What's My Line? Forums

CBS (ended 1967)

FRED ALLEN Forum

  • Avatar of billsav57

    billsav57

    [1]Nov 25, 2005
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    If you've seen the recent PBS special about the pioneers of early television, several people (especially Steve Allen) mentioned Fred Allen as being one of the great vaudevillians. Unfortunately, they didn't count him among the vaudeville greats who starred in radio and TV, because he never really made the switch to TV. They focused on Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Jack Benny and, especially, Red Skelton. Another interesting item, though, was a bit showing Steve Allen with his mother, who Berle said was the funniest woman he'd seen in vaudeville.
    Edited on 07/12/2006 4:18am
    Edited 2 total times.
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  • Avatar of Linneman

    Linneman

    [2]Nov 26, 2005
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    There was a long thread on Fred Allen in our previous location. If you are interested in Fred he wrote two autobiographies; Treadmill to Oblivion (1954) (discusses his radio career)and Much Ado About Me (published posthumously in 1956) (focusing on vaudeville and Broadway). I preferred "Much Ado". A wonderful read. Fred's selected letters were also published.

    The standard biography is by Robert Taylor "Fred Allen: his life and wit" and was published in 1989.

    I also noted, like billsav57, the focus on vaudeville in the "pioneers of Prime Time" special. The background from From reading "Much Ado" really helped in understanding that part of the program.
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    billsav57

    [3]Nov 28, 2005
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    Part of the PBS show focused on Red Skelton's ability to ad-lib, which was fantastic. But Fred Allen could ad-lib better than anybody. He just couldn't get over the hump on television.
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    astorino

    [4]Dec 26, 2005
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    billsav57 wrote:
    He just couldn't get over the hump on television.


    Intuitively, that makes no sense to me, yet I know it's true - Fred didn't care for himself on TV. I don't know if it still holds true, but decades ago it was said that radio was a "hot" medium and television was a "cool" medium. Since Fred's WML persona is more laid-back, I'd have thought that he would do just fine with television.
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    ymike673

    [5]Dec 27, 2005
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    Maybe his failing health by the time television was on the scene had something to do with that also. Fred's wife really did not want him to do TV for this reason and the only reason she allowed him on WML was the Allen's lived close to the studio where WML was aired. A shame because on radio Fred was as funny as any of the other comedians. I think he would have been great as a "Late-Night" talk show host.
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  • Avatar of billsav57

    billsav57

    [6]Dec 27, 2005
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    I have often thought his reputed disdain for television was in part because he didn't do well at it, but his line that it was a medium because it was very rarely well-done is a classic that outlives many of those who did star in television. He was born a little too early and was not healthy enough to live long enough to really prosper in the format at which he would have excelled -- talk shows.
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    port5170

    [7]Dec 28, 2005
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    he was one of my favorites, I was particularly moved by the episode right after he passed away,you could feel the mourning and sorrow they all felt..
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    The1Factotum1i1

    [8]Jan 3, 2006
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    The things Fred did on TV were all rather short-sightedly based on things he'd done before. In the COLGATE COMEDY HOUR, he's pretty much a master of ceremonies in a budget-conscious stage revue. An overly-averege concept of 1950 programming. But in it, he brings back, beloved from radio, "Allen's Alley", but this time, in marionette form. That's no fun! Health reasons and unremarkable ratings ended his CCH days very soon after they began.
    "CHESTERFIELD SOUND OFF TIME" is a video version of the Newsreel portion of "TOWN HALL TONIGHT", and "JUDGE FOR YOURSELF" is a video version of the Talent show portion. None of these shows succeeded, though they are better than some things that did. Perhaps Fred's audience would mainly be people who were holdovers from his radio days, who saw just the same old stuff that they used to just hear. I'd say he didn't experiment at all, and played it too safe.
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    billsav57

    [9]Jan 3, 2006
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    Re-doing some old radio things worked well for Jack Benny, but he had the advantage, I think, of being so much at the center of his bits, that they translated better to TV. Jack was the butt of the jokes, but they were all about him. In "Allen's Alley," and its successors, Fred was more of the straight man than even Benny was in his bits. Plus, Benny took a cautious approach not necessarily with his material, but with his appearances on TV. I believe his first shows were on monthly, or at least bi-weekly, instead of weekly.
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    ymike673

    [10]Jan 4, 2006
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    Also due to Fred's failing health he really does not look good in his TV appearances. Most people were even shocked at his appearance having not seen him before. Jack looked as good on TV as he sounded on radio and was able to make a much easier transition.
    Edited on 07/10/2006 10:17pm
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    W-B

    [11]Jan 4, 2006
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    I.I.N.M., Mr. Allen looked better in the prior decades, relatively speaking, based on photos taken of him and his cast posing next to radio microphones, when compared with the point at which he joined WML? I've seen one photo of him on IMDb. . . .
    Edited on 07/10/2006 10:17pm
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  • Avatar of The1Factotum1i1

    The1Factotum1i1

    [12]Jan 4, 2006
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    He never looked particularly handsome or virile. In the earliest films of him, Vitaphone "acts" from the late 1920's, he looks pale and scrawny. His homeliness was part of his act; he could be comically insulted in a way that most other performers couldn't.
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  • Avatar of ymike673

    ymike673

    [13]Jan 4, 2006
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    I have viewed his first TV appearance as host of the Colgate Comedy Hour (Only half the show exists) and weather its the lighting or his health he really looks old and haggard. Those pictures of him standing next to a radio microphone could have been retouched. He doesn't look bad in the film "It's In The Bag" but that was filmed about 8 years before he was on television.
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    The1Factotum1i1

    [14]Jan 4, 2006
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    I have to go back to it, but I'm sure one of the TV magazines in late 1950 said he was quitting Colgate for health reasons, which all worked out well because the alternating weeks ("THE COMEDY HOUR") which had different stars were drawing bigger audiences. In those days of Live TV, it could move pretty fast on it's feet. Through the Summer, The buildup for the CCH said that Fred would be the host every week, and then maybe he would share the space with, of all people, Jack Haley. When Fred started to flounder, The Colgate guys came up with a better-than-Fred idea, give the people bigger and/or newer stars. Superstars like Abbott and Costello and white-hot duo Martin and Lewis ran away with it and nobody looked back.
    Apparently, that hunk of the first show is the only extant piece of Fred on CCH. The Museum's got it, but other collections, public and private I've tried just don't have a thing.
    He doesn't do himself any favours by giving us a mumbly panning of his own props and sets. I'm sure he thought it was sardonic wit, but he comes off as if he's embarrassed. The puppets of course, merit high embarrassment.
    His own series had been off the (radio) air for almost two years when he did that show, serving as a guest star on this show or that, I guess most notably in NBC's last-ditch effort to save radio, "THE BIG SHOW" which starred Tallulah Bankhead. But he seems stale, or perhaps rusty in his big TV debut.
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  • Avatar of Stopette

    Stopette

    [15]Jan 4, 2006
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    The1Factotum1i1 wrote:
      But he seems stale, or perhaps rusty in his big TV debut.

    Now you're picking on Fred Allen? Did he ever do anything to you? If you don't like his "mumbly panning," the puppets or his embarrassed face, you always can watch something else on your TV screen. Have you tried Seinfeld? Talking about THAT show will get you out of your house.

    Edited on 07/10/2006 10:20pm
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  • Avatar of ymike673

    ymike673

    [16]Jan 5, 2006
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    The Comedy Hour was to have rotating hosts from the start. It was thought that this would provide a strong show every week to compete with Ed Sullivan on CBS. Fred only hosted a few shows and while health reasons are given for his departure it was really because his shows were really dull compared to the other hosts. (Eddie Cantor, Martin & Lewis, Bob Hope) Bob hosted a show sponsored by Frigidere that was on every fourth week. Cogate did the other 3.
    Edited on 07/10/2006 10:21pm
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  • Avatar of The1Factotum1i1

    The1Factotum1i1

    [17]Jan 5, 2006
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    Yes, you're right. I have the first one Bob Hope does, in November 1950, and since he is'nt billboarded at the end, it would seem that Fred's already gone. Other stars, like Bobby Clark are headlining in coming weeks.I believe Jackie Gleason did at least one also. Abbott and Costello made their first Colgate 7 January 1951. pretty soon the teams of A&C and Dean and Jerry were the primary names associated with the show.
    Fred's poor showing didn't prevent the tv writers from pretty much picking up their thread from before the CCH experience, changing it from "What Will Fred Allen be like on TV" to "What will Fred Allen be like on TV when he's given a suitable show?". Of course, this charity didn't weather his next effort, CHESTERFIELD SOUND-OFF TIME, and when it tanked,though it got good reviews, the Fred Allen "JINX" talk began.That "JUDGE FOR YOURSELF" followed suit was just more fuel for the fire. But in the end, as he was still under contract to Goodson and Todman, they used him to replace Steve Allen on the WML? panel and nobody could say that he was a jinx there.
    I guess there comes a time in a great many performer's careers when they just can't be the leading man any more, and they must become part of the supporting cast to stay in the business.
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    sixtyfivealive

    [18]Jan 5, 2006
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    Unless the heat from all of the lighting got to him, maybe it was some form of stage freight. He's always had sort of an awkward look in his radio days.
    Edited on 07/10/2006 10:26pm
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    sixtyfivealive

    [19]Jan 5, 2006
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    The1Factotum1i1 wrote:
    He never looked particularly handsome or virile. In the earliest films of him, Vitaphone "acts" from the late 1920's, he looks pale and scrawny. His homeliness was part of his act; he could be comically insulted in a way that most other performers couldn't.


    Heh, every picture I've seen of him in the 1930's always made him look pale and scrawny.
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  • Avatar of Linneman

    Linneman

    [20]Jan 6, 2006
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    sixtyfivealive wrote:
    The1Factotum1i1 wrote:
    He never looked particularly handsome or virile. In the earliest films of him, Vitaphone "acts" from the late 1920's, he looks pale and scrawny. His homeliness was part of his act; he could be comically insulted in a way that most other performers couldn't.


    Heh, every picture I've seen of him in the 1930's always made him look pale and scrawny.


    We know about his (very) high blood pressure and have no idea of his diet. However, surprisingly (at least to me), Fred was somewhat of a gym rat. He'd play handball and work out, battling his heredity. And he'd do this with "civilians", blue collar workers not in the business. (information from Taylor's 1989 biography "Fred Allen: his life and wit")

    BTW, the item about his personal habits that I found most askew from my expectations (and apparently was found so even in the 30's and 40's) was Fred being a tobacco chewer. His office had a spittoon. From memory of his biography, Fred picked this up while working for a Boston piano sales/rental/moving company as a teenager. Taylor suggested that this was a very common habit in the working class Boston Irish environment Fred grew up in.
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