Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Treadmill to Immortality: The Way it Was, 17 March

1956: THE ECHO OF UNFORGOTTEN LAUGHTER---Taking one of his regular midnight walks outside his New York City home, Fred Allen---perhaps the most pungent satirist of old-time radio and any time---collapses and dies of a heart attack, following years of hypertension that actually forced him off the air twice during his singular radio career.

Whether or not he knows it, the successful comedian is on a treadmill to oblivion. When a radio comedian’s program is finally finished, he slinks down memory lane into the limbo of yesterday’s happy hours. All that the comedian has to show for his years of work and aggravation is the echo of forgotten laughter, and some receipts from the Treasury Department.

---Fred Allen, from Treadmill to Oblivion. (Boston: Atlantic Little, Brown, 1954.)

The death of Fred Allen . . . brings to mind Hazlitt's elegaic paragraph on the Restoration actors:

"Authors after their deaths live in their works; players only in their epitaphs and the breath of common traditions. They die and leave the world no copy . . . In a few years, nothing is known of them but that they were.

Fred Allen was an eminent comic actor. But without a doubt his great contribution to life in America came in the marvellous eighteen-year run of weekly satiric inventino which was the Fred Allen show on radio. His was the glory of being an original personality creating new forms of intelligent entertainment. He was without peer and without a successful imitator . . .

. . . In Fred Allen, the voice of sanity spoke out for all Americans to hear, during a trying period of our history, in the classic and penetrating tones of comic satire. Because he lived and wrote and acted here, this land will always be a saner place to live in. That fact is his true monument.

---Herman Wouk, prize-winning and best-selling novelist, and one-time staff writer for Fred Allen's radio programs, in The New York Times, 18 March 1956.

How little either Fred Allen or his longtime friend and former writer know of just how much of Mr. Allen's radio work will survive and endure for listeners not even alive before Fred Allen was stricken mortally.

How unfair it seems that this man who suffered few fools gladly but made millions of them laugh astride the wise men should be stricken fatally on a holiday renowned for jollity. Thus your chronicler prefers to believe he went merely from this island earth to an Eternal estate, where He who presides doesn't mind busting more than a periodic gut, turning St. Patrick's Day 2007 over to Fred Allen singularly.


1937---It only begins with the news of the week pondering how deeply hay fever sufferers are suffering now that native vegetation is replaced in some places by alien vegetation.

It continues with Portland (Hoffa) revealing her papa wants the host to make up his mind what night he wants to be on radio, following his infamous Pierre Hotel skirmish with Jack Benny the prior Sunday. ("I saw the man upstairs brushing his teeth with Jell-O this morning," says Portland. "Just as long as they don't try to buy Ipana in six delicious flavours," rejoins the master.)

The Mighty Allen Art Players perform a hillbilly drama.

And, guests include Irish tenor Adrian O'Brien, the Doherty Sisters, Martin Byrnes and his Irish Band, and the Boston Amateurs, not to mention a return engagement by the previous week's holdover, Professor Quigley, an escape artist who didn't get the full three minutes he needed to escape from a packing case because he dropped his glasses---and wants to repeat the stunt tonight.

Thus St. Patrick's Day on tonight's edition of Town Hall Tonight. (NBC.) Cast: John Brown, Charles Cantor, Minerva Pious, Walter Tetley, Harry Von Zell. Writers: Fred Allen, Harry Tugend. Music: Peter van Steeden.

The laughter will echo unforgotten. The treadmill was really one to immortality.


Blogger Mike said...

Thank you for remembering Fred Allen on this sad anniversary. I am one of those you mentioned who was not born when he passed away. I was born four years later. Just in the last few years I have become aware of Fred and his wonderful humor. I've read both his books, and a couple others about him. His "feud" with Jack Benny was hysterical, and his appearances on other folks' shows were just as enjoyable. Long live Fred Allen!!

7:42 PM  
Blogger Ivan G. said...

I think this might be the real reason I loathe St. Patrick's Day. Losing Fred was bad enough, but the fact that only a few of his remember his incredible comic gifts and contributions to humor is enough to make a cynic like myself burst out in tears.

“You can count on the thumb of one hand the American who is at once a comedian, a humorist, a wit, and a satirist, and his name is Fred Allen.” –James Thurber

6:34 AM  
Blogger Jeff Kallman said...

Mike---As it happens, I was a mere four months old (shy of a day) when Fred Allen departed. Discovering his wit and work is and has been an enduring pleasure. But don't forget to smoke out two other books under his name: fred allen's letters (gathered up by Portland Hoffa, edited by Joe McCarthy), published in 1965; and, "all the sincerity in hollywood," an anthology that includes a number of previously unpublished items among his writings, published just a few years ago.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Jeff Kallman said...

Ivan---I suspect more than you might think remember Mr. Allen, though "remember" might not be as appropriate a word as, perhaps, "re-discover" or "re-appreciate" him. However much he might have been compromised for future generations by way of his frequent topicality, I suspect that even that topicality is finding, or will find, a new appreciation among those inclined to probe classic radio's historical values and ties, from which point the man and his work for the individual sake of each should have little trouble making its proper insinuation. To enjoy him, especially, without the burden of nostalgia, is a pleasure singular amidst even a swelling crowd of classic radio talents who can be enjoyed without that burden.

1:52 PM  

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