Jeanne Martin, a model and Orange Bowl queen who became the wife of singer and actor Dean Martin during the height of his fame, died Wednesday after a battle with cancer at her Beverly Hills home, her family announced. She was 89.
After marrying Dean Martin in 1949, the pair were one of Hollywood’s most photographed couples. Matriarch of their large family, she gave birth to three of Dean’s children while raising four more from his previous marriage. Their breakup in 1969 caused nearly as much distress to Martin’s fans as his professional split with partner Jerry Lewis had in 1956.
“Dean’s viewers knew he was a good husband and father and the booze-and-broads jokes were just part of the act,” wrote Lee Hale in the 2000 book Backstage at the Dean Martin Show, having served as musical director for the NBC program.
Born Dorothy Jean Biegger on March 27, 1927, in Coral Gables, Fla., she went by Jeanne when she began modeling in Miami. She was voted Orange Bowl queen in 1947. A year later, she came to the Beachcomber Club in Miami to see a New Year’s Eve show starring Martin and Lewis.
Jeanne maintained she had never heard of either entertainer until that night. She told author Nick Tosches for a 1992 biography of Dean Martin that upon seeing him on stage, “We locked eyes and I knew. We just fell madly in love.”