Marty Allen, Zany Comedian With That Whacky Hairdo, Dies at 95

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Marty Allen, the big-eyed comedian whose Brillo pad-like hair always looked as if it were trying to escape from his head, has died. He was 95. Allen, who kept a generation laughing throughout the 1950s and ’60s with his comedy partner, straight man Steve Rossi, died in Las Vegas of complications from pneumonia with his wife Karon Kate Blackwell by his side, Allen’s spokeswoman told The Associated Press.Marty_Allen-_Rossi-with-the-Beatles-_1964_courtesy-Marty-AllenBetween 1957 and 1968, Allen & Rossi — in addition to countless nightclub appearances — popped up on television on at least 700 occasions, making more than 40 visits to The Ed Sullivan Show alone. Three of the four times that The Beatles appeared on the legendary variety show, the comics were on as well. 

The zany Allen led the charge with a cherub face full of exaggerated expressions and his signature catchphrase, “Hello Dere.” The phrase came about purely by accident.

 

Allen & Rossi released 16 comedy albums and headlined one feature film, The Last of the Secret Agents? (1966), before parting ways in 1968. Allen continued on with a successful television and nightclub career. Rossi teamed up with other comedians, including Joe E. Ross and Slappy White, but never approached the level of success he had with Allen.

 

Allen & Rossi split on good terms and through the next three decades, the team would reunite when opportunity knocked. In 1984, they joined forces for a series of shows in Atlantic City, which led to a tour. Vegas World (now the Stratosphere) signed them for a lifetime contract in 1990. They played the hotel/casino for four years before going their separate ways again.

 

Marty Allen was born Morton David Alpern in Pittsburgh on March 23, 1922, and he attended Taylor Allderdice High School in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. (Other notable graduates of the school include directors Rob Marshall and Antoine Fuqua and rapper Wiz Khalifa.)

 

He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, was stationed in Italy during World War II and rose to the rank of sergeant. After a plane caught fire during refueling, Allen’s actions earned him a Soldier’s Medal for heroism.

 

Allen returned to Pittsburgh after the war and launched a career in comedy. Sometimes he appeared on stage alone, other times with a bandleader or singer. For several years, he teamed with straight man Mitch DeWood, playing such clubs as Miami Beach’s Monte Carlo and New York’s Copacabana. They would warm up the crowd for the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Eydie Gorme and Nat King Cole.

 

During a 1967 appearance on the game show What’s My Line?, Allen and Rossi revealed that it was Cole who suggested they become an act.

 

 

After his split with Rossi, Allen continued to stretch his acting chops with TV appearances on Love: American Style, Night Gallery, Flying High, Monster Squad, Benson and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.

 

He also could be seen in the features The Ballad of Billie Blue (1972), The Great Waltz (1972), Harrad Summer (1974) and Cannonball Run II (1984).

 

During the 1970s and ’80s, he was a comic mainstay all over the television dial. The Hollywood Squares featured him in more than 100 episodes, and he was a regular on Circus of the Stars and The $1.98 Beauty Show. In 2014, Allen published his autobiography, titled, not surprisingly, Hello Dere!

 

Into his 90s, Allen still was bringing comedy to live audiences. Partnering this time with his second wife Karon Kate Blackwell, a recording artist, he appeared in several venues around Vegas.

 

As he told the Sun just after his 92nd birthday: “No, no retirement. To be honest with you, I have a great feel for people, I love entertaining, I love reacting to everybody and enjoy what I’m doing. Karon enjoys it, and we hit it off so well. That’s the story, and I’ll go onstage as long as I can go or until they carry me off.”

 

Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy:  AP
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