October 11, 2005

Louis Nye, veteran comic, sidekick to Steve Allen, dead at 92

LOS ANGELES -- When he began making the theater circuit in his native Hartford, Conn., comedian Louis Nye had his sights set on becoming a serious actor.

But after a string of dramatic roles in theater and radio, it was in the Army that Nye found out just how funny he could be. Soon after, a career that would last more than half a century took off in a new direction.

Nye, who created a national catchphrase when he belted out "Hi Ho, Steverino" on Steve Allen's groundbreaking 1950s TV show, died Sunday following a long battle with long cancer, according to his son, Peter Nye.

Although different sources list various ages, Nye's son said Monday that his father was 92.

Nye, who pronounced his first name "Louie," was born on May 1, 1913, in Hartford, Conn., where he began his career in theater before moving to New York City to enter radio.

"I still think of myself as an actor," he told The Associated Press in 1970. "In the radio days I was busy playing rotten Nazis, rich uncles and emotional juveniles _ the whole span _ and the only time I tried to be funny was at parties."

He turned to comedy while in the Army, he said, when he was stationed near a "wild town" in Missouri.

"I was in charge of the recreation, hall, and I had to make the entertainment good enough to keep the young soldiers from going into town," he said. "It was a challenge and I worked hard at it. For the first time, I realized I had the ability to make people laugh."

Soon he was playing nightclubs from Las Vegas to London.

A master of voices and accents, he could go from being droll one moment to prissy the next. He could also switch effortlessly from comically evil Nazis to bumbling Russians.

"He has a great business card from that time that lists something like 15 accents that he could do," his son recalled with a chuckle, adding his father's impersonation of former Russian leader Nikita Khruschev was so dead-on that the son once failed to recognize him when they came face to face.

On "The Steve Allen Show," which ran from 1956 to 1961 under various names, he quickly endeared himself to audiences as Gordon Hathaway, the effete, country-club snob who would welcome Allen's arrival with the "Hi, ho, Steverino!" salutation.

Other regulars on the landmark show included comedians Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Bill Dana and Gabriel Dell.

After the show's run ended, Nye appeared often on TV game shows, in films and as a regular on "The Ann Sothern Show." He was often cast as the second banana, never the lead.

He played dentist Delbert Gray during the 1960-61 season of Sothern's show and appeared as Sonny Drysdale, the prissy son of harried banker Milburn Drysdale, during "The Beverly Hillbillies"' first season. He once said his character was dropped after one season because a network executive thought he was "too sissified." Nonetheless, he was back as Sonny for the 1993 TV movie "The Legend of the Beverly Hillbillies" and appeared in the 2001 documentary "The Beverly Hillbillies: The E True Hollywood Story."

He teamed with Allen again in 1967, on "The Steve Allen Comedy Hour," a CBS variety show in which he also portrayed Gordon Hathaway. His cohorts that time included Allen's wife, Jayne Meadows, Ruth Buzzi and John Byner, among others.

In the summer of 1970 he hosted the variety show "Happy Days" on CBS and three years later co-starred with Norman Fell in the New York garment industry sitcom "Needles and Pins." He played Kirby Baker in the 1978 TV show "Harper Valley P.T.A."

He was a celebrity panelist on the late '70s syndicated comedy "The $1.98 Beauty Show."

In the 1980s and '90s he provided various voices for the "Inspector Gadget" cartoon show.

His film credits included "Cannonball Run II," "Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood," "A Guide for the Married Man," "Good Neighbor, Sam" and "Sex Kittens Go to College."

He also guest starred in such shows as "St. Elsewhere," "The Love Boat," "Laverne & Shirley" and "The Munsters" and appeared frequently as a guest on "The Jackie Gleason Show," "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and other variety and talk shows.

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