Dan Rowan Biography
Claim to Fame: Comedian (Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In)
DOB: July 22, 1922
Date of Death: September 22, 1987
Diabetes Type: 1
Best known for his role as straight man to Dick Martin on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Dan Rowan made guest appearances on numerous television shows, including the Love Boat and Fantasy Island. He also served as host of The Dean Martin Summer Show in 1966 and The All American Ultra Quiz, a 1980’s television game show series.
The only son of Oscar and Nellie David, a singing and dancing carnival duo, Rowan was born Daniel Hale David, performing with his parents until their deaths in 1933. Abandoned at such a young age, Rowan lived at the McClelland Home, an orphanage in Colorado, until a foster family took him in at 16. He attended Central High School in Colorado until he graduated, at which point he hitchhiked his way to Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles offered Rowan the opportunity to work in entertainment, even if only in the mailroom of Paramount Pictures. With hard work and an outgoing personality, he quickly climbed to the position of junior writer and became friendly with studio head Buddy DeSylva.
However, with the outbreak of World War II, Rowan quit his job at Paramount and joined the United States Army Air Force to become a fighter pilot. He was a talented pilot and successful in combat. However, his military career was short, as he was discharged after being seriously wounded when his plane was shot down in New Guinea. For his service, Rowan received a number of distinctions, including the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, an Air Medal, and a Purple Heart for his injury,
Following the Army Air Force, Rowan worked as a used car dealer and, with friend Dick Martin, performed as a comedy duo at nightclubs, bars, and lounges in the Los Angeles area. In 1954, the pair was offered to perform on Bandstand Revue, a 30-minute long music program aired on The Paramount Television Network. Rowan and Martin developed a significant fan base and, in 1958, under Universal International Pictures, released their first film, Once Upon a Horse. The film proved to be a disaster, but the pair maintained their audience’s loyalty and, in 1960, released a successful album entitled, Rowan and Martin at Work and appeared repeatedly on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
However, It wasn’t until the duo appeared as hosts of the Dean Martin Summer Show that their fame was solidified. Their success on the show spawned a spin-off entitled Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Originally only meant to be a one-time special, the show proved a riot and critics, fans, and studio heads agreed the show should be made into a series. With seamless banter and masterful gags, celebrities like Goldie Hawn, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Peter Lawford, and John Wayne became regulars, addicted to the wacky humor characteristic of the show.
In a 1987 interview with the New York Times, Dick Martin described the show as “new and fast,” stating, ”We had people doing cameos who just had no idea what they were getting into.'' The show ran from 1967 to 1973, at which point the cast of regular performers changed and interest on the part of viewers waned. Rowan and Martin also felt the show had become tired and, though still producers, decided to pursue other opportunities.
Throughout the 80’s, Rowan appeared in television shows and the occasional charity event, but had, for the most part, ended his career in entertainment. Having dissolved his partnership with Martin, the former comedian retired to a simple life with his family in Englewood, Florida. Rowan died in 1987 after a long fight with lymphatic cancer aggravated by his type 1 diabetes.
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