used to stand backstage in his monkey suit and open the door for the star of one show, mumbling politely, “Good evening, Miss Lee.” But that was all. He’d never in the world dared tell Peggy Lee then about that song she sang ‘way back in San Francisco, or how it stuck in his heart. Dewey’s struggle had made him too proud, too independent, too self-sufficient and too hard-boiled – or so he thought.

But sometimes when he collected a couple of extra bucks, Dewey would leave his cheap Hollywood room and walk to Ciro’s, on the Sunset Strip, where Peggy Lee liked to sing. He’d stand at the bar, because he couldn’t afford a table, and nurse one drink until the bartender got nasty, hoping for a glimpse across the crowded room of the beautiful girl with the husky-sweet voice. She still didn’t know him from Adam of course, but that was okay. It was one enchanted evening for Dewey.

Then the big break came at last for Dewey Martin. It came in Knock on Any Door, and he parlayed it into a bigger one as Boone in The Big Sky. He had his ups and downs after that, but he played it. He won a contract at MGM, made eight pictures in four years, and heard people call him star. But success rang hollow, because there was no one to share it. He met a pretty redheaded model named Mardie Havelhurst and impulsively married her. Mardie was a swell girl but she didn’t sympathize with Dewey’s ambitions or like anything about show business or Hollywood. They had a son, but never a real home. Dewey wanted a home. He hadn’t had one since his father died when Dewey was a kid in Texas. After that ended, Dewey snapped at the chance to make a picture in Rome. He stayed abroad, traveling in Europe, living for a while in Spain, deliberately staying away from the place that hadn’t brought him the happiness he had thought it would.

But you can’t run away from yourself. So he came back to Hollywood. By then he knew a hundred people who could introduce him to Peggy Lee. He didn’t let them. He didn’t dare risk destroying the one good dream he had left.

But the loneliness grew and the emptiness deepened behind the tough shell that Dewey Martin had built around himself all his life.

One evening, almost two years ago, Dewey was hanging around with his friend, orchestra man Dick Stabile. Dick knew Dewey’s whole story. He also knows a blue mood when he sees one.

“Dewey,” he said, “why don’t you let me introduce you to Peggy Lee?”

And Dewey found himself saying, “Okay – when?”

“What’s wrong with right now? Nothing was wrong. Ciro’s was right up the line and Peggy Lee was singing there.

They rapped on her dressing room door and went inside. “Peggy,” began Dick, “this is Dewey Martin and –”

Dewey himself blurted out the rest – “I’ve been in love with you for ten long years!”

“Please sit down,” invited Peggy Lee. She offered a drink. She could use a small one herself. Things like that don’t happen every night, at Ciro’s or anywhere.

Peggy thought this impulsive man certainly must mean he was in love with her songs, another way of saying “I’m a fan.” Lots of people have told Peggy Lee that. Yet, somehow – funny – this time she was not sure. Coming from him it sounded different; she felt different.

As Dewey remembers, his hair was bleached and clipped for a picture. As self-conscious as a school kid, he popped out, for no reason at all, “My hair isn’t always like this. It’s for a job – you know.”

“I know,” said Peggy. And maybe that’s when she knew that what he was in love with wasn’t just her voice. Anyway, when he asked her to have dinner some night she said, “That would be nice. Will you call me?” She gave him her telephone number.

When Dewey got up enough nerve to call a few days later Peggy Lee was in spattered dungarees working at her favorite hobby – fixing over her house.

“Can you call back?” she begged. “I’m redecorating, and knee deep in painters.”

Dewey said, “Sure.” But he didn’t call back. Maybe he shouldn’t have busted out with the truth like he did. Or maybe she just wasn’t interested. That old pride, that old independence returned. A few days later he got a note: “Whatever happened to you?,” it read. “Peggy Lee.”

Dewey reached for the phone.

Pretty soon, across a table for two at a quiet Hollywood restaurant, Dewey Martin was telling Peggy all about himself, including that certain afternoon in the Golden Date at San Francisco. But one evening wasn’t long enough for all the things Dewey had stored up to say. He made another date and another. After three months both Peggy and Dewey stopped seeing anyone else.

The romance puzzled a lot of people who thought they knew them both. Peggy Lee and Dewey Martin? That one-man Declaration of Independence and the girl who barely had time to say hello to herself? But they didn’t know what Peggy and Dewey soon did. “I knew I needed Peggy,” says Dewey, “and I think she knew she needed me.”

Still they didn’t discuss what was on their minds until one night in New York. Dewey arrived later for a Perry Como guest spot. When she flew in they both realized how empty those few days apart had been for them both.

What made them certain was another separation. Dewey flew to Kanab, Utah, to make a TV pilot film. Peggy went off on engagements – to Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago. Everywhere and every night there was a long-distance call from Utah. Dewey proposed over one, got his “Yes” over another. They made marriage plans, back and forth, over the rest. The next to last came on a Friday, a year ago last April. They arranged to meet the next morning in Hollywood and drive to Palm Springs for the wedding. Dewey chartered a plane with a pilot, but a storm blew up. Next morning he was grounded and sweating it out. He made one more call. “Don’t worry, honey!,” he told her. “If this guy won’t fly me, I’ll fly myself!”

That’s what he finally did, borrowing a little Cessna and buzzing it up through the clouds. The Los Angeles airport was so fogged in he couldn’t find it. But he got down at last in Burbank and there, praying him in, was Peggy. They just had time to race to a Beverly Hills jewelry store, choose double rings, and make the license bureau five minutes before it closed. Then they drove to the Springs. On the evening of April 28, 1956 Peggy Lee became Mrs. Dewey Martin at last.

Peggy and Dewey Martin made themselves a promise that night in their desert wedding suite. They’d never be separated for long, no matter how two careers tugged. It’s one they’ve kept.

“Peggy loves to sing and she probably always will,” admits Dewey. “It’s part of her life. My musical talent is confined to playing a phonograph. So I keep out of her hair that way. But she knows she doesn’t have to work another day if she doesn’t want to.”

The first thing Dewey did after marrying Peggy was to buy her house from her. Why? That’s just the independent cuss he is. Around that house you can notice some changes by now. For one, the garage has turned into a professional recording room, so Peggy can work right at home on the songs she writes and sings for picture scores. Dewey built it with the help of one carpenter. Peggy and Dewey painted and decorated it themselves, spending two weeks alone filing away Peg’s vast record collection in special built-in cabinets. Warmed up with that, they repainted the rest of the house inside, even the bathroom and kitchen.

It isn’t work when they’re working together. It’s fun.

Some week ends the Martins take trips that Peggy never seemed to have time for before. Down to the San Diego Zoo, up to Carmel just for the scenery, across the border to Tijuana for Dewey’s favorite aficionado sport, the bullfights. His friend, Carlos Arruza, the famous matador, even dedicated a bull to Peggy, although she had to turn her eyes away as he fought it. Dewey hasn’t got Peggy on skis yet, although he’s trying. But she took him to Disneyland – and they stayed seven hours. For the Mister Toad ride Dewey stood on line with 400 wiggling kids and their parents. “I never thought I’d ever stand on line for anything,” he grins, “but there I was – liking it.” This year they’re planning to drive clear to Pastaja, near Mexico City, to a ranch Dewey knows about, for a real honeymoon. But home is where their hearts fully live.

That home is no longer what Peggy used to call, somewhat ruefully, “Grand Central Station.” Any popular singer’s house is likely to be that if she’s not careful. Dewey spotted the host of people buzzing Peggy’s bell constantly with something or other on their minds. She could never say no.

“All that’s changed,” he says quietly. “Our home is for us, our family and our friends.”

Last December, on Dewey’s birthday, he was called to the door for a telegram. The telegram turned out to be thirty of his best friends secretly invited for a surprise party. Peggy cooked a lasagna dinner, and when the guests left Dewey kissed his wife. “I’ll get even with you,” he promised.

Christmas eve he did. Forty of Peggy’s friends showed up the same sudden way. Under the tree Dewey had smuggled a big red-ribboned box. After that he ducked around the house mysteriously. At cocktails Dewey announced, “Let’s play a new game. This one’s called, ‘Don’t Trust Your Husband.’” He handed Peggy a note: “See what Mister Bach had to say,” it read. She went to her favorite classical album and there was another note. It sent her to her favorite statue of St. Francis. Well, Peggy collected messages from the next forty-five minutes all over the place – in the mailbox, in her car, off her tape recorder, in library books – one was even frozen in an ice cube. The whole party followed her around. The last paper told about the box under the tree – and in it was a little poem by Dewey telling her how much he loved her. Peggy cried. She couldn’t help it.