27 May 2008

RIP: Dick Martin

Dick Martin
30 Jan 1922 – 24 May 2008

ZUI this article from NPR:
Dick Martin, the zany half of the comedy team whose "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" took television by storm in the 1960s, making stars of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin and creating such national catch-phrases as "Sock it to me!" has died. He was 86.

Martin, who went on to become one of television's busiest directors after splitting with Dan Rowan in the late 1970s, died Saturday night of respiratory complications at a hospital in Santa Monica, family spokesman Barry Greenberg said.

"He had had some pretty severe respiratory problems for many years, and he had pretty much stopped breathing a week ago," Greenberg said.

Martin had lost the use of one of his lungs as a teenager, and needed supplemental oxygen for most of the day in his later years.

He was surrounded by family and friends when he died just after 6 p.m., Greenberg said.

ZUI also this article from the The Atlanta (GA) Journal-Constitution:
"Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," the hyperactive, joke-packed show that Martin and Rowan rode to fame, made conventional television variety programs seem instantly passe and sitcom humor seem too meek for the times.

"Laugh-In," a collage of one-liners, non sequiturs, sight gags and double-entendres the likes of which prime time had rarely seen, proved that viewers were eager for more than sleepily paced plots and polite song-and-dance routines. It quickly vaulted to the top of the ratings and spawned an array of catchphrases: "Sock it to me," "Here come da judge" and Martin's signature line, "You bet your sweet bippy."

"People are basically irreverent," Martin said in 1968, explaining the show's appeal. "They want to see sacred cows kicked over. You can't have Harry Belafonte on your show and not have him sing a song, but we did; we had him climbing out of a bathtub, just because it looked irreverent and silly. If a show hires Robert Goulet, pays him $7,500 or $10,000, they're going to want three songs out of him; we hire Robert Goulet, pay him $210 and drop him through a trap door."

Though Martin had a respectable career in nightclubs before "Laugh-In" and enjoyed success as a television director after it, his five years on the show elevated him to a different level of fame. "Laugh-In" won Emmy Awards for outstanding variety or musical series in 1968 and 1969, and the special guests who dropped by to deliver one-liners included Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Cher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Johnny Carson and, memorably with "Sock it to me?" Richard M. Nixon.


Thomas Richard Martin was born Jan. 30, 1922, in Battle Creek, Mich. His father, William, was a salesman; his mother, Ethel, a homemaker. In the early 1930s the family moved to Detroit, where Dick's teenage years included the bout with tuberculosis, which would keep him out of the military.

At 20, Martin, with his older brother, Bob, headed for Los Angeles with hopes of breaking into show business. He worked fitfully as an actor, a comic and as a writer for radio shows like "Duffy's Tavern," but was plying another trade, bartending, in 1952 when the comic Tommy Noonan brought in Dan Rowan, a former car salesman with showbiz aspirations of his own. Noonan introduced the two, and they quickly found their shtick: Rowan the sophisticate, Martin the laid-back lunk. They took their act on the road, inching up the club-circuit pecking order.

"It had no real highs or lows, it was just straight-ahead work," Martin recalled of those early nightclub years in a 2007 interview. "I don't think we ever failed. We didn't zoom to stardom, but we always worked."


In the early "Laugh-In" years Martin and Rowan were as opposite offstage as they seemed to be onstage. Martin, whose 1957 marriage to Peggy Connelly ended in divorce in the early 1960s, was the swinging bachelor; Rowan the quiet family man. But in 1971 Martin married Dolly Read, a former Playmate of the Month who had appeared in "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." After divorcing four years later, they remarried in 1978. She survives him, as does a son, Cary, from his marriage to Connelly; his son Richard; and one grandchild.

I loved Laugh-In: Dan and Dick, Goldie Hawn, Judy Carne, Arte Johnson ("Verrrrrrrry interesting...."), Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, the if-A-married-B jokes ("If Ann-Margret married Terry-Thomas, she still wouldn't have a last name."), the "News of the Future" (a 1969 prediction that sometime in the '80s USS Constitution would get a new set of sails and be sent off to do her part in Vietnam), the other skits (in one inspired by a wave of skyjackings, Santa Claus says, "Well, that's the last of the presents - now we can go back to the North Pole and relax," and a Castro lookalike pops up from the back of the sleigh: "One moment, Señor Claus...."), &c. It's still one of my all-time favourite shows.

Rowan and Martin also did a movie called The Maltese Bippy; it got terrible reviews at the time, I believe, but I enjoyed it and I'd love to see it again. (Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have ever been released in any format for home viewing.)

Dan Rowan and Dick Martin

1 comment:

kaotic chick said...

its really sad to read about Dick martins death..He and Dan Rowan gave comedy a whole new dimension. laugh in was something prime time had never seen..funnily enough a lot of the artists featured on this site i found remind me of Dick martin..
they're some of the most promising new names in stand up comedy today..must watch for true comedy enthusiasts