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, Socrate
Not always mentioned among big stars like Clark Gable and Cary Grant ; not always among celebrated artists such as Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, or Al Pacino, James Mason certainly earned the right to be called one of the great film actors of all time. Mason was nominated for three Oscars and and three Golden Globes, and his resume reads like a who's who of classic movies: Lolita , North By Northwest , and Julius Caesar . Also not too shabby were A Star is Born and Bigger Than Life . While radio was passing the baton of dominant media on to movies (with television a newbie), the British Mason appeared on a few of the big American shows: Suspense , Maxwell House Coffee Time , Studio One , and The Fred Allen Show . We say a happy birthday to actor James Mason!
January 31: Happy Birthday, Tallulah Bankhead Darlings, Tallulah Bankhead was a hilarious star of stage and screen and the host of NBC's The Big Show from 1950-1951. The ostentatious Alabaman introduced each week's lineup of spectacular stars ( Ethel Merman , Fred Allen , Groucho Marx , Martin and Lewis , Rosemary Clooney , you name 'em) and jousted with them in witty exchanges. The ambitious and extravagant extravaganza was hosted in the 3,000-seat Center Theatre. Each show opened with the theme song "A Hand Full of Stars," Bankhead's monologue, and then the wide array of guest stars singing, dancing, or performing sketches in an ensemble. The indomitable Tallulah, who, legend claims, smoked about a hundred and fifty cigarettes a day in rehearsals, was sometimes a bit thorny with guests. It was mostly all in good fun, but sometimes a bit uncomfortable. For example, Jose Ferrer showed reluctance at being called, by Bankhead, the day's be
While standing out in the memories of most as being "the director of Citizen Kane ," Orson Welles was a polymath and a practitioner of all mass media. As a filmmaker, Welles had a very keen visual sense, but he is also well-known for his deep and booming voice. This made him a natural for radio. He entered the medium relatively early in a career that had been, at that point, one centered around drama. He'd established a theatre troupe called The Mercury Theatre , and before long he decided to expand this to an iteration for radio called Mercury Theatre on the Air . This 1938 series mostly adapted classic and contemporary dramatic works, but it was also the show on which the "War of the Worlds" blowup occurred. The attention from that got new sponsorship and a new iteration of the program, Campbell Playhouse . This series adapted such works as "Our Town," " The Count of Monte Cristo ," "The Magnificent Ambersons" an
December 13, 1942: Allen's Alley ’s first broadcast took place on The Fred Allen Show . This specific section of the program turned out to be so popular that it remained part of the show until 1949. The famous characters included Mrs. Nussbaum, Titus Moody, Ajax Cassidy, and Senator Beauregard Claghorn. " Allen's Alley " premiered on The Fred Allen Show . It was one of the segments of the show that lampooned small-town America. "Allen's Alley" was a good mix of different characters hobnobbing with the two main protagonists in the persons of Allen himself and his wife, Portland Hoffa. "Allen's Alley" captured the hearts of its listeners because of the hilarious sketches and wacky characters that they dished out each time. The show went on air for seven years before it wrapped up in 1949.