Rowan, Dan

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1922-07-22
Death 1987-09-22

Biographical notes:

Dan Rowan was the straight man on the famous Rowan and Martin comedy team. He was born Daniel Hale David in Beggs, Oklahoma, on July 2, 1922. He danced and sang in a carnival with his parents until he was orphaned at the age of eleven. He frequently ran away from a Colorado orphanage until he was eventually allowed to leave, officially. After he graduated from high school, he hitchhiked to Hollywood and became a writer at Paramount. He entered the Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor and became a fighter pilot with the Fifth Air Force in New Guinea. He downed several Japanese aircraft, and he was shot down several times. In October of 1943, he crash landed for the last time and was invalided back to the United States. He worked for awhile at Paramount again and became an acting instructor at Ben Bard’s Acting Studio.

Rowan was working as an actor, writer, and car dealer when he met Dick Martin, who was writing for Duffy’s Tavern. The Rowan and Martin comedy team got its start when it performed a comedy routine in order to demonstrate that one of their scripts was funny. They worked up a routine and performed in clubs for nearly five years. Their big break came in 1953, when they were booked with Nat King Cole at the Copa Room in Las Vegas. In 1955 Rowan changed his legal name from Daniel Hale David to Dan Hale Rowan. Rowan and Martin signed with NBC to appear on the Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Steve Allen, and Perry Como shows. As a result of those appearances they became guest stars on Andy Williams, Jerry Lewis, the Colgate Comedy Hour, and the Summer Chevy Show. They became successful guest hosts for the Dean Martin Summer Show, and that provided the impetus for a Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In Special. The weekly Laugh-In show started in 1968 as an NBC mid-season replacement for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It was on the air for six seasons until 1973, although it did return for a couple of specials. Copyright problems (over who originated Laugh-In ) led to years of lawsuits, which Rowan and Martin eventually won.

Rowan and Martin earned three Emmy’s, and they were nominated twelve times. They were voted best comedy team and Best TV Program by TV editors of the U.S. They were given a gold medal by the International TV Society in 1970 for New Dimensions in TV Comedy. They earned many other awards connected with charities, and they appeared on the covers of Time, Life, and TV Guide. They even earned two Grammy awards for comedy record albums. Unfortunately their two movies, Once Upon a Horse (1958) and The Maltese Bippy (1969), were not successful. It was during this period that Rowan met John D. MacDonald (the suspense writer), and they became close friends. The story of their friendship and the eventual breakup was included in Rowan’s best-selling book of their correspondence entitled A Friendship.

Rowan retired in 1976, but he still made guest appearances on Loveboat and Fantasy Island. He and his third wife Joanna lived in Europe for eight years, before settling in southwest Florida. Rowan had many avocations including boating and the martial arts. He was active in supporting charities, particularly those related to diabetes and kidney disease.

He died of lymphatic cancer at the age of 65 in 1987.

From the guide to the Dan Rowan papers, 1941-1987, (University of Wyoming. American Heritage Center.)

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Subjects:

  • Stand-up Comedy--United States

Occupations:

  • Comedians--United States

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