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Funny man of TV, stage

One of the big breaks in Louis Nye's life came when he met Steve Allen in an elevator.

Nye was a young comedian, picking up jobs on radio and television whenever he could. At the time, he said, he had never seen Allen at work.

But Allen had seen him, and asked if Nye would like to appear on his new show. Then the elevator stopped and that was that.

Or so Nye thought. A short time later he received a call; soon he was appearing on the Steve Allen Show. It was 1956.

Nye's entrance into show business wasn't easy, even though appearing on stage was what he always longed to do. Growing up in Hartford, Conn., he was "a terrible student. I couldn't make the Dramatic Club because my algebra was so bad."

Eventually he joined a local company, the Hartford Players. "I did a lot of summer stock," he said. "At one place we were paid with food, mainly a lot of sweet corn, plus $12 a week."

Later, he went to New York and began working as a radio actor. But, on his first seven-hour shift for Bond Clothiers, he got a call from a casting office regarding a role on the radio show, Gangbusters.

That was the end of his sales career.

But it was during the years on the Steve Allen Show (1956-61) that Louis Nye became a favorite of American TV audiences. He was the one who originated the "Hi-ho, Steve-rino." It sort of became his trademark. As the suave, smug Gordon Hathaway, Nye fielded Allen's "Man on the Street" queries and earned more than his quota of laughs, as did Don Knotts, Tom Poston and Bill Dana.

After the show moved to California, Nye did some movies (Facts of Life, The Wheeler Dealers, Good Neighbor Sam, among others) and took other television roles.

One was on the Beverly Hillbillies, as Sonny Drysdale, son of the banker. Another was the Ann Sothern Show, as a dentist in whom Sothern's friend and roommate developed a romantic interest.

Mostly he has done stand-up comedy. "I did some Jack Benny shows," he said, "and I got to be fond of him. He asked me what I was going to do when the show went off, and suggested that I do stand up. "You can have that the rest of your life,' he told me."

So Nye went to San Francisco, and worked there for a month. "I had a basis for a show then," he said, "and it took off from there."

Nye also had done theater, both on and off Broadway. Of all the show business media, he says he probably likes working in the theater best. "I think the theater is the mama of us all," he said. "Working in the theater sort of lets you spread out. But I like what I'm doing at the time I'm doing it."

Nye's wife Anita is a composer. "She's one of the writers of Sunday Kind of Love," he said. They met backstage in New York, and now live in Pacific Palisades, Calif. They have been married "a long time," and have a son who is 38 and is an artist in San Francisco.

Nye only recently completed a tour that brought him almost full circle _ performing with Allen.

"We just got into a big car and traveled, and if it was too far we went by plane," he said. "It was wonderful to be together and do all that stuff. We did it like the old Tonight Show." They originally were booked for 12 weeks, but added another 12, finally appearing 24 times in 24 cities.

"I never felt so good in my life," Nye said. "We played in some wonderful old theaters, with those red velvet curtains and that musty flavor in the dressing rooms. It was just plain exciting."