Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hi-ho, Steverino!




Those of a certain age will recall that that was the greeting of pretentious Gordon Hathaway (aka Louis Nye) in the `Man on the Street’ interviews from the old Steve Allen Show.



Steve Allen & Lenny Bruce


Steve Allen was the original host of The Tonight Show, and reigned as the late night king of comedy from the year I was born (1954) to 1957.  I obviously have no memories of those early Tonight shows, although I’ve seen a few kinescopes.


What I do remember – quite fondly – were the Steve Allen Shows that aired on Sunday nights, opposite Ed Sullivan.  


NBC hoped that Allen would dethrone the long-running Sullivan show in the ratings, but both shows found it difficult to compete with ABC’s hit western Maverick.


Nonetheless Allen, along with bandleader Skitch Henderson, announcer Gene `The Match Game’ Rayburn, Tom Poston, Don Knotts, and Louis Nye, produced a fast paced and talent filled hour of musical comedy.


The show helped launch the careers of Poston, Nye, Knotts and others, including singers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, who had also appeared on Allen’s Tonight Show.  Pat Harrington, Jr.  and  Bill Dana also saw their careers enhanced by their appearances on the show.


Tom Poston ended up with an Emmy award in 1959 for his comedic efforts on the show, and Don Knotts would hone his his trademark `nervous’ persona to become Deputy Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show.


A mix of sketch comedy, musical numbers, and a rare interview or two, the show boasted many familiar guests stars popular in the 1950s.


There were roughly 10 solo appearances by Lou Costello (after his split in 1957 with Bud Abbott) along with visits from performers such as Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong, Andy Williams, Martha Raye, and even a very young Elvis Presley. 


While most of his musical guests were geared towards an older audience, Allen (despite his dislike for the genre) booked popular rock & roll acts of the era as well.  


His controversial decision to garb Elvis in formal attire and have him sing `Hound dog’ to a real hound incensed Presley’s fans.  Presley managed to make the best of it, however.  


Like many others in the entertainment industry, Allen underestimated the powerful new trend in American music.


Nonetheless, multitalented Allen was a terrific host, songwriter, comedian, and actor.  His biggest dramatic role was that of Benny Goodman, in the bio pic `The Benny Goodman Story’ in 1955.



Kinescopes of many of these shows still exist, and I’m pleased to direct you to an archive with nearly 20 hours from this classic variety show.


They are located on the website for the Museum of Broadcast Communications, which has literally thousands of hours of old broadcast history available for viewing.




Registration to access the archives is free, and only takes a minute.  After registering you will be presented with a choice of visiting either the TV or Radio archives and then a search page.

Direct links to individual shows are not supported, but you can access the shows by filling out the form.  Below I’ve selected The Steve Allen Show, and specified that I only want to see entries with Digital files attached.





What is returned is a list of matching shows, which you can click on to view.   These are old kinescopes, and as such, the quality ranges from fair to poor.  


But all are watchable, and for those with a love for old variety shows, extremely enjoyable.





I’ve only just begun to explore the offerings of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, but I can already tell you I am a big fan of what they’ve accomplished.

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