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Laughter is comedian’s fountain of youth

Legendary comedian Marty Allen, who turns 93 March 23, has a simple secret to longevity.
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March 18, 2015

Legendary comedian Marty Allen, who turns 93 March 23, has a simple secret to longevity. 

“I try to have an upbeat attitude all the time,” he said. “I enjoy entertaining, and I enjoy life.”

To celebrate his birthday, he’s performing at the Downtown Grand Las Vegas hotel and casino March 22 and 23 with his wife, comedy partner and singer Karon Kate Blackwell. Onstage, the two will talk about Allen’s autobiography, “Hello Dere!” which came out last year and features stories about his interactions with former first lady Betty Ford, Elvis Presley and The Beatles. 

“We’ll also do a comedy routine, and then a song-and-dance number and that’ll be it,” Allen said. “They’ll bring the cake out, and I’ll spend the rest of the evening blowing out candles.”

Allen is known for his trademark black hair — which sticks up from his head as if it’s controlled by static electricity — and his catchphrase, “Hello dere!” The latter became popular when he was part of the comedy duo Allen & Rossi with Steve Rossi in the 1950s and ’60s. The two toured the country together, opened for Nat King Cole and performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” 44 times. The most memorable appearance occurred in February 1964, when they followed The Beatles’ debut American set. 

“Sullivan put us on with The Beatles, and that was one of the greatest things that ever happened in our lives as far as show business is concerned,” Allen said.

The comedian, a Pennsylvania native who was born as Morton David Alpern, currently lives in Las Vegas but got his start in Los Angeles. Upon returning from World War II, he enrolled at USC as a journalism major. When he started to get work doing comedy in local clubs, he dropped out of school to pursue show business. He eventually met Rossi, and the partnership lasted 15 years. 

During Allen’s time in Los Angeles, he became a regular on “The Hollywood Squares” (a celebrity tic-tac-toe game show) and made numerous guest appearances on shows such as “Password,” “The Big Valley” and “Circus of the Stars.” 

“Acting was quite a thrill for me,” Allen said. “I played a lot of different parts and characterizations. My favorite show that I enjoyed being on was ‘The Hollywood Squares.’ I was with so many talents, like Paul Lynde and Charley Weaver [the alter ego for Cliff Arquette]. The fact that you could ad lib on the show and do your own jokes made it wonderful to be on.”

At the same time that Allen’s television and movie career took off, he met Blackwell, to whom he’s been married for 30 years.

“I met Karon in a restaurant she was managing on the Sunset Strip,” he said. “My agent and I came in for lunch. I took one look at her and said, ‘Bingo! That’s the one.’ ”

The two went on a couple of dates, and Allen heard Blackwell sing. “I thought she was terrific,” he said. “I was enraptured with her talent, and I asked her to join me not only as a wife but as a partner in the act.” 

Throughout their marriage, the couple has worked together, going onstage on their birthdays in Las Vegas and touring other cities in the United States. In the act, Blackwell assumes the role of straight lady, just like Rossi did for Allen on stage. Allen offers such one-liners as, “Married women come home, see what’s in their bed and then go to the refrigerator,” and Blackwell plays piano and sings. 

Allen said the two have a strong marriage because, “We understand one another. We combine our talents and have an excellent show.”

Although Allen does get the chance to perform a few shows per year, he said he spends the rest of his time watching movies with his wife, reading and going out with friends. As for his next birthday, which is swiftly approaching, he couldn’t be happier. 

“It feels very good,” he said. “I’m looking forward to 100.” 

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