A singer and comedian who was half of one of the most successful comedy duos of the 1960s has died. The New York Times reports that Steve Rossi, who played straight man to Marty Allen in Allen and Rossi, died Sunday at a hospice in Las Vegas.
Rossi, 82, reportedly died of cancer.
"Mr. Rossi was working as a singer in Las Vegas when, at the suggestion of Nat King Cole, he joined forces in the late 1950s with the bug-eyed Mr. Allen, who had recently broken up with his longtime partner," The Times reports. "With Mr. Rossi as the good-looking one who sang and Mr. Allen as the zany, childlike one who got the laughs, Allen and Rossi were reminiscent of the hottest comedy team of the 1950s, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. But whereas Martin and Lewis specialized in broad physical comedy, Allen and Rossi’s humor was mostly verbal."
The article notes that a typical Allen and Rossi routine took the form of an interview, "with Mr. Allen portraying a variety of sweetly befuddled characters — a boxer, an astronaut, even political figures like Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater — and Mr. Rossi asking the questions. The jokes were proudly old-fashioned, simple and often silly."
The duo twice shared the bill with the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the report notes, as the comedy team became regulars on the top variety shows of the era.
"In 1966, after almost a decade together, Allen and Rossi hit a career peak when they signed with Paramount Pictures and made their big-screen debut in the spy spoof 'The Last of the Secret Agents?' But the movie, a slapdash affair, met with critical derision and public indifference. With their dreams of movie stardom dashed, they soldiered on but broke up — amicably, they insisted — in 1968."
Rossi later worked in tandem with Joe E. Ross, known for "Car 54, Where Are You?," and also worked solo. In 1969 he paired with African-American comedian Slappy White to form one of the first interracial comedy teams.
"After a few years together, during which they released an album called 'I Found Me a White Man, You Find Yourself One!' and appeared in the obscure low-budget movie 'The Man From O.R.G.Y.,' Mr. Rossi and Mr. White went their separate ways. Mr. Rossi then worked for a while with the comedian Bernie Allen, the duo legitimately if misleadingly billing themselves as Allen and Rossi," the report adds.
The original Allen and Rossi worked together again, on and off, from the 1980s until 1994. Allen is now 92.