Thomas Richard Martin or Dick Martin (born January 30, 1922, in Battle Creek, MI; died May 24, 2008, in Santa Monica, CA) was an American comedian and director. He was known for his role as the co-host of the sketch comedy program Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In from 1968 to 1973.
Early Life and Career
Martin was born in Battle Creek, Michigan to William, a salesman and Ethel Martin, a homemaker. In the early 1930s, the family moved to Detroit, where his teenage years included a bout with tuberculosis, which kept him out of the military. He graduated from Michigan State University.
Early in his career, Martin was a staff writer for Duffy's Tavern, a radio situation comedy. He and Dan Rowan formed the comedy team Rowan and Martin in 1952 and played in nightclubs throughout the United States and overseas. Martin played a drunk heckling a Shakespearean performer a mainstay of their act for years. They could frequently be seen as host-performers on NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour, alternating with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and other more established names. In 1958, they starred in Hal Kanter's comedy Western Once Upon a Horse which failed to catch on with mooviegoers. In 1960, their contract with NBC was cancelled four years early by mutual consent.
In 1962, Martin worked solo, playing next-door neighbor to Lucille Ball during the first season of her comeback comedy The Lucy Show. He and Rowan returned to the nightclub circuit until 1966, when they were asked to host the summer replacement series for the Dean Martin Show. He co-starred in the 1966 Doris Day movie The Glass Bottom Boat.
The exposure led to an opportunity for Rowan and Martin to team up with producers Ed Friendly and George Schlatter and created Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1968-1973) on NBC. The comedy show was an immediate hit, becoming the number one American television program within two months of its debut. It was the top-rated show in its second and third seasons. Laugh-In had a uniquely fast-paced stream-of-consciousness style of blackout gags, double entendre, topical satire and catchphrases, much of it delivered by a cast of unknowns such as Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin and Arte Johnson.
At the center of the maelstrom stood the veterans Rowan and Martin, who bemusedly made no effort to slow down the program. Martin later said, "We designed it so that we are two relatively normal guys wandering through a sea of madness", and described his comic persona as "a kind of inept lech" who could be laughed at as well as laughed with. In real life, Martin spent the 1960s enjoying his high-flying lifestyle of women and parties. After Rowan retired from show business, Martin was a frequent panelist on game shows such as Match Game, Password Plus and Tattletales and he also hosted a parody game show called The Cheap Show in 1978 and the game show Mindreaders in 1979.
Martin also established himself as an efficient comedy director. Starting on The Bob Newhart Show, he directed for over a dozen series. Martin later became the chief director of the 1980s sitcom Newhart. In a 1998 episode of The Nanny, Martin guest-starred as a homeless man Fran Fine meets in a park who turns out to be Preston Collier, one of the wealthiest men in New York City.
In 1992, he played a small role in the Canadian film North of Pittsburgh, which was directed by his son Richard. In 1996, Martin guest starred as sociology professor Dr. Ben Littlemeyer on 3rd Rock from the Sun.
Martin's son Richard was born in 1956. He married singer Peggy Connelly in 1957, and after divorcing her, he married Playboy Playmate and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls star Dolly Reed in 1971. Martin and Reed divorced in 1974, but remarried in 1978 and remarried married until his death.
Martin died on May 24, 2008, of breathing complications in Santa Monica, California. He had loss the use of his lung due to tuberculosis as a teenager and suffered respiratory problems later in life.