Allen, Stephen Valentine Patrick William ("Steve")
ALLEN, Stephen Valentine Patrick William ("Steve")
(b. 26 December 1921 in New York City; d. 30 October 2000 in Encino, California), comedian, writer, composer, lyricist, actor, concert artist, and lecturer who composed over 7,900 songs and was the author of fifty-four published books.
Allen was the son of Carroll Allen, who performed vaudeville under the stage name Billy Allen, and comedienne Isabelle Donohue, whose stage name was Belle Montrose Allen. Allen's father died before he was two, and Allen spent much of his childhood traveling with his mother from city to city. He attended seventeen different schools, ending up at Union High School in Phoenix, where his mother had taken him for the sake of his health. He was, he said later, "a pampered, sickly beanpole, too weak for athletics and too asthmatic for the army," but he loved writing, learned to play the piano by ear, and began to develop his remarkable talent for comedic ad-libbing.
In 1941 Allen enrolled at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, but as his asthma became worse he returned to Phoenix. After a brief spell at the State Teachers College of Arizona in Tempe, in 1942, he was offered an opportunity to work in the radio business. Allen worked at KOY radio in Phoenix as announcer, writer, pianist, and producer. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, but asthma continued to plague him, so he was discharged after only five months and returned to KOY. Here his ad-libbing skills became evident.
On 23 August 1943 Allen married Dorothy Goodman, whom he had met while attending the State Teachers College of Arizona. They had three children and divorced in 1952. That same year, Allen found himself at a dinner party seated next to actress Jayne Meadows, who, appalled by his gaping at her, said, "Mr. Allen, you're either the rudest man I ever met or the shyest." They married on 31 July 1954, and had one son.
In 1944 Allen moved to Los Angeles and continued his radio career. He joined the Hollywood station KNX in 1948 as a disc jockey with a midnight time slot, but his chat between records soon proved to be a bigger draw than the music. Allen expanded his comedic audience and transferred his ad-lib abilities to television. By 1954 he was working at the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), where he created and hosted the Tonight Show, which became the standard for late-night television comedy programs. He left the Tonight Show in 1956 in order to concentrate on the Steve Allen Show (which aired on NBC from 1956 to 1960), introducing talented new entertainers to prime-time television viewers.
By 1960 Allen had established himself as one of the top television and radio personalities in the United States. Although primarily known for his comedy, Allen introduced and helped make popular many of the famous comedians and entertainers of the 1960s: singers such as Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gorme, and comedians such as Louis Nye, Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Tim Conway, Steve Martin, and Jackie Mason. Allen was "hip" long before most Americans knew what the word meant.
After leaving the Tonight Show, Allen moved to the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) to do a syndicated show (the Steve Allen Show) from 1961 until 1964. He hosted I've Got a Secret for CBS from 1964 to 1967. From 1968 to 1972, with his wife Jayne Meadows, he did a syndicated version of the Steve Allen Show (CBS). He continued to campaign against coarse language on television, blowing a whistle to drown out any mild epithet uttered on his shows, which at that time were primarily broadcast live.
Throughout his life Allen pursued his interest in writing, developing new concepts and ideas, and writing books that required the reader to think. His works include a novel, Not All of Your Laughter, Not All of Your Tears (1962), the nonfiction book Letter to a Conservative (1965), and the poetry collection Flash of Swallows (1969).
After the 1960s Allen continued his television career. Half talk show, half historical review, the Emmy-winning Meeting of Minds ran on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) from 1977 to 1981. The show featured actors playing historical figures such as the Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, the political philosopher Machiavelli, and the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning from their differing perspectives. They debated history and society, with Allen as moderator. Allen's later career also included several motion pictures, including The Benny Goodman Story (1955) and The Sunshine Boys (1975), in which he played a cameo role as himself.
In 1986 Allen was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. In later years Allen backed the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group, by sponsoring advertisements urging broadcasters and parents to exercise responsibility. He commented, "It saddens me that television, which was once wholesome, instructive and entertaining, has now become so vulgar and violent." Allen died of an apparent heart attack after carving pumpkins with his grandchildren, and is buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, in Los Angeles.
Known variously as "Mr. Midnight," television's "Renaissance Man," and "the thinking man's comic," Allen parlayed five decades in show business into a string of successes in almost every entertainment medium. His droll sense of humor, talent for improvisation, knack for patter, and style as an interviewer inspired the successful formula for numerous television talk shows. "He was an icon, an original," said comedian Milton Berle. Johnny Carson added, "He was a most creative innovator and brilliant entertainer."
Allen's autobiographies include Mark It and Strike It (1960) and Hi-Ho Steverino!: My Adventures in the Wonderful Wacky World of TV (1992). Articles about Allen are in Time (23 Nov. 1953), America (14 Nov. 1964), Psychology Today (Aug. 1982), and the Los Angeles Times (15 Apr. 1982 and 6 Oct. 1985). Obituaries are in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times (all 1 Nov. 2000), and the (London) Times (2 Nov. 2000). An oral history interview by Ronald Davis, "Reminiscences of Steve Allen," done on 18 November 1975 for the New York Times Oral History Program and Southern Methodist University Oral History Project on the Performing Arts, no. 96, is a good source for information about Allen's life in the entertainment business up to 1975.