Sunday, August 4, 2013

This Could Be the Start of Something Big


At last, they begin to emerge. And with timing almost as brilliant as Mr. Allen's.

Until now, nothing of Steve Allen's late-night TV work of the 50s and 60s had been available on DVD. Nor on places such as YouTube. And not much now either, but we do have a start. (En garde, two dumb Jimmies!) What with the ongoing late-night wars, and especially with flyspeck Fallon not only taking over Steve's old show but doing it in the very same NBC midtown studio space -- well, as Nixon used to say, now more than ever. . .

Westinghouse. August 15, 1962. Amid spacious views of early-60s nighttime L.A. and its cars, Steve plays piano on top a 75-foot flagpole while peeking into neighboring hotel rooms, talks to the passing KTLA traffic copter, and tosses down salamis to his waiting fans on Vine Street. Back in the studio, Steve does a duet with an audience member, teases a pregnant lady, gets involved with a gas experiment that falls flat, teaches us about Mexican jumping beans (there are worms inside?). Introduces his guests: singer Bill Kerry (?), the great and sadly forgotten Slim Gaillard (look at those hands!), and the very young Barbara McNair. Steve finishes by sharing mattresses with a very fetching blonde baby doll (without a single dirty joke), and lets the baby doll take over the show by letting Miss Mattress call her law student husband (who had a very important test that day), and then lets her belt out a rockin' version of "Hallelujah, I Love Him So." Little is planned, or what's planned is turned on its head. Nothing is locked in. Steve takes us wherever the moment takes us.

Just an average Allen show. No topicality, meanness, elitism, condescension, cynicism, or hate. In their place ~ good cheer, silliness, and lots and lots of smart. (Those thinking there's a connection between comedic smarts and Knowingness deserve garbage such as Fallon.)

When we were carefree. . . .