Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Wag on the Air: Fred Allen and the Invention of Modern Comedy by Philip Brantingham for The Weekly Standard

Wonderful tribute to Fred Allen and his enduring legacy at The Weekly Standard. A good primer if you want to know more about who the fellow that Jack Benny was "feuding" with all those years.

The article, by Philip Brantingham, also describes the format of his 1930s radio shows; the topical monologue, the band interludes, the "Mighty Allen Art Players" skits, a cast of regulars -- all conceits that were copied by later TV shows, most notably The Tonight Show (and its "Mighty Carson Art Players"). Without really thinking of it, Allen's radio show had hit upon a formula that even today is working and being copied.

By the time television was beginning, Allen's radio show was over due to audiences flocking to TV. He plugged on, writing and performing. He tried different TV shows, but nothing seemed to click. This may explain his line: "Television is called a medium because nothing on it is well done." And, of course, he admitted that he was not all that photogenic, possessing "a face for radio." In 1952, he suffered a heart attack just before he was to host a quiz show "Two for the Money."

He completed TREADMILL TO OBLIVION, his book about his life in radio. The last couple of years of his life he was, along with Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen, a regular on the Sunday night "What's My Line" TV show.

“I am on What’s My Line? to keep alive artistically,” he told a friend, “and to enable me to have the entire week to write.” -- The American Spectator

In 1956, while walking down a NYC street with his wife, Portland Hoffa, he suffered a heart attack and died suddenly, collapsing across the street from Carnegie Hall. He was 61 years old.

MUCH ADO ABOUT ME, an autobiographical book about Allen's early years and Vaudeville life, was published posthumously.

He is remembered now perhaps not by name, but by deed; by his successful 18-year radio show format, which succeeds him to this day.

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