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May 31: Happy Birthday, Fred Allen

Not a lot of show biz icons got their start in a library, but that's exactly how it happened to Fred Allen, born on this day in 1894. Bless that Boston Public Library for hosting a little variety show for patrons--it gave Allen a chance to take up some juggling and perform a bit of comedy. The encouragement he got from impressed audience members sent him into local amateur night competitions, and the rest is history.

We today know Fred Allen as a master satirist and pioneer of meta-humor, with one example being his fictional feud with Jack Benny. This reality-bending brand of comedy would later become more commonplace, finding homes in the repertoires of Andy Kauffman, Sacha Baron Cohen, and David Letterman, whose pugnacious exchanges with various guests were infused with a mock-venom.

We also know him as the long-time host of The Fred Allen Show and then Texaco Star Theater
You may recall, from the latter, Allen's Alley, home to Sampson Souse, John Doe, Socrates Mulligan, Parker Fennelly and others. Let's not forget Senator Beauregard Claghorn whose stammer would become the inspiration for the Warner Bros. cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn.

But what I like best about Fred Allen is that mug of his. Take one look at his face and it's impossible not to think, "now there's a comedian!

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