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Larry King Live Weekend
A Look Back at Steve Allen in His Own WordsAired November 5, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Steve Allen, a one-of-a-kind man with many, many talents, died this week at age 78. We pay tribute tonight to this comic, composer, author, and talk-show pioneer with an encore presentation of our 1996 interview with him and his fabulous wife, Jayne Meadows.
It's next on LARRY KING LIVE.
KING: Thanks for coming, both of you. How did this marriage begin? How did you two meet, Steve?
STEVE ALLEN, COMEDIAN: OK.
ALLEN: I'm on, boy.
JAYNE MEADOWS, ACTRESS: You're on.
KING: How did you meet?
ALLEN: I had an appointment to meet a friend -- remember the singer Bob Carrol (ph)?
KING: I remember Bob Carroll.
ALLEN: Yes, had some hit records in the '50s -- for dinner, and Bob had plans to meet Audrey, and Audrey had planned to meet Jayne. It was the first night that Jayne did what would turn out to be a seven-year job as one of the featured panelists on "I've Got a Secret," and quite by chance we all ended up at the same restaurant.
KING: The first night of "I've Got a Secret"?
MEADOWS: First night. I am so impressed that you remember all the details.
ALLEN: It's all I remember. Other than that...
MEADOWS: I'm usually the one who tells how we met.
KING: And then what happened at the restaurant? MEADOWS: Well, actually I surprised them. I said to Audrey, no, I'll be too nervous, you know, doing my first show. And I was so excited because they asked me to sign a seven-year contract, and I went over to tell her and, you know, the gang.
And after I had been there about 15 minutes, in walked a tall, dark, handsome man who looked a little like my father.
Now, listen, I'm going to tell you something. This is the truth. I took one look -- and I'm nearsighted. I took one look at him as he entered the door and I thought, oh, my god -- I knew who he was.
ALLEN: Even though she's gentile, she does says oy now and then.
MEADOWS: I said, if that man is not married, he's going to be someday and to me. I knew it. I absolutely knew it.
ALLEN: You are kidding.
MEADOWS: No, I knew it.
ALLEN: The reason -- it's really Freudian. The reason is that I bear a resemblance to her father. She knew nothing about me.
MEADOWS: Also, Steve is actually very quiet, a very -- you wouldn't think it on the -- no, you wouldn't think it on the stage or on television. And I'm gregarious, you see. So he sat down next to me...
KING: You made the first move then?
MEADOWS: Oh, of course.
KING: What did you say?
MEADOWS: I kept trying to talk to him, and he looked down at the menu the whole time. He never looked at me unless I was talking to somebody over here. And, yo, Steve, I could see him peaking, looking at me. Should I be telling this?
KING: Did you have the same reaction then? You liked her?
ALLEN: Yes, I found she was attractive, but it was not that same, weird, love-at-first-sight thing. I just...
MEADOWS: You were in love with someone else at the time, come on.
ALLEN: No, who would not be impressed by her beauty, of course, but she had the Freudian reaction. She does not, thank goodness, look like my mother.
KING: How long did it take before this became a couple and a marriage, like how long from that night?
MEADOWS: Well, he proposed, I think it was six months later. It was New Year's Eve, I remember that. But we had both just come out of, you know, marriages...
ALLEN: I proposed actually the first week, but not marriage.
MEADOWS: But, no, you know, that's true. We used to walk -- we loved to walk up and down Fifth Avenue and the different things window shopping. And we would look in the windows, and Steve would say, don't you think that would be a nice table for our dining room when we're married? And I would do the same thing. We did that for I don't know how long until...
MEADOWS: Oh, long before we were engaged. It was like here, see?
KING: We want to cover areas of both of your show business life, but how do you explain the longevity of this?
ALLEN: I gave Jayne about 90 percent of the credit, seriously. There is no secret...
MEADOWS: And I take it.
ALLEN: There is no secret. If there were, as Jayne often says, you could, you know, bottle it and put it on the market. It's part...
KING: You give her 90 percent of the credit because...
ALLEN: Because we've been married that long.
KING: Because if it were up to you, you wouldn't have been, or she's the stable one?
ALLEN: Yes, well she is the stable one. I use to live in a stable, but that's another matter. No, seriously, see, I have from time to time been a little shaky, but Jayne holds it together.
KING: Why did you stay the trip?
MEADOWS: Well, first of all, I think the woman should do that. And I think usually it is the woman. It's the woman, they say, who gets the divorce, but it's the man who does not want the divorce. So if the woman says, no matter what, I will stick it out -- and I was raised that way, you see, and so was he. We're both from religious backgrounds. Divorce is something that was not acceptable.
KING: How many years has it been now?
ALLEN: You know, the odd thing is that we had both been divorced before, so we were both shy of that.
MEADOWS: Yes. KING: I'm a little wary.
ALLEN: Of course.
MEADOWS: And very careful, that's why we waited two years before we got married.
KING: And married 43 years?
MEADOWS: Yes, yes, I've known him 45 years. You know, it gets better, Larry.
KING: Now, about each individual. You were, were you not, a disk jockey in the city of Los Angeles?
ALLEN: Strictly speaking, no. I was...
KING: Didn't you play records and do a morning show with a piano, an Arthur Godfrey of the West?
ALLEN: I did a late-night show, actually, of that type. I was hired to play records, but I had already for two years done a comedy show on the Mutual Network. And that was network, so I...
KING: And this is when you were a kid, right, I mean real young?
ALLEN: In my 20s, yes. So I thought, this is not going in the right direction from a network show back to local. And they wanted me to play records and I didn't want to. But I smiled and said yes, I took the job. And then as soon as I could, I began to play very few records and finally none. I'd just do talk and comedy.
KING: But that show, that local show, is where people started hearing about you?
ALLEN: Yes, in the L.A. area and some other parts of the country. The show bounced around.
KING: That there was this talent on the West Coast.
ALLEN: So they thought.
KING: You began where?
MEADOWS: Fanny Bryce -- oh, I've got to tell you a little something. He will not tell you these things. Fanny Bryce, Katherine Hepburn -- who was the other big -- Ethel Barrymore never missed his show. And were told just the other -- Johnny Grant said to Bob Hope every single night when he'd be with Bob Hope, he would say, what time is it? I've got to tune in, this great kid, Steve Allen.
KING: Well we heard about him in the east, that there was this kind of a unique broadcaster, and then the unique broadcasters were Arthur Godfrey and Gene Shepard (ph) and that's it.
ALLEN: Yes. MEADOWS: And Steve was taken to New York to replace Arthur Godfrey when he was, what, sick? Didn't you -- yes.
KING: Sit in for him?
MEADOWS: Well you were taken by CBS, but wasn't your first show replacing Arthur Godfrey, and you spilled the tea all over the place?
ALLEN: Oh, I see what you mean. No, I'd been on the air for a couple years at W.
ALLEN: It was his, Arthur Godfrey's talent scout show. They asked me one night about two hours before air time, it was a live show, could I please run over to the studio and do the show that night. I'd only seen it once or twice, but they were so desperate I couldn't say no. So Arthur, it seems, had flown down to Miami. There was a storm. He couldn't fly back that night in time for his show. So I did it and made a total mess of it. Remember, he used to do his commercials...
KING: Live with the tea.
ALLEN: Live with the tea and the Lipton soup. So I made a mess with that. I poured the mix into the teapot, then poured the water from the teapot into his ukelele, sloshed it around.
KING: Where did you begin?
MEADOWS: I started on Broadway. I was -- you know, I'm the daughter of missionaries, and nobody in my family was ever theatrical. But...
KING: Audrey wasn't?
MEADOWS: Oh, no, Audrey had a very difficult time, you know. Her first break was the Gleason show. But I used to write plays, and I would put Audrey in them and I would be in them. And when I got out of school, I went to New York. And like that, I was on Broadway. And I did eight plays, one after another.
And then if you're successful on Broadway, they took you to Hollywood. And I was under contract to Metro and did a lot of -- well, a lot of wonderful movies, you know, with all the big stars.
KING: Was there a big break for you? "I've Got a Secret" was a big break for you.
MEADOWS: Well, but not acting. You see, I had on Broadway always been the leading lady. I never was a bit player. I was the ingenue and then the leading lady right on up. And then when I went to Hollywood, my first movie was the second lead to Katherine Hepburn and the same thing with Robert Montgomery and Tyrone Power and David Niven and Gregory Peck. It was just one great movie after another..
KING: We'll take a break and come back. Play us out, Steve.
ALLEN: All right.
KING: Your own song.
Mr. Allen has written -- how many songs have you written?
ALLEN: Close to 6,000.
KING: We'll be right back with the Allens, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows on this edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: So here again is that loverly lady of song, a nice welcome for Mary Vick DeMore (ph). Here she is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I should like to sing a song now, which I think explains exactly why we are all here.
(singing): I can't forget that you've forgotten me...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back.
What a pair of talent in one couple: Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. And we're sort of looking at their careers, a retrospective. Steve's latest book is, "But Seriously."
Have you written a book?
KING: Why not? You ought to write a book.
MEADOWS: Why, he writes his faster than I can read them. And I have -- I have nothing to tell anybody.
KING: Life with -- all right, let's first figure out what you are. Are you a singer who writes songs and tells jokes? Are you a comedian who also writes songs? Are you a songwriter who tells funny things? Are you a comedy writer?
ALLEN: Actually, all the above, Larry. Whatever I do...
KING: Which would be first?
ALLEN: None. Whatever I do as an adult, I was already doing in childhood. In school I was writing poems for the school paper and jokes and humor columns and acting in the school play.
KING: So you get up in the morning, and that can bring any kind of day to you? ALLEN: Yes, it does.
ALLEN: Even before I get up it happens, because I create in my sleep.
MEADOWS: Yes, he created "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" in his sleep.
ALLEN: I dreamed it.
MEADOWS: He dreamed it.
KING: You dreamt that song?
KING: That's one of my favorite songs.
ALLEN: Oh, thank you.
KING: You're walking along the street...
ALLEN: Yes, I'll go right back to sleep.
KING: It's a great lyric. Do a little of it.
MEADOWS: Yes, sing.
ALLEN (singing): You're walking along...
(speaking): Not my key for vocal.
(singing): You're walking along the street or you're in a party. Or else you're alone and then you suddenly dig. You're looking in someone's eyes, you suddenly realize that this could be the start of something big, et cetera.
KING: You dreamt that?
KING: Like you're up in an airplane or buying a toothbrush,,,
ALLEN: Yes, right. Boy, what a memory you've got.
KING: ... or hurrying home because the hour is late.
ALLEN: I dreamed the first main theme, up to the bridge, and dreamed the first seven or eight lines of the lyric, and thank goodness remembered them when I woke up and wrote them down.
KING: Steve had the hit, right? Steve and... ALLEN: Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet had the first big hit. Still the best record of that song ever done.
MEADOWS: And Count Basie.
ALLEN: He had a fine one, too.
MEADOWS: I think it's one of the most recorded songs in history.
KING: Is it a demerit to be multi-talented, in that we can't focus on as opposed to, say, Sinatra: singer?
ALLEN: Singer, yes, Bob Hope: comedian. There's a slight problem of perception. There's no problem for the person who's versatile. The character that I admire most in show business to this day is Noel Coward. And he did...
KING: Who loved you.
ALLEN: He was very kind to me, yes.
MEADOWS: He told me at a party at Dorothy Gilgallon's one Christmas. When he met me, he said, Mrs. Steve Allen? And I said, yes, Sir Noel. And he said, is your husband here? And I said, yes, he's right across the room. Oh, he said, I must meet him. He's the most talented man in America.
ALLEN: Anyway, be that as it may, I thought he was the most talented man on Earth. And he was. He could do about 14 things, and he did -- in fact, they once said to him, Sir Noel, how can you do all those things? He said, brilliantly.
KING: But when we say Steve Allen, probably most people -- let's see. If we were doing -- let's say you're 160 and you pass away and you get caught in bed with someone, let's say, 32 years old by an errant husband.
MEADOWS: Well, thank you. Thank you a lot.
KING: Won't "The Tonight Show" be in the first paragraph?
ALLEN: Depends on the age of the observer. I'm sure the show will still be around, so young people will be impressed that, oh, did he do that? I didn't know that. But so much does depend on the age of the observer.
KING: To you, what would it be?
ALLEN: Well, my primary gift is for the composition of music. I'm a good lyricist, too, but I'm a better composer.
KING: And that's what you would think first when you think of Steve Allen?
ALLEN: That is.
KING: I would think television host and introducer of new comedians.
ALLEN: Oh, of course, yes, sure.
MEADOWS: And you know what I think? I think it's wit. You ask anybody, Red Buttons also asks for him to emcee because of his wit. They will all say the wittiest man in show business. That's No. 1.
KING: On all the breaks as we come in and our of this show -- we're taping it, of course -- they're showing some of these bits, the sportscaster and all the things you made. Those bits and that laugh, all of it genuine, right? I mean...
ALLEN: The laughter was always genuine. It was sometimes...
KING: You had the world's most hysterical laugh.
ALLEN: It was sometimes embarrassingly genuine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Good night, folks.
All right, here we go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: I laugh easily. I think the whole universe is ridiculous. I laugh at Jayne, I laugh at my grandchildren, I laugh at everything. And I'm a good audience for other comics. It's not, hey, I'm being a nice guy. I really -- if they're funny, I love their funniness.
KING: But all he had to do was say, my name Jose Jimenez...
ALLEN: Jose -- and I would laugh, yes.
KING: And the guy would go, huh.
ALLEN: Yes. It was all genuine laughter.
KING: Where did you find these people?
ALLEN: Well, there's -- about eight on the guys on that list we found them in eight different places. Rose Marie came into town one time and said, I just saw the funniest guy working as an engineer and part-time producer at a station in Cleveland. That was Tim Conway. So that's how I found him.
KING: Louis Nye (ph)?
MEADOWS: I found him. I saw him on a show, a dreadful show, and everybody -- it was awful. And on came this guy, and I thought, that is the funniest, cleverest -- and I told Steve.
ALLEN: And I watched...
KING: Funny man.
MEADOWS: He is.
ALLEN: And Jayne was right. And I happened to run into him at the NBC building one day just before I started the late-night show, so I said, do you want to do it with me, because I like your work. And that's how that happened.
Don Knotts and Tom Poston used to just come in and hang around the offices, and they struck the writers as so funny we put them on camera. There's a different story for each man.
KING: You like, though, finding new people?
ALLEN: Oh, I love it, yes. It's one of the great things to do with -- if you have access to television, whether you're doing a talk show, a variety so, whatever it is. Why not do that, because there's not much justice in the world, and you increase it by doing that, by hiring good people.
KING: On this program recently, Andy Griffith said the reason he stopped his show, Mayberry, was because Don wanted to leave. He thought Don was one key to that show.
ALLEN: It's a lovely compliment...
KING: And he thought he was one of the funniest men who ever lived...
MEADOWS: He is.
KING: ... and people don't think of him when they say funniest men who ever lived. You'd include Don Knotts, wouldn't you?
MEADOWS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
ALLEN: Absolutely. Don had written himself two classic bits, and as soon as I saw them, I said, let's keep that fellow around a lot.
KING: Were you nervous?
ALLEN: No. Well, that was sort of a later ad-lib thing. But the first bit was a last-minute replacement for a weather man -- this is Don's concept. And he acts that he's a floor manager, you know, with the earphones. And somebody says, he's stuck in the men's room, Jim. He's not going to be able to make it in time. He says, he has to, we're on the air. And he gets so panicky, and suddenly they yell, you're on. And he says, but I can't -- good evening. And he looks into the camera and smiles. From there on in, it's screams. So that's what I first saw him do.
KING: And we hear, of course, your hysterical laughter above it all, right? MEADOWS: Yes.
ALLEN: Yes, loving it, loving it.
KING: "Tonight Show" replaced "Broadway Open House," right?
KING: Jerry Lester.
KING: That show went off, "Tonight Show" went on.
KING: You were the first host of "The Tonight Show."
ALLEN: Right, I created the show.
KING: Then Jack Paar.
ALLEN: Then Jack. Jack did it for five years after I did it.
KING: Then Johnny.
ALLEN: Then Johnny.
KING: And now Jay, right?
So you're the founder of this kind of late night idiom?
MEADOWS: He is the creator.
ALLEN: Yes, what I was really doing -- I didn't sit down and think, how can I do something brand news? I did what I had already done on the radio, reading question cards, interviewing people up in the aisles, having people yell out songs to see if I could play them or the band could play them, making funny phone calls, all the things we now think of as late night entertainment...
KING: The angry letters to the editor.
ALLEN: Angry letters to the editor, yes.
MEADOWS: Well, Larry, one reason why he did all that is you know the first almost six months, Steve didn't have any writers. He did the whole "Tonight Show" himself, no writers.
ALLEN: Yes, at the production meeting, they were planning, they said, you want any writers? And I said, to write what, because I'd already -- always ad libbed the show. They said, OK, forget that. So I finally met a guy named Stan Burns who had had a good friend name Herb Sergeant (ph). So they, a few months later, as Jayne says, did become my writers. But I started out with no writers at all.
KING: And the show's format is still basically the way you began it...
KING: ... monologue, guests, schtick.
ALLEN: One who deviated from the septum, as they say, was Jack Parr, because Jack was not that interested in music or sketches. So he narrowed it down to just a conversation show -- and a great one. He was very good at that. But then after Johnny came in, he went back to my original format.
KING: Did you have a partner, like did you have a Hugh Downs or an Ed McMahon?
MEADOWS: Gene Rayburn.
ALLEN: Yes, we had Gene Rayburn as the announcer, yes, right.
KING: We will be right back. Play us out, Steve.
Ah, the tingling ivories of Steve Allen. I love this.
MEADOWS: "The Gravy Waltz."
KING: "Gravy Waltz." We'll be back with Steve and Jayne.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: In case you're just joining us, 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: Oh, you think you're tired now. Wait until you see 1:00 roll around. It's a long show. It goes on from 11:30, here in the East, that is, from 11:30 to 1:00 in the morning. And we especially selected this particular theater. This is a New York theater called the Hudson. And we especially selected this for this very late show because this theater, oh, I think it sleeps about 800 people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We are back with Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows on this edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND. They are the program, as we look at the careers of two giants in show business who have been married all these years and keep on keeping on, writing music.
You would do anything, though, for laughs. You once, what, you jumped into...
ALLEN: A vat of jello? Yes. Another time, they covered me with about 100 little tea bags. I jumped into a big thing of hot water.
KING: So that was pre-Letterman.
ALLEN: Yes, right.
MEADOWS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
KING: So when you see all this, do you ever say to yourself, nothing is new?
ALLEN: Sometimes the thought occurs to me, although David has been very good about that. He's said publicly, at least a dozen times I've heard about,a couple other times I assume, that he used to watch my show every night when he was going to college, and he wanted to do that kind of a show, so he does. And I like that attitude on his part.
KING: Also, you were saying about the success of "The Tonight Show."
MEADOWS: Well, when you think "The Tonight Show" is the longest- running show plus the most profitable show in the history of television, he's one of the guys who created this whole medium.
KING: Why did you leave it?
ALLEN: For a very good reason. They wanted me to take on a more important assignment -- by they, I mean, NBC. They had never any luck against Ed Sullivan. His show was an institution, as we all recall, and a good show, too. And they had tried Martin and Lewis and Jimmy Durante...
ALLEN: Sinatra -- and nothing worked. So in their desperation, they wanted me to try it. And I love to work in comedy, so I said, yes, sure. And for a while, I was doing "The Tonight Show" 90 minutes a night, five nights a week, plus a prime-time comedy show. An after a few weeks of that, I realized I couldn't do justice to the important show, the one in prime time. "The Tonight Show" I could do in my sleep. Anybody could. But -- so I told them I had to questions. And this is a long story, which I'll shorten, I eventually did walk away from it, and then for the next four years concentrated on that wonderful show that you were talking about, the one with Tom Poston and Don Knotts.
KING: That's the one that brought all those. That was -- "The Tonight Show" brought Steve and Edie.
ALLEN: Yes, and I occasionally used some of the other guys, but just a rare guest shot. They became regular members of our company, Pat Harrington and...
MEADOWS: And it was about a year, as I remember, where they couldn't even replace you. They tried Ernie Kovacs, they had...
ALLEN: "Erica After Dark."
KING: "Erica After Dark."
MEADOWS: And none made it.
KING: Until Parr.
MEADOWS: Until Parr. Parr was the first. And they begged Steve, can't you do it? And you also did "The Benny Goodman Story" at the same time you were doing the others.
KING: That movie which is now -- they keep playing it.
MEADOWS: Yes, all the time.
ALLEN: Yes, I look back at all these odd, not necessarily great, things I ever did, the oddest was definitely doing the Goodman movie for eight weeks, never missed a night of "The Tonight Show" live for live 90 minutes. Nobody should do that.
MEADOWS: No. It was...
KING: Was it hard to -- did you actually play the clarinet?
ALLEN: I did, but the only place you hear me playing is where Benny is 9 years old and you hear him playing the scales. The little boy, of course, could not play the piano, so I did the amateur sounding clarinet. I still know how to play, but of course the real music was Benny's.
KING: Did you know "The Tonight Show" would be a hit?
ALLEN: No, never.
KING: Sometimes you can feel it.
MEADOWS: I did. I did.
ALLEN: Jayne did, yes.
MEADOWS: Yes, because it was local originally. Then when the coaxial cable went through -- nobody knows what that is when I use that worse. Nobody's old enough -- you're not even old enough to know.
KING: I remember the coaxial cable. MEADOWS: You do. Well, when it went through and Steve went network, there was a closing party on the -- you know, the -- what do you call it, the local one. And Louis and I were sitting there, and he was saying, oh, Jayne, this will never go. America will never understand this crazy show.
ALLEN: He thought it was too hip, too New York.
MEADOWS: I said, you're wrong. I said, this is my birthday, September 27th. This is -- and it was starting on September 27th. I said, it will be the biggest smash hit, it will run forever. I was just saying it to bolster his ego. I didn't know what I was saying. And now, every year on September 27th, Jay Leno has him over for the anniversary show, and I'm in the audience. And I say to myself, I told him so.
KING: Now they were going to -- they called me a couple years ago. They had a great idea. They were going to do a new series of "I've Got a Secret" they wanted me to host.
ALLEN: Great idea.
MEADOWS: Oh, you should have.
KING: But CNN wouldn't let me do it because they thought it would be...
MEADOWS: Oh, yes.
KING: But now, explain, though, what made that show so successful?
ALLEN: One of the things that made it, seriously, was Jayne.
MEADOWS: Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.
KING: Remember, they would tell the host?
MEADOWS: Oh, that's right. And I...
KING: I robbed the bank, but I want...
MEADOWS: Well I must tell you, I went on the third week. And when I went in to audition, every actor and actress in America was auditioning. And I didn't...
ALLEN: For the panel?
MEADOWS: And I didn't own a television set because...
KING: Gary Moore (ph) was the host.
MEADOWS: Gary Moore (ph) was the host. And the only person who was a regular at that time that still was later on was Bill Cullun (ph). I can't remember the -- Laura Hobson, you know, who wrote "Gentleman's Agreement," was part of it. And this old English character actor.
ALLEN: Cecil Kellaway (ph).
MEADOWS: Cecil Kellaway.
KING: Why did it work, though?
MEADOWS: I'll tell you why. The review -- I sent for the views because the first night I did it, they had asked me to sign for seven years. And I thought, oh, dear god. What did I do? What is this show? But as a child, you see, we didn't drink or smoke. And there were no -- I lived in a little town of nothing but churches. But we played games all the time. And I was a marvelous game player, if I say so myself. So after the show, I asked for the reviews. You've never read worse reviews in your whole life.
KING: Stupid, inane, silly.
MEADOWS: Awful, awful. And you know why? Because the secrets -- I remember Lorraine Day's secret was, I sold -- as a young girl, I sold newspapers. Well, that's just the most boring thing in the world.
So what they did was they got rid of Laura Hobson, they got rid of Cecil Kellaway and Charles Collingwood's wife., that beautiful...
ALLEN: Louise Albritton.
MEADOWS: Yes, beautiful lovely lady from the movies. But I was very young. And Mark Goodson said, you have a saucy personality. And what made it go was one week somebody came on and their secret was -- really, I mean, it was ridiculous. So from then on, they -- all the secrets were active, and they involved the panel.
KING: We'll be right back with more of this LARRY KING WEEKEND. We're only halfway through with Steve and Jayne.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: I don't want to go in. I want my mommy. Let all the big boys jump in. I want go home. Go to bed.
ALLEN: I don't want to go in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: According to Johnny Carson, Steve Allen was a most creative innovator and brilliant entertainer.
More of our August 1996 interview with Steverino and his wife, Jayne Meadows when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: If person went on television, running for the presidency and admitted to being a heterosexual, could you vote for him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
ALLEN: You could?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
ALLEN: On what grounds?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know.
ALLEN: You don't know but you still vote for him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
ALLEN: Have you ever voted for a heterosexual, do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no, no. You are talking about sexual, no, no, no, I would never for vote for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Tell me about "Meeting of the Minds," the history of that extraordinary show.
MEADOWS: Boy, one of the -- out of that brain, I tell you. Never been done anything like it. And if you knew the fans that we had, Claire Booth Luce in Hawaii. You remember she was going blind. And we used to send her tapes, and she suggested characters for us.
KING: Explain, by the way, to those who don't know. "Meeting of the Minds"...
MEADOWS: You explain.
ALLEN: "Meeting of the Minds" was...
KING: And we'll show a little clip, but... ALLEN: It's constructed to look, you know, like a talk show, but it's actually a play, written and rehearsed. And we have 24 one-hour shows of the series. And the guests -- the true distinctions was that the guests were all important persons from history. Jayne played Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, people whose ideas literally affected society today.
KING: Susan B. Anthony would be sitting with...
MEADOWS: Susan B. Anthony was with -- from Mexico.
ALLEN: Emiliano Zapata.
ALLEN: Sir Francis Bacon was there.
MEADOWS: That's right. And I believe it was Aristotle or Plato, one of them.
KING: They were great ideas.
ALLEN: Thank you.
MEADOWS: Yes, yes.
KING: Are they playing anywhere now?
ALLEN: Well, they're used in many colleges and high schools around the country...
KING: What with all these cable channels, how about the History channel?
MEADOWS: Yes, very interested.
ALLEN: From your lips to Godzilla, as we say.
MEADOWS: But, of course, Steve has the books, we have the videos, we have the audios, all in store.
ALLEN: Michael Byner's -- Michael Byner's company, Dub Audio has all shows available in audio cassette form.
MEADOWS: Yes, yes, but it was something. That was an experience, because it was PBS.
MEADOWS: Well, it was PBS, and there was no money. And we had to -- and you know there's no money. I borrowed wigs because I had been under contract. They loaned me when I played Marie Antoinette, and we had actors -- they had to be epic actors. They had to come from England, Canada, Broadway...
KING: And yet sound as if they were ad libbing.
MEADOWS: Oh, it had to sound like a talk show.
KING: They could be all scripted, but it had to sound like a -- they'd interrupt each other.
ALLEN: Exactly, yes.
MEADOWS: Like a talk show. And they would get in fights. And a lot of the actors lived in our house because there was no money. And a couple of them were alcoholics. And we had -- here I had this little boy, little son and these crazy actors. And we used to hold the rehearsals in our dining room. And once, I was, as Marie Antoinette, with a big hoop skirt at the dining room table. And we had Teddy Roosevelt on the other side.
MEADOWS: People were with swords and all kinds of stuff. We were rebuilding the kitchen, and one of the boys -- you did a show on it -- Brian, who was in the commune, had two of his crazy commune people with the long hair with the big bows and the, you know, those outfits...
ALLEN: That's right...
MEADOWS: ... and they were upstairs...
KING: ... dressed like Jesus and the Apostles.
MEADOWS: Yes, and the Apostles were upstairs. And the next show you were doing, tell them what happened when the door bell rang.
ALLEN: Well, I had arranged to have people come to audition for future shows. And we were looking for an Atilla the Hun. And so the doorbell rang in the middle of rehearsal. Now here sits Ulysses S. Grant, Marie Antoinette. I said, I'll be right back, and I ran to the door. A man smiling at me, I said, Atilla the Hun, yes? And he says, no, Fuller brush man -- true story.
MEADOWS: The house for the whole four or five years was total insanity -- totally.
KING: Ideas spew from you all the time, right? You're an idea freak?
ALLEN: Yes, and that's what this book you mentioned, "But Seriously," is about. It's a collection of my ideas from the last 40 years or so.
KING: What was your biggest flop?
ALLEN: What a marvelous question. I don't think I've ever had... KING: Did you ever have a show that you said, this can't miss? Jayne....
MEADOWS: I know, I know. You got marvelous notices. It was the first play you did on Broadway.
ALLEN: Oh, yes, well...
MEADOWS: That only lasted...
ALLEN: Well it wasn't my biggest flop.
MEADOWS: Oh, oh, no.
KING: It was a good play, though, right?
ALLEN: Yes, the critics were kind to me and the play didn't run very well.
KING: What was the name of the play?
ALLEN: "The Pink Elephant."
MEADOWS: "The Pink Elephant."
KING: Your biggest? Did you have a play close in one night? Everyone's had...
MEADOWS: Not one night, but one week -- oh, I had a couple.
KING: Is that the saddest thing of all, when you've got to go on...
MEADOWS: No, it didn't bother me at all because I went right from one play to another.
ALLEN: But it's sad when the company doesn't stay together...
KING: That's what I mean...
ALLEN: ... and the investors lose their money.
MEADOWS: Oh, yes, you feel very sorry.
KING: When we come back -- you can't talk with this couple and not talk about Audrey Meadows, so we'll talk about that wonderful actress, Jayne's late sister.
We'll be right back on LARRY KING WEEKEND with Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. What a night.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEETING OF THE MINDS")
MEADOWS: It wasn't until 1920, 14 years after my death that the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution finally became the law of the land. Women had the vote.
ALLEN: As a matter of fact, many people call that the Susan B. Anthony amendment.
MEADOWS: No, no, no, Mr. Allen, it was a victory for women all over the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back.
Before we talk about Audrey, someone had a pretty good idea. You ought to do another song from your repertoire.
ALLEN: Oh, well, let's see. Here's a recent one called, "A Clown Standing in the Rain."
(singing): The show has just left town. But there's a clown standing in the rain. And everybody laughs to see him, mindless of his pain.
(speaking): Speaking of pain, that key is seven keys too high for me. But game trooper that I am, I sang it anyway.
KING: I liked it. Of the songs you've written, was "Start of Something Big" the biggest?
ALLEN: Yes, although "Picnic," which I wrote with George Duning (pg) was No. 1 on the hit parade.
KING: You also did "The Gravy Waltz," which won a Grammy, right?
ALLEN: With Ray Brown.
KING: Play that a little. I love that.
You're still writing, right?
ALLEN: Oh, I right.
KING: You might write a piece today?
MEADOWS: I love "South Rampart Street."
KING: Oh, I love that.
MEADOWS: Play just a little bit of that.
ALLEN (singing): Away down the street, do you hear the beat? Do you hear the beat of the rhythm of the happy, dancing feet.
(speaking): It goes on for about five...
KING: I know, I know...
ALLEN: Bing Crosby and the Andrew sisters.
KING: "South Rampart Street Parade."
ALLEN: Yes, that's a standard.
KING: You've written a lot of hit tunes.
MEADOWS: Oh, yes.
ALLEN: I've been very fortunate, yes. It's easy to write them, but after that sometimes you get the breaks sometimes -- I've written better songs than that.
KING: Audrey? Gone how long now?
MEADOWS: Since February 3. She died five days before her birthday.
KING: She would have been how old?
KING: Older than you?
MEADOWS: She was two years younger.
KING: Two years younger than you?
KING: You often expound, you're quoted among friends, as to why she was -- there were other Alices.
MEADOWS: Yes, there were quite a few Alices. The first Alice was Pert Kelton. And she played it -- she was in Jackie's stock company, and she played it for three years. And Audrey got it on a fluke because Pert Kelton was in Red channels.
ALLEN: The political blacklist broke her career.
MEADOWS: Yes, and CBS said, no, absolutely. And Jackie said, absolutely, I insist upon her. And about one week before they went on the air, Audrey got the job. And Jackie said, well, we'll give her -- we'll try her. And they signed as a day player, every other week, scale. She had very few lines. It was just one of the four characters he did.
ALLEN: At the start.
MEADOWS: Oh, yes, at the start.
KING: It would be an eight-minute skit and...
MEADOWS: Yes, exactly. And the others would be the bartender and...
KING: Reggie Van (ph).
MEADOWS: Van Gleason (ph) and all. And what happened was that "The Honeymooners" became very popular. Now Gleason was only on three years, you know. Most people don't realize that.
KING: I know.
MEADOWS: Three years. And it wasn't that he was fired, it was that he was bored, and he wanted to do movies and Broadway. So he went away. And he had to come back to CBS to work out his contract. And he decided he didn't want to do the hour show with the dancing girls and everything. He would do just a half hour of "The Honeymooners," and the best "Honeymooners," so that everything is a gem.
KING: All those scripts, there's a...
MEADOWS: I mean, polished.
KING: Now, why was she the best?
MEADOWS: Because the first woman was a brilliant actress. I had seen her on the stage, brilliant comedienne. But what people don't realize, with all the critics that write about Audrey, they don't know what the secret was.
KING: Which was?
MEADOWS: She was fragile. She had a very, even in real life, sad face, sad quality, which she tried to cover over.
ALLEN: And that was perfect for Gleason's bombastic, bullying attitude.
MEADOWS: And not...
ALLEN: She just seemed so defenseless.
MEADOWS: And not only that, she was round shouldered all through life. When you looked at Alice, if you heard a strong actress say, yes, well you're fat. But this fragile, little, round-shouldered, sad face like my father. And at the end, when she would sit at the table with Jackie, and they would play, love is here to stay, I mean it got you, because everybody in America, in the world, I think, wants to be in love. And there was that tragic apartment, and he with his great dreams. And to have this sad, little woman -- after her death, if she had only lived to read the wonderful things that people wrote. But she didn't. And she never really knew how successful it was.
KING: He would say, baby, you're the greatest.
MEADOWS: The greatest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE HONEYMOONERS")
JACKIE GLEASON, ACTOR: Baby, you're the greatest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MEADOWS: And they would kiss. They never really kissed.
ALLEN: None of the other hot sitcoms ever had that emotional moment, but "The Honeymooners" did. It was great.
MEADOWS: It was -- but "The Honeymooners" did, so they could say anything to each other. And they said appalling things to each other.
MEADOWS: Jackie and Alice.
KING: Where? The lines, you going to the moon?
KING: I bet that show, you couldn't run that -- pow.
MEADOWS: You couldn't.
ALLEN: One of these days I'm going to hit you is what he was saying.
MEADOWS: And the thing that -- I laughed. It was an annoyance -- at some of the critics who talked about she was the first feminist. Alice was the opposite of a feminist. She had an abusive failure for a husband, but she loved him. And she stayed in that little kitchen, never went out to get a job, had no money, no clothes, no jewelry.
KING: Wow. We'll be right back with more of Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. We have two segments to go on this edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND. Hope you're enjoying it.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLEASON: Just kills you, don't it? Just kills you that you're a woman, and instead of being a leader like a man, you've got to be a follower. That's what women are, you know, followers. Men, they've done it all, done it all, all the great inventions, men. Men have done all the great things since the beginning of time. Give you a perfect example, there would be no America if it wasn't for Christopher Columbus.
AUDREY MEADOWS, ACTRESS: There would be no Christopher Columbus if it wasn't for his mother.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: By the way, Jayne has gotten Emmy nominations, won an Emmy in 1990. Steve has won every award there is to give.
You like still working?
MEADOWS: Oh, I love it. I love it. There was a very sad year for me, because not only losing my sister but three weeks...
ALLEN: Your brother.
MEADOWS: Three weeks before Audrey died, my last brother went. And I...
KING: Are you the last left?
MEADOWS: I'm the last. I'm the matriarch, and I don't like being a matriarch.
ALLEN: But she does love being a grandmother.
MEADOWS: Oh, yes. We have 12 grandchildren, two great- grandchildren. But I must tell you, I don't know what I would have done if it hadn't been for that comedy series that I was on because they kept me -- just being around...
ALLEN: "High Society."
KING: Yes, "High Society."
MEADOWS: And just being around...
KING: You won an Emmy for that.
MEADOWS: An Emmy nomination.
KING: For "High Society."
MEADOWS: Yes, I have... KING: And that was important because?
MEADOWS: Well, because I remember when my brother died I was in the middle of this scene. And they came to me, and -- I was playing a victim of a heart attack. And they came to me and said there's a very important phone call. Your son says you must come to the phone. And I knew my brother was ill, and I got hysterical. I was in the bed. and I said, I can't go. I can't go. And dear Mary McDonald said to me, do you want me to go? She came back and said, Jayne, you have to go. Your brother's dying.
And I went to the hospital, and he died about 18 minutes after I was there. And I came back. And the next day I said to the stage manager, you go out and you tell everybody on this set they are not to sympathize, they are not to mention my brother. We must get through this show.
You see, having been on Broadway for so many years, the show has to go on. You can't let all these people fall apart. And sympathy, what good does it is do? I went to my brother's funeral, I loved him. What are you going to do?
KING: It's tough for everybody, but tougher in show business getting older?
ALLEN: It depends...
MEADOWS: Not for me.
KING: In other words, the call doesn't come to say, Steve, we've got this new show for Sunday night that doesn't come...
ALLEN: Yes, you're right.
KING: ... not for any reason of talent, just age.
ALLEN: Yes, I think that the guys that are hit the hardest are the handsome gentlemen...
ALLEN: the Cary Grants, the Gary Coopers, because they were so beautiful it was almost -- they must have been from another planet. And the day comes when you're no longer that handsome, and then the calls stop.
MEADOWS: Comedians go on forever. Look at George Burns.
ALLEN: Yes, if you do funniness, who cares what you look like?
KING: Play us out, Steve. We have one segment left, and we'll be back with it.
Steve Allen -- I love this. MEADOWS: (OFF-MIKE)
KING: You do?
MEADOWS: Oh, I love playing grandmothers.
ALLEN: We'll be back with Steve and Jayne, our remaining moments on LARRY KING WEEKEND right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "HIGH SOCIETY")
MEADOWS: Not that I haven't enjoyed the three weeks, two days, eight hours and 14 minutes I've spent in this hell, but I'm ready to go home.
MARY MCDONALD, ACTRESS: No.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Here's your tea.
MEADOWS: I hate tea.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Will you just drink it so that Eva Braun will get off my back?
MEADOWS: I can't take it any longer. I haven't had a sip of alcohol in weeks. She's got me drinking tea. She's even brought me "People" magazine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows.
Boy, has this hour sped by. You two are delightful to talk to. What careers.
MEADOWS: Well you're the best interviewer, you know.
KING: You said today's interviewers -- the best.
ALLEN: Really, really.
KING: He can write a new song, "The Best."
MEADOWS: You are.
KING: You are the best.
ALLEN: You are the best (OFF-MIKE)
MEADOWS: You are, and I wouldn't say that. I mean it. KING: You said today's interviews are different than -- back in your days, you were looking more for the laugh.
ALLEN: Well, the talk-show guys now come from comedy clubs. In the old days, we came from radio. So I think the Johnny Carson generation, so to speak, were really better at interviewing.
KING: Yes, I bridged that gap, because I love interviewing. You liked the show more than the interview, right?
KING: The show was your thing.
KING: Even though you had some great interviews on "The Tonight Show."
ALLEN: Yes, but I was -- you're right. It was a comedy show chiefly, as far as I was concerned.
KING: Funniest bit you've ever done? Is there a -- or the funniest skit?
ALLEN: The funniest thing I ever did -- it wasn't that I was funny, but it was funny. I went out on the sidewalk on 38th Street...
MEADOWS: Oh, yes.
ALLEN: ... the Garment District in New York, and I asked five or six people the same question. I said, politics, presidential election coming up, assume that you've been responsibly behind a given candidate but at the last minute you find out that he is an admitted heterosexual. Would you continue to support? You wouldn't believe the answers I got. People said, what, heterosexual? We don't want that in the White House. That's the funniest I was ever in connection.
MEADOWS: Absolutely the funniest, but I think your break-up of laughter is known by everybody on the planet.
ALLEN: Yes, but that's not talent, that's embarrassment.
MEADOWS: Yes, well...
KING: Jack Parr's favorite, I guess, is the spaghetti growing on the trees when they take him to the spaghetti grower. Did you ever see that bit?
ALLEN: I missed that.
KING: It was a PBS bit. The guy came and they actually did it as if spaghetti grew on trees, and then they showed the people picking spaghetti.
All right, what do you want Steve to play us out with.
MEADOWS: "Boogie Woogie."
KING: OK, ladies and gentlemen, we're going to have Steve -- play right through this -- Steve Allen.
KING: Steve and Jayne, LARRY KING WEEKEND, thanks for joining us.
Good night, Jayne.
MEADOWS: Good night. Good night, everybody. Good night, Larry. Good night, Steve.
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