Today is the birthday of sui generis comedian Marty Allen (b. 1922). From 1957 to 1968, and then in 1974, and then from 1984 to 1985, and then from 1990 to 1994, he was teamed with crooner Steve Rossi (b. 1928), making them, I’m inclined to think, the last of the old school comedy teams. Now that they are both approaching 100 years old, I don’t guess they are doing much cutting up at night clubs any more. Their act was largely patterned on that of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, but more joke heavy. Marty Allen is of course the weird-looking, bug-eyed dude with frizzy hair who says “Hello Dere!” And, Rossi is a just barely competent straight man, and a fairly run of the mill singer. Here’s what their night club and tv variety act looked like, from the show Hollywood Palace:
And here’s the trailer from their 1966 film The Last of the Secret Agents, which must rank with Rowan and Martin’s The Maltese Bippy as one of the epic long-buried-because-terrible comedy vehicles. The two movies are very similar. None of these guys were actors; they were just comedians (and Rossi wasn’t even that). It takes a comic actor to carry a whole picture; the list is long of the comedians who found that out the hard way. The discovery seems to have broken Allen and Rossi up the first time. They couldn’t get any further together, so shortly thereafter they went their seperate ways.
My exposure to Allen as a kid was always without Rossi; I usually saw him on Hollywood Squares, where he was a semi-regular. I never even knew Rossi existed existed until much later. Since the 1980s Allen has performed in an act with his wife Karen Kate Blackwell.
To learn more history about the history of variety entertainment, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and on comedy film, don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,