Monday, November 3, 2014

The Steve Allen Show (NBC-TV, December 1, 1957)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The show Charles and I screened last night was an download of the December 1, 1957 episode of The Steve Allen Show, Allen’s and NBC’s attempt to compete with the Ed Sullivan Show on CBS, and though we were watching an old kinescope in black-and-white of a show that originally aired in color, the piece was rather entertaining. Allen began by coming out with a jacket that billowed forth with great clouds of smoke — “a smoking jacket,” he cracked, to a desultory response from the audience that brought forth a much better line: “$400 for the prop, and no laugh.” The guests were Errol Flynn, Martha Raye, Don Adams and a singer named Jennie Smith (whose surviving LP’s and CD reissues go for $30 to $40 on, who does a nice version of “Sometimes I’m Happy” even though the jazz recordings by Anita O’Day and (especially) Carmen McRae (who ended her version by scatting a line from Lester Young’s beautiful instrumental version of the song) are better. Adams did a stand-up routine (back when stand-up comedians were still called “monologists”) that was mostly his version of a pep talk given by a desperate football coach from Glick University. Raye did “On the Sunny Side of the Street” as part of a send-up of the show “Your Hit Parade” — the first time through the number went perfectly and the second time they (deliberately) screwed it up — and closed the show with a quite nice version of “Come Rain or Come Shine” (far better than Judy Garland’s grotesquely overarranged one with Nelson Riddle, though to my mind the best versions of this song remain those by the virtually unknown Ann Hathaway and the familiar one by Sarah Vaughan). The best part of the show was a parody of the TV show To Tell the Truth called “To Tell a Lie,” which featured Errol Flynn as himself, along with Don Knotts (of all people) as one of the two impostors trying to fool the panel, Martha Raye as “Kitty Carlott” (Kitty Carlisle) and Don Adams as columnist “Hy Gargoyle” (Hy Gardner was his real name and Adams made fun of him by wearing three pair of glasses, one in the normal location and two over his forehead). The real Flynn seemed bored by the spectacle (though his boredom worked well for the gag) and at the end Don Knotts was revealed as the “real” Flynn — which was fun. The original commercials were left in, featuring Greyhound Bus Lines (advertising their then-new “Scenicruiser” service) and a ridiculous rub-on cold remedy whose name I can’t recall right now (so much for the effectiveness of their advertising!), and as annoying as they get sometimes they are a slice of cultural history as well as preserving mentions of companies that either no longer exist or are mere slivers of their former selves. Ironically, Steve Allen’s opening monologue made fun of the commercialization of Christmas (as had his likewise bespectacled, dry-wit contemporary Stan Freberg in his slashing satire “Green Christma$”) — little did they know in 1957 just how much worse it would get!!