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Dan Rowan, 65, a Comedian And a 'Laugh-In' Host, Dies
By JEREMY GERARD
New York Times
Published: September 23, 1987
Dan Rowan, co-host and co-producer of ''Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In,'' the nation's most popular television variety series in the late 1960's, died of lymphatic cancer yesterday at his home in Englewood, Fla. He was 65 years old.
''Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In,'' which aired on NBC from 1967 through 1973, mixed the frantic low humor of vaudeville with freewheeling political satire and scattershot, psychedelic topicality. Its blitzkrieg format - sight gags careening off one another like bumper cars, overlapping sketches, bold graphics, a seeming determination not to leave the screen each Monday night when the allotted 60 minutes were up - appealed to a generation that had been weaned on ''The Ed Sullivan Show'' and raised on the music of Bob Dylan and the Jefferson Airplane.
''The show was new and fast,'' Dick Martin, Mr. Rowan's partner, said yesterday in a telephone interview from his office in Los Angeles. ''We had people doing cameos who just had no idea what they were getting into.'' Among the cameo performers were former President Richard M. Nixon, Billy Graham and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. More prominent was a regular supporting cast of nascent comedy stars, among them Lily Tomlin, Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Ruth Buzzi, Pigmeat Markham, Eileen Brennan, Richard Dawson and Judy Carne. Critical Success and No. 1
''Laugh-In,'' which Mr. Rowan and Mr. Martin co-produced with George Schlatter, benefited in part from the popularity of ''The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,'' which ran on CBS from 1967 through 1975 despite continuing battles with television censors over its political and social humor. The Rowan and Martin show was introduced by NBC as a special on Sept. 9, 1967. ''The special was not an enormous success,'' Mr. Martin said, ''except with the critics. So NBC booked 13 shows and put us on opposite 'Lucy' and 'Gunsmoke.' By the eighth week, we were the No. 1 show in the country.''
The weekly show was introduced on Jan. 22, 1968; the last ran on May 14, 1973. The No. 1 television show during its first two seasons, ''Laugh-In'' won 28 honors and awards, including seven Emmys. Often repeated catch phrases such as ''You bet your bippy,'' ''Look that up in your Funk & Wagnall's,'' ''Here come de judge'' and ''Sock it to me'' - the last inevitably followed by a bucket of water poured on the person delivering the line - quickly became common usage. The show's format laid the groundwork for the success of ''Saturday Night Live,'' which picked up the ''Laugh-In'' generation when it became old enough to stay up late.
Mr. Rowan was born on July 22, 1922, in Beggs, Okla., the only child of a pair of carnival workers. During the 1940's, he was a junior writer at Paramount Studios and, during World War II, served with the Air Force in New Guinea. He met Mr. Martin, a radio comedy writer, in 1952, and the two put together a nightclub act. ''We were just two guys who wanted the same thing,'' Mr. Martin said - ''success in show business.'' 'Maltese Bippy'
In 1958, they made a film, ''Once Upon a Horse,'' that was a commercial failure. In 1960, the pair recorded a successful comedy album, ''Rowan and Martin at Work.'' After years of performing in clubs, they were invited to appear on Dean Martin's variety show, a 1966 engagement that ultimately led to the development of their own program. In 1969, they made a second film, ''The Maltese Bippy.'' In 1980, Mr. Rowan and Mr. Martin won a $4.6 million lawsuit against Mr. Schlatter for producing a reprise of ''Laugh-In'' without their approval.
Notwithstanding the public's tendency to confuse them, Mr. Rowan and Mr. Martin were a classic follies team, Mr. Martin the comic foil to Mr. Rowan's straight man. ''He was professorial, always trying to teach me about something,'' Mr. Martin said. ''I was like Eliza Doolittle.''
''The only thing outsiders might not have known about Dan,'' Mr. Martin added, ''was his honesty. We never had a contract. We just went and did it.''
Mr. Rowan is survived by his wife, Joanna, of Englewood; two daughters, Mary, of Englewood, and Chrissie, of Hawaii, and a son, Thomas, of Los Angeles.