Monday, February 12, 2007

Steve Allen: Super Sleuth

Steve Allen created THE TONIGHT SHOW. He was an enormously talented man. Additionally, he was an accomplished musician and as if that wasn’t enough, a frequent game show panelist. He wrote numerous books on comedy. He won Emmys and God knows what else. He was one of my idols growing up. And one of my comedy writer heroes was his head writer, Stan Burns. But sometimes talent is not limitless. Mr. Allen could do a lot of things but solving crimes wasn't one of them. Among his many endeavors, he wrote several mystery novels in which he and his wife Jayne Meadows were the two master sleuths. Needless to say there’s just a touch of grandiose ego in these unfathomable tomes. My favorite is MURDER IN VEGAS. Steve and Jayne go to Las Vegas. Steve performs in a big hotel showroom. And the bodies start to fall. The police are baffled. Ah, but not Steverino. Master entertainer by night, dynamite detective by day, Steve Allen does it all. Here are a few ACTUAL hard boiled excerpts. Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler – eat your heart out.

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The first thing I did on coming off stage was to remove my formal dinner jacket and throw it on the couch in my dressing room, picking up a tan windbreaker in its place. From my dressing room closet, I also grabbed a tropical straw hat with a wide brim and a pair of dark glasses: private eye Allen was about to go incognito.
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In the dream, after having erotic, but unfulfilled designs on an unidentified but highly desirable woman, I was suddenly swimming in an ocean at night…

(There’s an image I could live without – Steve Allen seducing a hot babe. Yikes!)
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Jayne reached out once again and felt the leg, a towel-covered thigh, and slowly her hand traced upward over the unconscious form, until coming to a cord wrapped tightly about Christie’s neck. It had been pulled with such vigorous force that Christie’s neck seemed broken, with her head lying to one side at an impossible angle.

Jayne loosened the cord, though she knew it was too late. Her heart was racing. “Oh dear!” she said. It was impossible to fool herself any longer into thinking this was a faint – Christie Hamilton had been murdered.

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I cannot claim the distinction of being Jewish, but a whispered “oy” escaped my lips at that moment.
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“Mr. Allen… there’s a phone call,” said the pretty slave girl in a pale lavender mini-toga.
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As for young women, some of them seem to feel that since men are titillated by the revelation of a bit of kneecap, breast, shoulder or navel it logically follows that to quickly proceed to a state of either near or totally nudity is a wise course. They are quite mistaken in this. Or, to put the matter in simpler terms, one Sophia Loren is worth a thousand Madonnas.
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(And finally, I kid you not….)

And this young woman too, was obviously trying to sound as if she had spent her early years in a black ghetto. There’s something dumb about that, ladies and germs.

19 comments:

Herb Popsfarter said...

Rats! I am now forced to throw away my pale lavender mini-toga.
- It has become a sad punchline.

LA Guy said...

In a former life I had occasion to meet (very briefly) Stan Burns from time to time. He was one of my heroes too, but for no other reason than I used to see his name on the credits for Get Smart and I loved the show growing up. He always seemed nice and kind of larger than life to me.

Apparently he wasn't available to ghost write Steve Allen's crime novels, at least then they would have been intentionally funny.

At the risk of hijacking the thread, I thought of the esteemed participants of this site when I was reading Joel Stein's column the other day (TV Sucks?).

Anyone of his brethren care to comment?

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Ken,

Did you ever read any of Ron Goulart's Groucho Marx, detective series? Same premiss, better execution.

Charlie Kennedy said...

I'm going to adopt as an online identity the moniker "A Whispered Oy".

VP19 said...

There is a series of books by author George Baxt where notables from Hollywood's golden age play detective. It began with "The Dorothy Parker Murder Case" (1984) and continued for about 13 years. Others in the series included Alfred Hitchcock, Tallulah Bankhead, Greta Garbo (given her persona, one would think putting her in such a project would be difficult), Noel Coward, Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and even three teams: William Powell and Myrna Loy, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. (Ever the iconoclast, Carole -- the lady in my avatar -- might have gotten a kick out of playing Nora to Clark's Nick, but the other two duos were professional cohorts, not lovers.)

However, casting yourself as a sleuth is something else entirely, and is purely an ego trip. Still not sure why Steve Allen, who I admire for so many things, did it -- unless he had hopes of eventually writing more books than Isaac Asimov.

zazupitts said...

I admired Allen not for his comedy or music as much as for his interest in critical thinking. I didn't come to that conclusion until years after I met him at a presentation he made at our high school regarding the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam: We kids were expecting silly Steve and we got a history lesson instead. He was right about Vietnam, as it turned out.

Allen was a member of CSI (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) and the Council for Secular Humanism. He funded The Steve Allen Theatre located in Hollywood at the Center for Inquiry, West.

A fine book that reflects his interest in critical thinking is "Dumbth, The Lost Art of Thinking," which was published in 1998.

Steve is just about the only person I can think of in contemporary history who qualified in my eyes as a true Renaissance Man.

...and, I have to laugh at myself: I've come to the conclusion that if I were stranded on a desert island, I would rather be in the company of someone like Steve Allen, than any sexy Hollywood female I've ever seen. And I'm straight (not that there's anything wrong with that...)

maven said...

LA Guy said...

In a former life I had occasion to meet (very briefly) Stan Burns from time to time. He was one of my heroes too, but for no other reason than I used to see his name on the credits for Get Smart and I loved the show growing up. He always seemed nice and kind of larger than life to me.


Thanks to Ken, and la guy for the kind words about my father, Stan Burns (who passed away in Nov. 2001). Besides being an important part of television history, he was a wonderful person and father. He was truly a classic comedy writer of the old school and really had nothing to do with Steve's detective books!

Ken and I were childhood friends and that's how he knew Dad. La guy, where did you meet Dad? I'm going to give out my email if you or anyone else would like to talk about him. (maven1908@yahoo.com)

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I read that Steve didn't write these books, but dictated them into a tape recorder. I also heard they were ghosted, but have no proof and am skeptical of the claim. However, I read one of his other mystery books and enjoyed it. In any event, I admired his wit and quick mind more than anyone I've seen or met.

Jack Ruttan said...

Maybe Steve Allen and Chuck Barris can team up as glasses-wearing, nerdy TV badasses.

TE said...

However, casting yourself as a sleuth is something else entirely, and is purely an ego trip.

Kinky Friedman's done very well doing just that. Of course, he'd be the first to admit it's an ego trip.

Noah said...

I've read one or two and kind of liked them, though they do show that Steverino was a little out of touch with culture ... like the rock diva whose big hit was called "Wanna Wanna Wanna" or a big TV special to find the funniest comedian alive, which had a top prize of (wow!) ONE MILLION DOLLARS ... like the most of the likely candidates for the title don't make that much in a fortnight.

There was also one that involved a national morning show originating in Los Angeles ... which would mean it would need to start shooting at about 3AM, Pacific Time ...

Mike Barer said...

Steve Allen had a daytime show in syndication in the late 60s, early 70s, much like Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin but better. I really enjoyed it.

D. McEwan said...

I also grew up idolizing Steve Allen, until I had the misfortune to meet him. He - ah - wasn't nice. Of all the celebrities I've met over the years, and they number in the thousands, meeting Steve Allen was the worst experience. (Meeting Milton Berle for Heaven's sake, was pure joy compared to Allen. Berle showed me real class.)

I was a HUGE fan, watching that syndicated talk show mentioned above 5 days a week without fail, reading his books, and basking in his wit. But the man with the dead muskrat on his head that I met backstage after a taping of that show in late 1968 was cold, mean, and dismissive, and he ruined himself for me forever. I was 18, and clearly a big fan, and he was about as pleasant as Simon Cowell with a toothache. I've was never able to enjoy watching or hearing or reading him again.

I'm still grateful to him for giving us Tom Poston and Louis Nye and all the others who began their careers with him, but I regretfully found out that no one bought into the myth of Steve Allen's Godlike status as deeply as Steve himself. His ego blocked my view of him ever after.

A very close friend of mine, who got a professional leg up as a writer and occasional performer on one of Steve's early TV shows summed Allen up very well to me once. He said, "Steve is a man who wrote an autobiography when he was 35. That takes a massive ego."

laguna said...

I liked Steve. He was certainly a talented and funny guy, but modesty was far from being his strong point. This was a man who once argued with me that Woody Allen's claim that Bob Hope was his favorite comedian couldn't possibly be true because he, Steve Allen, didn't think Hope was funny. He was also one of those comedians who, so far as the public was concerned, liked to pretend his writers didn't exist, preferring that people believe he was personally responsible for dreaming up all that funny stuff.

Tony Tuggins said...

I saw him a few months ago when I was visting LA. He was covered in damp soil and sod, and he tried to bite me in the head. I chalked it up to a simple misunderstanding.

I thought at the time that he was Jewish, but maybe not observant because I was always told brains weren't kosher, but live and learn.

Miles said...

Not many people know that when Steve had his ABC show, he only had two writers -- Stan Burns and my stepfather, Mike Marmer. They were writing partners from Steve's day through Carol Burnett and Get Smart and much much more. (Hi Maven)

Anyway, imagine that. Two writers for a show on 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

The stories they told...

bradkz said...

Yeesh. I've never seen or read anything Steve Allen created that was in the least bit funny. In his later years, Mr. Allen took it upon himself to lecture everyone else on comedy. His "wit," like his talents, were very mild.

Many give credit to him for "creating" the modern talk show... "He was the first to take cameras outside! He invented the man-on-the-street interview!" I mean, I guess if we knew the guy who invented the wheel, we might give him some props. But human civilization doesn't owe him a debt. Someone would have done it!

howie said...

I've read two of the Allen mysteries, the first in which another detective was the hero, and the second with Steve as hero and Jayne out of town.

I don't think I could stomach a novel with Jayne actually in it.

I was a huge Steve Allen fan but became greatly disillusioned in the later years when he started criticizing David Letterman for stealing from him. Leterman always credited the Allen Westinghouse shows as his greatest influence, so I thought Allen was a little full of himself with the criticism.

Anonymous said...

Those books were reportedly ghostwritten by Walter J. Sheldon and later Robert Westbrook.