Comedian Marty Allen part of Allderdice's first hall class
August 27, 2009 9:45 AM
Marty Allen, 1979.
By Steve Hecht
Growing up on Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill, Morton Alpern should have had little trouble making it to Pittsburgh Allderdice High School on time.
He lived across the street from the massive, four-story structure, which opened to students in 1927 and was named for a former Pittsburgh Board of Education vice president and industrialist.
"Yeah, I lived across the street and I was late to school more than any other kid at Allderdice," said Mr. Alpern, who changed his name to Marty Allen more than a half-century ago, when he entered his beloved profession of show business.
Mr. Allen, 87, a 1940 graduate, will have another chance to make it to Allderdice on time when he is inducted into the school's inaugural Hall of Fame class at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 in the Allderdice auditorium. The event will be free and open to the public.
The selection of Mr. Allen, a successful comic, actor, TV game-show personality and dancer comes with a bit of a showbiz twist.
When the nine-member selection committee originally picked its first six members, Mr. Allen was not on the list.
Then, earlier this month, choreographer and director Rob Marshall, a 1978 Allderdice graduate and one of the original six selections, informed the school's alumni president, Jeff Rosenthal, he wouldn't be able to make it to the induction ceremonies because of post-production work on the movie "Nine," which he is directing.
Mr. Marshall, whose 2002 film "Chicago" won six Oscars, filmed "Nine" in Italy and England with an all-star cast that includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson and Judi Dench. It is set to open in theaters Nov. 25.
It was agreed that Mr. Marshall would be inducted in 2010, and that the sixth spot for 2009 would go to the person who was "next on the list."
That turned out to be Mr. Allen, who as a comic was a semi-regular on the Ed Sullivan TV show in the 1960s along with his partner at the time, singer Steve Rossi.
The Hall of Fame committee found Mr. Allen living in Las Vegas and, surprisingly, still working as a comedian, alongside his wife of 25 years, singer Karon Kate Blackwell.
Last month, the pair performed in New York and New Jersey. In the fall, they are scheduled to entertain on several cruise ships.
When asked about still going on stage at age 87, Mr. Allen said: "I work out every day. I stay in shape. Just yesterday, I was on the treadmill for an hour. Then, some idiot turned it on."
After more than six decades in show business, Mr. Allen knows many, many jokes and punch lines.
"Recently, after one of our shows, an older gentleman came up and asked, 'At your age, how do you dance like that? How do you remember all the jokes?' I told him I'm on the pill. The guy said, 'I'd like to be on that pill, too. I'll write you a check. Where can I get them?' "
Mr. Allen said that at Allderdice, "I was the kid always doing crazy things .... But, I loved the school. I always loved it."
He said he fondly remembers his choral teacher at Allderdice, Miss Steiner, and eating lots of hot dogs and hamburgers at the Hot Puppy Shop on Forward Avenue near Murray Avenue.
Mr. Allen said he worked at Littles Shoes, which is still in business in Squirrel Hill.
"I was a pretty good salesman. I was always doing jokes."
After high school, Mr. Allen joined the Army Air Corps, and was awarded the Soldiers Medal for bravery following a fire that started when a plane was being refueled. He was stationed in Italy during World War II.
His show business career has been marked by versatility with lots of twists and turns.
One of the most memorable moments came on Feb. 16, 1964, when he and Mr. Rossi were given the ultimate tough act to follow: the Beatles' second appearance on the Sullivan show.
About 70 million tuned in, and several minutes after the Beatles had left the stage, many teenage girls were still audible.
"There were [lots of] screaming girls and they were going crazy," said Mr. Allen, whose appearances were marked by his bushy hair, bug eyes and signature opening line of "Hello dere."
"I'm thinking, 'What am I going to do?' They kept screaming.
"So, I go on stage and I say, 'Hello dere, kids. I'm Ringo's mother.' And the kids started yelling 'It's his mother.'
"I told some jokes, then ran into the audience and started dancing. Steve sang an upbeat Beatles tune. And, it went well. They related to what we were doing."
Mr. Allen said another memory from that night is that he made John Lennon laugh.
"I just went up to him and said, 'John, a lot of people mistake me for you.' "
Mr. Allen said he feels blessed to have worked with show business giants such as Lena Horne, the Mills brothers, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.
"I feel I've had a great career and it's still going," he said. "I don't believe in retirement. If you can go, go."
On Sept. 24, Mr. Allen will be back in Pittsburgh, a place he hasn't visited much in recent times but is still close to his heart.
"I'm a fanatic when it comes to the Steelers," he said. "I wear a Steelers T-shirt. I went crazy last year, went bananas. Any place I'm at, I try to watch them. I got so many [Terrible] Towels, I could start a laundry business."
Mr. Allen will be inducted into the Allderdice Hall of Fame with:
• Dr. Bernard Fisher, class of 1936, a pioneer in the biology and treatment of breast cancer.
• Myron Cope, class of 1947, Steelers broadcaster, member of the National Radio Hall of Fame and an award-winning feature writer who died last year.
• Herbert Douglas, class of 1940, bronze medalist in the long jump at the 1948 Olympics in London and a successful businessman.
• Iris Rainer Dart, class of 1962, author of nine books, including New York Times best-seller "Beaches."
• Robert Geminder, class of 1953, a Holocaust survivor and speaker, electrical engineer and teacher.
To reserve a spot in the auditorium for the induction ceremonies, call 412-422-4828. Complimentary coffee and dessert will be served in the cafeteria afterward.
For each inductee, a 12-by-15-inch wooden plaque bearing his or her picture -- donated by the classes of 1957 and January 1958 -- will be displayed outside the high school office.
The spot was chosen for strategic and inspirational purposes. Most students will pass the Allderdice Hall of Famers at lunch time on their way to the cafeteria.
"It's a great honor," Mr. Allen said. "But, do you really think it's a good idea for the kids to see my picture before they go into the cafeteria to eat?"