NEW YORK – The baby face and bug eyes were still in place. Ditto, the famous wasp’s nest of hair.
“It’s unbelievable to be 94 years ago,” Marty Allen told his audience. “My wife says, ‘What do you want for your birthday?’ I told her, ‘An antique.’ So she framed my birth certificate.”
Allen – who, more precisely, is 94-and-a-half years old – is still making his audiences laugh six decades after hitting the big time touring with the great jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan. He made 44 appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” with his comedy partner Steve Rossi, and for more than 30 years has performed with his wife, singer-songwriter Karon Kate Blackwell, an able “straight man” in her own right who was by Allen’s side Tuesday night at the cozy Metropolitan Room for the first of several scheduled New York appearances.
Allen told her he had flown to New York for the gigs – peasant-class.
“PEASANT-class?!” exclaimed Blackwell. “I don’t know what that is.”
“A seat by the window,” Allen replied, “on the wing looking in.”
That wasn’t all. He described an odd encounter in an elevator that very morning.
“A woman keeps looking at me,” he reported to the gathering. “She says, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe it. I saw you on “Hollywood Squares”! I saw you with the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show”! I saw you with Joan Crawford and Nat King Cole on “The Hollywood Palace”! But I can’t remember your name.’
“I said, ‘Brad Pitt.’”
While Allen’s comedy is still as broad as his grin, the jokes were still gentle and, even when offered up as topical, they clearly qualified for landmark status.
During a bit where he pretended to be Blackwell’s ventriloquist’s dummy, she asked her husband, “Who would you like to see as your next president?”
“Me,” Allen replied.
“But you’re a dummy.”
“I’d fit in!”
Allen’s act has always been family-friendly, somewhat of a rarity in the Vegas universe where he has long flourished. His raciest wisecrack Tuesday: “I remember the first time I had sex. I kept a receipt!”
For the record, only once during his act did he voice his timeless catchphrase, “Hello dere!” And then it was delivered as a sunny, earnest greeting when he first took the stage.
“Hello dere,” of course, has been Allen’s signature for more than a half-century. And beyond that, those once were household words that even Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper radioed from space: “Hello, down dere!”
It was all a lucky accident for Allen, as he explains in his 2014 self-published memoir, aptly titled, “Hello Dere!”:
During an engagement at a Philadelphia nightclub, he zoned out in mid-routine while Rossi was asking him a question.
Allen swiftly covered for his lapse with a wide-eyed “Hello dere!”
“What did you say?” persisted Rossi, milking the moment.
The audience went wild, and, as Allen writes, “I felt like a prospector who had found gold.”
After Tuesday’s set, Allen dispensed his “Hello dere” greetings generously, voiced to each fan who stepped up to get a book signed or pose for a photo.
Here was a veteran entertainer and living link to the likes of John Lennon and Dean Martin; Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne and Elvis Presley. Allen, who has outlived so many stars he knew and worked with (including Rossi, who died two years ago at 82), had finished his nearly two-hour act looking not at all tired but, instead, refreshed.
“I feel like a kid,” he said, trying to explain the unexplainable. “Kids look at me and they think I’m funny. They look at me and they laugh. So when I see kids, I laugh. I’m not one of these intellectual guys. I want to entertain.”
For Marty Allen, a budding centenarian, entertaining is still child’s play.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore