Allen and Rossi: The Last Comedy Team?

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Today is the birthday of sui generis comedian Marty Allen (1922-2018).

From 1957 to 1968, and then in 1974, and then from 1984 to 1985, and then from 1990 to 1994, Allen was teamed with crooner Steve Rossi (1928-2014), making them, I’m inclined to think, the last of the old school comedy teams. Their act was largely patterned on that of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, as well as Abbott and Costello, but more joke heavy than either of those acts (and to my mind both funnier and weirder). 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.  In addition to their live performances, and appearances on TV variety shows, they co-starred in the 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 separate 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. In his last years Allen performed in an act with his wife Karen Kate Blackwell. 

To learn more history about the history of variety entertainment, including tv variety, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous and please keep an eye out for Vaudeville in Your Living Room: A Century of Radio and TV Variety, coming out from Bear Manor Media this November!

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