Monday, January 19, 2009

[MISP] Thinking of a life well-lived...


...due to the recent passing of someone close, I wanted to share this piece on Steve Allen, whom those of us over 50 or so will remember.


There’s also a reference to FILM NETWORKING IN NEW MEXICO, boldfaced below. Many of us over 30 or 40 might remember “Schmoozarama ‘96.”


      Jim Terr

           Santa Fe, New Mexico USA  505-989-9298

                "300,000 YouTube views and counting..." 






        By Jim Terr
(c)  (As printed in the Albuquerque Tribune, November 18, 2000)

In 1957 I was eight years old, a third grader in the tiny tourist town of Charlevoix, Michigan. It was a sunny childhood, full of warmth, closeness and gay laughter.

Actually, it wasn't. In addition to being in a small, chilly community in the post-McCarthy 1950s, I had my own precocious sense of ennui, a well-developed melancholy and alienation far beyond my years.

We didn't have a television until I was about six or seven, and not much on TV really amused me. Children's shows bored or scared me, and although I loved Dinah Shore and Perry Como for their warm personalities, the songs that they and their guests crooned left me cold.


Into this emotional vacuum stepped Steve Allen, with his weekly variety show on NBC-TV. (Mr. Allen died October 30, peacefully in his sleep, thank God.) Like the Beatles years later, Steve Allen's zaniness and intelligence was a lifeline of hope for me in a barren, mostly humorless world.

The fact that Mr. Allen was also well on his way to writing the 8,500 songs and 53 books he eventually authored, the fact that he was a serious crusader who was always aware of the social and political context in which he lived, were things I wasn't aware of at the time. Or perhaps I just assumed they were normal for public figures, which of course they are not.

What I was aware of was his irrepressible wit and spontaneity. Even today he is credited not only with having invented the late-night talk show (he originated the Tonight Show), but he's acknowledged as being the greatest ad-libber of all time. Irreverent, totally non-linear, he refused to take anything seriously.

Here's his delivery of an ad for Coldene Stick Chest Rub, whose teleprompter script was a straight pitch for avoiding the "greasy, gooey mess" of "ordinary greasy rubs."

Allen: "Say, do you smear your youngsters like this when they have a cold? Do they smear you right back? Gets pretty gooey, doesn't it? Well, friends, stick by those gooey kids of yours. They're the best friend your car ever had. But finally somebody has taken the grease and messiness out, and put grit and grime back in.
      Here's what I mean, and I wish I knew. It's called Coldene Stick Chest Rub, and you just stick it in your old rubbery chest.Watch how to avoid the messiness and discomfort of eating fried chicken with your bare hands. Your fingers never even touch it. That's right. The whole operation is handled by your toes...."

Allen sent me an autographed copy of his book, "How to be Funny; discovering the comic you," in which this and many other such items appear, a few years ago, after I had sent him a note letting him know how much he meant to me and millions of others of my generation. He also put me on his list to receive his frequent mailings of clippings on the many issues he felt were important -- underlined and asterisked.

Several months later I invited him to attend a film-and-video networking event here in Santa Fe called "Schmoozarama '96." He sent his regrets and best wishes in an open letter which began as follows:

"Having devoted a good part of my life to schmoozing and a not insignificant portion of my energies to ramming I am naturally not loathe - whatever that means - to participate in the general encouragement of whatever it is that you people are up to. On the general understanding that nothing you are doing is either illegal or immoral you may count me among your supporters..."

In the outpouring of articles and testimonials that followed Mr. Allen's death, many of his colleagues and friends spoke not only about his incredible wit and his extraordinary output as a Renaissance Man, but about his kindness and decency, his warmth and gentlemanliness.

As for his social concerns (his latest one being the rise of vulgarity in entertainment and media) he never stopped, and he was crusading in crisp, clear, erudite sentences right up to his last week.

A friend of his wrote that the two seminal experiences of Allen's life were the gratitude he felt at being treated to a cup of coffee and a hot dog when he was cold and homeless one night at age 16, and the tearful gratitude he felt when he found out that his wife, Jayne, did not have cancer after all. Allen, an agnostic, speculated that the earliest prayers of primitive man were probably prayers of gratitude.

With that deep sense of gratitude for a life well-lived and for a true role model and inspiration, I say thank you and goodbye, Steve. You'll never know what a difference you made.

Jim Terr is a singer-songwriter and humorist who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico at Hear an interview with Steve Allen here.


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