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.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Echo of Unforgotten Laughter: The Way It Was, 17 March

NOTE:---I ran this piece a year ago, noting the sorrow the holiday provides old-time radio fans because of the death of one of its absolute masters of caustic laughter. Here it is again, and may the laughter never be forgotten.---JK.

1956---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.


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