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Steve Allen, himself


Steve Allen, himself

Radio TV Mirror Headliner

“I’M THE happy victim of a series of lucky circumstances.” That’s Steve Allen talking, explaining how he happened to get where he is. “Nothing I ever did was the result of any special planning ahead, but each thing led to something better. Even the jobs I was fired from, the shows I wanted but didn’t get, the zany stunts I took a chance on doing. I’ve seemed to stumble onto my successes, and luck has had a lot to do with it.”

It started when Steve quit Arizona State Teachers’ College to take a job as a radio announcer for KOY in Phoenix. He hadn’t any idea that he was picking up so much all-round knowledge of show business, including those little trick things that keep an audience interested. Practically everything he does now he began to learn then.

When, some years ago, he got a six-night-a-week midnight show over radio station KNX in Hollywood, that was another piece of luck. Steve’s was the only comedy show on late at night and he explains it didn’t have to be any better than anyone else’s. All the insomniacs in the Los Angeles area became his rooters. So did the night owls who stood in line waiting to get into the studio to see if the show was really as uninhibited as it sounded. It wasn’t Steve Allen they came to see, but a friend they had created in their own minds, who turned the midnight hour into a crazy quilt of laughter, impromptu music, pertinent and impertinent interviews and casual commentary on anything and practically nothing. They couldn’t sleep, so it was easy to listen. 

Steve Allen appears on The SteveAllen Show, Monday through Friday at noon EST, CBS-TV, sponsored in part by Proctor and Gamble, an on Songs For Sale, simulcast on CBS radio-TV Sat. at 10 P. M. EDT, sponsored in part by Carter, in part by Sterling Drug.
“I became a comedian—if I ever did—by accident,” he explains.
“I was a shy brat, given to writing poetry. When my folks found out, they figured that I was going to be a bum!”
<Young Allens—Stephen Jr., Brian, David—with Daddy. Opposite the boy who grew up to be a funny man.>

 To go on with this pattern of luck, Steve says, “I had been in New York only a couple of weeks last winter when, on January 8, I got a real break. I can’t remember when Arthur Godfrey has missed a program, maybe never, but this one day his plane was delayed after leaving Miami. I was asked to take over his Talent Scouts’ show that night, half an hour after my own show would be off the air.

“I thought I ought to open the Godfrey program with any informal explanation of my presence, which I must admit got pretty involved, and I further distinguished myself by turning the commercials into an even greater shambles of tea and noodle soup than I had intended, but the audience and the critics were kind and it added up to another lucky circumstance for Stephen Valentine Allen.”

IN CASE you missed the “informal explanation” Steve refers to above, it was typically Allenesque and went like this: “This is Arthur Godfrey,” he announced. “Well, not really Godfrey. I just said that to scare my wife. Actually, I’m not replacing Godfrey at all. I’m replacing Robert Q. Lewis, who usually replaces Arthur Godfrey.” His soup commercial started mildly enough with “It has that home-cooked flavor, because well—you cook it at home,” but when he began to pour the noodle soup into Godfrey’s teapot and the whole mixture into Godfrey’s ukulele, audiences succumbed completely and the laughs exploded all along the CBS-TV net.

Now that you’ve heard Steve’s own explanation of his success, that business about luck, you may be ready to admit there’s something to it. But there’s more. It starts with a six-foot-three-inch, one hundred-ninety-pound fellow with a deadpan expression heightened by owlish eyeglasses, who makes unexpected and ridiculously funny comments and asides, delivered with perfect timing. He has a generally amiable and casual air that makes the watcher think nothing mush us going to happen and leaves him that much more delighted when it does!

On paper it may not sound very funny to know that he opened a recent program with “Welcome to a new show called What Else Is On?” but to his audience that’s a perfect Allen opener and they love the way he throws the line away. “We’ve got the ladies of the Wandering Stitch Club of New Jersey here in the studio today,” he announces solemnly, and the Sewing Circle girls who have come en masse from across the Hudson are thrown into stitches by the introduction.

In spite of the fact that he’s a serious young man of thirty, rather shy and quiet except when he’s working, Steve’s showmanship seems a natural expression for a fellow who spent the first few years of his life on the vaudeville circuits. His parents, Billy Allen and Belle Montrose, did an act in which father was the singer and straight man and mother the comedienne. He still talks about his mother’s “great off-the-cuff wit—her way of working is entirely different from mine, but she’s wonderful,” he brags. He was an only child and after he started to school he lived variously with a grandmother or aunt or friends during school months and spent his vacations traveling with his parents.

Maybe it was because he lived in so many different places and had to make new friends frequently at some sixteen different schools that he turned into what he calls a “shy brat, given to reading and writing poetry,” and adds, “My folks figured I was going to be a bum, when they found out about the poems. They wanted me to be a bookkeeper or an engineer. Then I won a hundred dollars in a high school essay contest, and writing didn’t seem so insubstantial.”

“IT WAS kind of by accident,” he tells you, “that I became a comedian—if I ever did. I had written a humor column for the college paper, which didn’t mean too much I suppose, but when I was working as an announcer with Wendell Noble I began to listen to a lot of shows and you know you get to thinking, ‘I could do better than that myself.’ Well, I got to feeling that way and finally Mutual asked Wendel and me to put together a fifteen-minute show. A cosmetic company bought it and dropped us after six months.”

Steve’s ad libbing started on a CBS disc jockey show. Whenever he ran short of material he would fill in with impromptu talk, adding more and more on the spur of the moment until after a while he wasn’t preparing a thing ahead. It was during this period that he developed his gift for audience interviews. “I tried to probe people’s minds and bring out something ridiculous in our conversation. They were wonderful at figuring out what I was getting at. Even the smart-alecks can be a big help, and women are usually more fun than men to interview.”

Steve’s first television program, on the West Coast, was called Country Store “because it had absolutely nothing to do with a country store except that I wore a white apron and the sponsor sold food products.” It was an audience-participation show and about all Steve had to do was to get the guests on and say something like, “Let’s put blindfolds on the Rileys and see how many cherry pies they can eat in a minute and a half.”

He did a radio show for a while, called Earn Your Vacation, in which the participants were school teachers, and last summer he was the hot weather replacement for Eve Arden’s Our Miss Brooks. But his midnight show on the Pacific network of CBS probably gave him his greatest scope. That’s the one that had the crowds lined up waiting to get in. He’d read his mail, improvise on the piano, clown with unknowns and “name” guests who dropped in to watch him work, treating both kinds with same lack of deference and quickness of quip. Because he had originally been billed as a disc jockey he played just one record every night, to make good on the billing.

When he left Hollywood last December after six years on radio, he was touched by the crowds who showed up to wish him well on his final broadcast. “It was like said such nice things about me.” 


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