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Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2000 /3 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas
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Consumer Reports

Steve Allen: One of a kind --
THE GREAT COMEDIANS were never dirty. You could always invite them into your home without fear that they would soil your reputation or singe your ears. Steve Allen, who died Tuesday at the age of 78, was the greatest of the great. He never told a dirty joke on television. He didn't have to. He had talent.

His credits can be read on the obituary page and in other accounts of his life. What will not be fully appreciated by those who watch and create contemporary television is the credit he brought to his industry and the quality of the life he led.

He once invited me to dinner at his home. "I know what you want to see,'' he said to this fan of "The Tonight Show,'' which he originated and which he continues to influence (Jay Leno's "Jay Walking'' segment is a descendant of Steve's "Man on the Street'' skit). Steve took me into his library and showed me the bound copies of the old "Tonight Show'' scripts, with familiar skits and comedy routines.

His infectious laugh made others laugh. His numerous kindnesses to the famous, the not famous and those trying to be famous set him apart from other stars. Steve cared about everything, from religion (he wrote a book about the Bible, though one could never pin down his beliefs), to politics (he fancied himself a liberal but kept company with a conservative media watchdog group to deplore what television has become), to the chemicals in our food, to the thoughts in our heads. He was particularly concerned about how some ideas got there and how the corrupt ones might be removed. I have a file full of articles, letters and pass-along material -- all underlined, asterisked and exclamation-pointed by Allen -- that he sent to me about all sorts of subjects, from the death penalty to violations of human rights and hypocrisy on all sides.

Allen cared deeply about his family. He spent a good deal of time and money extricating a son from a religious cult. He was devoted to his gorgeous and wonderful wife, Jayne Meadows, who was as true a partner as any wife can be.

In 1981, Steve wrote an essay for Guideposts magazine titled "The Therapy of Thankfulness.'' He told of two "especially meaningful incidents in my life -- one when I was alone and ravenously hungry, the other a desperate drive down a mountain.''

He was hungry at age 16. Having fled his Chicago home, he had bummed around the country for a while, running out of money and food. He tells of walking along a street in Houston, looking down in hopes of finding a coin he could use to buy something to eat. A stranger befriended him and took him to a chili joint. Not wishing to appear greedy, he ordered only coffee and a hot dog. Feeling the warmth in his stomach, he was overcome by a feeling of gratitude, even thanksgiving. No wonder he cared so much about the poor.

The second occasion, Steve wrote, forced him to pray. He and his son Bill had gone to a church camp in the California mountains. Jayne had checked herself into a Los Angeles hospital for medical tests. In his nightly phone call to to his wife, he learned she had cancer, a particularly virulent type. He said he prayed with his pastor, Don Moomaw, then of Bel-Air Presbyterian Church. His drive down the mountain was to rush to her side. When he arrived at the hospital, Jayne was sitting up in bed. "I'm going to be all right,'' she told him. The cancer diagnosis was wrong, and her malady could be successfully treated.

"As I held my wife in my arms, sobbing in joy,'' wrote Steve, "once again a deep sense of gratitude swept over me. I believe in the days before theology the first prayer offered by primitive man must have been one of gratitude .... Like love and affection, gratitude may mean nothing to others unless it is expressed. When it is expressed, the effects can be miraculous.''

Allen died while at the home of his son and grandchildren, who must be grateful for that last visit.

I'm grateful for this man's friendship, and that of his wife, and the example he was to an entertainment medium that could use more of his kind. I'm grateful to God for making such a wonderfully complex, talented, funny and loyal friend who, I think, believed a lot more in his Creator than he let on.

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