Steve Allen (YGtCTO #99)

Television personality, musician, composer, actor, comedian, and writer

Steve Allen

Of all the subjects that I write about, my experience of Steve Allen has to be the most tangential. It’s one thing to say that I was not even alive when so-and-so composed or wrote, but I am fortunate enough to read or hear their best known works (and often pretty much everything they did). Unfortunately, Allen’s most famous work came in the early days of television, which actually do pre-date me. Even worse, we don’t really have a lot of that available.

So, I heard about Steve Allen second-hand. He was that guy that started The Tonight Show. He worked with outstanding talent, such as Tom Poston, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Jonathan Winters, often giving them wide exposure at opportune moments (and all people that had always been there in my younger eyes). Allen hosted a Sunday night variety show that failed to take down Ed Sullivan. He wrote books of notable intelligence and wit. He composed music, even winning a Grammy. Basically, he just kept cropping up in the world around me.

Steve Allen

Then, he finally did something that I could see: Meeting of Minds. Oh, that looks a little goofy now, but it’s… pretty good. I was a history geek already, so it was catnip then and… it kind of is now… excuse me… be back in a minute. Sun Yat-sen and Machiavelli getting into it- Facebook for historians. That’s Keye Luke!

But then
my forming brain had to assimilate the idea that this man who put this historical pastiche together was better known for his humor. Brains and funny could go together? History could be entertaining? It happened to real people? With feelings? They had off days? And they still appear in our history books?

Historical fiction never seemed too far removed from fantasy or propaganda to me. And the books were thick with character, but not a lot of background. If you are young and faced with Ragtime, then what can you make of it? There is a lot of knowledge crammed in there and more than a few assumptions about what you know (or are willing to Google). Steve Allen was always willing to provide a starting place that was entertaining and intelligent.

We can never know the ultimate results of our efforts. Artists create and send their work out into the world, hoping to reach a few other people. Allen kept making art his whole life. That’s what you do when you take on the mantle. Even at the outset of television, they could not know the impact of their work, so these words sent off into the Internet have no more foreseeable reach. All of us working in this age have no better sense of the child somewhere who checks out a link to a video and has their heart set on fire.

May the New Year bring new art into all our lives!

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 201 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

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