Steve Allen

On this date in 1921, entertainer Stephen Valentine Patrick Allen was born in New York City to Carroll and Isabelle {Donohue) Allen, who were vaudeville performers. His father died when he was an infant and Allen was raised mostly by his mother’s Irish-Catholic family in Chicago. He dropped out of Arizona State Teachers College during his sophomore year to go into radio, then served during World War II before returning to radio work.

Allen became a household name as the original host of the NBC “Tonight Show.” He portrayed Benny Goodman in the movie “The Benny Goodman Story,” recorded 40 albums as a jazz pianist, composed over 8,000 songs, wrote 54 books and hosted the PBS series “Meeting of Minds” (1977-81). Great minds from the past met on the groundbreaking show, which featured at least its share of freethinkers. Allen was also a lyricist whose songs include “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.”

He was a regular panelist in the early 1950s on “What’s My Line?” before hosting “The Steve Allen Show” in 1953 on a New York station. It was renamed “Tonight!” in 1954 and started its historic run on the full NBC network. Allen was host until succeeded in 1957 by Ernie Kovacs. He continued to host variety and comedy shows in the coming years. He last guest-hosted “The Tonight Show” in 1982 and made a final “Tonight” appearance in 1994 for the show’s 40th anniversary broadcast.

He was married for 46 years to actress Jayne Meadows after being married to Dorothy Goodman from 1943-52. They had three sons, and he and Meadows had another son. When his son Brian (with Dorothy) joined a cult in the 1970s, Allen wrote Beloved Son: A Story of the Jesus Cults (1982). Allen became aware of the distressing nature of the bible while reading Gideon Bibles left in hotel rooms. In Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion & Morality (1990), he mused: “I believe it is the imposition of a dictatorship that increasing numbers on the Christian Right now wish to construct in the United States.”

Working with Paul Kurtz, publisher of Prometheus Books, Allen published 15 books, including Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking with 101 Ways to Reason Better and Improve Your Mind. In 2011 he was selected for inclusion in the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’s Pantheon of Skeptics.

Allen died in October 2000 in Los Angeles from a ruptured blood vessel caused by chest injuries he didn’t realize he had sustained in a minor traffic accident earlier in the day.

Freedom From Religion Foundation