The recently released collector’s edition of The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts is not just another compilation of the comedy show, but a true treasure.
Singer and entertainer Dean Martin had a career that spanned nightclubs, record albums, movies, and television. His variety show was a fixture on ’70s television, but when ratings started to falter the show changed its format to a celebrity roast, featuring a “Man of the Hour” or “Woman of the Hour,” patterned after the famed roasts held at New York City’s Friars’ Club. Dean served as Master of Ceremonies for most of the roasts (apart from his own roast, where comedian Don Rickles officiated).
The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts are a time capsule of 1970s Hollywood, comic styles, and fashion. Martin included not only the top comics to insult and tease the person of honor, but current pop culture celebrities of the day, including politicians and athletes. Martin favorites like comedian Nipsey Russell, Foster Brooks, and impressionist Rich Little make numerous appearances.
The collector’s edition includes twelve roasts on six discs, with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and a total running time of 1080 minutes. Each DVD includes a warning regarding the quality of transfer from the older original television specials, but the image, while not super-sharp, still looks good on a large-scale high definition television screen. The show ran from 1973 until 1984, and the roasts included in this box set cover that entire range. It’s interesting to see the mixture of costars, comics, and pop culture icons in the list of roasters.
Bob Hope (original broadcast 10/31/1974)
Roasters: Flip Wilson, Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Ginger Rogers, Foster Brooks, Jimmy Stewart, Milton Berle, Billy Graham, Rich Little, Howard Cosell, Jack Benny, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Nipsey Russell, Omar Bradley, Phyllis Diller, Neil Armstrong, Henry Kissinger, Don Rickles, Dolores Hope
Johnny Carson (original broadcast 11/1/1973)
Roasters: George Burns, Truman Capote, Doc Severinsen, Joey Bishop, Ruth Buzzi, Dom DeLuise, Bob Newhart, Louisa Moritz, Fred DeCordova, Jonathan Winters, Foster Brooks, Dionne Warwick, Rich Little, Barry Goldwater, Bette Davis, Martin Milner, Kent McCord, Redd Foxx, Jack Benny, Joanna Holland
Jimmy Stewart (original broadcast 5/10/1978)
Roasters: Lucille Ball, June Allyson, Greer Garson, Red Buttons, Barry Goldwater, Henry Fonda, Eddie Albert, Foster Brooks, George Burns, Tony Randall, Don Rickles, Rich Little, Janet Leigh, Milton Berle, Jesse White, Orson Welles, Mickey Rooney, LaWanda Page, Ruth Buzzi
Sammy Davis, Jr. (original broadcast 4/24/1975)
Roasters: Milton Berle, Wilt Chamberlain, Freddie Prinze, Norm Crosby, Dionne Warwick, Joey Bishop, Nipsey Russell, Phyllis Diller, Jan Murray, Frank Gorshin, Foster Brooks, Don Rickles, Altovise Davis
Jack Benny (original broadcast 2/21/1974)
Roasters: Jimmy Stewart, Joey Bishop, Florence Henderson, George Burns, Norm Crosby, Zubin Mehta, Pearl Bailey, Dick Martin, Mark Spitz, Wayne Newton, Rich Little, Demond Wilson, Jack Carter, Foster Brooks, Gary Burghoff
Lucille Ball (original broadcast 2/7/1975)
Roasters: Phyllis Diller, Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Ruth Buzzi, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Gary Morton, Gale Gordon, Totie Fields, Rich Little, Henry Fonda, Ginger Rogers, Foster Brooks, Nipsey Russell, Jack Benny, Vivian Vance, Don Rickles
Dean Martin (original broadcast 2/27/1976)
Roasters: Don Rickles, Orson Welles, Paul Lynde, Joe Namath, Barry Goldwater, Angie Dickinson, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Stewart, Gabe Kaplan, Gene Kelly, Hubert Humphrey, Charlie Callas, John Wayne, Joey Bishop, Rich Little, Ruth Buzzi, Tony Orlando, Georgia Engel, Nipsey Russell, Foster Brooks, Howard Cosell, Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Bob Hope
Kirk Douglas (original broadcast 10/11/1973)
Roasters: Ted Knight, Norm Crosby, Jack Burns, Avery Schreiber, Rich Little, Lynn Anderson, Jackie Gayle, Don Rickles
Michael Landon (original broadcast 12/7/1984)
Roasters: Melissa Gilbert, Brian Keith, Lorne Greene, Merlin Olsen, Vic Tayback, Maureen Murphy, Rich Little, Pat Harrington, Dick Butkus, Bubba Smith, Dick Shawn, Norm Crosby, Orson Welles, Don Rickles, Slappy White
Jackie Gleason, 2/27/1975
Roasters: Phyllis Diller, Milton Berle, Danny Thomas, Audrey Meadows, Gene Kelly, Nipsey Russell, Sandy Hirt, Sid Caesar, Sheila MacRae, Art Carney, Frank Gorshin, Foster Brooks
Don Rickles (original broadcast 2/7/1974)
Roasters: Joey Bishop, Phyllis Diller, Lorne Greene, Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Casey Kasem, Bob Newhart, Carol Channing, Nipsey Russell, Cliff Robertson, Jack Klugman, Pat Henry, Kirk Douglas, Rich Little, Telly Savalas, Charlie Callas, Foster Brooks, Eugene Cernan
Joan Collins (original broadcast 2/24/1984)
Roasters: John Forsythe, Aaron Spelling, Gavin MacLeod, Beatrice Arthur, Red Buttons, Phyllis Diller, Angie Dickinson, Charlie Callas, Rich Little, Anne Baxter, Don Rickles, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dom DeLuise, Milton Berle
It’s nice to be reminded of some forgotten entertainers like Totie Fields, Freddie Prinze, and Frank Gorshin, mixing it up on the dais with Hollywood legends like Gene Kelly, Bette Davis, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, and Johnny Carson. It’s really impossible to pick a favorite roast from this set, as they are all entertaining. And once you have viewed all of the roasts, there is still a ton of bonus features to enjoy, including a nicely illustrated booklet, additional Dean Martin television specials (Dean’s Place and Dean Martin’s Red Hot Scandals of 1926), featurettes (The Art of the Roast, and The King of Cool: Always in Fashion!, and Legends of the Roasts), and celebrity interviews (Betty White, Don Rickles, Tim Conway, Jackie Mason, Ruth Buzzi, and Rich Little).
Some of the best roasters are of course comedians like Don Rickles, who excelled at insult comedy. But actors like Orson Welles and Jimmy Stewart may surprise viewers, as their jokes steal the spotlight from veterans like Milton Berle and George Burns. Admittedly, some of the humor is certainly not what would today be termed “politically correct,” as jokes are told at the expense of race and women – just about any topic is up for grabs. Everyone is smoking and drinking and a little out of control. But that is the nature of a roast, and there is still an aura of camaraderie and fun that keeps everything light and entertaining. The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts is as funny to watch today as it ever was, and no one seems to laugh louder than the butt of the jokes, the man or woman of the hour.