Valentine Patrick William Allen was an American musician, comedian,
and writer who was instrumental in innovating the concept of the
television talk show. Allen is called the Father of TV Talk Shows.
Allen was born on St Stephen's Day (hence his first name) to Carroll
Allen and Belle Montrose, Irish-American Catholics. Milton Berle
once called Belle Montrose "the funniest woman in vaudeville."
years in radio, Allen conceived a local New York talk-variety
TV program in 1953 for what is 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 as
the original announcer/sidekick. The show ran from 11:15 pm to
1:00 am on the East Coast.
Pat Weaver, the developer of The Today Show, is often credited
as Tonight's creator as well, Allen often pointed out that the
show had already been "created"—by himself—as
a local show. "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," Allen told
his nationwide audience that first evening. "Boy, you think
you're tired now. Wait until you see one o'clock roll around."
Allen also joked that they selected the Hudson Theatre on 44th
Street in Manhattan for the program because "I think it sleeps
around 800 people."
was as host of The Tonight Show that Allen pioneered the "man
on the street" and audience-participation comedy bits that
have become commonplace in late-night TV. In 1956, while still
hosting Tonight, Allen added a Sunday-evening variety show. The
Allen programs helped nurture the careers of singers Steve Lawrence
and Eydie Gorme and Sammy Davis, Jr. Allen also provided a nationwide
audience for his famous "man on the street"— comics
such as Ernie Kovacs, Pat Harrington, Jr., Don Knotts, Louis Nye,
Bill Dana, Dayton Allen, and Tom Poston.
remained host of Tonight until 1957, when he left. (After an ill-fated
nightlife-oriented replacement Tonight! America After Dark, the
old Tonight format returned later in the year with Jack Paar at
the helm.) Allen amassed a huge windfall for his work because
he had opted to be paid in Polaroid stock.
went on to host a slew of television programs up until the 1980s,
including the game show I've Got a Secret and The New Steve Allen
Show in 1961. He was a regular on the extremely popular panel
game show What's My Line? from 1953 to 1954 and returned as a
guest panelist until the series' end in 1967.
was also a composer who supposedly wrote over 7,000 songs. In
one famous stunt, he made a bet with singer-songwriter Frankie
Laine that he could write fifty songs a day for a week. Composing
on public display in the window of a Hollywood music store, Allen
met the quota, winning $1,000 from Mr. 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" and "The
Gravy Waltz," which won a Grammy Award in 1963 for best jazz
composition. Allen was also an actor, appearing in such films
as The Benny Goodman Story (1955).
was also the producer of the award-winning PBS series Meeting
of Minds, a "talk show" with notable historical figures,
with Steve Allen serving as host. This series pitted Socrates,
Marie Antoinette, Thomas
Paine, Sir Thomas More, Attila the Hun,
Karl Marx, Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, Galileo Galilei, and
other historical figures in dialogue and argument. A proposed
revival of this show was rejected as "too cerebral."
was also an accomplished comedy writer and author of over fifty
books, including Dumbth, a commentary on the American educational
system and Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality.
was a secular humanist and Humanist Laureate for the Academy of
Humanism, a member of CSICOP and the Council for Secular Humanism.
He was a student and supporter of general semantics, recommending
it in Dumbth and giving the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture
in 1992. Allen was a supporter of world government and served
on the World Federalist Association Board of Advisers. 
spite of his liberal position on free speech, his later concerns
about the smuttiness he observed on television caused him to make
proposals restricting the content of programs, allying himself
with the Parents Television Council. He was also notoriously contemptuous
of rock 'n' roll music. On one occasion, in a spirit of not-so-subtle
mockery, he had Elvis Presley wear a top hat and tails while singing
"Hound Dog" to an actual hound, who was similarly attired.
Allen also was known to "interpret" the lyrics of actual
rock songs to his audience as little more than a series of grunts.
second wife was actress Jayne Meadows, by whom he had one son.
They were married from 1954 until his death in 2000. He died of
a cardiac disease triggered by a previous minor traffic accident
the same day (October 30, 2000) at the age of 78 and is interred
in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park at Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles,
Allen has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: a TV star at
1720 Vine St. and a radio star at 1537 Vine St.