Marty Allen, fuzzy-haired member of popular 1960s comedy duo Allen & Rossi, dies at 95

Tuesday , February 13, 2018 - 10:00 PM

Matt Schudel

(c) 2018, The Washington Post.

Marty Allen, a fuzzy-haired funnyman who formed part of a popular comedy duo in the 1960s with singer and comic straight man Steve Rossi, appearing on countless television talk shows and variety shows, died Feb. 12 in Las Vegas. He was 95.

The cause was complications from pneumonia, a spokeswoman, Candi Cazau, told the Associated Press.

Allen was a short, pudgy comedian who found his greatest success from 1957 to 1968, when he teamed with Rossi, a tall, handsome singer who set up his partner’s vaudeville-style, groan-worthy gags. They were brought together by the singer Nat “King” Cole.

With the bulging eyes and innocence of a Harpo Marx-like fool, Allen ambled onstage with his trademark catchphrase, “Hello dere,” and quickly waded into comic quicksand. His unruly mop of hair was part of his signature look and figured into one of his most famous moments on television, when he and Rossi appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 16, 1964.

A week earlier, the Beatles made its U.S. television debut on the popular variety show, and Sullivan invited the musicians back the following week for a repeat performance. Allen and Rossi followed the Fab Four on the program.

“I kept thinking, ‘What could I possibly say?‘ “ Allen told California newspaper Vallejo-Times Herald in 2012. “We walked out, I looked at the camera, said, ‘Hello dere, I’m Ringo’s mother,‘ “ referring to the band’s mop-headed drummer, Ringo Starr, “and the kids started screaming.”

The quip, seen by an estimated 73 million people, helped secure Allen & Rossi’s place as a top comedy act - and considerably boosted their salary. Together, they made hundreds of TV appearances as well as a forgettable 1966 film, “The Last of the Secret Agents?”

“Two sows’ ears can be turned into silk purses more easily than into a motion-picture comedy team,” New York Times critic Vincent Canby wrote in a scathing review of the film. Allen and Rossi “certainly don’t belong in the league that once included Martin and Lewis and Abbott and Costello,” he wrote.

Yet they had a flourishing stage and nightclub career. When they appeared at Washington’s Shoreham Hotel in 1966, Washington Post nightlife writer William Rice wrote that Allen was “bringing a fine madness. ... Along with his partner, Steve Rossi, he is providing the most merriment the club has seen this season.”

Allen’s routine as a staggering, bibulous restaurant wine taster, Rice added, “sent an already receptive audience into nearly continuous, uncontrolled laughter.”

He and Rossi used ethnic stereotypes that were common at the time in a steady barrage of gags. Whether he was portraying a big-game hunter, an incompetent golfer or an oversized child, Allen delivered his rapid-fire punchlines with a wide-eyed wonder.

One of his most popular routines was as a washed-up boxer. Rossi asked the questions, and Allen answered with the gags.

“What’s the first thing you think of when you enter the ring?”

“How to get out.”

“How many fights have you had?”

“Hundreds.”

“How many did you lose?”

“Hundreds.”

“How do you explain that?”

“You can’t win ‘em all.”

Morton David Alpern was born March 23, 1922, in Pittsburgh. His father ran a restaurant and bar.

During World War II, Allen served in the Army Air Forces and helped refuel airplanes in Italy. He was decorated with the Soldier’s Medal for preventing an explosion by driving a burning fuel truck away from a fighter plane and helping put out the fire.

He began his comedy career in the 1940s and teamed with Mitch DeWood for a while and opened for singers, including Eydie Gorme, Sarah Vaughan and Cole.

“He introduced me to Steve and suggested we try a comedy act,” Allen said in 1984 of Cole. “[Dean] Martin and [Jerry] Lewis were big at the time, an Italian singer and a Jewish comic. That influenced this Jewish comic and Italian singer to give it a shot.”

The duo broke up in 1968 but reunited for four years in the 1980s and performed occasionally until the 1990s. They remained close friends until Rossi’s death in 2014.

Allen’s first wife, Lorraine “Frenchy” Trydelle, died in 1976. Survivors include his wife and performing partner of 32 years, singer-comedian Karon Kate Blackwell of Las Vegas.

Allen published a memoir in 2014 and continued performing past his 95th birthday.

In a 2014 interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he explained how his trademark line, “Hello dere,” came about by accident during a performance.

“Steve asked me a question,” he said, “and I blanked out and said, ‘Hello dere.‘ I kept repeating it, and it got a reaction. After the show, members of the audience came up and said, ‘Hello dere!‘ I suddenly realized I had found a catch phrase, and it went national. It was just something I made up.”

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