Today, we go back to the real classics, Dean Martin’s Comedy Roasts!

What’s really cool is that you get to see what old Vegas looked like, before the big buildings, old Vegas, the one we remember seeing as kids on TV, long before the move to the current strip.

dean martin don ricklesIn 1973, The Dean Martin Show was declining in popularity. In its final season, to pick up the ratings and to require less of Martin’s involvement, it was retooled into a series of celebrity roasts by adding a feature called “Man of the Week Celebrity Roast”.

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 canceled 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 to 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 few final installments in 1984. The show’s official title as a television special would change based on the celebrity, in James Stewart’s case, for instance, it would be the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Jimmy Stewart.

The roastmaster (Martin), the roastee, and the roasters would be seated on a stage. The roastees were also referred to as “Man of the Hour”, “Woman of the Hour”, or “Man of the Week” in earlier episodes.

In two instances, a pair of celebrities were roasted at the same time: 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.

Don Rickles hosted the roast of Dean Martin 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.

To order the shows on DVD, click here.