Marty Allen Interview: 'Hello Dere' Comic is 90 and Still Getting Laughs
Image attributed to Al Ravenna
Legendary comedian Marty Allen was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found that he enjoyed making people laugh and dreamed about a career in show business. That career has now lasted for over six decades.
Allen, known for his signature wild hair and making “Hello dere” household words, volunteered for service in the Air Corps during World War II and received a Soldier’s Medal for his bravery. During the 1950s, he worked as an opening act for stars such as Sarah Vaughan, Eydie Gorme and Nat King Cole.
“I’ve worked with almost everybody. I worked with Sinatra, Lena Hornc, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Paul Anka. I worked with almost all of the biggies, meeting many others and having wonderful relationships with a lot of people.”
In 1957, Allen became part of the comedy team of Allen & Rossi with his straight man Steve Rossi. He appeared on Broadway in the early 1960s and eventually began performing dramatic roles on television including The Big Valley, Mister Jerico and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (with an uncredited Mel Blanc).
Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Allen made hundreds of television appearances, becoming a regular on Hollywood Squares. He also appeared on Circus of the Stars, on game shows such as Password, and in ten made-for-television movies.
Allen is currently performing on cruise ships and casinos with his wife singer-composer Karon Kate Blackwell.
Marty Allen: Hello dere. Is this Melissa?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, how are you Mr. Allen?
Marty Allen: Marty. Don’t call me Mr. Allen or I’ll feel real old (laughs). Call me Marty, Melissa.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Okay, Marty Melissa (laughs). How are you today?
Marty Allen: Very good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You know, I used to say “Hello dere” to my parents until I drove them crazy.
Marty Allen: Thank you for the compliment. Where are you from?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Alabama.
Marty Allen: I love your accent.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thank you. Tell me about the origin of “Hello dere.”
Marty Allen: Well, when I was with my ex-partner, Steve Rossi, we were appearing in Philadelphia at a famous nightclub called the Latin Casino. In the middle of the act, he asked me something and I kind of blanked out. I looked and him and went, “Hello dere.” He looked at me like, “What?” I kept saying, “Hello dere.” I suddenly felt a reaction from the audience. They started laughing and after the show, they came over to me and said, “Hello dere.” It caught fire.
It was like you wait all your life to find some kind of thing to add to your act and this was it. “Hello dere” became a very substantial part of our act. We started doing famous people in the news, and he would ask me who was so and so, and I’d go, “Hello dere,” and then he’d ask me the question. That’s how it all began and I just spelled it “Hello d-e-r-e.” A kid once told me he wrote “d-e-r-e” and the teacher said he spelled it wrong. He said, “Oh no, I watch that comedian on TV, and that’s the way he says it.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And it was known the world over.
Marty Allen: Yeah. It became an international thing. I still use it in the act with Karon. I open with “Hello dere,” and wherever I can use it, I do. After the show, people say, “Hey Marty, hello dere.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You and Karon are currently performing together.
Marty Allen: My wife, Karon Blackwell, is from Mississippi, and that’s why I love your accent. I want to tell you that I’ve had two careers, one with Allen & Rossi, and now one with my wife who is absolutely triple talented. She sings like you can’t believe, plays the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis and is the straight lady to Marty Allen. We’ve become the new George Burns and Gracie Allen, only I’m Gracie Allen.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How does Karon compare to Steve Rossi as a partner?
Marty Allen: Well, Steve was an excellent straight man and at that time was very good. But, to be honest with you, I love working with my wife. She’s so talented. While we’re working, it isn’t like husband and wife. It’s like a very wonderful, warm funny act. We’ve scored very highly, and everybody that sees the act flips out. Many people say, “I love you better with your wife than with Steve Rossi.” I get that all of the time (laughs). But, she’s very funny and extremely talented.
We have a warm reaction to each other, and I have a great tendency to break her up. She has no idea what I’m going to say or do, and she’s able to cope with it. That’s what the people love. They love the idea that she doesn’t know what I’m going to say or how I’m going to answer her.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s the spontaneity that makes it entertaining.
Marty Allen: Yeah. We do all kinds of routines. In fact, she does Lady Gaga and I play Lady Gaga’s father, Daddy Dada (laughs). We have a lot of fun in a routine like that. The one thing in our favor is that we’re one of the few clean, funny acts. That’s why we’re on the Royal Caribbean every month because it’s very family oriented, and we score highly with the people on the ship. We’re usually playing to 3,000 or more.
Once someone pulled on my pants after the show. It was a little kid and he looks up at me and says, “Hey, you’re awesome!” I couldn’t get a better compliment than that. Today, the majority of the kids doing comedy think by saying dirty words it’s more hip or something. But, I maintain that if you can do a clean, funny show, then that’s the answer.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Marty, how did you and Steve get together?
Marty Allen: Through Nat King Cole. I was working with Sarah Vaughan, and she recommended me to Nat Cole, so I started doing dates with him. Steve Rossi was a production singer at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and was tired of doing that. Nat suggested, because Martin and Lewis were hot, that if he got with me maybe we could hit it off and become another comedy team. I was in Chicago with Eydie Gorme and he flew in.
Steve was a very good looking guy and sang very well. We broke the act in at some little clubs. You know right off the hand if it’s going to work or not. You can tell by the audience reaction. We picked up that the audience was reacting to what we were doing. When we were ready, we went back and started working with Nat Cole, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Sinatra. We caught fire and then started doing the Sullivan shows. We were on the famous show with the Beatles when they appeared in 1964.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That must have been quite an experience to come on after the Beatles.
Marty Allen: We came on, and the kids were screaming like they went nuts at 4:00 in the afternoon! Police were everywhere. I kept saying, “I have to figure out how to get the kids to react.” When they announced Marty Allen and Steve Rossi, I walked out, looked right in the camera, and said, “Hello dere! I’m Ringo’s mother.” The kids went, “It’s his mother!” They didn’t care who I was (laughs). Steve sang a real up-tempo song and we got their reaction. We did very well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you ever meet Elvis Presley?
Marty Allen: Elvis came to see me. After I split with Steve, I was doing a single, and I bought an outfit like one that Elvis wore. He heard about it, and he and his group came to see me. Elvis got hysterical at the way I was imitating him, so he invited me up to his penthouse after the show. We became very close friends. He was wonderful, a very talented and nice kid. He was just a warm person. Elvis had southern charm, which you would know about (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Got to love that southern charm and hospitality! I read that Steve Rossi was discovered by Mae West.
Marty Allen: I don’t know that much about his background. I know he worked with Mae West. She appeared in Vegas long before we got together. She had a group of guys with her. I don’t know much about him being with Mae West.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were working solo before joining Steve.
Marty Allen: I was on my own. I worked a lot of clubs. I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was working little clubs. Then, I got the call to appear with the wonderful singer Sarah Vaughan, and she recommended me to Nat King Cole. I did many shows, and then I went into the Air Force (World War II). After I got out, I came to California and started looking around, playing little clubs, until I got with Nat again.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You earned a medal for bravery in the war.
Marty Allen: Yeah. I saved an airplane that caught on fire. Actually a gasoline truck caught on fire, and I pulled it away from the plane. There was a little fire on the plane, and I got the fires out on both the plane and truck. When they investigated and saw what I had done, I was awarded a Soldier’s Medal for Bravery.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you ever think that you could die while you were putting those fires out?
Marty Allen: No. I just went ahead and did it. But, I sure caught hell from my mother because she said she didn’t send me over there to do that (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I remember seeing you in an episode of The Big Valley.
Marty Allen: I was nominated for an award and played a straight dramatic role. The producer had seen me in Las Vegas. I was doing a clown pantomime, a very serious kind of routine, and he liked it and asked me if I’d be interested in playing a “Jonah.” All the bad luck at the ranch was blamed on the “Jonah.” It came out very well. Barbara Stanwyck said, “If you want to continue as an actor, you’ll be very good.” That was such a great compliment.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did you and Steve split?
Marty Allen: Steve and I split very amicably because we’d gone around and around. We’d done all the shows, and it was very hard for two people to work many of the shows. I was getting all kinds of offers. Finally, we split, and I became a regular on the Hollywood Squares. I did Beat the Clock and Password.
They called me “Marty Allen: The Darling of Daytime Television” (laughs). I made a movie in Malta with Connie Stevens and did other films. I kept myself working. I’m enjoying what I do now. We play ships and Vegas, concerts and nightclubs. We’ve been very active.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you ever think of just kicking back and relaxing?
Marty Allen: No, and on March 23rd honey, I’ll be 90 years old (laughs). Everybody goes crazy when they hear about that (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve interviewed Ernest Borgnine, and he just turned 95.
Marty Allen: Oh, he’s a very dear friend of mine. Honey, I’m responsible for his marriage! I brought them together! I got him and Tova together and made the match.
I sent him a card on his birthday. I usually call and tell him the latest jokes. He gets hysterical laughing. On one of my birthdays, he was my present. My wife said, “I’ve got a present for you.” In walked Ernie. We’ve been friends for a long time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Marty, will your biography be released in the near future?
Marty Allen: I’ve got the book almost finished. It will probably be called Hello Dere: Welcome to My Life. That’s the tentative title. I’ve written about Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, meeting Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and all kinds of stories about people I’ve worked with through the years. It’s a fun book.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can you tell me one of your favorite jokes of all time?
Marty Allen: Two drunks were at the zoo. They were standing in front of the lion’s cage. They kept watching the lion, and finally the lion started roaring very loudly. The one drunk said, “Okay, let’s go. I’ve had enough of this.” The other one said, “No, I’m going to stay and watch the movie.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Good one. Is there anyone in show business you still would like to work with?
Marty Allen: I’ve worked with almost everybody. I worked with Sinatra, Lena Hornc, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Paul Anka. I worked with almost all of the biggies, meeting many others and having wonderful relationships with a lot of people. As far as Ernie (Borgnine) is concerned, he’s a warm, wonderful human being and one of the most talented actors that ever appeared on the screen. And you can tell him I said that (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who are some of your comedy idols?
Marty Allen: Milton Berle, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Henny Youngman, Myron Cohen … there’s a whole gang of them.
Melissa parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What keeps you performing after all these years?
Marty Allen: I enjoy it, honey. I really enjoy it. We just came back from Mill Valley up in San Francisco. One of the great surprises was when Robin Williams came to see our show. Robin and Mort Sahl came to see the show and it was a great thrill for both of us.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you ever come to Alabama?
Marty Allen: No, but they’ve got a great football team! I go to visit my wife’s family in Ellisville, Mississippi. It’s about as big as a block (laughs). I haven’t been to Alabama, but I love pecan pie.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, if you and your wife ever make it here, I’m sure I could rustle up a pecan pie (laughs).
Marty Allen: I’d love that. With your accent and pecan pie, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day. Thank you, darling, it was kind of you to call.
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