Friday 9 December 2016

Alan Sues

Actor, best known on this side of the Atlantic as Uncle Al, the kiddie's pal from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In

Published 18/12/2011 | 05:00

Alan Sues, who has died aged 85, was best known to audiences over here for his cameo roles in the hit TV comedy Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, in which he played an assortment of camp, zany characters.

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From 1968 to 1972, Sues was a recurring cast member on Laugh-In, playing an eccentric children's entertainer named Uncle Al (the Kiddies' Pal) and an effeminate sportscaster called Big Al.

Sues delivered regular "Sports Scene updates" throughout each show, one of a huge cast of recurring characters in what the British television historian Mark Lewisohn characterised as "an anything goes, scatological mishmash of quick-fire gags, micro-sketches, corn, puns, satire and slapstick".

Sues' Big Al seemed more concerned with ringing a bell that he called his "tinkle" than announcing the day's sports action. His Uncle Al children's host was invariably hung-over, and he also did a drag imitation of another cast member, Jo Anne Worley.

Although it became a top-rated show in the United States, it did less well in Britain, where it was shown on Sunday nights on BBC Two between 1968 and 1971.

Nonetheless it gathered a cult following, with regular viewers trading its trove of catchphrases such as "Sock it to me" and the more mystifying "You bet your sweet bippy". The show satirised the 1960s counterculture and featured celebrity guests like Diana Ross as well as public figures such as the Rev Billy Graham and Richard Nixon, who, appearing during his presidential campaign and trying to cast off his humourless image, drew both laughs and gasps when he asked: "Sock it to me?"

Sues tended to perform in an over-the-top, flamboyant way, affecting stereotypically gay mannerisms. In fact, he was gay in real life, but fretted that his sexual orientation might damage his career.

In the United States Sues was also known for his role as a clumsy and outrageously flamboyant Peter Pan on peanut butter commercials.

Alan Grigsby Sues was born on March 7, 1926 in Ross, California. His father bred racehorses, which meant frequent moves and changes of school for Alan and his brother, John. Alan served in the US Army in Europe during the Second World War.

His demob benefits paid for acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse, and he performed there before moving to New York in 1952. He made his Broadway debut the following year in Elia Kazan's Tea and Sympathy. During the play's run he met and married Phyllis Gehrig, a dancer and actress.

When the production ended in 1955, Sues and his wife devised a nightclub act which they toured nationwide. Vaudevillian-style characters which Sues developed for this act would later resurface in Laugh-In. After the couple's divorce in the late 1950s, Sues settled in California, picking up regular acting work in films and television.

He was cast for Laugh-In by the producer George Schlatter, who saw him and Jo Anne Worley in an off Broadway musical comedy revue, The Mad Show.

After Rowan and Martin Laugh-In, Sues performed on Broadway in the 1970s, as Professor Moriarty in the Royal Shakespeare Company's revival of William Gillette's play Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday Independent

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