Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A Night With Fred Allen

A while ago, we posted an article from PM from a reporter who attended a broadcast of the Jack Benny radio show. Today, we do the same thing, only the subject is Benny’s mock adversary, Fred Allen.

This appeared in PM on April 28, 1948. Leo the Lip had guested on the second half of Allen’s show on April 25th.

Man Has Fun at Allen Broadcast
By John McNulty

Excuse me for crowding, Seymour Peck, radio editor, but Al Durante, over at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency, sent me a couple of tickets to see and hear the Fred Allen broadcast last Sunday night, the night Leo Durocher from Brooklyn was on, and it was great fun I'd like to tell about.
Since Mr. Sullivan from Boston (Fred Allen, that is) was trouping along the vaudeville trail, I've been hammering my way into theaters to see him. At the Colonial, in Lawrence, Mass., for example, or the Keith-Albee, in Columbus, O. (Burns O'Sullivan, mgr.) and along with Ed Wynn and James Durante, he is one of the three top funny-men of the world. Sunday night, I learned that the 15 minutes he does in the studio, before the show goes on the air, are at least 50 per cent more comical than the half hour that goes out to a jillion listeners from 8:30 to 9 o'clock.
And the half-hour that goes out is plenty good, plenty funny. Yet in the prior 15 minutes, Allen is not cramped, tethered, hog-tied, and straitjacketed by the needs, real or imaginary, of radio. The comedy of the 15 minutes in the studio is seven furlongs higher in intelligence, fantasy, sleekness, and niftiness than the stuff that goes out on the air.
"Vice-presidents of radio," Allen said during Sunday's 15-minute prologue to the ether (this was before he went under the ether, as the saying goes) "are men who do not know what their jobs are. By the time they learn what their jobs are, they are no longer with the organization.
(Gor! I'm garbling this thing up, but when the great Fred Allen is out there doing his stuff, no man of sense is wasting his time by trying to take notes. To heck with the notes!)
"The word 'heck'," said Allen, "was invented by the National Broadcasting Company. The National Broadcasting Company denies the existence of hell and the Columbia Broadcasting System—although not necessarily in that order."
(That remark, also, was only for us privileged handful in the studio. Too amusing for the general public.)
Allen began talking about the way thousands troop through, and wander aimlessly through, the RCA building, including hundreds of people from New Jersey. "Lately," he said, "these wanderers have taken to dropping into offices in the building and giving orders to vice-presidents. Still more lately, however, this situation has been equalized a little, because now, at stated intervals during the day, the vice-presidents are allowed to go out on the street and give orders to people who happen to be passing by. It's doing the vice-presidents the world of good, getting them out in the open air. Brings the bloom of health to their faces. One vice-president, I noticed, has only one rosy cheek. He hasn't been outside quite enough to take care of both cheeks, but all in good time, all in good time."
Maybe these samples don't stand up so well in print, but they're vastly funnier than what goes out on the air, and, I repeat, what goes out on the air from a Fred Allen show is still the funniest stuff in radio.
Mr. Durocher, or Labial Leo, was an amazingly calm and deft mike performer, too. He'd just lost a ball game, but you'd never know it watching him do his stuff Sunday night.
The Dodger manager seemed as much at home before the microphone as was Minerva Pious, that wonderful Mrs. Nussbaum. Only complaint I have against him is that he went sartorially a trifle into the territory of Harry Balogh, the Madison Square Garden fight-announcer. For years, as Daniel Fosdick Parker (Balogh's creator) has stated, Balogh has been the city's best handkerchief-display man. That is, he has been able to show more, and whiter, handkerchiefs from the breast-pocket of his jacket than anybody else in town. Also, he is noted as the only man who can make a handkerchief display five distinct points, as it sticks out from the pocket. It's some trick of folding the thing, a trick only Balogh knows. Well, sir, Durocher out-did Balogh for the broadcast. The amount of handkerchief sticking out of the Durocher breast-pocket would have covered third base, and that might not be a bad idea. I thought it ever-so-slightly flamboyant. That's quibbling, I fear, but I've got to put the knock on something, the whole rest of the column is praise, always an unpopular thing with readers.


  1. Marvelous. What I would give to have been in a Fred Allen audience...

  2. I know what you mean, Chuck.