TV: ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN

(text by Peter Tatchell, from LAUGH MAGAZINE #19, 1999)

laughin In the late-1960s it was the hottest show on television. A crazy mix of colourful pop art, with-it music, biting satire and old-time blackouts that turned the clock all the way back to the days of burlesque.

It should have been hosted by Olsen and Johnson (who had indeed presided over similar tv ventures a generation earlier, based on their stage hit Hellzapoppin) but, owing to their unavoidable deaths, the spots were filled by a modestly known double act called Rowan and Martin.

Dan Rowan and Dick Martin had worked together since the early 1950s (and even starred in a not-very-successful movie called Once Upon A Horse in 1958) but by the mid-1960s were best known for their numerous television appearances on The Dean Martin Show. In 1966 they were elevated to star in the show’s summer replacement series and this led to a one-hour special a year later. Titled Rowan And Martin’s Laugh-In, Dan and Dick linked the off-beat quickies and ensemble pieces with their perfectly-timed repartee, honed from years of performing to nightclub audiences. The main thing about it was speed … nothing seemed to last more than ninety seconds. The show rated well and executives at N.B.C. could see a series in the offing.

One-time network crowd-puller, The Man From UNCLE, was by then in its death throes and four months later when the plug was finally pulled, Laugh-In was chosen to fill the timeslot. Up against The Lucy Show and Gunsmoke (then 2nd and 4th in the ratings) it was a daunting task, but the public was attracted to the show’s freshness and its gallery of colourful new characters.

There was petite cockney Judy Carne, whose cries of “sock-it-to-me” led to an inevitable cartoon-like retaliation of thumping/drenching/plummeting, word-mangling Goldie Hawn whose real-life problems with cue-card reading were seized upon by the writers, frumpy cardigan-clad Ruth Buzzi, poetic flowerchild Henry Gibson, chicken-neurotic Jo Anne Worley and character-chameleon Arte Johnson, as Tyrone, the dirty old man on the park bench or the ve-rry interesting Nazi hiding in the shrubbery.

Regular segments on the programme included the frenzied cocktail party (after the opening monologue), the news of the past, present and future, a mod, mod world feature on a topic of interest and a Fickle Finger of Fate award, directed at an individual or governmental agency whose attitude or actions prompted some form of public exposure.  Along the way, the eyes were assaulted by walls of graffiti and cross-picture crawls, cliches like “you bet your sweet bippy” filled the air and the boring delights of “beautiful” downtown Burbank (home of the N.B.C. studios) became a running gag.

The opening show’s new talent segment also unearthed another eccentric … a ukulele-strumming singer with a falsetto voice, the legendary Tiny Tim. A two-minute song medley catapulted him to worldwide stardom and led to a record contract, a nationally-televised wedding and frequent return visits to the show that launched him.

Not that everyone who appeared on the programme was an unknown … N.B.C. made sure each edition featured a famous guest-star, with Flip Wilson, Joey Bishop, Terry-Thomas, Sammy Davis Jr, Tim Conway, not to mention network stablemates like Don Adams, Barbara Feldon and Robert Culp joining in the festivities. And a host of other big names made it a cameo-laden presentation with John Wayne, Jerry Lewis, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Peter Lawford, Dinah Shore, Johnny Carson, James Garner and Harry Belafonte stopping by to record one-liners which were sprinkled throughout. Laugh-In was the “in” show with everyone clamouring to be part of the silliness.

The fourteen episodes in early 1968 paved the way for an eagerly-awaited return season that September with new additions including Alan Sues as Big Al, the bell-tinkling sports announcer, Dave Madden as a confetti-tossing party hound and a moustache for Dan Rowan’s upper lip. Guests included Victor Borge, Tony Curtis, Marcel Marceau and Rev. Billy Graham with walk-ons by Rock Hudson, Jack Benny, Kirk Douglas, Perry Como and even campaigning Presidential candidate, Richard M. Nixon (“sock-it-to-me?”).

Laugh-In was now America’s top-rated show, an achievement it repeated the following season as well, and the hosts were signed to star in another movie, The Maltese Bippy. But, like all enormous success stories, once the pinnacle has been reached, there is only one way to go.

With an ensemble cast of popular personalities, desertion from the ranks became the major problem. Dave Madden (who would soon reappear with The Partridge Family) left at the end of the second season, Judy Carne midway through series 3 (in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid being typecast as the sock-it-to-me recipient), followed by Goldie Hawn and Jo Anne Worley a year later.

What had started as new and novel, was beginning to look stale and repetitive. By the fourth season (in late 1970), only Johnson, Buzzi, Gibson, and Owen remained from the original supporting cast, and of the newcomers, Lily Tomlin (with her telephone lady Ernestine) seemed the sole bright light in the field of replacements. Gibson left six months later and Sues and Johnson departed at the conclusion of the fifth series.

By season six, graffiti wasn’t the only writing on the wall. Laugh-In had lost its sparkle and a sizeable chunk of the viewing audience went with it. In May 1973, the show was cancelled and Rowan and Martin began to pursue separate career paths, last appearing together in 1981. Martin retreated to the other side of the camera, writing and directing sitcoms, while his partner devoted much of his time to travelling and taking things easy (he died, aged 65, from lymphatic cancer in 1987).

Laugh-In, meanwhile, had a brief (but ill-advised) revival in the late 1970s when producer George Schlatter assembled a totally new cast for six one-hour specials. About the only thing of interest in the new programmes was the participation of Robin Williams (a year before his involvement with Mork And Mindy).

 

Episode Guide

140 x 60-minute editions, January 22 1968 to May 7 1973
plus 6 x 60-minute editions, 1977/8

(120 x 25-minute edited versions were made available to syndication in the early 1980s)

The Rowan And Martin Show: NBC June 16 to September 8 1966 (not August 22) (12 x 60 minutes)

Special : NBC September 9 1967 (60 minutes)
with Pamela Austin, Ken Berry, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Barbara Feldon, Henry Gibson, Larry Hovis, Arte Johnson, Monty Landis, Jo Anne Worley

Season 1: NBC January 22 1968 to April 29 1968 (not Mar 18) (14 x 60 min)
with Judy Carne, Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Goldie Hawn, Henry Gibson, Larry Hovis, Roddy Maude-Roxby, Jo Anne Worley, Gary Owens
Jan 22     Barbara Feldon, Flip Wilson, Pamela Austin, Strawberry Alarm Clock
Jan 29     Robert Culp, Flip Wilson, Eileen Brennan, First Edition
Feb 5      Tim Conway, Cher, Tiny Tim, Paul Gilbert, Eileen Brennan
Feb 12    Don Adams, Pamela Austin, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Feb 19    Kaye Ballard, Pamela Austin
Feb 26    Connie Stevens, Larry Storch, The Temptations
Mar 4      Terry-Thomas, Sally Field, The Bee Gees
Mar 11    Barbara Eden, Sonny Bono
Mar 25    Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr, Pamela Austin
Apr 1      Barbara Feldon, Flip Wilson, The Bee Gees
Apr 8      John Byner, Flip Wilson, Pamela Austin
Apr 15    Kaye Ballard, John Byner
Apr 22    Barbara Feldon, Tim Conway
Apr 29    Tiny Tim

Season 2: NBC September 16 1968 to March 31 1969 (not Nov 4, Dec 9 or Dec 23) (26 x 60 min)
with Judy Carne, Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Henry Gibson, Goldie Hawn, Dave Madden, Alan Sues, Jo Anne Worley, Chelsea Brown, J.J. Barry, Pigmeat Markham, Charlie Brill & Mitzi McCall, Dick Whittington,  Gary Owens
Sep 16    Barbara Feldon, Hugh Hefner
Sep 23    Eve Arden
Sep 30    Abbe Lane
Oct 7       Robert Culp, Franco Nuyen
Oct 14     Bobby Darin
Oct 21     Flip Wilson
Oct 28     Marcel Marceau
Nov 11   Dick Gregory
Nov 18   Victor Borge, The Banana Splits
Nov 25   Tiny Tim, Phyllis Diller
Dec 2      Liberace
Dec 16    Douglas Fairbanks Jr
Dec 30    Kate Smith, Vincent Price
Jan 6       Peter Falk
Jan 13     Peter Lawford, Paul Winchell
Jan 20     President Richard Nixon, Nancy Sinatra
Jan 27     Cliff Robertson
Feb 3      Don Rickles
Feb 10    Davy Jones
Feb 17    Tiny Tim
Feb 24    Connie Stevens
Mar 3      James Garner, The Weire Brothers
Mar 10    Flip Wilson
Mar 17    Sammy Davis Jr
Mar 24    Tony Curtis
Mar 31    Billy Graham

Season 3: NBC September 15 1969 to March 16 1070 (not Dec 22) (26 x 60 min)
with Arte Johnson, Judy Carne (part season only), Ruth Buzzi, Henry Gibson, Goldie Hawn, Alan Sues, Jo Anne Worley, Teresa Graves, Pamela Rogers, Jeremy Lloyd, Lily Tomlin (latter part of the season only)
Sep 15    Debbie Reynolds
Sep 22    Diana Ross
Sep 29    Sonny and Cher
Oct 6       The Monkees
Oct 13     Jack E. Leonard
Oct 20     Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson
Oct 27     Flip Wilson
Nov 3     Buddy Hackett
Nov 10   Carol Channing
Nov 17   Sid Caesar
Nov 24   Sammy Davis Jr
Dec 1       Engelbert Humperdink
Dec 8      Phyllis Diller
Dec 15    Greer Garson
Dec 29    Nancy Sinatra
Jan 5       James Garner
Jan 12     Jonathan Winters
(* On January 14 1970 NBC aired a 60-minute special Rowan And Martin Bites The Hand That Feeds Them with guests Carol Burnett, Sammy Davis Jr and The Smothers Brothers)
Jan 19     Peter Lawford
Jan 26     Tony Curtis
Feb 2      Jack Benny
Feb 9      Carl Reiner
Feb 16    Dan Blocker
Feb 23    Ringo Starr, Sheldon Leonard
Mar 2      Danny Kaye
Mar 9      Milton Berle
Mar 16    Carol Channing, Tiny Tim

Season 4: NBC September 14 1970 to March 15 1971 (not Dec 21) (26 x 60min)
with Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Henry Gibson, Alan Sues, Lily Tomlin, Gary Owens, Dennis Allen, Johnny Brown, Ann Elder, Nancy Phillips, Barbara Sharma, Harvey Jason
Sep 14    Art Carney
Sep 21    Don Rickles
Sep 28    Goldie Hawn
Oct 5       Ken Berry
Oct 12     Tim Conway
Oct 19     Zero Mostel
Oct 26     Orson Welles
Nov 2     Carol Channing
Nov 9     Carl Reiner
Nov 16   Bob Newhart
Nov 23   Desi Arnaz
Nov 30   ?
Dec 7      Phil Silvers
Dec 14    Debbie Reynolds
Dec 28    William F. Buckley Jr
Jan 4       Sammy Davis Jr, Wilt Chamberlain
Jan 11     Johnny Carson
Jan 18     Joey Bishop
Jan 25     Andy Griffith
Feb 1      Marcello Mastrioanni
Feb 8      Dinah Shore
Feb 15    ?
Feb 22    Peter Lawford
Mar 1      Richard Crenna
Mar 8      ?
Mar 15    George Raft, Fernando Lamas

Season 5: NBC September 13 1971 to March 20 1972 (not on Nov 15, Dec 6, Jan 17 or Feb 7) (24 x 60min)
with Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Alan Sues, Lily Tomlin, Gary Owens, Dennis Allen, Johnny Brown, Ann Elder, Barbara Sharma, Richard Dawson, Larry Hovis
Sep 13    Raquel Welch, Martha Mitchell
Sep 20    Roman Gabriel
Sep 27    Rita Hayworth
Oct 4       Karen Valentine
Oct 11     Edward G. Robinson, Frank Gorshin, Tony Curtis
Oct 18     Richard Crenna
Oct 25     Lee Grant
Nov 1     (100th edition anniversary show) John Wayne, Tiny Tim, Judy Carne, Jo Anne Worley
Nov 8     Liza Minelli
Nov 22   James Coco
Nov 29   Three Dog Night
Dec 13    Carroll O’Connor
Dec 20    Joe Namath
Dec 27    Buddy Hackett
Jan 3       Robert Goulet
Jan 10     Mort Sahl, Henny Youngman
Jan 24     Carl Reiner
Jan 31     Chad Everett, Jack Carter
Feb 14    Carol Channing
Feb 21    Sandy Duncan
Feb 28    Gene Hackman
Mar 6      Debbie Reynolds
Mar 13    Jo An Pflug
Mar 20    ?

Season 6: NBC September 11 1972 to March 12 1973 (not on Nov 6, Dec 25, Jan 1) (25 x 60-min)
with Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, Gary Owens, Richard Dawson, Dennis Allen, Moosie Drier, Patti Deutsch, Sarah Kennedy, Jud Strunk, Willie Tyler, Donna Jean Young, Brian Bressler, Todd Bass, Lisa Farringer
Sep 11    John Wayne
Sep 18    Dyan Cannon
Sep 25    William Conrad
Oct 2       Lucy Arnaz
Oct 9       Michael Landon
Oct 16     Jack Benny
Oct 23     Jean Stapleton
Oct 30     Mike Connors
Nov 13   Sally Strothers
Nov 20   James Caan
Nov 27   Carol Burnett, Demond Wilson, Ross Martin
Dec 4      Jack Klugman
Dec 11    Steve Lawrence
Dec 18    Howard Cosell, Vin Scully
Jan 8       Don Rickles
Jan 15     Robert Goulet
Jan 22     Sammy Davis Jr
Jan 29     Totie Fields, Angie Dickenson, Monty Hall
Feb 5      Phyllis Diller
Feb 12    Ernest Borgnine
Feb 19    Meredith Baxter, David Birney
Feb 26    Johnny Carson, Sandy Duncan, Arthur Godfrey
Mar 5      Dom DeLuise
Mar 12    ?

Rowan And Martin Special
NBC September 13 1973 (60 min)
with guests Harry Belafonte, Bob Newhart, Ruby Keeler, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Cathy Rigby, Ed Asner, Jimmie Walker, Redd Foxx, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Carter, Glenn Ford, Martin Milner, Kent McCord

The Rowan And Martin Report
ABC November 5 1975 (30 minute pilot edition)

LAUGH-IN specials
NBC (6 x 60-min)
with Nancy Bleiweiss, Ed Bluestone, Kim Braden, Claire Faulkonbridge, Wayland Flowers and Madam, June Gable, Jim Giovanni, Ben Powers, Bill Rafferty, Michael Sklar, Lenny Schultz, Antoinette Atell, Robin Williams, Sergio Aragones
September 5 1977    Bette Davis
October 10 1977       Bea Arthur, Henry Fonda, Roger Moore, Seals & Crofts
November 2 1977    Frank Sinatra, Cindy Williams, Flip Wilson, James Garner
December 20 1977  Shirley MacLaine
February 1 1978       James and Gloria Stewart, Susan Ford
February 8 1978       Henry Fonda, Gore Vidal, Barry Goldwater

Laugh-In’s 25th Anniversary
February 7 1993 (2 hours)

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: Past Christmas Present
December 2 1993 (60 min)

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: A Valentine’s Day Special
February 14 1994 (2 hours)

 

DISCOGRAPHY

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In
Epic LP FXS 15118, Harmony LP KH 30976, Sony CD A-28852, Laugh.com CD LGH 1154
Cuckoo Laugh-In World
Monologue And Cocktail Party
New Talent
Personality Of The Week
News – Past, Present And Future
Etcetera
Half Time
Here Come The Judge
The Other Cocktail Party
Sock It To Me – Potpourri
Mod Mod World
The Cuckoos
Goodnight Dick!

Laugh-In ’69
Warner/Reprise RS 6335
The Big Cocktail Party
Laugh-In Strikes Again
By Henry Gibson
An American Institution
Children Of Laugh-In
The News
Well, Ring My Chimes
Beautiful Downtown Burbank (Vacation In + Chamber Of Commerce + Trading Centre + Swingers + Mecca + Bus Stop + Up Town + Broncos + Down Town + Dum Dums)

JUDY CARNE

Sock It To Me + Right, Said Fred
Reprise single RS 20680

HENRY GIBSON

The Alligator And Other Poems By Henry Gibson
Liberty LP LRP 3261/LST 7261

By Henry Gibson
Liberty LP LST 7593

Grass Menagerie
Epic FLS 15120

ARTE JOHNSON

Very Interesting + Don’t Fuzz Around (both with Ruth Buzzi)
Reprise single 0753

You’re On The Air
GNP Crescendo LP GNPS 2060
The Common Cold
Pedro The Hero
The Jewish Mother
Police Brutality
Flouridation
The P.U.
Foreign Policy
The Bruise

GARY OWENS

The Funny Side Of Bonnie And Clyde
Epic LP BN 26377
(with Joan Gerber, David Ketchum, Gene Moss, Jim Thurman, Jesse White, Bruce Gordon)
The Enforcer
The Getaway
Marshal And The Sheriff
The Lesson
The Handshake
The Agent
Marshal And Café #2
The Commercial
Philosophical Chat
The Bank Hold-Up Note
Marshal And Hotel Clerk
Bonnie’s Poem
The Love Scene
The Wrong Getaway Vehicle
Marshal And The Barber
The Parking Ticket
The Used Car Salesman
Marshal And The Café #1

Put Your Head On My Finger
Pride LP PRD 0002
Horoscope
Win That Dwarf
Tip To Gardeners
The Sky Is My Partner
Norbert T. Krelk Funeral
Foonman Home For The Perterbed News
Glur Awards
Miss Oz Sings
Golden Voice Announcers’ School
Church Announcement
Nurny Creed
Incredible But True
Sure Fire Employment
The Presidents
Ballad Of Willie Jackson
Republican Commercial
Democrat Commercial
Harold Stassen Commercial
Dates To Remember
See Your Doctor
Lunatics’ Book Of World Records
Teenage Manners
Booking Agent
Safety Tips
School For Double Talk
Telephone Help For The Desperate
Horoscope – Part 2

Song Festoons
Fono-Graf LP F 727

Jonathan Winters / Gary Owens – Outpatients
Laugh.com CD LGH 1011 (2001)
Sports Fan
Plastic Surgeon
Jimmy Stewart
Ebay
Amazing Dog
Johnny Carson
Shutterbug Sam
Travel Agent
Schwarzenegger
Firearms
Hotel Manager
Maude’s Nursery
John Wayne

DAN ROWAN and DICK MARTIN

Rowan & Martin At Work
Trey LP TLP 901, ATCO/Atlantic LP SD 33-257
Special Events Interview
X2 And X4 (The Spy Story)
The Payola Problems Of “Hogey” Scott Key

The Humor Of Rowan & Martin
Epic LP FLM 13109/FLS 15109, Laugh.com CD LGH 1155
The Doctor Interview
Girls
Camp Sunny Sunshine
The Birds And The Bees
Mates, Inc
Introduction + Adagio + Allegro

LILY TOMLIN

This Is A Recording
Polydor LP 24 4055, Laugh.com CD LGH 1114
Alexander Graham Bell
Mr. Veedle
The Marriage Couselor
Joan Crawford
Obscene Phone Call
The Repairman
The Bordello
Strike
Peeved
Ernestine
The Pageant
The F.B.I.
The Mafia And The Pope
Mrs. Mitchell
Awards Dinner
Boswick 9
I.B.M.

And That’s The Truth
Polydor LP PD 5023, Laugh.com CD LGH 1157
Hey Lady
I Always Kiss Buster
My Sister Mary Jean
Look In The Sky
I Dressed Him Up
Here’s The Empty Lot
Guess The Riddle
I Can’t Go To The Movies Here
I Go To Sunday School
Here’s My House
Lady Lady Open Up
I Like Your Kitchen
Do You Have Any Chewing Gum?
Don’t My Toes Look Pretty?
I Will Help You Unpack
Does This Chair Lean Back?
Tell Me Something Lady
Finish Putting Your Groceries Away
I Want You To Go

Modern Scream
Polydor LP PD 6051, Laugh.com CD LGH 1146
Exclusive Innerview ? Rubber Freak
Suzie Sorority
Adult Sex Education
Judith Beasley Exclusive
Dear Dr. Dacey
The Trip
On Call
Bad Carma
Grrr
Boogie Broadcast
Hipigrams

On Stage
Arista LP AB 4142, Laugh.com CD LGH 1156
Mr. Theater Goer And The Shopping Bag Lady
Mrs. Judith Beasley
Lud And Marie Meet Dracula’s Daughter
Ernestine
Tell Miss Sweeney Goodbye
Shopping Bag Lady And U.F.O. Guy
Glenna – A Child Of The 60’s
Lily And Shopping Bag Lady

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Rowan And Martin’s Laugh-In (script for stage performance)
Samuel French paperback, 1968

Rowan And Martin’s Laugh-In – The Burbank Edition
World Publishing 1969

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In
Signet paperback, 1969

Mod, Mod World by Roy Doty
Signet Paperback, 1969

Inside Laugh-In by James E. Brodhead 
Signet paperback, 1969

Jo Anne Worley’s Chicken Joke Book or Poultry’s Complaint
Signet paperback, 1969

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