Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Hello Dere

Tuxedos were the thing every smart, rising stand-up comedy duo were wearing in the 1960s. But one comedian seemed a bit out of place in evening wear—mainly because he looked like he had plopped a large Brillo pad on his head.

Marty Allen followed fashion trends. As the ‘60s wore on, hair got longer. So did Marty’s unkempt ball atop his crown.

If you watched television in that decade, Allen and Steve Rossi seem to have parked themselves on Ed Sullivan’s show. Maybe they weren’t on a lot, but it sure seems like it. Despite that, Sullivan wasn’t the one who gave them their break on TV. And the way they told it way-back-when, nobody did, other than themselves. All that time on the living room tube meant nothing.

Here are a couple of columns from the National Enterprise Association. First stop is a story that appeared in papers around July 16, 1960.
TV? Who Needs It?
By Dick Kleiner
NEW YORK (NEA) – A fast-rising comedy team is disproving the widely-held belief that nowadays you have to be exposed on TV over a long period of time before you can become a top star.
These two—(Marty) Allen and (Steve) Rossi—have only been on TV twice in their affiliated lives. They appeared in two guesting shots with Perry Como last winter and spring. They helped, of course, but Allen and Rossi think the help was very limited.
"TV is over-rated as far as making stars," says Marty Allen. "A good average comedian could go along for years, making a decent living, even if he never was seen on TV."
They teamed up a year ago. Allen, the older of the two, had a long record as a comic, both as a single and part of a team. He's short, stocky and has a face that always reminds people of other people. In fact, he keeps track of whom he's told he looks like (Art Carney is leading, closely followed by Harpo Marx and Jimmy Savo).
Rossi, a handsome 26-year-old, grew up from the Mitchell Boy Choir to recording fame. At the time he met Allen, he was the production singer in a Las Vegas hotel.
Today, just about a year after their first meeting, they're headlining at the Copacabana in New York. For fresh talent, this is quite a coup. And they feel they made it this far on the strength of their talents, not because of two shots with Como. So far, a definite Allen and Rossi style has not materialized. They do a bit of Martin and Lewis' type of act (Rossi sings, Allen mugs) ; they have borrowed from Bob Hope and others by using topical gags; they pantomime, dance, clown; they use brief skits. But everything has their own individual stamp.
As for their future TV plans, they just shrug. If something good comes along, fine, but they're not worrying about it. They flatly refuse to work the Jack Paar Show, unless they're on Paar’s panel. They figure a five-minute spot doing part of their act could hurt them, especially if Paar takes it into his head to make some crack.
They feel their future is in the top nightclubs, plus perhaps movies and/or Broadway (Rossi could be a singing leading man with Allen as the comedy relief). There are other reasons they don’t worry. Allen is married to the reservations clerk at one of the biggest resort hotels in the Catskills—“So we always have a room,” Marty says. And Rossi writes songs, many in collaboration with Paul Anka.
Marty Allen almost discovered Anka. While playing in Canada, he was invited to dinner at the Anka home. Out trotted a fat little boy with a guitar. Allen kept on eating.
"What should I do with the boy?" the father said.
"You could put him in the closet," said Allen.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, they're friends today.
Kleiner did a follow-up piece. It appears in print beginning February 4, 1962.
Comedy Team Proves They Don’t Need TV
NEW YORK (NEA)—Almost two years ago, this writer interviewed Marty Allen and Steve Rossi, a nightclub comedy team. At the time, they said they were going to try to make a success without television because they felt TV would use up their material too fast.
And now, how are things going with them?
"It's worked out," says Marty Allen. "We stuck to nightclubs. We've done practically no TV—I can remember only once since the last time we talked, and that was a spot, on Sullivan about seven months ago. We've made no records or movies or anything—just stuck to nightclubs.
"In the last 18 months, we've been working all the time and we've tripled our price. I guess that proves you don't need TV in this business."
Allen admits that luck had something to do with it. They were working in Las Vegas when Frank Sinatra saw them and liked them. That's always a big help to performers.
"Once," Marty says, "he flew us in his own plane to Florida. What a beautiful plane! We were flying along and Frank says to me, 'Well, how do you like it?" I said it was fine. So he says, 'I think I'll trade it in for a jet.' I said, 'Wait 'til we land.' "
Starts Breaking
Since the Sinatra association — but possibly just because the boys are talented — things have started breaking for them. Allied Artists signed them to do a picture. ABC-Paramount taped their act and will put out a record. Garry Moore's producer approached them with an idea for a TV series. Car 54, Where Are You? wants Marty for a role, and Steve Rossi (the singer) is making straight vocal records.
So the boys have proved their point. Young performers in the comedy field can make it without television. Of course, it helps to be funny.

It’s remarkable how fame changes one’s attitude. Let’s jump ahead two more years. TV? Bring it on!
Comedy Constant Threat
By Harold Stern
New York, Jan. 17—Among the newer comedians, the team of Marty Allen and Steve Rossi ranks high in the funny echelon. They have been widely acclaimed for their unique personalities, their approach to their material, their timing, their catch phrases and their originality.
What do they have to say about their success?
"Comedy is constant theft," Steve Rossi told me. "There are only eight basic situations and you get your laughs from switching around punch lines. We've used routines that Jackie Gleason and others have used before us, but they don't accuse us of stealing, because they stole the material themselves. We're all using comedy that's sometimes as old as 2,000 years."
"Even 'Hello dere' (the catch phrase which has won them international renown) isn't original," Marty Allen chimed in, "but it's mine. And it was an accident. I forgot my lines and couldn't think of anything else to say. The audience loved it and it stuck. Now we're trying to create another catch phrase ("I made it up") deliberately and it's beginning to catch on."
Whether their new expression will ever attain the success of “Hello, dere” is doubtful.
"Aloha Dere" Week
Their “Hello, Dere” record album has sold over 70,000 copies. They are working on a book; called “Hello, Dere” which will offer pictures of Marty in all his ridiculous costumes, with funny captions. They have a tie-in with the National Safety Council which distributes bumper strips reading: "Allen and Rossi Say 'Hello, Dere' But Drive Carefully." Hawaii recently celebrated its Aloha Dere Week. Kids are using it. And so on.
They have three major television guest shots coming up in the next several weeks, the Garry Moore show on Tuesday, Jan. 21, the Ed Sullivan show on Sunday, Feb. 16 and the "Hollywood Palace" show in early March. So far, they're sure they'll be doing a new routine on the subject of Indians on the Moore show and expect to have another routine on car racing ready for the Sullivan show. On the latter hour, they'll be sharing the billing with some pretty stiff competition, Mitzi Gaynor and the Beatles, not necessarily together or in that order.
Interested in Series
"Ed Sullivan was one of the first people to put us on television," said Steve, "and he's publicized us extensively. Now, he's interested in doing a situation comedy with us and we've had several discussions on the subject. We're really interested in our own series."
“We can get partial ownership now," said Marty. "Before this, we were in no position to. But we've proved ourselves as an act and now we're definitely interested. So far, the only star I can think of who came in cold and was a big hit in a situation comedy series is Mister Ed. I don't recall him making any guest appearances."
"If the story appeals to us, we'll be happy to do a series," said Steve. "That's one case where we'll have to rely on the material. Up till now, the secret of our success has been that we've never been afraid to try for an instantaneous change of pace. We try to do noncomedic things, to be more than just a comedy act. Marty does serious pantomime and I sing operatic arias. And we'll go from that to being completely low-brow. And if we're driven to it, we'll even throw in a touch of sophistication."
"That change of pace even holds true in our records," Marty added. "So far we've got three albums which contain various portions of our act. Now we'd like to do an album for kids and we'd like our next adult comedy album to be situation comedy using other actors. Steve will be producing a rock- and-roll album for 20th Century- Fox Records and will probably do an album in Rome for M-G-M."
Allen and Rossi were playing the Riviera in Vegas in September 1968, but they had already announced “Goodbye ‘Dere” to each other (Variety, Aug. 7, 1968), effective mid-November after a Jackie Gleason taping. Rossi went on to partner with Joe E. Ross (of the aforementioned Car 54). It didn’t last. In January, he’d hooked up with Slappy White.

Allen continued to pop up on the medium he didn’t think he needed, mostly as himself. And he and Rossi got back together in the ‘90s to perform at Vegas World. He was inducted into the Casino Legends Hall of Fame in 1999. And this past year, he tweeted to the world to join him in Sin City for his birthday party. At age 95, he got to say “Hello ‘Dere” to a whole group of fans who remembered the old Las Vegas—and maybe Ed Sullivan.


  1. Recently saw Marty and his wife on a 1974 episode of " Tattle Tales ". He and the wife were quite good. Won a number of rounds. Actually, I could see Allen as part of the cast of Car-54. I think he would have handled Nat Hiken's material well, and blended with that funny group of New York actors at the old Biograph Studios. My earliest memories of Allen and Rossi were from " The Ed Sullivan Show " Glad to know he.....and his hair are still with us.

  2. Alas, he passed way yesterday.