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Born: December 26, 1921 - New York City, New York - Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen - more commonly known
as Steve Allen, 78
Died - Monday - October 30, 2000 - at his son's house in Encino, California
Louis Nye, the suave, smug Gordon Hathaway of "Man On The Street" feature - from The Steve Allen Show airing on NBC Sunday nights, June 1956 - March 1959, 8:00 to 9:00 PM, then April 1959 to June '59 Sunday 7:30 to 8:30 PM, moving to Monday nights from September 1959 to June 1960 10:00 to 11:00 PM. The final airings was on ABC; Wednesday, September 1961, running till December '61 from 7:30 to 8:30 PM.
The very multi-talented Steve Allen; a radio announcer, disc jockey (DJ), television personality, actor, musician (mostly piano and organ but he did play others) songwriter, singer, comedian, author, producer, director, and more. It was said that he was a true entertainment polymath. Of all his talents, perhaps, productivity was his greatest: the volumes of which he could produce songs, albums, and books is very impressive, even if the individual results are not. He once bet singer Frankie Laine that he could write fifty songs in one week, and he won, going so far as to camp out in the window of a Hollywood music store to garner a little publicity to boot.
Steve's father Billy Allen, and mother, Belle Montrose, were a vaudeville comedy team, 'Montrose and Allen'. When he was just 18 months old his father died and his mother retired from the stage to raise him at her family's home in Chicago. As a child he suffered from asthma, later, to deal with it, he switched colleges, from Iowa to Arizona. He was in the Army during World War Two, but because of his asthma, he was given a Medical Discharge.
Returning to Arizona he began working as a radio announcer in Phoenix, then as a disc jockey. His snappy radio patter made him a popular host, and he was hired a few years later by Los Angeles radio station KNX. Soon after, KNX gave him a live late night show of his own, and CBS radio picked it up in 1950 as the summer replacement for the "Our Miss Brooks" radio program. CBS executives liked the audience response, and they brought him to New York City to host a live television show, "The Steve Allen Show," a short variety segment that ran five nights a week (M-F) for two seasons, first airing December 25, 1950 7:00 to 7:30 PM.
Steve Allen did even better on television, adapting easily to the medium, and in 1953, NBC lured him away from CBS to usher in what has become a television institution: "The Tonight Show". Airing first as a local New York show, till it moved to the network in 1954. From the very beginning, the show had much the format it has today: Gene Rayburn served as announcer and the brunt of Allen's often sarcastic jokes, while Skitch Henderson led the studio orchestra. Allen ad libbed, performed comic skits, sang and played songs, and hosted variety acts.
Throughout the many incarnations of his talk/variety show, Allen remained a steadfast promoter of rising young talent. Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme both got a strong boost from Allen, first as individuals and then as a couple. Comedians Louis Nye, Don Knotts, and Tom Poston were regulars for years. He showcased jazz performers such as Terry Gibbs, and the Tonight show band would eventually become the refuge of some of New York's best jazz and session musicians - Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Urbie Green, among others - and the core of many of Enoch Light's Command ensembles. Although Allen would later become a vocal critic of the decline of cultural standards, he was an early supporter of Rock 'N' Roll. Being the one to first host Elvis Presley, and used the "Elvis the Pelvis" phase. Jerry Lee Lewis, fame rocker, named his son after Allen. Perhaps his more hippest act ever, he collaborated with beat poet and novelist Jack Kerouac on an album of poetry and jazz. Jack Kerouac, Poetry for the Beat Generation, Dot DLP-3154.
In 1956, Allen began part-timing on "Tonight" to start a prime-time series, again called "The Steve Allen Show," also on NBC. At the same time, he was hired to appear in the title role of the, "The Benny Goodman Story," a movie, more or less, base on the life of band leader Benny Goodman. A less than successful attempt to cash in on the success of "The Glenn Miller Story," it was his last major acting role (until he began donning wigs and robes on his series, "Meeting of Minds" ( PBS 1976 ).
Also, in the midst of all this, he was busily churning out album after album of jazz piano and organ instrumentals for Coral and later Dot Records. Usually these were cut in one late night sessions after his TV show, often with backing from members of the show's band. Given his extraordinary musical talents, his lively sense of humor and the caliber of his back-up, you might think these recordings would be some good stuff, and you would be right. But some people think that the music is nothing more than "polite jazz", "a predictable collection of well-known tunes performed routinely," as critic Nat Hentoff described one album, but one album does not tell the whole story.
Steve Allen's most impressive statistics is his output as a songwriter: reportedly over 8,500 tunes published by the time of his death, earning him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as "the most prolific composer of modern times." His best known tune, "This Could Be the Start of Something Big," was used for years as the jingle for Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice and has become something of a minor jazz standard. He penned the lyrics to George Duning and Morris Stoloff's theme for the movie, "Picnic". And his instrumental, "Gravy Waltz," earned a Grammy as best jazz performance on 1962.
He wrote over fifty (50) books. Now, not many people can write fifty books and have them come out masterpieces. Steve Allen's books are of a lot with his albums in many ways, easily produced, easily consumed, easily disposed. Most of them were written by dictating into a small tape recorder he usually carried with them, and carry titles like Steve Allen's Private Joke File Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking, and How to Be Funny. He also wrote a series of mysteries featuring himself as the narrator, sleuth, and usually the target of wick and evil deeds, that include: Murder in Hawaii and Wake Up to Murder.
Steve Allen's prime time show couldn't survive against its competition, "The Ed Sullivan Show," and Allen left network TV in 1958. He moved back to Los Angeles and, beginning in the early 1960s, produced his own talk/variety show, which ran in syndication for over a decade.
In 1976, he and his second wife, actress Jayne Meadows, produced and appeared in a half-hour show for PBS, "Meeting of Minds." In it, Allen, Meadows and a collection of other actors donned costumes and appeared as historic figures such as Galileo, Socrates, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Cleopatra, and Attila the Hun. Speaking "in character," these figures debated subjects such as human rights, sexual equality, and love. It was certainly one of the most unabashedly intellectual endeavors ever put on television, and it earned a Peabody Award.
In his later years, he wrote a syndicated newspaper column in which he aired his opinions on a variety of cultural and political subjects. He described himself as a "middle-of-the-road radical," and while he was quite conservative on cultural matters (he said that tabloid talk shows had "taken television to the garbage dump"), he was progressive on social issues such as freedom of expression, capital punishment, migrant labor, and control of nuclear power.
He never stopped working or performing. He successfully battled colon cancer in the late 1980's, called his condition "Critical. I'm critical of the doctors, critical of the nurses, critical of the hospital food ..." He sang and played to a sold out audience at a local California college just one night before he died.
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