December 26

There are 2 entries for this date: Steve Allen James Mercer

    Steve Allen

    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.

    The proposition that the entire human race — consisting of enormous hordes of humanity — would be placed seriously in danger of a fiery eternity characterized by unspeakable torments purely because a man disobeyed a deity by eating a piece of fruit offered him by his wife is inherently incredible.

    — "Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion & Morality" (1990)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    James Mercer

    James Mercer

    On this date in 1970, musician James Russell Mercer was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He frequently moved with his family because his father was in the Air Force. Mercer has been an atheist since he was about 10, breaking away from his family’s Catholic faith. “There was a half-assed attempt to give me religion,” Mercer said. “They sent me to a Catholic Sunday school … and they showed me videos of the end of the world. It seemed like a comic book and Satan was just another villain, like Lex Luthor or something. It seemed totally preposterous.” (Magnet magazine, No. 86.)

    Mercer’s first break as a musician came with the album “Your Land is Here, It’s Time to Return” with his band Flake Music. This led them to go on tours with bands such as Modest Mouse. Mercer is well known as lead singer and songwriter of the indie band The Shins, which formed in 1996. The Shins’  2007 album “Wincing the Night Away” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 album chart.

    Mercer’s indie rock project was named Broken Bells. His co-member was Brian Burton, known as Danger Mouse, who, along with Cee Lo Green, made up the band Gnarls Barkley. Broken Bells’ debut self-titled album was released in 2010 and peaked at number two on the Billboard Independent Albums chart. Mercer’s music has been featured in many movies, including “Garden State” (2004) and “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012).

    He married designer/decorator Marisa Kula in 2006. They have three daughters. Mercer said in a 2012 SPIN interview, “There’s no real reason for me to be so obsessed with trying to understand the true nature of things. You can live a perfectly happy life being utterly confused and not knowing.”

    Photo: Mercer performing with Broken Bells in 2014 at Coachella. CC 1.0

    “I do like talking with friends about big concepts, you know, the stuff that will ruin a party. To me, the party hasn’t begun until we’re talking about the nonexistence of God.”

    — Mercer interview with SPIN magazine (February 2012)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freedom From Religion Foundation