Dan Rowan life and biography

Dan Rowan picture, image, poster

Dan Rowan biography

Date of birth : 1922-07-02
Date of death : 1987-09-22
Birthplace : Beggs, Oklahoma, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-08-31
Credited as : Actor and stand-up comedy, television host, hosted of the "Laugh-In"

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Daniel Hale “Dan” Rowan born July 2, 1922 in Beggs, Oklahoma, United States - died September 22, 1987 in Englewood, Florida, United States was an American actor, the straight man in the comedy team of Rowan and Martin, hosts of the hit television program Laugh-In, which aired on the National Broadcasting Company from 1968 to 1973.

Dan Rowan was the only child of John and Clella (Hale) Rowan, itinerant carnival workers whose jobs kept them traveling throughout the Midwest and the South. The couple died under mysterious circumstances when Rowan was a young child, and he was raised at the McClelland Home for Children in Pueblo, Colorado. Attending public schools while growing up in the orphanage, he won letters in football and track and was elected president of the senior class at Central High in 1940.

Hoping for a career as a screenwriter, Rowan moved to Los Angeles immediately following graduation. He found work as a mail clerk at Paramount Pictures while attempting to hone his writing skills. With the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was accepted to flight school despite a relatively meager educational background. He saw combat as a fighter pilot in the South Pacific, achieving the rank of captain with the Fifth Air Force.

Returning to Los Angeles, he used GI Bill benefits to take courses in acting and writing at both the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California. Unable to find work in the movie industry, he borrowed money and became the coproprietor of an automobile dealership. Just as it appeared that his show business aspirations had been stymied, Rowan was introduced to another would-be performer, Dick Martin, a radio comedy writer, who was supporting himself principally as a bartender. The two found an easy synergy both as writers and performers, with Rowan playing the tall, sophisticated mustachioed straight man to Martin's goofy jester.

The pair developed a nightclub act that they took on the cabaret circuit in southern California. Typical sketches included Rowan as a prissy Shakespearean actor being heckled by the drunken Martin; Rowan as a pedantic biology professor attempting to explain "the birds and the bees" to dim-bulb Martin; and Rowan as a military strategist trying to explain the battle plan to a soldier more interested in getting home in one piece than winning the war. Rowan and Martin were among the first generation of nightclub comics to make fun of television, doing send-ups of Westerns and soap operas. Much of the repertoire they developed during the early 1950s would serve them well in later years.

Although Rowan had indeed found his way back into show business, the team was moderately successful during its early years, managing to gain bookings at only marginal venues. Their prospects began to improve in 1956, when the powerful newspaperman Walter Winchell reviewed the team's act favorably in his nationally syndicated column. In 1958 they made a motion picture, Once Upon a Horse, for Universal. Working with director Hal Kanter, Rowan and Martin slapped together several of their old nightclub Western routines, producing a kind of pale parody of Nicholas Ray's cult classic, Johnny Guitar. The picture gained little notice from the critics or the public, and the team's option was not picked up by the studio. A later effort at the movies, The Maltese Bippy (1969), also failed.

The team's big break came in television. Dean Martin, who was starring in one of the few remaining successful comedy-variety programs on network television, invited them to host a summer replacement for his prime-time show in 1966. To the surprise of everyone, it was the highest-rated program on television that summer, which led NBC executives to approach Rowan and Martin about a permanent vehicle. Offered their choice of a situation comedy or a variety format, Rowan and Martin balked at both. With the counterculture of the 1960s in full swing, they held out for a "pure comedy" format that would allow them to satirize the issues and styles of the day, freed of both the narrative constraints of situation comedy and the musical obligations of a variety show.

Although there had been some "pure comedy" on early television (notably the work of Ernie Kovacs), prime-time formulas had largely calcified by the late 1960s and there was little on the air that deviated from the two dominant genres. The producer George Schlatter, who had been trying unsuccessfully to sell an all-out comedy show to the networks for years, hooked up with Rowan and Martin as executive producer, helping them to develop a vehicle. Ed Friendly, a former NBC programming executive, joined the company and used his connections to get the program a shot on the schedule.

After airing as a one-shot special on NBC on 9 September 1967, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In premiered as a mid-season replacement on 22 January 1968. The hour-long show consisted of scores of quickly blacked-out one-liners, casually mixing politically and socially conscious jokes with sexual innuendo and pure physical slapstick. There was nothing else like it on the air; a typical fifty-three-minute episode contained upward of 250 jokes. Celebrities from Richard Nixon to John Wayne to Johnny Carson made cameo appearances. Laugh-In was an enormous success, finishing as the highest-rated program on American television during two of its five seasons. Rowan and Martin won an Emmy Award in 1969 as costars of the best variety show. Among the many regulars who achieved celebrity status on the program were Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, and Richard Dawson.

Rowan took a more active role in the production of Laugh-In than Martin. He is credited with adding a good deal of the show's political humor, much of it directed against Vietnam War hawks and segregationists opposed to the civil rights movement. A political maverick, the comedian participated actively in the presidential campaigns of Republican Nelson Rockefeller in 1964 and Democrat Eugene McCarthy in 1968. When questioned by the New York Times about the show's groundbreaking use of sexual material, he replied, "violent shows do a hell of a lot more damage than a sex joke."

After the cancellation of Laugh-In in 1973, Rowan essentially retired from show business, making only a few guest appearances on television series. He was married twice, from 1946 until their divorce in 1960 to Phyllis Mathis, with whom he had three children, Thomas Patrick, Maryann, and Christie; and then to Adriana van Balle gooyen, an Australian model, whom he married on 17 June 1963. She survived him after his death from cancer at his Florida home.

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