Published on June 24, 2016
The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast is an NBC television special show hosted by entertainer Dean Martin from 1974 to 1984. For a series of 54 specials and shows, Martin would periodically “roast” a celebrity. These roasts were patterned after the roasts held at the New York Friars’ Club. The format would have the celebrity guest seated on a dais, and one by one the guest of honor was affectionately chided or insulted about his career by his fellow celebrity friends.
In 1973, The Dean Martin Show was declining in popularity. The final (1973–74) season of his variety show would be retooled into one of celebrity roasts, requiring less of Martin’s involvement. For the 1973–1974 season, a new feature called “Man of the Week Celebrity Roast” was added to try to pick up the ratings. The roasts seemed to be popular among television audiences and are often marketed in post-issues as part of the official Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts and not The Dean Martin Show. After The Dean Martin Show was cancelled in 1974, NBC drew up a contract with Martin to do several specials and do more roast specials. Starting with Bob Hope in 1974, the roast was taped in California and turned out to be a hit, leading to many other roasts to follow.
In the fall of 1974, the roasts moved permanently to the MGM Grand Hotel’s Ziegfeld Room in Las Vegas and mainly aired Thursdays on NBC. The televised roasts were popular in the ratings; however Martin and NBC declined to extend the 10 year contract. Some segments were taped prior or after the roast, due to considerations with the performer or technical aspects. No roasts were broadcast between 1980 and 1983 (partly due to the MGM Grand fire of 1980), with the specials returning for a final few installments in 1984. The show’s official title as a television special would change based on the celebrity, in Jimmy Stewart’s case for instance, it would be the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Jimmy Stewart.
The “Roastees” were also referred to as “Man of the Hour” or “Woman of the Hour” (“Man of the Week” in earlier episodes). Martin roasted two sets of celebrities, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, and Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Only one person was honored posthumously, George Washington, who was honored for the upcoming United States bicentennial (veteran historical impersonator Jan Leighton portrayed Washington for the episode while Audrey Meadows portrayed his wife, Martha). Michael Landon, Redd Foxx, Joe Namath, and Jack Klugman were the only celebrities roasted twice; Landon’s second time in 1984, being the final roast. For Dean Martin’s roast, Don Rickles was host, and assumed the role of Roastmaster Comedian Nipsey Russell and impressionist Rich Little appeared the most often on the roast with each appearing 24 times. While most of the participants were comedians known for their work in such events, occasionally unexpected participants would be featured, such as British pop singer Petula Clark who was recruited to help roast TV actor William Conrad in 1973.
The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts were released on DVD through Guthy-Renker with some of The Dean Martin Show roasts selected as part of the package. The show is one of the most sold video sets of all-time. NBC Universal brought suit against producer Greg Garrison and Guthy-Renker for selling The Dean Martin Show DVDs; the suit did not affect the Celebrity Roasts. All 54 of the Celebrity Roasts are now being sold via television infomercial by Time–Life.