Steve Allen, the affable and articulate comedian and actor best known as the first host of the "Tonight" show, but also the author of over 4,000 songs, died in Los Angeles. According to Reuters, he was visiting his son's house when he suffered an apparent heart attack. He was 78.
Noel Coward, visiting the U.S. in the early '50s, and apparently knowing a fellow phenomenon when he saw him, called Mr. Allen "the most talented man in America." He was certainly one of the busiest. He starred in a handful of films, authored over 50 books, and released just as many albums.
The multi-talented Mr. Allen penned such songs as "Picnic," "Impossible," "South Rampart Street Parade," "On the Beach" and "Houseboat." His most famous tune, a staple for decades in the cabaret circuit, is "This Could Be the Start of Something Big."
Mr. Allen's theatre work included a turn as an actor in The Pink Elephant, a New York City production of 1953. Reviewing his performance, the New York Times said, "Mr. Allen is a young man who has made a reputation for himself as one of television's ad-lib artists. A tall fellow, wearing dark-rimmed glasses, he delivers lines in dead-pan fashion, but he probably would be happier if he could make them up as he went along."
As composer, he wrote the music and lyrics to Sophie, a musical based on the life of Sophie Tucker, which opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on April 15, 1963. He also wrote Seymour Glick Is Alive But Sick, a 1982 revue, and a 1985 CBS musical of "Alice in Wonderland." But it was his pioneering television work that made Mr. Allen a household name. He hosted the "Tonight" show on NBC from 1953 to 1955, going on to star in "The Steve Allen Show" (1955-59), also on NBC. As host of the "Tonight" show, he was known to read the daily theatre reviews on the air.
Stephen Valentine Allen was born Dec. 26, 1921, in New York City. His parents, Carroll Allen and Isabelle Donohue Allen, were both vaudevillians. Dad went under the stage name of Billy Allen, while Mom was Belle Montrose. Steve Allen married Jayne Meadows on July 31, 1954. He is survived by Ms. Meadows and their son, as well as three sons from a previous marriage.
—By Robert Simonson