Shalom dere! Marty Allen, 94, still going strong

When legendary comedian Marty Allen answers the phone, you expect him to utter his immortal catch phrase. For the Bay Area Jewish newspaper, he modifies it a bit:

“Shalom dere!”

At 94, Marty “Hello dere” Allen is still going strong. Really strong. He continues to tour the country with his stage show, which includes a little song, a little dance and a lot of laughs.

Allen and his wife, singer Karon Kate Blackwell, will perform together March 18 at Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. “She’s phenomenal,” he says of his wife. “We do routines together. It’s almost Burns and Allen, only I’m Gracie.”

Marty Allen and his wife, singer Karon Kate Blackwell

It’s an echo of his days as part of one of America’s most popular comedy duos, Allen & Rossi. Together with singer and straight man Steve Rossi, Allen ruled during the heyday of the American TV variety show.

The duo appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” when the Beatles made their American debut in 1964. The wild-haired Allen remembers going up to John Lennon backstage and telling him, “A lot of people mistake me for you.”

“I’ve done just about every show possible,” he remembers. “Being with the Beatles, being on Dean Martin, on Perry Como, on Mike Douglas. I was a semi-regular on ‘The Hollywood Squares’ and ‘Password.’ They called me the darling of daytime television.”

In his 15 years with Rossi, Allen perfected his staccato delivery. His antic style presaged the freestyle sketch and improv comedy to come a decade or two later.

You want jokes?

Rossi: “What does your wife use for birth control?” Allen: “Her face.”

Rossi to Allen as Rocky, a has-been prizefighter: “What do you do after each fight?” Allen: “I bleed.”

Although a nonagenarian, he’s still pretty quick with the quip. On a morning show in Las Vegas, where he now lives, he told the hosts he was asked to be grand marshal in the Prostate Day Parade.

“It seemed to come to me naturally,” Allen says of his knack for comedy. “And what makes it good is that I ad lib like crazy. I never know the things I’m gong to say.”

For Allen, it began in his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he was born Morton David Alpern. He grew up in a Jewish home with his parents and two sisters, celebrating the Jewish holidays and becoming a bar mitzvah.

“As far as being Jewish is concerned, I always respected my mother and father,” he remembers. “I go to synagogue, and I fast on Yom Kippur. As life goes on, I still maintain my own way of complying with Judaism.”

Allen says his mother Elsie was the great wit in his family. Influenced by vaudeville and the great radio comedians of the day, such as Fred Allen and Jack Benny, Allen, too, wanted to give entertaining a try.

But first came World War II. He served with the Army Air Corps ground crew in Italy. His group bombed Axis oil tanks, and he returned home to a hero’s welcome.

He later launched his career as a comic, but hit the big time when he partnered up with Steve Rossi in 1957. The two opened for the likes of Nat Cole and Sarah Vaughan, recorded 16 comedy albums and made 44 appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Somewhere along the way, he spontaneously came up with his catch phase, “Hello dere!” which immortalized the team. Allen & Rossi split amicably in 1968, and Allen went out on his own.

He still has a soft spot for the great entertainers of his era, principally Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Bob Hope, and comedians such as Don Rickles and Alan King. He knew them all, and he made them all laugh, something he remains proud of to this day.

Allen has performed in Mill Valley before, and he says he loves the bucolic Marin County town. Meanwhile he is happy to be based in Las Vegas — scene of many of his earlier triumphs — and to continue doing what he loves.

“I’m very emotional as far as life is concerned,” Allen says. “And being able to make people laugh. I get a lot of mail. Someone will write to me and say ‘I was watching you on TV, and you made me laugh. You made my day.’ This makes my day.”


Marty Allen
performs at 8 p.m. Friday, March 18 at Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. (415) 383-9600 or www.throckmortontheatre.org

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.