British TV Times Magazine Article


America comedian Marty Allen appears again this weekend in Celebrity Squares. Marty is a big favourite in The Hollywood Squares, the American version of the show. Once you have seen Marty, you are hardly likely to forget him..not with a face, a figure and a quick-fire humour as distinctive as his...

Marty Allen bounces in to the spotlight to open his caberet act with a joke guaranteed to bring down the house."Many years ago," he says, "Tessie O'Shea and Marty Feldman had an affair and they had a love-child, Ladies and Gentlemen-I am that child."

It's only a joke, but with one look at this extraordinary man you can see what he means. The 15 stone roly-poly body holds up a moon shaped face which glows at you like a Smiley badge. He has big lolipop eyes, wire wool hair thatlooks as if it were styled by a mad Brillo Pad salesman, and so many chins that he seems to be wearing three smiles, one beneath the other.

"I'm making the most of my natura resources," say Allen, who bends and contorts that face in Celebrity Squares this weekend. Apert from cabaret work in clubs all over the U.S., Allen is a seasoned veteran of the original American TV show, The Hollywood Squares, and, as you will see, he brings a different feel to the programme.

"I noticed that in your game here, your celebrities don't communicate with each other very much. In America, there is much more interplay, more conversation between the panellists, and I tried to introduce this element when I did my bit over here."

In America, The Hollywood Squares has been on screen for nine years - they even had to rebuild the massive permanant set recently. Today it is still the top game show on television, screened five times a week in the late afternoon, and riveting a huge audience of housewives and children with its constant turnover of the big star names who over populate the Los Angeles area where it is made.

Allen has appeared in the show so regularly that one critic recently called him "the housewives choice". And younger viewers seem to regard him more as a caricature than a real person. "I heard that one little boy who had seen me in The Squares noticed a big furry gonk in a shop window, went inside and asked for a Marty Allen doll. Now there's fame for you."

Allen has always been in big demand for the show, not only from the viewers, but from producers who warm to his talent for the instant quip, the quick-fire jokes qhich give the show its flavour.

It's an ability hewn from nealrly 20 years experience as a funny man. "I always was the clown of the class at school," says Allen, who was brought up in Pittsburg and is the son of a restaurant owner. "I was laways the one who could make people laugh. And when they weren't laughing atthe way I looked, I was slipping white mice into girls lockers and watching the fun when they put their hands inside to collect book." After school Allen worked in journalism for a while, and got his early creative kicks out of teaching housewives to dance.

"I was the world's first door-to-door dance salesman," he claims. "I may look a bit awkward, but I can move as well as the next man - you should see me in a leotard. Anyway, I bought a record player and a couple of dance records and went around the most affluent neighborhood in town, offering housewives rumba, tango and samba lessons in their own front rooms. Things got a bit dicey sometimes, though, I mean, what husband is going to believe a story like that? One day I was smooching around a very thick piled carpet when my pupil whispered in my ear: 'Mr. Allen, did you ever sell brushes?' I said: 'No why?' She said: 'Here, take mine, and start selling it to me. My husband's coming up the drive.'"

Allen's first professional dates as a comic were in basement strip clubs on the American East Coast, where he told a string of gags to prepare the audience for the next strip-tease: He acknowledges now that he couldn't have had a better start, trying to sell himself to an audience who couldn't wait for him to get off. He gradually worked his way in to the top bracket of club entertainers in the U.S., but his only notable excursion to Britain was in 1960, when he did a club season at Pigalle in London, as a supporting act to Shirley Bassey. The newspapers of the day record that Princess Margaret was in the front row, and later clamoared for his LP, Hello Dere.

His act today is a mix of stand-up partner, physical humour and short sketches. "I scan newspapers to help me with topical jokes - 'I hear David Frost is doing a 90 minute special with ex-President Nixon. Do you know 80 minutes of the tape is missing already?'"

Then he slips in to a fringed jacket and slick-haired wig and does a wild, pelvis-bending impression of Elvis Presley.

In his favorite sketch, he staggers on stage, bottle and glass in hand, as a drunken wine-taster. "It amazed me that these wine tasters could remain so sober, so I go right over the top and show one of them stoned out of his skull, telling drunken asides as he goes: Hey, do you know the difference between an alcoholic and a drunk? The drunk doesn't have to go to the meetings.'"

Later on Allen steps into the guise of Commander Irving Soggy, who has spent 30 days underwater without a snorkel, wearing just a rubber duck round his waist. It's a rich and varied act, and Allen knows that he can't go wrong. If he dries up all he has to do is stand there and people will just laugh at him anyway.

But Allen does take his humour seriously. He has lectured on the subject of making people laugh to the Lee Strasberg Actors' Studio in New York, emphasising the importance of physical movement to the success of the comedian.

"Comedy," he says, "is observing others, and observing yourself. Comedy, in fact, is a tool for telling the truth."

The intellectual side of this clown extends to writing, too. He has had short stories published by magazines in California, and writes book criticisms for West Coast newspapers. "I practically eat books," he says, "I get through at least five every week, and some of my best friends in Hollywood are authors - Mario Puzo and Harold Robbins to name two."

Pressed to write his autobiography, Allen has modestly declined so far, but Lorraine, his wife for 16 years, says that if he doesn't do it, she'll get his life down on paper, and we'll call it 'To Love, Honor and Applaud.

The roar of the crowd, Allen admits, is the sound he likes best. He's perfectly at peace in his cushioned life, in Beverly Hills, with its round of cocktail parties and dip in neighbours swimming pools, but he is also a worker, a man who hates to sit still, and he itches to get out to work in the clubs, to do his Columbo impression in a dirty raincoat, and reel off his self knocking jokes: 'My wife's French. If I'd known they were going to devalue the franc I'd have married her her later and got her a lot cheaper."

After Celebrity Squares, Marty Allen hopes to be back in Britain again soon to do a country wide tour, so we may be seeing more of that wooly head and wild humour before very long.