A portrait of the great radio comic follows his rise to popularity from vaudeville–where he appeared as “World’s Worst Juggler”–to the Broadway stage, and on to “Town Hall Tonight”–his wildly popular radio show.
For two decades Fred Allen, “the man with the flat voice,” was America’s most brilliant radio humorist, and for a time his program was the most popular in the country. This appreciative biography, enlivened by hundreds of quotations from Allen’s books, journals, letters, scrapbooks, and scripts, follows the career of Boston-born John Florence Sullivan (1894-1956) from his early days as a vaudeville juggler to his subsequent appearances as a Broadway comedian, culminating in his 25 years of national prominence. Boston Globe art and book critic Taylor ( Saranac ) discusses Allen’s meticulous working methods, his longstanding “feud” with Jack Benny, his happy marriage and working relationship with Portland Hoffa, Allen’s wife of 27 years, and the characters he used to interview in Allen’s Alley : Ajax Cassidy, Sen. Beauregard Claghorn, Titus Moody, Mrs. Pansy Nussbaum and Falstaff Openshaw. Allen’s cleverness and wit, his preeminence as a master of pace and timing, acknowledged and proclaimed by the likes of James Thurber and Groucho Marx, are fully represented in this delightful, distinguished biography.
Unlike Jack Benny, his long-time contemporary, Fred Allen is perhaps almost forgotten today, except for those who grew up listening to the radio for an evening’s entertainment. He was, nevertheless, one of the leading radio comedians of the 1930s and 1940s. This book covers Allen’s roots in Boston, his days of vaudeville and Broadway revues, and his coast-to-coast success on radio. Television was his downfall, however, and nearly overnight his type of humor, shrewd and sardonic, became passe. This book is very much worth reading, but its excerpts from radio scripts really do little more than suggest what it was that made Allen so funny. Listening to tapes of Allen’s actual broadcasts would give a better sense of his remarkable style.
~ From Wikipedia~
John Florence Sullivan (May 31, 1894 – March 17, 1956), known professionally as Fred Allen, was an American comedian. His absurdist, topically pointed radio program The Fred Allen Show (1932–1949) made him one of the most popular and forward-looking humorists in the Golden Age of American radio.
His best-remembered gag was his long-running mock feud with friend and fellow comedian Jack Benny, but it was only part of his appeal; radio historian John Dunning (in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio) wrote that Allen was radio’s most admired comedian and most frequently censored. A master ad libber, Allen often tangled with his network’s executives (and often barbed them on the air over the battles) while developing routines whose style and substance influenced fellow comic talents, including Groucho Marx, Stan Freberg, Henry Morgan and Johnny Carson; his avowed fans also included President Franklin D. Roosevelt and novelists William Faulkner, John Steinbeck and Herman Wouk (who began his career writing for Allen).
Noah Diamond displays one of the Prizes for Trivia winner. Marx Brothers Comic Book.
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Marx Brothers Sing-Along
Marx Brothers Singalong: “Alone”
There are two kinds of people: those who would enjoy a group singalong of Marx Brothers songs, and those who simply don’t know how to have fun. I assert that you have not truly lived until you’ve heard a room full of people singing Chico’s version of “Everyone Says I Love You,” in glorious unison. This video documents another of the Singalong’s many highlights: “Alone” (by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, from A Night at the Opera), led by Bill Zeffiro on the keys. (Noah Diamond contributed this and all other text for this post.)
Marx Brothers Singalong: “Dr. Hackenbush” and “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”
Maxine Marx’s book about her experience as part of the family that gave us the Marx Brothers is deservedly well-known and much loved by classic movie fans. Her anecdotes are funny, loving and revealing. In some ways, the book doesn’t feel as though it were written by someone in such close proximity to these famous characters, but this jives with her description of the brothers’ closeness. Even the immediate family came after the brothers, and nothing and nobody came between them. Except maybe money.
I enjoyed the tidbit describing Sam “Frenchie” Marx’s gentle nature, which has a lot to say about women in the Marx family. Walking home after viewing The Scarlet Letter at the movies, young Maxine asked her grandpa “why they had put the A on the lady’s dress.” “Pshaw,” he replied. “Pshaw.” After a bit, he added, “Don’t tell der Mammavhat you saw, yah?”
I knew very little about Chico although he was always my favorite performer in all the movies what with the finger shooting and the “Attsa boy, make a big slam! Make a big, big slam!” Now I am in awe of tough little Betty Marx for putting up with all his shenanigans. Still, Chico manages to come across as charismatic. I’m glad the mafia didn’t whack him after all.
I usually post ‘The Vaudevisuals Bookshelf’ once a week but this week is ‘Special’.
The publication of Noah Diamond’s new book “Gimme A Thrill“.
I will let you read the text on Amazon since I am a photographer mostly!
A BROADWAY LEGEND OF 1924 Includes more than eighty rare photographs, some published here for the first time. Before they made the films which are their principal legacy, the Marx Brothers were the stars of three Broadway musicals in the 1920s. Two of these, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, are popular classics, familiar from the Brothers’ immortal film versions, and from numerous stage revivals. But the boys’ 1924 Broadway debut, I’ll Say She Is, was never filmed or revived, and it slipped through history’s fingers. Although it was the most successful thing the Marx Brothers ever did on stage, it was unseen for ninety years after the original production closed, and has been considered a lost work. In 2009, writer, performer, lyricist, and Groucho Marxist Noah Diamond began a seven-year odyssey which led to the restoration, adaptation, and finally the historic first revival of this legendary entry in the Marx and musical theatre canons. Gimme a Thrill tells the whole story for the first time—the complete history of I’ll Say She Is from 1923 to 2014. Noah Diamond adapted the book and lyrics for I’ll Say She Is and has a long history of playing Groucho, on and off the stage. He is among the organizers ofMarxfestNew York City’s Marx Brother’s festival and has written and lectured widely on the Marxes and their work. With his partner Amanda Sisk, he wrote and produced the Nero Fiddled musicals, a series of political satires. His previous books are 400 Years in Manhattan and Love Marches On.
I first met this very talented Mr. Diamond while shooting an episode of the wonderful series ‘Vaudephone‘ which I co-produced with Trav SD. Here is Noah performing for us “The United Nations Song” for that series.
So now you can see why you should buy this book! Noah is brilliant in whatever he puts his mind to. And by the way you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t see the show coming this year.
Born Julius Marx in 1890, the brilliant comic actor who would later be known as Groucho was the most verbal of the famed comedy team, the Marx Brothers, his broad slapstick portrayals elevated by ingenious wordplay and double entendre. In his spirited biography of this beloved American iconoclast, Lee Siegel views the life of Groucho through the lens of his work on stage, screen, and television. The author uncovers the roots of the performer’s outrageous intellectual acuity and hilarious insolence toward convention and authority in Groucho’s early upbringing and Marx family dynamics.
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“Lee Siegel’s brilliant analysis of the glorious, scary, beyond-funny humor of Groucho and his brothers made me feel as if I were watching their movies for the first time. In this hugely enjoyable and stimulating book, Siegel shows how Groucho became an impossibility: an immortal comedian.”—Ian Frazier, author of Great Plains and On the Rez
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“Spirited and revealing . . . An astute psychological profile of the man whose biting, nihilistic comedy broke so many barriers.”
John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle
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Groucho Marx with Margaret Dumont in “The Cocoanuts” from 1929.
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Great article by Lee Siegel in the Wall Street Journal here!
Lord Buckley appeared on the TV show “You Bet Your Life” hosted by Groucho Marx. This episode was telecast near Spring 1955.
At the 6:28 mark of this show Lord Buckley utters the word ‘Groovy’ years before it became part of the popular lexicon.
A wonderful example of TV and the shows that use to light up the tube.
During this Dick Cavett show only 30 minutes of the interview with Groucho Marx was aired due to time constraints of the network.
Groucho stayed in the studio for another 30 minutes and talked to Dick Cavett and the live audience got to hear and see it.
Here is the full version of that show. Love Groucho!