Thomas Richard "Dick" Martin (January 30, 1922 – May 24, 2008) was an American comedian and director. He was known for his role as the cohost of the sketch comedy program Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In from 1968-73.
Early life and career
Martin graduated from Michigan State University. Early in his career, Martin was a staff writer for Duffy's Tavern, a radio situation comedy. Martin and Dan Rowan formed the comedy team Rowan and Martin in 1952, and played in nightclubs across the United States and overseas.
Martin played a drunk heckling a Shakespearean performer, was a mainstay of their live act for years. The duo could frequently be seen as host-performers on NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour, alternating with Dean Martin and Lewis (Jerry) and other more established names. In 1958 they starred in a feature film, Hal Kanter's comedy Western Once Upon a Horse, which failed to catch on with moviegoers. 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 sitcom The Lucy Show. He and Rowan returned to the nightclub circuit until 1966, when they were tapped 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 create Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1968–1973) on NBC. The comedy show was an immediate hit, becoming the #1 American television program within two months of its debut. It was the top-rated show in each of its first two seasons. Laugh-In had a kaleidoscopic format, with what was then 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 then-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 sybaritic lifestyle of women and parties. After Rowan retired from show business, Martin was a frequent panelist on game shows such as Match Game and Password Plus and also hosted two game shows: a parody game show called The Cheap Show in 1978, and 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 Littmeyer on 3rd Rock from the Sun.
Martin married Playboy Playmate and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls star Dolly Read on August 22, 1971. They divorced in June 1974, but remarried in 1978 and remained married until his death. His first wife was singer Peggy Connelly, by whom he had two sons, Richard and Cary.
Martin died on May 24, 2008, of breathing complications in Santa Monica, California. He had lost the use of a lung due to tuberculosis as a teenager and suffered respiratory problems late in life.