Allen in 1977
|Born||Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen
December 26, 1921
New York City, U.S.
|Died||October 30, 2000
|Cause of death||Myocardial infarction|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)|
|Residence||Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Alma mater||Arizona State Teachers College|
|Occupation||Actor, comedian, television personality, musician, writer|
|Home town||Chicago, Illinois, U.S.|
|Political party||Democratic Party|
(m. 1943; div. 1952)
(m. 1954; his death 2000)
Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen (December 26, 1921 - October 30, 2000) was an American television personality, radio personality, musician, composer, actor, comedian, writer, and advocate of scientific skepticism. He achieved national fame as the first host of The Tonight Show, the first late night television talk show in September 1954.
Though he got his start in radio, Allen is best known for his extensive network television career. He gained national attention as a guest host on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. After he hosted The Tonight Show, he went on to host numerous game and variety shows, including his own The Steve Allen Show, I've Got a Secret, and The New Steve Allen Show. He was a regular panel member on CBS's What's My Line?, and from 1977 until 1981 wrote, produced, and hosted the award-winning public broadcasting show Meeting of Minds, a series of historical dramas presented in a talk format.
Allen was a pianist and a prolific composer, having written - by his own estimate - more than 8,500 songs, some of which were recorded by numerous leading singers. Working as a lyricist, Allen won the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Original Jazz Composition. He also wrote more than 50 books, including novels, children's books, and books of opinions, including his final book, Vulgarians at the Gate: Trash TV and Raunch Radio (2001).
In 1996 Allen was presented with the Martin Gardner Lifetime Achievement Award from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP). He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Hollywood theater named in his honor.
Allen was born in New York City, son of Billy (Carroll Abler) and Isabelle Allen (née Donohue), a husband and wife vaudeville comedy team. He was raised on the South Side of Chicago largely by his mother's Irish Catholic family. Milton Berle called Allen's mother "the funniest woman in vaudeville."
Allen's first radio job was on station KOY in Phoenix, Arizona, after he left Arizona State Teachers College (now Arizona State University) in Tempe while still a sophomore. He enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and was trained as an infantryman. He did not serve overseas, instead spending his service time at Camp Roberts, California. He returned to Phoenix before deciding to move back to California.
Allen became an announcer for KFAC in Los Angeles, then moved to the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1946, talking the station into airing his five-nights-a-week comedy show Smile Time, co-starring Wendell Noble. After Allen moved to CBS Radio's KNX in Los Angeles, his music-and-talk half-hour format gradually changed to include more talk in an hourlong late-night format, boosting his popularity and creating standing-room-only studio audiences.
During a show's segment, Allen went into the audience with a microphone to ad lib on-air for the first time. It became a commonplace part of his studio performances for many years. His program attracted a huge local following, and as the host of a 1950 summer replacement show for the popular comedy Our Miss Brooks, he was exposed to a national audience for the first time.
Allen's first television experience had come in 1949 when he answered an ad for a TV announcer for professional wrestling. Although he knew nothing about wrestling, he watched some shows to gain insight, and discovered that the announcers did not have well-defined names for the wrestling holds. So, when he got the job he created names for many of the holds, some of which still are in use. After the first match got under way, Allen began ad-libbing in a comedic style which had audiences outside the arena laughing. An example:
"Leone gives Smith a full nelson now, slipping it up from either a half-nelson or an Ozzie Nelson. Now the boys go into a double pretzel bend with variations on a theme by Velox and Yolanda."
After CBS radio gave Allen a weekly prime time show, CBS television believed it could groom him for national TV stardom and gave him his first network show. The Steve Allen Show premiered at 11 a.m. on Christmas Day, 1950, and was later moved into a thirty-minute, early evening slot. This new show required him to uproot his family and move from Los Angeles to New York, since at that time technology had not yet been developed that would allow a coast-to-coast program to originate from LA where the time zone was earlier than on the East Coast. The show ran until its cancellation in 1952, after which CBS tried several shows to showcase Allen's talent.
He achieved national attention when he was pressed into last-minute service to guest host the hugely popular Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts when Godfrey was unable to appear. He turned one of Godfrey's live Lipton tea and soup commercials upside down, preparing tea and instant soup on camera, then pouring both into Godfrey's iconic ukulele. With the audience (including Godfrey, watching from Miami) laughing uproariously and thoroughly entertained, Allen gained major plaudits both as a comedian and a host.:48Variety magazine editors who had seen the show wrote, "One of the most hilarious one-man comedy sequences projected over the TV cameras in many a day ... . The guy's a natural for the big time.":49
Leaving CBS, Allen created a late-night New York talk/variety TV program that debuted in June 1953 on local station WNBT-TV (now WNBC-TV). The following year, on September 27, 1954, the show went on the full NBC network as The Tonight Show, with fellow radio personality Gene Rayburn (who later went on to host hit game shows such as Match Game, 1962-1982) as the original announcer. The show ran from 11:15 p.m. to 1 a.m. on the East Coast.
While Today developer Sylvester "Pat" Weaver often is credited as the Tonight creator, Allen often pointed out that he had created it earlier as a local New York show. Allen told his nationwide audience that first evening: "This is Tonight, and I can't think of too much to tell you about it except I want to give you the bad news first: this program is going to go on forever ... . You think you're tired now. Wait until you see one o'clock roll around!"
It was as host of The Tonight Show that Allen pioneered the "man on the street" comedic interviews and audience-participation comedy breaks that went on to become staples of late-night TV.
In June 1956, NBC offered Allen a new prime-time, Sunday night variety hour, The Steve Allen Show. NBC's goal was to dethrone CBS's top-rated The Ed Sullivan Show. The show included a typical run of star performers, including early TV appearances by rock 'n' roll pioneers Elvis Presley,Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino. Many popular television and film personalities were guest stars, including Bob Hope, Kim Novak, Errol Flynn, Abbott and Costello, Esther Williams, Jerry Lewis, Martha Raye, the Three Stooges, and a host of others.
The show's regulars were Tom Poston, Louis Nye, Bill Dana, Don Knotts, Pat Harrington Jr., Dayton Allen, and Gabriel Dell. All except film veteran Dell, who had appeared in the Bowery Boys movie series (also known as the Dead End Kids and the East Side Kids), were relatively obscure performers prior to their stints with Allen, and all went on to stardom. The comedians in Allen's gang often were seen in his "Man in the Street" interviews about some topical subject. Poston would appear as a dullard who could not remember his own name. Nye's character was an effete advertising executive named Gordon Hathaway, known for greeting the host with "Hi ho, Steverino!" Dana played amiable Latino "Jose Jimenez." Knotts was an exceedingly jittery man who, when asked if he was nervous, invariably replied with an alarmed "No!". Harrington was Italian immigrant and former golf pro Guido Panzini. Dayton Allen, who had gotten his start playing various characters on the children's TV series "Howdy Doody," played wild-eyed zanies answering any given question with the question "Why not?" Dell usually played straight men in sketches (policemen, newsmen, dramatic actors, etc.), and occasionally played the character Boris Nadel, a Bela Lugosi/Dracula lookalike.
Other recurring routines included "Crazy Shots" (also known as "Wild Pictures"), a series of sight gags accompanied by Allen on piano; Allen inviting audience members to select three musical notes at random then on the spot composing a song based on the notes; a satire on radio's long-running The Answer Man and a precursor to Johnny Carson's Carnac the Magnificent (sample answer: "Et tu, Brute." Allen's reply: "How many pizzas did you eat, Caesar?"); and dramatic comedy readings of real letters to the editor from New York City newspapers.
The live Sunday night show's competition was The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS and Maverick on ABC. One of Allen's guests was comedian Johnny Carson, a future successor as host of The Tonight Show. Among Carson's material during that appearance was a portrayal of how a poker game between Allen, Sullivan, and Maverick star James Garner (all impersonated by Carson) would transpire. Allen's programs also featured a good deal of music. He helped the careers of singers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, who were regulars on his early Tonight Show, and Sammy Davis Jr.
Allen's show also had one of the longest unscripted "crack-ups" on live TV when Allen began laughing hysterically during "Big Bill Allen's Sports Roundup." Allen, known for his infectious high-pitched cackling laugh, laughed uncontrollably for over a minute with the audience laughing along, because, as he later explained, he caught sight of his unkempt hair on an off-camera monitor. He kept brushing his hair and changing hats to hide the messy hair, and the more he tried to correct his appearance the messier and funnier it got.
Allen helped the then-new Polaroid camera become popular by demonstrating its instant-picture capabilities during live commercials and amassed a huge financial windfall for his work because he had opted to be paid for it in Polaroid Corporation stock.
Allen remained host of "Tonight" for three nights a week (Monday and Tuesday nights were taken up by guests hosts for most of the summer of 1956; then by Ernie Kovacs through January) until early 1957 when he left the show to devote his attention to the Sunday night program. It was his (and NBC's) hope that The Steve Allen Show could defeat Ed Sullivan in the ratings. Nevertheless, Maverick often bested both in audience size. In September 1959, Allen relocated to Los Angeles and left Sunday night television (the 1959-'60 season originated from NBC Color City in Burbank as The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, on Monday nights). Back in Los Angeles, he continued to write songs, hosted other variety shows, and wrote books and articles about comedy.
After being cancelled by NBC in 1960, the show returned in the fall of 1961--on ABC. Nye, Poston, Harrington, Dell, and Dayton Allen returned. New cast members were Joey Forman, Buck Henry, the Smothers Brothers, Tim Conway, and Allen's wife Jayne Meadows. The new version was cancelled after fourteen episodes.
From 1962 to 1964, Allen recreated The Tonight Show on a new late night show, The Steve Allen Show, which was syndicated by Westinghouse TV. The five-nights-a-week taped show was broadcast from an old vaudeville theater at 1228 North Vine Street in Hollywood that was renamed The Steve Allen Playhouse.
The show was marked by the same wild, unpredictable stunts, and comedy skits that often extended across the side street to an all-night food outlet known as the Hollywood Ranch Market, where Allen had a hidden camera spying on unsuspecting shoppers. On one show, he had an elephant race down the side street, much to the annoyance of the occupants of the neighboring houses. On this show, he originated the term "little black things" in reference to anything regarding food, and the term "larger than Steve Allen's breadbox" in reference to any item under discussion. He also presented Southern California eccentrics, including health food advocate Gypsy Boots, quirky physics professor Dr. Julius Sumner Miller, wacko comic Professor Irwin Corey, and an early musical performance by Frank Zappa.
During one episode, Allen placed a telephone call to the home of Johnny Carson, posing as a ratings company interviewer, asking Carson if the television was on, and what program he was watching. Carson did not immediately realize the caller was Allen. A rarity is the exchange between Allen and Carson about Carson's guests, permitting him to plug his own show on a competing network.
One notable program, which Westinghouse refused to distribute, featured Lenny Bruce during the time the comic repeatedly was being arrested on obscenity charges. Footage from this program was first telecast in 1998 in a Bruce documentary aired on HBO. Regis Philbin briefly took over hosting the Westinghouse show in 1964.
The show also featured plenty of jazz played by Allen and members of the show's band, the Donn Trenner Orchestra, which included such virtuoso musicians as guitarist Herb Ellis and flamboyantly comedic hipster trombonist Frank Rosolino (whom Allen credited with originating the "Hiyo!" chant later popularized by Ed McMahon). While the show was not an overwhelming success in its day, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Robin Williams, and a number of other prominent comedians have cited Allen's "Westinghouse show," which they watched as teenagers, as being highly influential on their own comedic visions.
Allen later produced a second half-hour show for Westinghouse, titled Jazz Scene USA, which featured West Coast jazz musicians such as Rosolino, Stan Kenton, and Teddy Edwards. The short-lived show was hosted by Oscar Brown Jr.
Allen hosted a number of television programs up until the 1980s, including The New Steve Allen Show in 1961 and the game show I've Got a Secret (replacing original host Garry Moore) in 1964. In the summer of 1967, he brought most of the regulars from over the years back with The Steve Allen Comedy Hour, featuring the TV debuts of Rob Reiner, Richard Dreyfuss, and John Byner, and featuring Ruth Buzzi, who would become famous soon after on the comedy ensemble show Laugh-In. In 1968 through 1971, Allen returned to syndicated nightly variety/talk with the same wacky stunts that would influence David Letterman in later years, including becoming a human hood ornament, jumping into vats of oatmeal and cottage cheese, and being slathered with dog food before allowing dogs backstage to feast on the food. During the run of this series, Allen also introduced Albert Brooks and Steve Martin to national audiences for the first time.
A syndicated version of I've Got A Secret hosted by Allen and featuring panelists Pat Carroll and Richard Dawson was taped in Hollywood and aired during the 1972-73 season. In 1977, he produced Steve Allen's Laugh-Back, a syndicated series combining vintage Allen film clips with new talk-show material reuniting his 1950s TV gang. From 1986 through 1988, Allen hosted a daily three-hour radio comedy show heard nationally on NBC that featured sketches and America's better-known comedians as regular guests. His co-host was radio personality Mark Simone, and they were joined frequently by comedy writers Larry Gelbart, later of M*A*S*H writing fame; Herb Sargent, perhaps later on best known for his writing work on "Saturday Night Live," and Bob Einstein, brother of Albert Brooks and creator and portrayer of the faux stuntman character Super Dave Osborne.
From 1977 until 1981, Allen wrote, produced and hosted the award-winning show Meeting of Minds, which aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The series pitted the likes of Socrates, Marie Antoinette, Thomas Paine, Sir Thomas More, Attila the Hun, Karl Marx, Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, and Galileo Galilei, all of whom were acting as if brought back from the past. Their dialogue and heated arguments covered issues such as racism, women's rights, crime and punishment, slavery, and religious toleration."
"The amazing thing about this show is that it actually comes off as a talk show, with a talk show's rhythm and pace. A truly conversational script is a tough trick to turn; Allen turns it with apparent ease.
Allen was a "philosophy fanatic" and avid reader of classic literature and history. He wrote the scripts based on the actual writings and actions of the guests, and as host would lead the conversations to different subjects. He described the show as "drama disguised as a talk show." Most of the female roles were acted by Allen's wife, the actress Jayne Meadows.
Allen first had the concept for the show in 1959, but took almost 20 years to make it become reality. He initially produced a version in 1971 that aired locally in Los Angeles and earned three Local Emmy Awards.:299 But, although it received critical acclaim from Hollywood critics, the distributor chose not to broadcast it nationally, feeling it would not draw a large enough audience.:301 Even PBS backed off on showing it, and many in the television industry felt the series was "too thoughtful" for the American public. Allen then produced the first shows at his own expense, which resulted in attracting major backers. It eventually aired nationally, beginning in 1977.:301
The series, consisting of six hour-long specials, became enormously popular. As a result, Allen received a Personal Peabody Award in 1977 for creating and hosting "a truly original show.":302 The award also recognized Meadows for her various portrayals. In 1981, the show won an Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series, and Allen's writing was Emmy nominated.:302 It was the show Allen wanted to be remembered for, because he believed the issues and characters were timeless and would survive long after his death.
Allen was a prolific composer who, according to his own estimate, wrote more than 8,500 songs, although only a small fraction ever were recorded. He had begun his recording career in 1953 by signing with the Decca Records' subsidiary Brunswick Records. In one famous stunt, he made a bet with singer-songwriter Frankie Laine that he could write 50 songs a day for a week. Composing on public display in the window of Wallach's Music City, a Hollywood music store, Allen met the quota and won $1,000 from Laine. One of the songs, "Let's Go to Church Next Sunday," was recorded by both Perry Como and Margaret Whiting.
Allen's best known songs are "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" (lyrics and music) and "The Gravy Waltz" (lyrics by Allen, music by Ray Brown). "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" dates from 1954, and was recorded by numerous artists, including Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Aretha Franklin, Lionel Hampton, and Oscar Peterson. Allen used it as the theme song of The Tonight Show in 1956/57, and as the theme song to many of his later television projects.
"The Gravy Waltz" was composed and originally performed by Ray Brown as an instrumental in the early 1960s. Allen later set words to it, and the collaboration won the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Original Jazz Composition. Issued as a single in 1963, it had hit No. 64 on the US Billboard charts. Though the hit single version was credited to "Steve Allen With Donn Trenner And His Orchestra," Allen did not play on it.
Allen also wrote the lyrics for the standard "Theme From Picnic," which was a No. 13 U.S. hit in a vocal version for The McGuire Sisters in 1956. The song, however, is chiefly remembered as an instrumental, often performed in a medley with "Moonglow," both songs created for the film "Picnic" in 1956. Two instrumental versions charted in the U.S. top 5 in 1956, including a No. 1 hit version by Morris Stoloff. Because he did not write the music, Allen was not credited as a songwriter on the instrumental versions.
Similarly, some time in the 1950s, Allen set words to "South Rampart Street Parade," a 1938 instrumental hit for Bob Crosby, written by Bob Haggart and Ray Bauduc. Though the song still is best known as an instrumental, Allen's later lyrics occasionally are performed.
In the realm of theatre, Allen wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Sophie, which was based on the early career of the woman long billed as "The Last of the Red-Hot Mamas," entertainer Sophie Tucker. The book for the show was by Philip Pruneau. Libi Staiger and Art Lund were featured in the leading roles. "Sophie" opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York, after tryouts in three othe rcities, on April 15, 1963, to mostly unfavorable critical notices. It closed five days later, on April 20, after just eight performances. As Ken Mandelbaum noted in his 1991 book "Not Since Carrie" -
"The show received consistently negative reviews in Columbus, Detroit, Philadelphia and New York, and its problems were obvious: a cliché-ridden standard show-biz bio book, and an ordinary score ... . The score went unrecorded (by the cast), although several months later Judy Garland sang three songs from Sophie on her CBS television series."
Though Mandelbaum doesn't mention it, Allen was a guest on the episode of The Judy Garland Show in which she featured Allen's songs from Sophie. Later, a "compiled" recording of Sophie was released with vocals by Allen, Libi Staiger, Garland, and others.
Allen's other produced musical was the 1969 London show Belle Starr, which starred Betty Grable as the American West character. Allen wrote the music, and was one of three credited lyricists. Belle Starr also received poor reviews in both its Glasgow tryout and in its London run, and closed after 12 performances. Like Sophie, the score went unrecorded by the cast. No compiled recording of the score has been made.
Allen was an occasional actor. He wrote and starred in his first film, the Mack Sennett comedy compilation Down Memory Lane, in 1949. His most famous film appearance was in 1956's The Benny Goodman Story, in the title role. The film, while an average biopic of its day, was heralded for its music, featuring many alumni of the Goodman band. Allen later recalled his one contribution to the film's music, used in its the early scenes. The accomplished Benny Goodman no longer could produce the sound of a clarinet beginner, and that was the only sound Allen was able to produce on a clarinet. In 1960, he appeared as the character "Dr. Ellison" in the episode "Play Acting" on CBS's anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson though his The Steve Allen Show had been in competition with the program the preceding season.
A similar Canadian television series called Witness to Yesterday, created by Arthur Voronka, aired three years after Allen's Local Emmy Award-winning program. Allen appeared on a 1976 episode of Witness to Yesterday as composer-pianist George Gershwin.
During the late 1980s, Allen and Jayne Meadows, his second wife, made three appearances on the TV drama series St. Elsewhere. They played the estranged birth parents of the character Dr. Victor Erlich who had given him up for adoption. And, in 1998, Allen and Meadows guest starred in an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street.
Allen was a comedy writer and author of more than 50 books, including several volumes of autobiography; children's books; a series of mystery novels; and numerous volumes of essays and opinions. Twenty of his books were concerned with his views about religion.
Among his better known non-fiction works are Dumbth, a commentary on the American educational system, and Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality. Allen also ostensibly authored a long-running series of mystery novels in the 1980s and '90s "starring" himself and Meadows as amateur sleuths. They later were revealed to have been ghostwritten by Walter J. Sheldon and then Robert Westbrook.
Despite his lifelong reputation for political liberalism, morally Allen was highly critical of vulgarity on both television and radio, and particularly strident in criticizing Howard Stern and other shock-jocks. At the time of his death he was completing a book on the subject called Vulgarians at the Gate, about what he saw as "the rising tide of smut on television."
Allen, a freethinker and humanist, became an outspoken critic of organized religion and an active member of the scientific skepticism movement. He worked to promote critical thinking with such humanist and skeptical organizations as the Council for Media Integrity, a group that debunked pseudoscientific claims, and the California-based group The Skeptics Society. He wrote many pieces for their publication, Skeptic, on such topics as the Church of Scientology, genius, and the passing of science fiction giant Isaac Asimov.
Working with Paul Kurtz, publisher of Prometheus Books, Allen published 15 books, including Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking with 101 Ways to Reason Better and Improve Your Mind, which was reissued in 1998. He produced Gullible's Travels, an audiotape with original music and script that was read and sung by him and his wife "in order to introduce youngsters to the brain and its proper use." Wishing to counter the influence of the American religious right, Allen wrote both a 1990 critique of the Bible (Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion and Morality) as well as a sequel. A sample passage from the book that illustrated his view of the Judeo-Christian God reads:
The proposition that the entire human race -- consisting of enormous hordes of humanity -- would be placed seriously in danger of a fiery eternity characterized by unspeakable torments purely because a man disobeyed a deity by eating a piece of fruit offered him by his wife is inherently incredible.
While Allen often was critical of rock 'n' roll music, he also often booked rock 'n' roll acts on his television program The Steve Allen Show. It featured such acts as Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Louis Jordan & the Tympany Five, the Treniers, and the Collins Kids. Allen famously scooped Ed Sullivan by being one of the first to present Elvis Presley on network television (after Presley had appeared on the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey Stage Show and Milton Berle shows).
While Presley was an exceedingly controversial act at the time, "Allen found a way ... to satisfy the Puritans. He assured viewers that he would not allow Presley 'to do anything that will offend anyone.' NBC announced that a 'revamped, purified and somewhat abridged Presley' had agreed to sing while standing reasonably still, dressed in black tie." Allen had Elvis wear a top hat and the white tie while singing "Hound Dog" to an actual hound, who was similarly attired.[a]
Allen also appeared on the shows of other entertainers, even the mildly rock 'n' roll program The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom on ABC.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Allen recorded a solo piano album for the Pianocorder Contemporary Artists Series, joining such other artists-pianists of the day as Liberace, Floyd Cramer, Teddy Wilson, Roger Williams, and Johnny Guarnieri. His solo album was popular. Pianocorder was founded by Joseph Tushinsky. The Pianocorder was the first modern mechanical player piano made for the public that used solenoids to power the keys. Later, it was bought out by Yamaha Disklavier and discontinued and is known today as the Yamaha Disklavier.
In 1986, Allen was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
Allen appeared in a PSA advocating for New Eyes for the Needy in the 1990s.
Prior to his death Allen also narrated The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling, a documentary of professional wrestling from its origins to 1998.
Allen and Dorothy Goodman married in 1943 and had three children: Steve Jr., Brian, and David. That marriage ended in divorce in 1952.
Allen's second wife was actress Jayne Meadows, sister of actress Audrey Meadows. That union produced one son, Bill Allen, named for Steve's father. They were married in Waterford, Connecticut, on July 31, 1954, and remained married until his death in 2000. He was a Democrat; his wife was a Republican. In the later 1950s, author and philosopher Gerald Heard worked with psychiatrist Sidney Cohen to introduce intelligent, adventurous people to LSD, and Steve Allen was one of these.
Although Allen had received a traditional Roman Catholic upbringing, he later became a secular humanist and Humanist Laureate for the Academy of Humanism, a member of CSICOP and the Council for Secular Humanism. He received the Rose Elizabeth Bird Commitment to Justice Award from Death Penalty Focus in 1998. He was a student and supporter of general semantics, recommending it in Dumbth and giving the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture in 1992. In spite of his liberal position on free speech, his later concerns about the lewdness he saw on radio and television, particularly the programs of Howard Stern, caused him to make proposals restricting the content of programs, allying himself with the Parents Television Council. His full-page ad on the subject appeared in newspapers just before his unexpected death.
Allen made a last appearance on The Tonight Show on September 27, 1994, for the show's 40th anniversary broadcast. Host Jay Leno was effusive in praise and actually knelt and kissed Allen's ring.
Allen died on October 30, 2000, at the age of 78. At first, it was suspected he had suffered a fatal heart attack while napping at his son's Los Angeles area home. However, a Los Angeles Coroner's spokesperson later said autopsy results showed the real cause of death was a ruptured blood vessel caused by chest injuries he did not realize he had sustained in a minor traffic accident earlier in the day. According to Jayne Meadows, "Typical of Steve, [who] was the dearest, sweetest man: He was hit by a man, backing into him, breaking all of his ribs, that pierced his heart ... and when he got out of the car, he said to the man, 'What some people will do to get my autograph'."
Allen wrote pamphlets on a variety of issues, including problems facing migrant workers, capital punishment and nuclear weapons proliferation. He once considered running for a seat in Congress from California, calling his politics "middle-of-the-road radicalism." He actively campaigned against obscenity on television and criticized comedians such as George Carlin and Lenny Bruce for use of expletives in their stand-up routines.
Maverick premiered on September 22, 1957, and pretty soon won over the viewers from the powerful opposition of CBS's The Ed Sullivan Show and NBC's The Steve Allen Show, two programs that had been Sunday night favorites from the mid-1950s.