Born Boxing Day
in New York City
; Stephen Valentine
William Allen. Husband of actor Jayne Meadows, a frequent collaborator over
the years; brother-in-law of Audrey Meadows, the most famous of all the Alice Kramdens
. A renaissance man
, a pretty decent jazz
), a composer
(of thousands of
songs and pieces of music, including the theme music for his TV show
(often playing himself in films and TV),
author (from mystery novels to thoughtful non-fiction), producer, and host of
anything from The Tonight Show
-1957), to Jazz Scene
(circa 1960), to his "What if?
panel discussion program
Meeting of Minds
in the 70s and 80s.
Allen used his skills as a wacky radio DJ to literally invent the late-night talk show - NBC's Sylvester "Pat" Weaver may have invented the Tonight Show shell, but the content came from Allen, his writers, and troupe of actors; David Letterman acknowledges the influence, having borrowed much of his on-air mien, but pretty much every late-night show has used Allen's template.
He became a pretty big celebrity via the show, which was, back then, 105
minutes long (with the first 15 minutes mainly seen in New York); he won the
title role in The Benny Goodman Story, and learned enough clarinet
to look like a credible film Benny. NBC gave him a second show, a variety
show to compete with CBS' all-conquering Ed Sullivan Show. The
double duty forced Allen to cut back on his late-night duties, handing the reins over to a series of part-time substitute hosts, including Ernie Kovacs, who along with Jack Paar, was his choice for successor to the Tonight throne. NBC, after dropping the ball for a few months, eventually chose Paar to be the permanent replacement, and he would go on to be an even larger figure than Allen during his reign. Johnny Carson would, in time, eclipse them both.
The troupe of regulars on Allen's shows - Don Knotts, Louis Nye, Don Adams, Tom Poston, Steve and Eydie, Foster Brooks, among others - would go on to make successful careers for themselves in Hollywood and on the club circuit. And people who wouldn't get a foot in the door of the green room on modern-day shows, e.g. Lenny Bruce and Jack Kerouac, found
themselves welcome on Allen's stage.
He's a staunch defender of the old school ways, and the most charming of all
cultural conservatives, probably because he's really open-minded and liberal
When you see Dave do Stupid Pet Tricks, or take "questions" from the audience, or toss televisions off a roof, think of Steve. And when you cringe at some talent-on-loan-from-the-hype-machine celebrity or some sub-Dice "vomic", Steve is probably cringing with you. Raise your glass to him, mes frères, mes soeurs. Or I'll break out my Glock and busta cap in yo @$$!