Dick Martin, the zany gag man of the comedy team of Rowan and Martin, who co-hosted Rowan and Martin's Laugh In, passed on Saturday, May 24 at the age of 86.
Dick Martin was born on January 30, 1922 in Battle Creek, Michigan. He spent his teenage years in Detroit, where the family had moved in the early Thirties. A youthful bout with tuberculosis kept from serving in the military during World War II. He worked at a Ford assembly plant after high school. In 1942 he and his brother Bob went to Los Angeles in hopes of breaking into the entertainment industry. He wrote for such radio shows as Duffy's Tavern and tended bar to supplement his income. It was in 1952 that comedian Tommy Noonan brought Dan Rowan into Martin's bar. The two hit it off and became the comedy team of Rowan and Martin. Rowan was the straight man, the intelligent, sophisticated one. Martin was the gag man, the laid back, none too bright one. The team found steady works in the night clubs of the day.
Eventually Rowan and Martin would appear on television. They appeared on The Bob Hope Show, The Perry Como Show, and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show in 1957. They would go onto appear many times on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace. They appeared in the movies Once Upon a Horse and on The Lucy Show (on which Martin was a semi-regular). It was in 1966 that Rowan and Martin hosted the summer replacement for The Dean Martin Show. It was in 1967 that they hosted the special Rowan and Martin's Laugh In. The special proved so successful that Rowan and Martin's Laugh In became a regular series on NBC in January 1968. It also became a smash hit.
For at time Rowan and Martin's Laugh In was an outright phenomenon. Two months after its debut it was the number one show. It was the top show for its first two seasons. The show moved at a frenetic pace, with a never ending stream of blackouts, gags, and catch phrases. Many of its catch phrases caught on with the nation, from "Sock it to me" to "You bet your bippy." The show even led to a Rowan and Martin movie, The Maltese Bippy, both a critical and box office bomb.
Laugh In eventually ran its course after five seasons on the air. Rowan and Martin amicably parted ways in 1978 when Dan Rowan retired from show business. Dick Martin continued to appear on television, making guest shots on Sledge Hammer, Coach, Blossom, and Diagnosis Murder. He was a a regular on game shows, including Match Game and Password Plus. He also appeared in the films Zero to Sixty and Carbon Copy.
Dick Martin also became a television director. starting with several episodes of The Bob Newhart Show in 1977. He would go onto direct episodes of Family Ties, Newhart, Sledge Hammer, and In the Heat of the Night.
There is perhaps no better epitaph for Dick Martin than to say he was a very funny man. Among his best schticks were the always wild and unfounded theories he offered about life, always expressed with the utmost sincerity and unflagging certainty. Dan Rowan, as the calm voice of reason, offered the perfect contrast to the off the wall Dick Martin. As a comedy team, they were perfectly matched. It is very sad to think Dick Martin is now gone.
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