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Television Pioneer STEVE ALLEN Dies

Published at: Oct. 31, 2000, 5:21 p.m. CST

Father Geek here with some very sad news... Steve Allen, TV giant, has died. Most of our readers may not be familar with the achievements of this god among men but Steve Allen did more to shape modern television than any other TV star. Ol' Father Geek never missed a TONIGHT SHOW back when Steve started it in the very early 1950's, his variety shows, talk shows, music, game show appearances, and TV magazines were always the best and most inventive on the tube. I remember always holding up in my bedroom every Sunday night watching his STEVE ALLEN SHOW on my little all metal Admiral TV while my parents watched the more traditional Ed Sullivan.

Steve Allen defined the word COOL, no doubt about it. His intelligent, biting wit was unmatched and those that followed in his footsteps required dozens of writers to attempt to just keep up. Most important he had a social conscience, he would not shy-away from the needed editoral, something you never see a Leno, or Letterman, or Obrien even attempt. Yes geeks... Once there where giants... and they are missed.

Here's the extensive AP story by Lynn Elber ... read it and weep...

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Steve Allen, the droll comic who pioneered late night television with the original "Tonight Show," composed more than 4,000 songs and wrote 40 books, has died at 78.

He died Monday night at the Encino home of his son, Bill Allen, the son said today.

Allen also starred as the King of Swing in the 1956 movie "The Benny Goodman Story." He appeared in Broadway shows, on soap operas, wrote newspaper columns, commented on wrestling broadcasts, made 40 record albums, wrote plays and a television series that featured guest appearances by Sigmund Freud, Clarence Darrow and Aristotle.

His skill as an ad libber became apparent in his early career as a disc jockey in Phoenix. He once interrupted the playing of records to announce: "Sports fans, I have the final score for you on the big game between Harvard and William & Mary. It is: Harvard 14, William 12, Mary 6."

Allen's most enduring achievement came with the introduction of "The Tonight Show" in 1953. The show began as "Tonight" on the New York NBC station WNBT, then moved to the network on Sept. 27, 1954.

Amid the formality of early TV, "Tonight" was a breath of fresh air. The show began with Allen noodling at the piano, playing some of his compositions and commenting wittily on events of the day. He moved to a desk, chatted with guests, taking part in sketches, doing zany man-in-the street interviews.

"It was tremendous fun to sit there night after night reading questions from the audience and trying to think up funny answers to them; reading angry letters to the editor; introducing the greats of comedy, jazz, Broadway and Hollywood; welcoming new comedians like Shelley Berman, Jonathan Winters, Mort Sahl and Don Adams," he once said.

Allen's popularity led NBC in 1956 to schedule "The Steve Allen Show" on Sunday evenings opposite "The Ed Sullivan Show" on CBS.

A variation of "Tonight," the primetime show was notable for its "Man in the Street Interview" featuring new comics Louis Nye ("Hi-ho, Steverino"), Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Pat Harrington and Bill Dana. The show lasted through 1961, although the last year was on ABC.

Allen cut back his "Tonight' duties to three nights a week when the primetime show started. He left even that in 1956. He was replaced for a season by Ernie Kovacs, then NBC tried a new format in 1957, "Tonight! America after Dark." It failed, and "Tonight" resumed with Jack Paar, followed by Johnny Carson in 1962.

Over the years, Allen maintained a busy career, making appearances in movies and TV series, often with his wife Jayne. Her sister, the late Audrey Meadows, portrayed the long-suffering Alice to Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden on "The Honeymooners."

He wrote great quantities of songs, and several were recorded by pop vocalists. His most popular song was "This May Be the Start of Something Big."

A self-styled advocate of "radical middle-of-the-roadism," Allen often spoke out on political matters such as capital punishment, nuclear policy and freedom of expression. He once considered running for Congress as a Democrat, but decided against it.

Toward the end of his life, he spoke out against the increase of sexual content on television. In a speech last year, he said tabloid television talk shows such as the "Jenny Jones" show have "taken television to the garbage dump."

"There are moral failures in the marketplace," he said.

Allen was proudest of his "Meeting of Minds" series which appeared on PBS from 1976 to 1979. He moderated a panel of actors impersonating historic figures such as Galileo, Emily Dickinson, Cleopatra (played by Jayne Meadows), Charles Darwin and Attila the Hun, who explained their diverse philosophies.

When an interviewer asked Allen in 1985 how he managed to do so many creative things, he replied:

"I never asked myself that question. It would be like asking how my hair grows. The mystery of creativity is just that: it is a mystery, and particularly mysterious to me about myself."

Steve Allen came by his humor naturally; both his parents, Billy Allen and Belle Montrose, were vaudeville comedians. Their son was born in New York City on Dec. 26, 1921, during a brief respite from their travels. Steve was 18 months old when his father died, and his mother continued touring the circuits as a single.

The boy grew up in other people's homes, mostly with his mother's family in Chicago, the Donahues. He remembered the place as "a rooming house with the smell of cabbage cooking."

Allen won a partial scholarship to study journalism at Drake University, but severe asthma caused him to transfer to Arizona State Teachers College in 1942. After a few months he dropped out to work as a disc jockey and entertainer at radio station KOY in Phoenix.

Drafted in 1943, he was soon released because of asthma. He returned to KOY, and married his college sweetheart, Dorothy Goodman. They had three sons, Steve Jr., David and Brian, and divorced in 1952.

Allen moved to Los Angeles and began offering his comedy and music on local radio.

A midnight show on KNX brought Allen a small but enthusiastic audience and attracted national attention in 1950 when it was carried on the CBS network as a summer replacement for "Our Miss Brooks." The networks were converting to television, and he was invited to New York for "The Steve Allen Show," which appeared five evenings a week on CBS.

In 1952, Allen was invited to a dinner party at which he was seated next to the beautiful actress Jayne Meadows. Uncharacteristically, he was speechless.

At the end of the evening, she turned to him and said, "Mr. Allen, you're either the rudest man I ever met or the shyest." His reddened face indicated the latter. They began dating and married in 1954.

Their only child, Bill, said that on Monday, his father was visiting his home. "He said he was a little tired after dinner. He went to relax, peacefully, and never reawakened," the younger Allen said.

He added that his father had a "long, full and extraordinary life."

Readers Talkback

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  • Oct. 31, 2000, 5:45 p.m. CST

    Sadness.

    by Shrevie

    I'm going to ignore the previous ignoramous. I adored Steve Allen. He was one of the most incisively witty talents of the century and his abilities seemed to have no bounds. Aside from all his innovations, the seemingly mild-mannered man had balls (he was the first to put Elvis on television when everyone else was afraid to). Other comics, like Billy Crystal, worshipped him. One of my favorite running jokes ever was when Billy Crystal used to make a reference to him at various award shows ("And the man in the car was of course...Steve Allen."), even years after anyone remembered why he did it in the first place. But anyway, there's nobody around like him now. It seems our entertainers are getting less and less capable of anything. Allen and his generation seemed able to do just about everything. And do it well. Thanks, Steve. Goodbye.

  • Oct. 31, 2000, 6:07 p.m. CST

    Zany. Nobody does "Zany" anymore. Zany is a lost art.

    by Roger U. Roundly

    4000 songs! Unreal. That must be some kind of record. Being an early 20sumthin, I don't know the guy from Adam. But, lots of good comedians are always namechecking Steve Allen, so I guess I'll be discovering what the fuss is about when all the retrospectives kick in. Has he done an autobiography?

  • Oct. 31, 2000, 7:16 p.m. CST

    Dont worry...

    by JackieJokeman

    His hairpiece lives on!!!

  • Oct. 31, 2000, 11:08 p.m. CST

    This news really bums me out.

    by Cereal Killer

    Steve Allen was truly one of the geniuses of the entertainment business. He's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific songwriter of modern times and there really was nothing the man couldn't do. He has a whole series of mystery novels that he wrote over the years starring himself and his wife solving various crimes. If someone wants to get to know the man these are a good place to start. A previous Talkbacker described Steverino as a rennaissance man and that's a damn good word for him. Hollywood will never see his like again and even though I disagreed with some of his political stance on sex and violence in the media (it bordered on censorship) I will miss his wit and warmth.

  • Oct. 31, 2000, 11:47 p.m. CST

    I'll always remeber him

    by DeMoNiCMurray

    He was a great comic and no matter what happens his names still sticks out when I think fi the the Simpsons. I'll rememerb his books; Journey to the Center of the Earth of Steve Allen and the Joy of Cooking Steve Allen.

  • Nov. 1, 2000, 12:09 a.m. CST

    Well spoken Father Geek! Ernie Kovacs was also a Zany TV Pionee

    by Regis Travolta

    As was Jack Paar. Yep those were the days all righty. However in fairness, of late, Steve Allen was on a morality kick and took out full page ads in TV Guide and newspapers nationwide on behalf of some parental concern group that didn't like current "immorality" on Tv and in movies. So I'm not sure he would even approve of the films reviewed and previewed here on AICN. He would probably hate most of AICN. But he was a talented funny guy.

  • Nov. 1, 2000, 12:52 a.m. CST

    Two sides of Steve...

    by Uncapie

    Sure, here's the talented funny guy that did many great things. But, the three times I met the man, he wasn't funny or nice. Once I was at a party and I saw him order people around, talking down to them, as if he owned them. Very uncool. The second time, I met him at a book signing and wanted to talk to him about the "Meeting Of Minds" show that was on PBS. Very good show too. His reply, "Yeah, I did those. Thanks." I would have accepted the bum's rush IF THERE WAS A LINE, AND PEOPLE WANTED TO BUY HIS BOOK AND HAVE HIM SIGN IT, BUT THERE WASN'T! And the third time, I met him at a poster show where Don Knotts was also signing. Steverino got pissed off and left early because Knotts was getting all the attention. He was schedualed for the second day, but never came back. So, on the surface, Steve was pretty smart and did some amazing things, but underneath, I don't think he was a happy man.

  • You know the guy who sits at a piano and does those allegedly hilarious political parody songs, has PBS specials from time to time, I think he was on a Simpsons episode.

  • IM DEAD NOW. by Steve Allen

  • Nov. 1, 2000, 11:20 a.m. CST

    Steve Allen was and is a great man and you people who think othe

    by Zachsmind

    I read the book "HOW TO BE FUNNY!" by Steve Allen. Twice. And ah *still* ain't in the least bit funny. Even so, I still loved that old bastard of a man despite his personal morality issues and political affiliations with the Mafia and Elvis Look-alikes and people who had last names that began with the letter K and also the fact he was a satin worshipper and glorifier of flatulence. DESPITE ALL OF THAT! The man is a god! Albeit he is a god of small kitchen appliances that are broken which end up in the attic or sometimes garage sales and the Salvation army BUT HE IS A GOD and I don't wanna hear anymore of it. We should glorify his name and praise it until the end of time by playing Lenny Bruce and George Carlin tapes then hold our ears and go "la la la la" real loud when the doodie words show up. THE MAN IS A GOD! STEVE ALLEN WAS AND IS A FREAKING GOD! WITH A CAPITAL g! GOD BLESS THE BEEPING OLD BEEPING BASTARD! I BEEP BEEP DOODIE BLEEP BEEP BEEPING STEVE ALLEN OUT MY BLEEPING BLEEP! ..and his wife's a babe too. Now I don't wanna hear no more bad bleeping bleep in here about THAT GOD OF A MAN STEVE BLEEPING ALLEN! You think Steve Allen hated foul language? You should hear Bill Cosby go on about it! Whew! Man he can be annoying. Steve Allen was not a bleeping fascist! He just had his mouth repeatedly washed out with soap by his mother when he was a child and was MENTALLY SCARRED by that terrible experience so you should BOW DOWN AND BEG FOR MERCY from THAT GREAT SPIRIT OF COMEDY STEVE the most imitated man on television ALLEN! Ah pity the fool what dis mah blood brother Steve Allen! Ah pity the fool! ...seriously I think he was a great man and a great comedian and the above tirade is a feeble attempt at honoring THAT GREAT MAN WHO YOU DON'T HAVE THE COOOOOLNESS TO KISS HIS SNEAKERS! So there! Now, I'm gonna go lay down for awhile cuz this pathetic attempt at humor just wore me out!

  • Nov. 1, 2000, 11:58 a.m. CST

    The Political Song Guy...

    by Shrevie

    ...is Mark Russell. It's funny, I often associated one with the other too. But Russell's still around, but not as active as during the Reagan administration, though I can understand why.

  • Nov. 1, 2000, 12:39 p.m. CST

    Steve Allen was a flaming intellectual

    by tuffydog

    He wasn't just a funny TV guy, he was an all-around intelligent fellow who will be sorely missed...

  • Nov. 1, 2000, 12:46 p.m. CST

    SMOCK! SMOCK!

    by Redbeard_NV

    Gonna miss Da Bird!

  • The Celebrity Roast had no better point man than Steve Allen.

  • Nov. 1, 2000, 4:54 p.m. CST

    Hey Garret

    by Go Noles

    Exactly when did Steve Allen give up HIS right to free speech? I've read interviews with him on the subject of Hollywood, and I never saw him write ANYTHING stating the government should censor the media and entertainment. In fact, quite the opposite. That doesn't mean he was happy with what's going on, and he had EVERY RIGHT TO SAY IT, and every right to try to do something about it. And pinning a label like "Enemy of Free Speech" on him is garbage. And whether you "forgive" him or not is meaningless. Rest in peace, Steve.

  • Nov. 2, 2000, 7:26 a.m. CST

    Stiff Allen

    by Bono

    Oops! I mean "Steve". Har...

  • Nov. 2, 2000, 3:20 p.m. CST

    Still the man was a hypocrite

    by elryano

    say what everyou want to..but the last few years of his life he took to the PTC...a group that likes to bully others into trying to form the world into the image they want.. I think its funny that this man that condems the WWF for being vulgar and South PArk also is the same man who was pissed when Lenny Bruce was arrested... I wish I could remember the old Steve Allen and not the one who joined a little faction of the Rev Moon

  • Nov. 2, 2000, 6:54 p.m. CST

    Allen

    by Jobriath

    He got a little pompous in his old age, deciding what was sleazy and what's not. If I choose to enjoy wrestling or Howard Stern, it's none of the PTC's business. Having advertisers be our conscience like Steve Allen advocated is a dangerous business. Rod Serling was once unable to produce a teleplay on the Holocaust because one of the sponsors made gas heaters.

  • Nov. 4, 2000, 1:29 p.m. CST

    A very special guy

    by Blabbermouse

    Steve was like a 2nd father to me - I used to live for his Sun night NBC show & a few years later, his nightly syndicated Westinghouse series. He taught me you could be silly and serious - maybe not at the same time, but having 1 sensibility didn't preclude the other. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Like Kovacs, Allen played with the nature of the medium, just letting a camera observe the street outside the studio while he'd free-associate at what was transpiring. (Now we have webcams, without Allen's wit accompanying them.)Sometimes he'd sit down & play jazz piano while they'd show videotaped blackouts of bizarre sightgags. Whenever a guest would plus their current project, they'd play a sound effect of a cash register ringing up, commenting on & subverting the free publicity being handed out. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I'll very much miss his quick-witted wordplay (a trait I've found myself prone to from time to time - Thank you Steve!), his intellectual curiosity & his lack of self-agrandizement. In all the years I watched him, he never took a cheap shot at anyone or tried to make himself look good at someone else's expense, something you can't say about those who've followed in his footsteps. Hi-ho Steverino, & God bless you!

  • Nov. 5, 2000, 12:22 a.m. CST

    Steve Allen burn in hell

    by Evil McSatan

    One less old self-righteous fuck stick to impede the natural developement of human kind. Say hello to Adolph for me, Stevie.