The late and very great Steve Allen was one of my all-time heroes. He was beyond brilliantly multi-talented, as almost anyone who remembers his work knows. I had the honor to first meet Steve when he was the original host of THE TONIGHT SHOW, in the early 1950s. The show was telecast live from one of NBC-TV's multiple television theaters and "stages" in Manhattan and Brooklyn. 1953 was the year I met Steve. Several of us from school decided one Friday night to visit the theater, near Columbus Circle, and only four blocks from our respective schools (for kids who were actually acting at the time, and which i think I've previously referenced here.) I remember one of our group that night would later become known as Leslie Uggams. In those days, she was known as Leslie "Uggams" Crane, and no sweeter person there ever was (and still is). Her mother had me take her home from after-school evening parties because I was the only one Mrs. Crane, her mother, said she trusted! Her trust wasn't unfounded, but getting on the Lexington Avenue subway at 11:30 on a Friday night in 1953 to accompany Leslie to her upper east side living quarters was a little bit scary, but, sadly for the world, I survived. :) We all went backstage that night, exchanged some pleasantries, and that was that.
The night was memorable for another reason: It was the night Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence were introduced by Steve as separate guests, but after meeting on the show that night, they fell in love and were married a couple years later. It's a marriage that has lasted since. I never met them, but as a part-time teenage job, I wound up parking (and sometimes washing) Ms. Gorme's car once in a while in her Bronx apartment building garage, before she and Steve were married.
Throughout the years I got to know Steve as an interviewee on my television talk show in Las Vegas, and later frequently socially, thanks to mutual friends Tom Poston and Louis Nye. Steve was not only a brilliant comedian, raconteur and song-writer (he penned over 7,000 songs. True, and the covers for which lined all the walls in his Van Nuys offices), but also very insightful as to what would attract audiences. I once asked him where all his stream-of-consciousness ideas originated, and he said they just came to him "clickety-clack out of nowhere", mostly in the middle of the night. He once told me he wrote the lyrics to the theme from the movie PICNIC in 20 minutes while in the back of a cab going from his Van Nuys offices to the Burbank airport, later to be introduced as a vocal by The McGuire Sisters.
It was during that conversation, 47 years after first meeting him, we were discussing television "today". "Today" would have been late July, 2000, three months before his untimely death October 31st that year. I told him I wished the days of FATHER KNOWS BEST, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DOBIE GILLIS, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, MY THREE SONS, BACHELOR FATHER, or even MISTER PEEPERS (the latter where I can watch myself now...and cringe...as one of the students on that program, thanks to the Internet and also its release now on Amazon and other sites) and so many other "innocent" programs of that era would return. Steve's comment to me was, "Those programs were written for morons!". I about fainted, since Steve was a mainstay of that era, but, of course, as a variety entertainer and host of his own shows. Regardless, I'm happily one of those "morons" who rabidly watch one of the new "retro" channels called ANTENNA TV, concurrent with MEtv, as often as possible. Bravo and brava to those who had, in my opinion, the good sense to revive those programs, to not only satisfy the nostalgia for which some of us long, but also to hopefully illustrate something "new" to younger audiences, i.e., the concept of more manners, civility and basic rudiments of innocent good fun and how we treat each other "messages" that separate us from the other animals.
Speaking of classic sitcoms, I was sorry to learn Ron Palillo, who played Horshak on WELCOME BACK, KOTTER, died today at age 63. I only met him once, in a movie theater in Detroit, when he was part of the audience, and sitting near where I was seated. He was very pleasant, as one would expect. He and all the gang on KOTTER, including John Travolta, introduced us to characters anathema to FATHER KNOWS BEST, but nonethelss liekable and happily memorable.
Thanks for taking the time to read these pieces and for taking the time, hopefully, to share in my other geezer thoughts at www.startribune.com/video for A SENIOR MOMENT webcast, the subject of which changes each Monday.