- - Monday, March 20, 2017

The exodus of iconic entertainers leaving the earth in 2016 left us all feeling sad and wondering if there were any living legends left. That’s why knowing that comic Marty Allen is still with us (and still working!) is such a wonderful thing.

For more than eight decades, Mr. Allen has been making people laugh — first as part of the comedy team of Allen & Rossi. The duo opened for every legendary act and hold the distinction of appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” Feb. 9, 1964, the same night The Beatles rocked American television audiences. Later, with his patented fright wig-looking hair and unforgettable catchphrase “Hello dere!” Mr. Allen was a hilarious staple on TV.

On the verge of 95th birthday Thursday, I visited Mr. Allen at his Las Vegas home to discuss his storied career and his new book, “Hello Dere: An Illustrated Biography of Marty Allen.”

Question: You were part of one of the greatest comedy teams in the history of comedy. What makes a good comedy team?

Answer: The straight man has to know to relate to the comic. When I think of the great comedy teams, I think of Martin & Lewis, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello.

And what was the other one? Oh yeah! Allen & Rossi. (Laughs)

Q: How did you come to work with Steve Rossi?

A: I’m from Pittsburgh. I was a local comic and I was doing very well. I played anywhere and everywhere I could: weddings, bar mitzvahs, whatever. I got the reputation of being red-hot.

One day the agent called me and said, “I have a job for you. You’re going to be with a wonderful singer.” I said, “Who is it?” He said, “Sarah Vaughn.” Sarah Vaughn! I couldn’t believe it.

That week I worked with Sarah. I knew what to do. She took a liking to me. She said, “I made a phone call to a friend of mine because I think you would work great with him.”

Q: Who was that friend?

A: Nat King Cole! I couldn’t believe it. I got with Nat King Cole and was working with him quite a bit. He was a phenomenal singer, phenomenal musician and phenomenally nice man.

I worked with Nat King Cole at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, and Steve Rossi was the production singer at the hotel. Steve Rossi told Nat he was tired of being a production singer. I thought he was stupid to give up singing in the middle of a line of beautiful girls. (Laughs)

Nat said, “A comedy team would be very good. And I have a comic.”

Q: You weren’t looking to be in a comedy team at the time?

A: No. Steve Rossi called me and asks, “You want to be part of a comedy team?” I said, “Why would I want to be part of a comedy team? I’m working. Making a couple bucks.”

He said, “Well, I thought we’d be good together.”

Q: What changed your mind?

A: He was handsome, and then I heard him sing and thought, “Well, it’s a possibility.”

I wrote some material and we started playing small clubs to try it out. The reaction of the audience convinced me; they just went wild. I told Steve, “I think we got something.”

I called Nate King Cole, and he hired the team. We did so good that Jack Entratter, the guy who was in charge of entertainment, said, “I’m holding you over.”

Q: Who did you appear with next?

A: Frank Sinatra! My hair at that time was the big bushy hair. When he said my name, my hair got bigger.

After Sinatra, The Sands held us over again with Lena Horne. Steve and I would do the act, then I would stand behind the curtain and watch her. A couple times I got emotional because when I was in the service in Italy, I had her picture. I always used to say, “Someday I’d like to meet her.” And there we were working with Lena.

Q: You were also on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” yes?

A: We were on “The Ed Sullivan Show” with the Beatles in 1964. Can you believe it? So many great memories.

Steve passed away [in 2014], and I miss him. I worked with all the legends. And I’m still here.

Q: What is the secret to your longevity?

A: Because my wife said I have to be here. (Laughs)

Q: Are there any entertainers today you love?

A: I think Chris Rock is one of the greatest comics ever. I also think Terry Fator is a marvelous entertainer. I went to see him, and I just went wild over him.

Q: Did you give him any advice?

A: When I go see a performer, I don’t go to criticize. I just go to be entertained. I don’t go to give advice; I just go to enjoy.

Q: How did you meet your wife and performing partner, Karon?

A: I met Karon Blackwell in Los Angeles, and I heard her sing. I just flipped out. I brought her to Pittsburgh to be on the bill with me. She just tore the house apart.

She not only sings, but she could relate. I said, “I wanna try something.” I hadn’t worked with a partner since Steve Rossi. Karon and I got together and in no time started doing shows. She is without a doubt the greatest straight women in the business. Thirty-two years we’re married. I just found about it. (Laughs)

Q: Are you still performing?

A: We just did two nights at The Metropolitan Club in New York. It was like New Years Eve. I love people and entertaining. The fact I can still do it, and it’s with my wife is phenomenal.

Q: We’ve talked about your history. What are your plans for the future?

A: I wanna reach 95! (Laughs)

Marty Allen’s Book, “Hello Dere: An Illustrated Biography of Marty Allen,” is available now.

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