Steve Allen, R.I.P.
Jude Wanniski
November 6, 2000

 

Memo To: Website browsers, fans, clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: 'They called me Steve'

Monday before Election Day, it is TIME OUT on the political front. I want to say good-bye to Steve Allen, who died last week at the age of 78. A long time ago, in 1961, when I was a columnist for the Las Vegas Review Journal, I met Steve Allen one night when I was out on the town. And I wrote a column about that meeting, which you will find below. I was sad when I heard that he died. Steve Allen was a funny guy, a helluva guy.

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Swift City Via Motor With Steve Allen Along
by Jude Wanniski -- April 1961

We notice that Kay Gable has rejected all suggestions that her baby boy be named Clark Jr., explaining that it would be too hard on the lad. No doubt she's right. He'd have a fearsome time trying to generate in himself a sense of individuality.

Two years ago, when I was beating the Alaska bush for news, I ran into Bob LaFollette III. Now both his old man and his grandpa, both named Bob La Follette, had been successful politicians in Wisconsin, with the original La Follette founding the Progressive Party back in Teddy Roosevelt's day.

Bob III explained that all he has to do is show his vote-getting nose around Milwaukee and the drums start beating for him among the local politicos. He'd just arrived in Alaska for a few years of hunting and skiing after another couple years hunting and fishing in Africa. And he wouldn't so much as look at a can of Schlitz let alone think of returning to the Midwest.

Since I'm not a "junior," I haven't had a problem in living up to my name, which in some parts of the United States has never been heard. But ever since I was 17 years old, a prominent star of stage, screen and video has been hounding my tracks.

That was the year when I was fitted with the my first pair of black horn-rimmed glasses and was promptly dubbed "Steve Allen."

Now Allen himself has not actually "hounded my tracks," but his unflagging persistence in keeping himself in the spotlight of public acclaim has severely truncated my own sense of individuality. As a summer construction worker in New York City, I sweated for two years trying to prove myself one of the men instead of just "The Kid," and when I was finally accepted into the beer-drinking circles of the grizzled steelworkers they called me "Steve."

In college, it wasn't two days before my peers recognized my resemblance to Allen and began calling me (shudder) "Steverino." When in my cups, I've contemplated plastic surgery, but who would trust some fool medic to keep me from being turned into an Ed Sullivan.

Anyhow, I get to Las Vegas and on my first evening off I attend the Shecky Greene show at the Trop. Who sits down behind me but Steve Allen.

On my second night off, I go to see Don Rickles who is at the Sahara and there's Allen again, not five feet away from me, reminding me of my homeliness. Naturally, I relished every barb slung at him by the Insulter.

On this Monday night, I switch to a downtown club to see Vido Musso and Joe Loco at the Nevada Club. So Musso stops honking long enough to tell the audience that there's going to be a party and Steve Allen is going to be there.

Arrgh! So Allen comes in with 40 people at his heels and I decide to bring us face to face. So he looks at me, and before I have a chance to even introduce myself he says: "Look, send me your name and address. We're getting together 50 guys who look like me for a TV show next fall...you know one of those look-alike gags. We'll fly you out for the show.

Whereupon I returned to Henderson, sat down at my typewriter and composed the following letter:

Dear Mr. Allen,

I got your name from a newshawk on Francisco Square who says that you resemble me. You will be pleased to know that I am making a personal appearance on the Bozo the Clown show in Swift City, Utah this summer and can use you. We're getting together 50 mugs who look like me and don't have anything better to do, and motoring them up, all expenses paid, in one of those look-alike gags. Just send this letter to my agent, enclose 25 cents for handling, and we'll take care of the details. And wear old clothes. The audience will be asked to throw tomatoes and what-not. Don't worry about talent. All you have to do is stand there like a schlunk.

Jude Wanniski
Appearing nightly at the R-J Office in Henderson

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R.I.P., Steverino...