Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Fred Allen Still Sees Oblivion

When last we left unhappy radio satirist Fred Allen on this blog, he was being interviewed in December 1949 by Herald Tribune columnist John Crosby in New York, giving a State of the Allen address on radio and TV. Five weeks later, he was on the West Coast, doing the same thing to the Associated Press’ movie columnist. And he’s added his thoughts on the film business.

This was published January 13, 1950, when Allen was still on his doctor-ordered sabbatical from his radio show. He never went back to it.

Hollywood, Radio Hit by Fred Allen

HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 13.— (AP)—Fred Allen, a man with high blood pressure and a low regard for Hollywood, arrived here in a rainstorm.
His comment:
“I thought God was weeping over the state of the movie business.”
The Boston wit added that the rain looked good after coming from drought-ridden New York.
“The water shortage is really serious,” he remarked. “When you take a room in a hotel they don't give you a towel. You get a rubber eraser.”
Allen is here briefly to guest on some radio shows. There is no chance that he will settle in Hollywood, however.
“This is no place for an actor to live,” he said. “They come and go too fast. The first time I was out here, Laura La Plante was the rage. The next time it was Harry Langdon, and so on.
“Everybody lives in somebody else’s house. James Mason is living in the house that once belonged to Buster Keaton. Somebody else is living in Marguerite Clark’s old house.”
Allen cited his receptions to illustrate the fickle nature of Hollywood:
“When I came out here to do a picture a few years ago, my hotel room looked like a funeral parlor with all the flowers. When I came out last fall there were several bouquets.”
He then pointed at his current gifts: two small clumps of flowers and two baskets of fruit.
“Next time I’ll get one tangerine,” he predicted.
The comedian is off the air this season on doctor’s orders. He feels that radio is dead, anyway.
“It was doomed from the start,” he said. "The networks cared only about selling their time, the advertising agencies about getting their 15 per cent commission and the sponsors about selling their product. Nobody cared about entertainment.”
New Yorkers talk only about television now, he told me.
“Everything is Hopalong Cassidy,” he said. “"Kids run around in cowboy suits. Even women in the drug stores ride the stools sidesaddle.”
Allen himself will plunge into TV next fall. NBC has given him free rein for whatever he wants in the new medium. But don’t get the idea that he predicts a rosy future for TV.
“People sit in one room all evening and peer at a little screen!” he commented. “It won’t be long before the art of conversation is dead.”
The trouble with TV entertainment, he added, is that “programs are designed in terms of vaudeville, not video. People like Milton Berle play to a bunch of indigent morons who attend free television shows, not to viewers in the homes.”
Allen’s pessimism extends beyond TV.
“I predict,” he said with a long sigh, “that the morons of this country will eventually take over intelligent people and establish some kind of Cretin civilization as their pie in the sky.”

Considering Allen’s comment about the art of conversation, we can only imagine how he would have viewed today’s common sight of a group of people at a table, all texting someone else.

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