Dan Rowan and Dick Martin formed a zany comedy team that took television by storm in the 1970s with the hit show "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." It was televisions No. 1 rated show from 1968-70.
With a 40-character assemblage of some of the most unusual, bizarre and talented comics ever placed on a single TV show, Rowan and Martin quickly became household names after their innovative show first aired on Jan. 22, 1968.
It not only spawned and enhanced the careers of such wispy characters as Goldie Hawn, Jo Anne Worley, Lily Tomlin and Arte Johnson, but placed into the American idiom such phrases as: "You bet your sweet bippy," "Sock it to me," "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls" and "Here come the judge." Of course, all the phraseology emanated from "beautiful downtown Burbank."
The show, first seen as a one-shot special in September 1967, was a series of fast-paced one-liners, accompanied by pratfalls, sexual innuendo and, in general, old-fashioned shtick.
The characters included Tomlin's nasal and incompetent telephone operator, Ernestine; Johnson's German soldier peering from behind a potted plant and mewing, "Verrrry interesting;" Henry Gibson, bouquet in hand, spouting poetry; and Ruth Buzzi, the hopelessly plain spinster being pursued by the quintessential dirty old man. ("Do you believe in a hereafter?" Pause. "Then you know what I'm here after!")
They all became part of a lighthearted oasis that gave Americans some respite from the seriousness of Vietnam, the civil rights movement and the counterculture.
Rowan was born in Beggs, Okla., in 1922. At age 4, he was performing in a circus with his parents. He was orphaned at 11, and moved to a home in Colorado. After high school, Rowan hitchhiked to Los Angeles and found a job as a junior screenwriter at Paramount Studios. He quit that job to enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
Martin was also born in 1922. He grew up in Battle Creek, Mich., and attended Michigan State University before moving to Los Angeles.
Rowan and Martin were both struggling actors when they met in 1952. Rowan, who returned from the war in 1946, had sold his interest in a used car dealership to take acting lessons. Martin, who had written gags for TV shows and comedians, was bartending.
Although their early gigs in the San Fernando Valley were often performed gratis, they donned tuxedos for them and put on an air of success.
"We were raw," Martin recalled years later, "but we looked good together and we were funny."
They gradually worked up to the top nightspots in New York, Miami and Las Vegas, and began to appear regularly on television. In 1966, they provided the summer replacement for "The Dean Martin Show." Within two years, they were headlining their own show.
The novelty of "Laugh-In" diminished with each season, however, and as major players such as Hawn and Tomlin moved on to bigger careers and interest in the series faded. The show ended in 1973. Rowan and Martin parted amicably in 1977.
Martin moved onto the game-show circuit, but quickly tired of it. He later became one of the industry's busiest TV directors, working on numerous episodes of "Newhart" as well as such shows as "In the Heat of the Night," "Archie Bunker's Place" and "Family Ties."
Rowan died of cancer in 1987. Martin died in 2008 of respiratory complications.