DINO, DESI AND BILLY

I'm a Fool

While you can't technically refer to nepotism as a line of work, it would be tempting to think of it as the world's oldest profession...or perhaps the second oldest. When it comes to this common practice of, say, parents giving their children all the breaks in the family business or using money and influence to increase career odds, it might be appropriate to refer to it as the world's oldest apprenticeship. Of course it isn't any fault of the kids; from their perspective it's just a matter of following where elder family members' footsteps have already gone. Regardless of any theories concerning this debatable subject, the trio of Dino, Desi and Billy were enthusiastic about playing and performing music before any family members got involved; it's likely they would have followed this path no matter how famous or influential their parents happened to be.

Desi Arnaz IV, the youngest of the three, was the first to become widely known; it happened before he was even born or, for that matter, anyone knew if he would be a boy or a girl. His parents, the stars of I Love Lucy, the most popular comedy series during network television's formative era, were faced with a dilemma during the show's second season: Lucille Ball was an expectant mother for the second time (first-born Lucie Arnaz had come into the world just before the series began in 1951). Would they attempt to hide her baby-bump from the cameras? Desi Arnaz, who had a great deal of control over the show's content, decided her pregnancy would be a parallel real/fictional one, a decision that fascinated the public and resulted in unprecedented ratings for the series. So Lucy Ricardo gave birth to "Little Ricky" on January 19, 1953 while 44 million television viewers watched (mainly they just saw Big Ricky get hilariously stressed out) on the exact same day Miss Ball gave birth to her son Desi, Jr. (the episode was actually filmed about two months earlier, but due to a C-section delivery it was possible to time the show's broadcast to the actual birth).

Dean Paul Martin (nickname: Dino) had come into the world far less ceremoniously some 14 months earlier. His famous father Dean Martin, a singer and comedian who'd already filmed four of what would become 17 popular big screen comedies with Jerry Lewis over a span of seven years, was on the verge of banging out a long string of high-charting hit records. Manila-born Billy Hinsche didn't have famous parents, but his father, Otto "Doc" Hinsche (originally from New Jersey), had been a successful casino owner in the Phillipines before returning to the U.S. All three families lived near each other in the posh Beverly Hills/Bel Air section of Los Angeles.

Many showbiz kids attended Good Shepherd Catholic School in Beverly Hills in the late '50s (actor Jon Provost of Lassie fame, Danny Thomas's son Tony, Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney's son Miguel, Ricardo Montalban's daughter Anita and others). Billy and Dino met there in 1958 while in the second grade. Desi, Jr. came along the following year; by that time he was a pretty good drummer, a case of life imitating art. Richard Keith (real name: Keith Thibodeaux), who played "Little Ricky" Ricardo on I Love Lucy, had toured as a drummer with Horace Heidt's orchestra in 1953 when he was just three years old! Later, during his time on the set of the series and subsequent hourlong Lucy-Desi comedy specials, he demonstrated his skills onscreen and, off-screen, taught his real-life counterpart how to play. Then young Desi impressed his classmates at Good Shepherd with his newfound skills.

By 1963, Dino and Billy had a geographically-specific obsession with The Beach Boys and soon after added The Beatles to their list of musical heroes. While still a duo, the pair performed songs by British duos Peter and Gordon and Chad and Jeremy at school events. At some point Desi, Jr. backed them on drums and the act became a threesome; while Lucy had misgivings about her son's schoolwide notoriety (he was only eleven at the time), she approved as long as the new "hobby" didn't conflict with his studies or affect his grades. The boys began practicing at the Martin home; Dino played bass while Billy brandished a generic no-name electric guitar that his dad had picked up for him at a pawn shop. They played at a few parties for other advantaged Hollywood children, usually earning ten bucks apiece. If Desi wasn't available (maybe mom made him stay home and study?), "Little Ricky" Keith would take his place.

Dino's mother, Jeannie Martin, was impressed by the practice sessions and had little trouble talking her hubby into setting up an audition with Reprise Records in the summer of '64 (Dean was riding high on the Frank Sinatra-owned record label, having just reached number one with "Everybody Loves Somebody"). Frank witnessed the junior-high-aged trio's skills at Dean's house and offered them a contract on the spot. For Billy, performing for some of Hollywood's biggest stars was a "pinch-me" situation. Soon he would be a star too. Names for the group were bandied about as each member made a bid for top billing: Martin and the Martians, Arnaz and the Argonauts, Hinsche and the Henchmen. Two D's and a B was suggested and they considered a garage-bandish moniker, The Deadbeats. But the more obvious, easier-to-remember, less-risky choice was made. Despite their musical ability, Reprise producers took no chances and hired local musicians for the sessions; former rock and roll star Jimmy Bowen produced their late-'64 debut single, a remake of an Everly Brothers B side, "Since You Broke My Heart." They performed the song on The Hollywood Palace in November, but it was unable to gain traction.

The second single, "I'm a Fool" (a Joey Cooper-Red West song that had been recorded the previous year by Rick Nelson), featured only one member's voice: Billy, double tracked. When it broke big around July 1965, Billy hadn't hit his 14th birthday yet, Dino was 13, Desi was still several months away from entering his teens...and they were suddenly buried under mounds of fan mail. They embarked on a summer tour with "hometown heroes" the Beach Boys; The Kinks, licensed to Reprise in the U.S., were second-billed with DD&B listed third out of eight acts (surprisingly, The Byrds and The Righteous Brothers ranked lower in the lineup...someone may have pulled a few strings!).

Dino Martin, Desi Arnaz IV, Billy Hinsche

"Not the Lovin' Kind," written and produced by Lee Hazlewood, featured a lead vocal by Dino and reached the national top 30 in October. The trio's fame spread through appearances on locally-produced TV (Hollywood a Go Go, Lloyd Thaxton) and high-rated network shows (Shindig!, Ed Sullivan and...no surprise...The Dean Martin Show), though hits were harder to come by. "Please Don't Fight It" (a Jerry Fuller song) and "Superman" (a March 1966 answer to TV's fresh new Batman mania) had brief chart runs. They made five appearances on Dick Clark's afternoon funfest Where the Action Is between November '66 and February '67, twice performing "If You're Thinkin' What I'm Thinkin'," a song by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (having super-success writing and producing for The Monkees), but the Dolenz-esque pop tune didn't catch on. "Two in the Afternoon," a strong offering penned by Alan Gordon and Garry Bonner (writers for another hot '67 act, The Turtles), barely scraped Billboard's bottom edge.

Billy began moonlighting for the Beach Boys, supplying backing vocals for a few hits including "Heroes and Villains" and "Darlin'," which influenced the trio's next move. "Tell Someone You Love Them," a summer 1968 single composed by Billy and recorded in a style similar to those Beach Boys tracks got a big push from Reprise. A top 20 hit in a few dozen cities around the country, it was especially popular close to home in Los Angeles, yet made a minimal showing on the national charts. A change was in order. Two singles, on different labels, appeared in 1969: "Thru Spray Colored Glasses" (a David Gates-Stu Phillips tune on Uni) and "Hawley" (a Martin-Hinsche-Arnaz original on Columbia). By the end of the decade, the three teens appeared somewhat unrecognizable in comparison to the '65 look (their hair was longer and Dino looked quite mature sporting a mustache!); television appearances included a tight-squeeze February 1970 stint on The Hollywood Squares. They returned to Reprise as separate entities and released solo singles in '71 and '72 ("Giant Man" and "Here I Am" by Desi, "Music is Freedom" by Billy and "Sitting in Limbo" by Dino).

Desi, Jr. spent three years playing his mother's son on Here's Lucy (sister Lucie was on the show as well) and made several memorable films; highlights include Red Sky at Morning (for which he won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer, Male) and ABC "Movie of the Week" Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, both in 1971, The Courage and the Passion in '78 and many other movies and TV guest shots in between. In 1992 he portrayed his father in The Mambo Kings. Billy Hinsche spent many years touring as a backing musician for the Beach Boys. Starting in the late '60s, Richard ("Little Ricky") Keith was a member of David and the Giants, a group that reinvented itself a decade later as a Christian Rock act and built a large fan base.

Dean Paul Martin indulged himself in many areas: besides acting in films, he played football in the mid-'70s for semi-pro team the Las Vegas Casinos, competed as a race car driver for a time and spent several years as a professional tennis player. He was married to actress Olivia Hussey and, years later, to Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill. A pilot since his teens, he joined the Air National Guard and served for several years. In 1987, he died when his plane crashed during a routine flight for the Guard; he was just 35 years of age. In 1998, Dino's younger brother, Ricci Martin, took his place when the act was revived as Ricci, Desi and Billy. The trio performed together, recorded music and relived the good times for more than a decade.

- Michael Jack Kirby


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