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Treadmill to Oblivion by Fred Allen
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Aug 19, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction-general
Read in August, 2010

Allen, Fred. TREADMILL TO OBLIVION. (1954). ****. This survey by Mr. Allen of his career in radio was an immediate best seller when it was published. The book is also illustrated with drawings by Al Hirschfeld. I remember, back in the days before we had a television, being a radio addict. Every evening I had favorite shows that I would listen to. These included the usual shows a boy would listen to, like “The Shadow,” “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “Your Treasury Men in Action,” etc. Among all the shows I liked, I also liked to listen to “Allen’s Alley,” a weekly comedy series hosted by Fred Allen and featuring a different guest star each week. His brand of humor was right up my alley. Fred Allen, born in Boston, started out in Vaudeville and Broadway, but then, little by little, began to make his way as a radio star. He managed to recall much of his radio work in this book – concentrating on his three biggest shows: “Town Hall Tonight,” “Town Hall News,” (both one-hour shows), and, finally, “Allen’s Alley.” Sizeable excerpts from many of the scripts from these shows are included in the book so that you can get a feel for the type of humor popular in its day. Allen was the principal driver behind most of the content of these shows, although he did employ some very bright writers – one of whom was Herman Wouk, a recent graduate from Columbia. His ideas for continuing sketches were mostly brilliant. I particularly liked the weekly series, “Interviews With People You Weren’t Expecting to Meet.” Allen and his crew would go out and find people in the city who had different (read strange) jobs, and bring them on the program. They were then interviewed (pre-scripted, of course) by Allen, and managed to bring laughs from the audience. His shows also carried on a long-standing feud with Jack Benny – an actuality, one of Allen’s best friends – that became a tradition in both Allen’s and Benny’s shows. Benny’s show, of course, was usually one of the most listened-to programs on the air. The title of this book comes from Allen’s closing remarks about the future of radio after the advent of television, and manages to hit home. Lots of entertainment history here! Recommended.
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