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Trustin Howard, a singer, actor and nightclub stalwart who served as the head writer for the 1960s late-night talk show hosted by Joey Bishop, has died. He was 93.
Howard, who often performed under the name Slick Slavin, died April 20 at West Hills (Calif.) Hospital of complications suffered from a fall, his sister, Susan Slavin, announced.
In 1963, Howard provided the voice of the cartoon character Philbert for an innovative pilot about an animator (William Schallert) whose creation comes to life. Created by Friz Freleng and directed by Richard Donner, the early attempt to integrate animation and live action did not make it to series, but Warner Bros. played it as a 26-minute short in theaters.
As Slavin, Howard appeared in the movie Speed Crazy (1959), in which he wrote, sang and played guitar on the title song, and he had a bit part as a master of ceremonies in Elvis Presley’s King Creole (1958). He also composed songs and recorded for Imperial Records.
Howard’s major breakthrough as a writer came when he was hired as one of the first five scribes on The Joey Bishop Show, which debuted in April 1967 on ABC. He became the head writer when the other four were fired.
The program, facing formidable competition from Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, ran only until December 1969 before ABC replaced it with another talk show hosted by Dick Cavett. Regis Philbin was Bishop’s sidekick, and he and Howard became lifelong friends.
Howard also wrote and produced for the Ralph Edwards series This Is Your Life and wrote for such TV specials as The Night of Stars, a benefit held in the wake of the 1970 plane crash that killed 31 people, including 14 members of the Wichita State football team.
Born Howard Trustin Slavin in Chicago on Dec. 18, 1923, he helped support his family by performing on stages and in nightclubs around the country starting at age 9. He signed a contract with MGM and was on the way to Hollywood, his family said, when he was drafted by the U.S. Army.
Howard starred in a long-running Las Vegas musical revival of the Johnny Mercer Broadway show Top Banana and produced and wrote a new version for HBO in 1981.
In the cult 3D classic Stardust in Your Eyes (1953), Howard can be seen doing impressions of such stars as James Cagney, Charles Laughton, James Stewart and Humphrey Bogart. The 2015 documentary 3-D Rarities features that short film, and Howard did live stand-up to accompany screenings.
Howard wrote a 2003 autobiography, My Life With Regis and Joey and Practically Everyone Else, and several other books, including one about the relationship between Walter Winchell and Damon Runyon.
In addition to his sister and her husband David, survivors include his grandchildren Derek, Tifanie and Justin (Justin Bobby of MTV’s The Hills), brother Elliott and sister-in-law Emerald. Boots, his wife of more than 50 years, died in 2010.
A memorial will take place in June in Los Angeles. For inquiries, please call Susan Slavin at (212) 330-7660.
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