The 50th anniversary of an epic music milestone is approaching for the local legendary comedy team of Marty Allen and Steve Rossi.
They were more than witnesses on Feb. 9, 1964, when the Beatles made their first live television appearance in the U.S.
Allen & Rossi had the daunting task of following the Beatles onstage after the Beatles’ tumultuous appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“It was pandemonium,” said Rossi, now 81. “We could have easily bombed.”
They had a close encounter with Beatlemania when they arrived for the rehearsal at Sullivan’s theater in New York.
Hordes of teenage girls were swarming around the theater when Allen & Rossi’s limo arrived.
“They threw envelopes, love notes and nude pictures in the window, thinking we were the Beatles,” said Rossi, who was Allen’s straight man.
We needed a police escort to get inside,” said Allen, who’s still doing standup as he approaches his 92nd birthday in March.
Allen & Rossi split in 1968 after an 11-year run, but reunited for about four years in the 1990s.
My Friday Q-and-A at normclarke.com fills in the details about how Allen & Rossi found themselves on the same stage with the Beatles on that historic day.
MARTY ALLEN BIO
Long before he was known as Marty Allen, Morton David Alpern loved comedy.
“I grew up in Pittsburgh. I was a local comic. Then I went into the service (as a bomber refueler in Italy),” he said.
He returned home as a war hero, winning a medal for bravery for putting out a fire that threatened to blow up a bomber.
Hoping to gain traction, he moved to California in the early 1950s. He teamed up for a while in Las Vegas with Mitch DeWood, who was a cousin of comedy legend Danny Thomas.
Allen was opening for Eydie Gorme in the late 1950s, when her husband, Steve Lawrence, was serving a two-year stint in the Army.
After teaming up with Rossi in 1957, Allen let his hair grow into a look that helped set him apart.
“I called it the zulu. I had the first Afro,” he said.
Then one night in a Philadelphia nightclub, something organic happened during their act.
“Steve asked me a question, and I blanked out and said, ‘hello dere,’” Allen said. “I kept repeating it, and it got a reaction. After the show, members of the audience came up and said, ‘hello dere!’ I suddenly realized I had found a catch phrase, and it went national. It was just something I made up.”
Their act caught fire, and soon they were booked on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the CBS Sunday variety show where a promising career could go stratospheric overnight.
STEVE ROSSI BIO
Born in New York City on May 25, 1932, and named Joseph Charles Tafarella, he grew up in Los Angeles after his father, who was in the entertainment business, moved to California, where he worked for Frank Sinatra as a composer and arranger.
Young Tafarella was a member of the Mitchell Boy Choir, which performed title songs for movies. At the age of 12, he harmonized with Bing Crosby in “Going My Way,” which won numerous Oscars. When he was 14, he sang in “The Jolson Story.”
At 16, he received a scholarship to Loyola University in Los Angeles and at 18 played the lead in “The Student Prince,” an operetta.
His powerful operatic voice and good looks caught the attention of bawdy sex symbol Mae West after she saw him perform as the lead, a French lover in “Vagabond King,” another operetta.
West recruited Tafarella, 21, to be a part of her Vegas-bound stage act, which featured a cast of bodybuilders in gold lame jock straps. West’s hunks included Mickey Hargitay, Joe Gold, George Eiferman and Richard DuBois.
It was during that run at the Sahara hotel, starting in 1954, that West talked Tafarella into changing his name to Steve Rossi.
A big break came in 1957 when singer Sarah Vaughan, who hired Allen as her opening act, called singing star Nat King Cole on Allen’s behalf.
Cole recommended he meet with Rossi, then a production singer with the Sands’ famous Copa Girls.
Cole bankrolled their act, and they opened for him for about two years. That led to opening shows for Sammy Davis Jr., and they spent a year opening for Frank Sinatra “before we became headliners,” Rossi said.
Headline: Your memory of that first show with the Beatles?
Allen: “Ed always had an afternoon show rehearsal before a live audience. When we tried to go in the backstage entrance there were almost 1,000 kids there.”
Rossi: “The dress rehearsal went on, but there was no audience. It would have been pandemonium. And sometimes rehearsals would have the same audience. We didn’t want that. We wanted the audience reacting to us for the first time (especially since they were following the Beatles).”
Headline: This was not your first time on Sullivan’s show.
Rossi: “Our first time was in 1960. We had been on probably 10 times before we did the show with the Beatles. “ Sullivan had Allen & Rossi on his show 44 times, four with the Beatles.
Headline: What was the plan that night?
Allen: “We were wondering what to open with. I told Steve to sing an uptempo song because the kids would be screaming. He and I talked it over. I thought they would probably lynch us if we did a slow song.”
Headline: Ed Sullivan had other ideas.
Rossi: “ I was going to do ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ which was uptempo, but Ed wanted ‘Try to Remember,’ from ‘The Fantasticks,’ the big hit show on Broadway. I sang it and it got a big round of applause. That’s when Marty came out and said, ‘Hello dere, I’m Ringo’s mother. The kids loved it. We would always end our routine with a hand-clapping song-and-dance number. I would sing ‘Glory Hallelujah’ to different lyrics (‘It’s good to be here with you on the Ed Sullivan Show…”) and Marty would dance. But this time he went into the audience and danced with the teenagers in the aisles.”
Allen: “It paid off. They went wild. They picked up on it.”
Rossi: “It helped that Sullivan told the kids he wanted them to pay attention to (Allen & Rossi) and be really quiet. And they were.”
The show attracted a then-record 73 million viewers and a 45.3 share, also a record. Allen & Rossi would appear with the Beatles a total of three consecutive weeks.
Headline: Meeting the Beatles
Allen: “They were very polite and very nice. They had no idea who we were. I walked over to John Lennon and said, ‘John, a lot of people mistake me for you. He laughed. I had the zulu haircut. There’s a great photo of them playing with my hair.”
Rossi: “The first thing I said was ‘you guys are great. I just wanted to let them know how much I enjoyed them.”
Headline: What happened afterwards?
Rossi: “There was a tremendous amount of press there that night. The CBS photographer took photos of us with them and had them developed right away. I had the Beatles sign mine that night.”
Allen: “The publicity really helped us as a comedy team. We were scoring good before that, but it made us nationally famous. To be part of their coming to America was one of the great thrills in my entire life.”
ELAINE WYNN’S ART
Art lover Elaine Wynn has paid a record $142.4 million for Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” according to a number of news outlets.
Wynn made the purchase through Christie’s in November and has since lent it to the Portland Art Museum in Oregon.
Bacon, who painted the triptych in 1969, has been described as the greatest painter of the 20th century.
Freud, a friend and rival of Bacon, was considered one of Britain’s greatest artists. He was a grandson of Sigmund Freud. Bacon, an Irish-born British painter, died in 1992. Lucian Freud, who was born in Germany, died in 2011.
Wynn caught the art world by surprise with her breathtaking purchase, which was completed in 10 minutes among five bidders.
Speculation flew that the painting was purchased by her ex-husband, Steve Wynn, an aggressive collector of masterpieces.
Their divorce in 2010 left her with a settlement of more than $740 million.
THE SCENE AND HEARD
Thursday was Rene Angelil’s 72nd birthday. He and Celine Dion celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in December.
Blues rock guitarist and singer Joe Bonamassa, dining with a group of 10 at N9ne Steakhouse (Palms) on Wednesday.
THE PUNCH LINE
“Police are searching Justin Bieber’s home for evidence in an egg-throwing vandalism scandal. You know you’re a real gangster when the police raid your home looking for something from the dairy aisle.” — Conan O’Brien
Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 702-383-0244 or email@example.com. Find more at normclarke.com. Follow @Norm_Clarke on Twitter. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.