Woody Allen is one of very few comedic delineations universally respected by comedy writers the world over. Held in high esteem by comedy's upper crust, the snooty savants of literature and the vast film literati, Allen is one of the few comedy titans actually considered an artist. Woody Allen's comedic acumen spans all genres. It has yet to be matched.
However, the first several years of his career are rarely discussed. It is a fascinating period. Comedy devotees swear by the recordings of his stand-up act. At the time of his 1963 debut comedy record, Woody was a smart up-and-comer who'd already logged ten years in the business. But he was far from the personality we think of today.
Most comedians early in their career involve themselves with peripheral showbiz ventures, both to make their name and to survive. Cerebral as we may think Woody Allen to be, he was in many ways no different than most struggling low brow comedians that permeated the landscape. A shill for Parker Brothers and Smirnoff Vodka. A frequent game show panelist. A propagandist for Allen Funt's Candid Camera. None of these things spring to mind when we think of the storied career of Allen Konigsberg, but they were essential activities in his formative years.
This is the early Woody Allen.
Bob Hope and Mort Sahl were very different stand-up polemics. Bob Hope's rapid fire collection of scripted jokes could require up to fifteen writers at any given time whereas Mort Sahl's often rambling milieu was a product of his own mind. Both were political lightning rods. The left-wing Sahl was dismissed by hostile jingoists while the right-wing Hope eventually became a punching bag for protesters of questionable hygiene. Perhaps the two men represent best the left and right sides not of politics, but of Woody Allen's early comic mind. Both were Woody's heroes and he explained several times over the years that they were the two largest influences on his own act. Woody saw Mort Sahl perform live in 1954 at The Blue Angel, the venue that would be the birthplace of his own stand-up act six years later. "He was the best thing I ever saw. He was like Charlie Parker in jazz. There was a need for revolution, everybody was ready for revolution, but some guy had to come along who could perform the revolution and be great. Mort was the one. He was the tip of the iceberg. Underneath were all the other people who came along: Lenny Bruce, Nichols and May, all the Second City ... Mort was the vanguard of the group that had an enormous renaissance of nightclub comedy that ended not long after Bill Cosby and I came along ... Seeing Sahl, I felt I had two options, to kill myself or quit the business. There was nowhere to go after that ... He wasn't a comedian in the old mode." Regardless, Woody was even more enthusiastic about old mode Bob Hope. "To me ... Bob Hope was the biggest comic influence on my performing. I always adored him when I was younger, and it's an adoration that's never left me to this day. If I'm surfing through the TV channels and I hit a Bob Hope movie ... I can never turn them off ... I mean, I was laughing out loud [the other day], by myself, on my treadmill, watching Bob Hope." Before we continue, let's let the image of Woody Allen on a treadmill sink in.
Woody Allen had a minor comic influence in his personal life as well. Abe Burrows1 was a playwright and comedy scribe who hit it big in the world of radio sitcoms, creating the broad Duffy's Tavern. His better work includes Guys and Dolls and the screenplay for the Solid Gold Cadillac (1956). Allen was related to Burrows in a rather nebulous way, Woody's uncle having married Abe Burrows' aunt. Allen did not know him well but encountered him a handful of times as a pre-teen. Woody recounted this conversation he had with Abe when he was very young.
ALLEN: I want so much to be a television writer.
BURROWS: You don't want to be a television writer your whole life, do you? That's not your ultimate goal?
ALLEN: Of course. Why not?
BURROWS: You should think of the theater. If you have a talent and you want to write comic dialogue, you should think of the theater.
ALLEN: Well, maybe the movies. Don't all the guys in the theater want to get into the movies?
BURROWS: No, it's just the opposite. All the screenwriters in California would love to get a play on Broadway. That's all they want to do.
Woody took Abe's advice to heart, "In those days a screenwriter was nothing, just an anonymous name whose work was butchered. And a playwright was a big deal," Woody recalled. "And so I started to go to the theater a little bit. I was eighteen." Woody had sent letters of introduction along with a sheet of gags to top comics like Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers and the painfully unfunny but inexplicably popular Peter Lind Hayes. "Writing for Caesar was the highest thing you could aspire to - at least as a TV comedy writer," says Allen. However, he had his best luck sending jokes to newspaper columnists. "For a lark I wrote some jokes, and I was instantly successful with them," he said. "I just put them in a little envelope and threw it in the mailbox, and I suddenly found that my name appeared in the newspapers with a joke ... I took great pains to sign a different name, cause I thought God, if anyone ever used this it would be so embarrassing to have my name printed in the newspaper. So I changed my name to Woody Allen." His newsprint debut was in The New York Mirror under columnist Nick Kenny's Cheer-Up Club for Shut-ins(!). After several weeks of regular appearances he received a phone call from a man named David Alber. His agency represented a handful of moderate celebrities in Manhattan like Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo and Arthur Murray. "I said I go to high school, so I don't get out of school until one o'clock ... They said that's okay. You can come here ... write some jokes for us ... and they would attribute those jokes to personalities and they would get in Walter Winchell's column and Earl Wilson's column."2 Board game giant Parker Brothers was also a client of Alber's. It was the agency's responsibility to provide celebrities to endorse games in varying print ads. Eric Lax unearthed the details, "Alber doubled his fees by having his celebrities pose playing Monopoly or some other Parker Brothers game. But for verisimilitude, the celebrity needed to be playing with someone, the back of whose head would unobtrusively help compose the picture. The back of Woody's head made a perfect someone." The internet is still awaiting the savvy nerd who will expose us to these historically significant board game adverts. It was a brief gig. "I was working there for a short while," Alllen said, "and then I got a phone call asking me if I would be interested in writing on a radio show. And I did write on the radio show. Sure, I was very interested."
Woody Allen found himself writing for the clever comedian Herb Shriner.3 Shriner had a folksy radio program that featured The Raymond Scott Quintet. It made a smooth transition to television where Shriner hosted a prime time variety stint, for which Woody became a teenage writer. "The first week I had written [an episode of The Herb Shriner Show] ... I went ... and I got in the back of the line of the studio audience to go in. And I was waiting - you know, there were three hundred people ahead of me - and Herb's manager came walking by and said, 'Why are you waiting in line?' And I said, 'Well, you know, I want to see the show. I wrote, you know, the jokes.' And he said, 'You don't have to wait in line,' and he took me through the stage entrance. It was the first time that ever happened to me. And I was backstage watching it and of course, this whole world was amazing to me ... I was seventeen years old and I was earning more money than my parents put together had ever earned in their life." Despite pockets full of jokes, when Woody decided to take to the stage and do a short stand-up set at the Young Israel Social Club in 1953, he did so with material written by his friend Mike Merrick. Allen did not have confidence as a performer and this one-off stand-up gig did not make him fall in love with the idea. He continued to construct jokes behind the scenes. Of his Herb Shriner experience he gloats, "The kids in my neighborhood were earning I don't know what - the minimum wage was like fifty-five cents an hour or something and I was earning like sixteen hundred dollars a week."
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had just completed their run of semi-regular appearances on The Colgate Comedy Hour. Without the star duo, the variety show floundered. The ailing franchise was to be Allen's next stop. "[After Herb Sh riner] I got a job as a staff writer at NBC. They wanted to develop new writers." Allen was enlisted in an ambitious venture called the NBC Writers' Development Program headed by Tad Danielewski, a producer credited with discovering Rod Serling. Allen was placed as a student in the writer's room of The Colgate Comedy Hour where he was tutored by Danny Simon. Woody fondly conceded that, "[Danny Simon] is one of the ... most important people to my career ... for teaching me the fundamentals of how to construct sketches and, even more, for the psychological boost of having someone that accomplished believe in me." The new digs required a big move to Los Angeles. John Baxter says, "Woody was asked what he wanted from life when he arrived in Los Angeles ... Allen answered 'To host the Oscars and write for Bob Hope."
Unfortunately for Allen, The Colgate Comedy Hour was canceled in May of 1956, shortly after he arrived. Danny Simon tried to help him find work. Simon had a steady summertime gig providing material for the stage shows of the Jewish Tamiment resort near Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania. Described as "A summer retreat for young Jewish socialists," the joint was permeated with busts of Morris Hilquit, although few regulars knew or cared about the anachronistic commie. This resort, a Catskills for younger people, had been the farm league for television's major leaguers including Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Imogene Coca and Your Show of Shows' future director Max Liebman. Woody worked the summer there in 1956 and 1957. He found it hard to relate to most of the writers he was working with. Instead he bonded with musicians such as iconoclast Dick Davy and the forgotten Milt Kamen.4 Davy described the atmosphere at the resort, "They lay around on these chaise longues with their music and their gin and their watermelon, and making out. And Woody looks at it like it's a scene from a strange movie. And he got all excited, 'Is this what goes on here all day, all those naked women? Wow, you must have a ball. Wow!' And he's looking at all these girls. And he was, like, very uncomfortable, a fish out of water, looking around. 'Cause he was always writing. He had sticks of spearmint gum. You know, for nervousness and writing."
Allen returned to television that Fall as a staff writer on a problem-plagued Manhattan sitcom called Stanley. Stanley starred Buddy Hackett, Paul Lynde and Carol Burnett and was produced by Max Liebman. Says Eric Lax, "Liebman, in a rare miscalculation, was convinced that Hackett was another Charlie Chaplin. He felt Hackett combined that same pathos and brilliance as a comic that made Chaplin so wonderful ... the show was a failure." Neil Simon co-wrote the pilot, but both his work and Allen's were trounced by critics. The assessment of columnist Jack O'Brien was that "Stanley ... was loaded with old, familiar material, most of it flagrantly derived from Guys & Dolls ... Hackett's personality, a sort of Low-Broadway-comedy 'technique,' was strained to its overstated limits to make anything resembling a first class TV comedy out of fourth-rate writing, characterization and direction." Allen remembers that, "Liebman was too strong a personality and too wrongheaded about [any problems] going on." Time described Buddy Hackett as a "buffoon" who needed "better help from his comedy writers." The column Earl Wilson On Gay Broadway explained that "Buddy Hackett and Max Liebman don't exactly agree on how to fix the Stanley show," without going into detail. It was rumored that Carol Burnett and Buddy Hackett loathed each other, not exactly a recipe for sitcom bliss. By December the network announced the cancellation and it aired for the final time in March 1957.
Woody Allen wrote for a special in 1958 that would go on to create perpetual confusion in hundreds of subsequent articles about his career. Woody Allen had never worked on Sid Caesar's original triumph Your Show of Shows. Nor did he work on Sid's later triumph Caesar's Hour. Article after article, for years and years, stated that he did. Larry Gelbart clarifies, "Woody and I did not work together on Caesar's Hour. Woody and I wrote a special for Sid Caesar... for Chevrolet." The special was titled The Chevy Show with Sid Caesar and it exhausted Allen, who found Sid too intense. "You'll see people [working] on a comedy with long faces ... When I was writing for ... Sid Caesar it was a mass of hostilities and jealousies." Allen and Gelbart wrote a spoof of Playhouse 90 for Caesar called Hothouse 9D and wrote a take-off on American Bandstand featuring guest star Art Carney. Carney came out as host of "Teentime" introducing himself as "Your MC for the rest of your life," plugging hot new rock groups like "The Sisters Karamazov." The sponsors objected to an Allen-Gelbart line in which Carney shouts, "Here's a record I get an awful lot of money for playing!"
Woody supplemented his income by selling stand-up material to older hacks. He says he made a decent living from 1956 through 1958 "[writing] monologues on The Tonight Show with various hosts I can't remember, and writing material for various nightclub comics you've never heard of." Len Maxwell, a comedian and prolific voice actor that Woody had worked with on the Tamiment shows pestered Allen to go meet with his agents Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe, who represented the breakthrough comedy of Nichols & May and were Lenny Bruce's initial tutors. Woody presented some material he had written and the management team was instantly smitten with his understated personality. They asked him if he would be willing to perform his written work himself. Allen said he had no interest in being a performer but would love to be represented by Rollins and Joffe as a writer. Woody resisted Rollins and Joffe's insistence that he get on stage. Rollins and Joffe resisted Allen's insistence they represent him as a writer. Eventually the agency waned, adding the one and only writer to their roster with a tacit plan of breaking him into a performer.
Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen got work on another episode of The Chevy Show, this one hosted by Pat Boone. For their work they were nominated for an Emmy. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recognized the incredible amount of skill, talent and ability necessary to make Pat Boone enjoyable. An Art Carney extravaganza followed suit. Hooray For Love featured shades of many Woody-esque things to come. The special started with a Broadway chorus serenading the audience with a long, absurd singing of the credits (something Nilsson did eight years later for the film Skidoo). John Crosby was one of many writers in the press who lauded it enthusiastically, "Parodies on Tennessee Williams and Ingmar Bergman. Man, this is getting pretty far out for this mass audience. I assume the little old lady in Dubuque knows who Tennessee Williams is because Elizabeth Taylor was in the movie, but who is Ingmar Bergman - Ingrid's sister? It's nice to see television treat the audience as if it has some grown up interests." Crosby was of course referring to sketches written by the obscure, horn-rimmed wunderkind. Woody had put together a fun take-off on Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957). The sketch titled Strange Strawberries had Carney speaking pseudo-Swedish accompanied by preposterous subtitles. UPI reported the following morning that, "Once again Art Carney has taken the lead ...with a frisky comedy special that reached out for new approaches ... His writers Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen managed to come up with a sturdy collection of laugh-provoking material."
Rollins and Joffe placed Woody Allen as a highly paid staff writer on the whimsical and long running Garry Moore Show. Woody often infuriated fellow staff writers when he would indicate that he was above the fluff they were churning out. It was no secret that Allen was busy working on a play, much to the detriment of his Garry Moore assignments. Woody had sold two sketches to a Broadway revue titled From A to Z starring Hermione Gingold. With a little Abe Burrows sitting on his shoulder, whispering into his ear, Allen hoped the sale would be a springboard out of television and into playwriting. Instead the revue was a flop, closing after fourteen performances. It led to nothing.5 Despite the high brow antics away from the studio, Woody was still a participant in the show's flippant stunts (like being brought on stage with Garry to participate in a duet with a dog). "Woody always had a wisecrack," remembers Moore writer Coleman Jaacoby, "He also used to say 'It needs work' a lot. I'm surprised he didn't get mugged. After one reading, he got up and in his best George S. Kaufman voice said, 'Well, boys, I might as well tell you, I'm not putting any money on this one.' And then he snapped off Kaufman's famous two-finger salute. Guys were furious." Garry Moore said, "Both his contributions and personal appearances were - well, random ... As I recall, we fired him eventually for nonfeasance, which resulted in some kind of brouhaha with the writers' union. Our viewpoint was upheld." Woody's work was said to have been of exceptional quality but, "He frequently failed to come to work due to lack of interest." Allen would say later, "I didn't blame them for firing me but after that I wasn't making a cent."6 In the film Manhattan, Allen's character quits a high paying job writing television to become a novelist. Woody has stated many times that he wished he could have been a serious writer. The reality was that he quit a high paying job in television to become a stand-up comic.
Rollins and Joffe's assertion that Woody could be the Jewish Orson Welles, a triple threat of writer, director and performer, persuaded him to take to the stage. Allen spent several months preparing an act and his debut was at a coveted headliner's room, arranged by his management. Woody stood up at The Blue Angel in the summer of 1960 after comedian Shelley Berman's Saturday night late show. Berman was gracious enough to introduce Woody after his own act, an unconventional procedure to be sure. "Here is a young television writer who is going to perform his own material. Would you please welcome a very funny man... Woody Allen." Larry Gelbart was in the audience that evening and described Woody as "Elaine May in drag," as Woody lifted several of her mannerisms. Despite what was, at times, a lack of stage presence, Allen's material shone through and various showbiz job offers came in. Rollins turned them all down. Woody wasn't ready yet, he said. He needed to grow. He needed to polish. In the meantime, he stunk.
"I always thought the material alone mattered, but I was wrong," says Woody, "I thought of myself as a writer and when I was onstage all I could think about was wanting to get through the performance and go home. I wasn't liking the audience ... I was petrified. Yet there was no reason the audience wouldn't like me... they had paid to see me ... But then I went onstage with a better attitude and I learned that until you want to be there and luxuriate in the performance and want to stay on longer, you won't do a good show." Jack Rollins recalled that, "He knew zero about the art of performing and bringing the material on a nice silver platter to the audience. He was successful with a segment of the audience that had the brainpower to know what was there. But he didn't help himself because he didn't know anything about pacing his material, or stopping for laughs." Joffe added that, "He was arrogant and hostile ... If the audience didn't get it, he had no patience ... the pain in those first years was terrible." Allen was often despondent. "It was the worst year of my life. I'd feel this fear in my stomach every morning, the minute I woke up, and it'd be there until eleven o'clock at night." Nearing the end of 1960 he told them, "This is crazy. It's killing me. I'm throwing up, I'm sick, I shouldn't be doing this. I know I can make a big career as a writer. We've tried it with me as a stand-up and I'm not good. I can't handle this anymore." Rollins and Joffe never stopped reassuring Woody and constantly encouraged him. They knew he'd gain his chops but Joffe also admitted in retrospect, "Woody was just awful." Jay Landesman who booked Allen in his club said, "Woody was terrified of an audience. He used to pace the dressing-room floor muttering, 'I hope they like me. I hope they like me.' They didn't."
From Elaine May in drag Woody evolved into a version of Mort Sahl, as he wrestled with finding his own persona. "When I first started out as a nightclub comedian, I was such a great fan of Mort Sahl's that ... his delivery crept into me. And it helped me on the one hand, [but] people would say, 'Well ... lose that influence, you know, you'll have your own personality." With nightly performances and a notorious work ethic, Allen started to evolve. He learned the knack of crafting an act as he explained to his biographer Eric Lax, "I never wrote [the stand-up routine] out. I'd have the idea for the joke and I'd write two lines - the routine would be, say, a car joke, then mother-in-law ... blended together in a narrative. I'd practice it a couple of times at home, then I'd get onstage and I would edit live onstage ... I had done [a strong] joke and everything was fine ... But I knew instinctively that the audience right then didn't want to hear the joke about the sled and the elephant, that I should cut right to the business where the girl goes to my apartment for example. And I made the edits right there live as I felt them ... When I wrote [stand-up] I always started off with a longer monologue ... not deliberately ... I just thought, 'This is going to be great.' Then I got onstage and realized, 'Oh God, if I say that now, I can feel they're not going to laugh' even though they've laughed at the last six jokes, this is not the one to go to. When you're in the line of fire, your body tells you where to go. You just know what you're going to die with." The metaphysics of stand-up, summed up.
By 1961 Allen was hitting a stride. He drew specific crowds and was held over at various Greenwich Village nightclubs. The talent coordinator from The Tonight Show with Jack Paar was sent over to see if the new kid was worth booking. That talent coordinator was Dick Cavett. "I was sent to check out this comedian I'd heard about who was writing for Sid Caesar when he was six [years old] ... I recognized immediately that there was no young comedian in the country in the same class as him for sheer brilliance of jokes, and I resented the fact that the audience was too dumb to realize what they were getting." Cavett and Allen chummed around in circumstances that are hard to picture today. Woody was playing billiards daily at this point. Strange as it may seem, he was both a pool shark and a savvy card player, cleaning up chips in Vegas. Dick Cavett said, "It was kind of fun hanging around those billiard clubs late at night. Woody had just started to appear on TV and [these Damon Runyon] types would come over and say, 'Hey, Woody, out playing games, ain't you?" Woody was about to venture into the territory of national television exposure thanks to the Paar show.
At this point, an endorsement came from no less a source than Jack Benny. "He's one of the most amazing men I've ever known," he said, "It's very tough to use the word genius ... But I don't know anyone who is as clever and funny and has the knowledge of what to do in his writing ... No one compares with him. I used to say these things about Ed Wynn. My wife wouldn't sit next to me when I watched him because I made a fool of myself." Although Allen was praised by most, there were dissenting opinions. Jack Rollins brought agent Abe Lastfogel to see him and Lastfogel walked away unimpressed. "Too Greenwich Villagey, too Jewish, too corduroy," he concluded. At the same time, one of Allen's heroes was taking swipes at him and he wasn't joking. Presumably he saw Woody as a threat to his cerebral comedy throne. "[Woody Allen] is the degeneration of the Jew as a social force," said Mort Sahl, "To go from John Garfield to Woody Allen is putting in a lot of Clorox."7 The newspaper reviews mostly disagreed with Sahl and Lastfogel.
The most refreshing comic to emerge in many months ... He is a Chaplinesque victim with an S.J. Perelman sense of the bizarre and a Mort Sahl delivery despite the fact that he steers clear of topical material.
- Arthur Gelb, New York Times, Nov 1962
Woody Allen is such a hit at the Bitter End that he had to do four shows on Friday and Saturday to keep his admirers satisfied, and over the weekend more than 400 customers had to be turned away. Woody can claim the distinction that his comedy drew so many people to the Bitter End, the Fire Dept. closed the place for a few days.
- Dorothy Killgallen's Voice of Broadway, Dec 3, 1962
If you do not find this the season to be jolly, if you are cool to yule, if you are averse to office parties, allergic to carolers and generally strike a "bah, humbug" posture toward all this Christmas jazz, here is a suggestion: Two young comics who are decking the walls of local coffee houses with leaves of folly can cheer you up immeasurably. Woody Allen, a flesh and blood walk-on from the Jules Feiffer casebook, is holding forth at the Bitter End, while Bill Cosby, at the Gaslight, is riding in the back of Dick Gregory's bus, although pursuing a different route. Allen and Cosby are both in their mid-twenties, find their material in the all-too-real world, are sophisticates with broad appeal. Although Allen has a head start, both promise to be rising talents on the chuckle circuit. Woody Allen is one of nature's neediest cases. All he ever gets from the authorities, wives, girlfriends, bosses, and deans, it seems, is a hard time. But his flair for exaggerating his woes so lightly makes him as much laughed with as laughed at. His delivery is fast, nervous, age-of-anxiety patter that twists such cultural landmarks as Scarsdale ... group analysis ... and, inevitably, himself. Woody Allen is high-pressure and glib. Bill Cosby is low-key and conversational. They are both very funny.
- Robert Shelton, Village Voice, Dec 20, 1962
Woody Allen is a new, 27 year old comedian whose monologues tumble with wild improbabilities. In this particular season he is not only an interesting new comedian but a rare one as well: He never mentions John F. Kennedy.
- Time Magazine, Feb 15, 1963
Woody Allen just may be worth seeing more than once.
- Ralph J. Gleason, 1963
At the Bitter End ... the absurdly overpraised Woody Allen turns out to be the Sloan Wilson of the hepsters. I know I am asking for more than these 'satirists' are willing - and are prepared to give, but I have lost patience with this titillation of the same audience which would agree with the Anti-Defamation League's bestowal of the 1963 Democratic Award on John Kennedy.
- Nat Hentoff, Village Voice, Feb 7, 1963
Woody was on The Jack Paar Program several times in 1962 and 1963, sharing the stage with everyone from Judy Garland to The Harlem Globetrotters. He appealed to the housewife set with afternoon spots on The Merv Griffin Show while remaining the darling of the Village, regularly appearing on the same bill as jazz musicians like Charlie Byrd, The Modern Jazz Quartet, The Bill Evans Trio and Herbie Mann's Afro-Jazz Sextet. In the Fall of 1963 the folk music spectacular Hootenany debuted on television. Woody's literate brand of ridicule was a hit with the folkies in the Village and it was hoped it would do the same for folkies that might patronize the series. It didn't hurt that the owner of the liquorless Bitter End was talent coordinator for the show. Woody appeared on the debut episode and was enlisted as the show's regular stand-up face. However, Hootenany was the whitewashed corporate version of the folk genre so popular with beatniks, anti-war advocates and coffee shop socialists. Hootenany refused to book political folk acts like Pete Seeger and The Weavers - bellying the whole reason folk music was popular with the college crowd to begin with. The network asked Pete Seeger to sign a "loyalty oath affidavit" before he would even be considered as a guest (the fact that they asked him to do so at all obviously means they were considering him as a guest). Theodore Bikel agreed to do the show but with "misgivings." He told the press, "I find it distasteful to think that anybody has to bargain for his livelihood on any other basis than talent alone. Beyond that, I have never seen any evidence that Pete Seeger has tried to overthrow the government with his banjo."
The same week Woody started working for Candid Camera. Woody would pose as, among other things, a bookseller who gives away the endings of the fiction and an executive who dictates inappropriate letters to unwitting stenographers. A November 1963 TV Guide blurb says, "Among tonight's sequences comedian Woody Allen heads the welcoming committee of a bogus organization and greets 'distinguished members' as they arrive at New York's Idlewild Airport." Watch Woody Allen on Candid Camera here. The program is seemingly the antithesis to a man obsessed by the probing themes in Ingmar Bergman's films. Although he expresses embarrassment toward some of his earliest work today, Woody defends the Allen Funt project. Allen recounted in the late eighties that "[These were] the degrading things I had to do when I started ... But they're funny. Funny in the context of the show. I did the show for career advancement. Now I'm trying to do Dostoyevsky trying to live down this shit."
Allen had had his first Ed Sullivan appearance in 1962. He would appear regularly but had an amusing dust up with the famous host in 1966. During the afternoon rehearsal, Sullivan, notorious for his stone faced reactions and stonewalling of certain comedic material, shot down one of Allen's bits. Woody had been fooling around during his run through, not wanting to waste his act on a small crowd of distracted crew members and the tough crowd of Ed Sullivan. At one point during his piece he inserted the phrase "orgasmic insurance," which he had not actually planned on saying during the broadcast. Sullivan stopped the rehearsal and gave Allen a tongue lashing. The host of America's most popular variety show turned red and flustered, "It's an attitude like yours that is responsible for young men burning their draft cards!"
Woody had appeared on The Jack Paar Program, The Steve Allen Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Joe Franklin Show and PM East with Mike Wallace. New Year's Eve 1963 Woody guest hosted for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, making him the first of Carson's countless guest hosts. Despite this new found fame, his act could still be greeted with apathy. At the start of 1964, Woody's nightclub wage was five thousand dollars a week. He performed at popular hipster spots like Mister Kelly's, The Purple Onion and The Hungry i. However, after one mediocre run he wrote Dick Cavett, "A fast note to explode the myth of the 'hungry i.' The allegedly hip audiences that nurtured Sahl, Berman, Nichols and May have vanished and gone over the horizon. I can't see any difference between this and a Lions Club audience in the Midwest." It was during this run that Allen turned his back to the crowd and did his act staring at their famous brick wall. He did another gig in New Jersey for a conference of Chevrolet dealers. Charles Joffe says, "He was the only performer ... I was in the back. He went through his entire act and never got a laugh. The only laugh I heard was when he looked back and laughed at me." Allen says of his material, "I was writing for dogs with high pitched ears." Joffe continued, "I was just standing there, mortified. Not a single laugh ... nobody cared that he was there. It was painful."
Woody Allen won over no beatniks later that year when he allowed his face to be used for the first time in advertising (Parker Bros in the early fifties only used the back of his head). Woody explained how his series of three vodka ads came to be in his stand-up act. "A big vodka company wanted a prestige ad. And they wanted to get Noel Coward but he was not available ... They tried to get Laurence Olivier ... They finally got me. The phone rings and the voice on the other end says, 'How would you like to be this year's vodka man?' And I said 'No, I'm an artist. I do not do commercials. I don't pander. I don't drink vodka. If I did I wouldn't drink your vodka.' He said, 'Too bad. It pays fifty thousand dollars.' I said, 'Hold on, I'll put Mr. Allen on the phone." The series of ads appeared in every major adult glossy on the newsstand and giant billboards plastered the campaign around the country.8
Colpix Records released Woody Allen's first comedy LP, titled Woody Allen, in July. Colpix had put out a few albums of legitimate pop music such as doowop favorites The Marcels, but overwhelmingly the label was used to promote Columbia Pictures' television division, Screen Gems. Woody Allen joined an eccentric vinyl roster along side Dennis the Menace, Mr. Ed, The Jetsons and Huckleberry Hound. As if that weren't enough to give the neurotic a greater complex, Colpix pressed all copies of the album with his name on the spine as Woddy Allen. Despite the great popularity of Woody's live act and the explosion of the comedy record genre, Allen was mystified by its numbers. "I cannot for the life of me understand the failure of my record album to go big ... I should have a greater following than my record sales indicate as I have done worse than any other reasonable name comic. Comics less exposed on TV have sold much more." Kvetching aside, it ended up outselling heavyweights Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman and Bill Cosby by year's end.9 Woody Allen was nominated for a Grammy but lost to Bill Cosby's I Started Out as a Child. All the nominees that year were members of the "new comedians." Woody was happy for his friend's win. He says, "[I remember walking] around the block again and again between shows with Bill Cosby. One of us would be at the Bitter End, the other at the Village Gate. We'd say, 'I have to be back on in twenty minutes.' 'I have to be back on in an hour.' He was nice."
In 1964 That Was the Week That Was was the most intelligent and political comedy to ever grace American television. Based on its satirical British counterpart of the same name, the contributors included the brightest minds in comedy, namely Steve Allen, Woody Allen, Buck Henry, Tom Lehrer, Henry Morgan, Nichols and May and Mort Sahl. It was the first TV show to acknowledge United States imperialism and brashly made mockery of all political parties, oil companies and other corporate sector goons. The show's left-wing politics ruffled plenty of feathers. Time Magazine was not impressed, referring to the BBC version as "embarrassingly sophmoric" and the American version in a piece headlined That Was Weak, That Was as "bland and unfunny." UPI's syndicated critics scoffed at the Emmy nominations calling the show a "pretentious, juvenile dud." It is telling that such an erudite show was dismissed for being sophmoric and juvenile during a period when The Berverly Hillbillies, Bewitched and Mr. Ed flourished.10 One of the show's running gags involved a mock-feud with Jack Paar who was known for publicly sparring with Dorothy Killgallen and Ed Sullivan. Paar, following the show's Friday night timeslot referred to That Was The Week That Was as "The Henry Morgan Amateur Hour." The Palm Beach Post published an end-of-season round-up including viewer letters. People wrote in to say That Was the Week That Was "is a disgrace and is NAACP-inspired" and "the most putrid piece of garbage ever put on." The show spawned a pair of LPs: a top selling collection of Tom Lehrer's contributions titled That Was The Year That Was and a later compilation of amusing moments from the show on the Radiola label.11 Allen's contribution came in the form of stand-up.
THE GAUDY AND THE GARBAGE
A table at a Woody Allen Blue Angel performance in 1964 was occupied by Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLaine and film producer Charles K. Feldman. Feldman watched with intent an audience convulsing with laughter. "I felt if he could reach them through a microphone, he could do it via a screenplay." Feldman sent one of his men to visit Rollins and Joffe the next morning with an offer of sixty thousand dollars if Woody would adapt a story Feldman owned. What's New Pussycat? is a mediocre film by most accounts, but it would also turn into the highest grossing comedy of all time. The unsatisfying experience (both for Allen and those of us who've watched it) was tampered with once Allen's script was completed. He said, "Had they stuck to what I wrote I would have made it twice as funny and half as successful." He spoke of the mogul known in Hollywood as "The Caliph of Camp" years later. "Charlie was generous, the kind of guy you could go to when you needed a favor, but he was crap to work for. Yet I have enormous affection for him ... He would go over to the baccarat table and lose a hundred thousand dollars the way you'd lose your Zippo lighter. I wasn't happy with Pussycat. It was clearly a star vehicle. But I think small and Charlie Feldman thought big. Consequently, he was a multimillionaire when he died and I gotta work Vegas." Feldman told Allen to "write something where we can all go to Paris and chase girls." The title of the film was a phrase that the satyromaniac Warren Beatty uttered to women on the phone. Woody was miserable watching what he had written trudged upon. The studio bought him a clarinet to quell his animosity but it did not help. "One night at the rushes I told Feldman to fuck off," Woody remembered, "The Feldman contingent was hanging around ... I don't know who they were ... international money ... They would be watching my gags ... and saying, 'Oh, I don't think that's funny' ... I kept making nasty remarks to the point where Feldman spoke [to my manager but] my outburst just slid right off him. Probably he'd been cursed out so often that it was not a bothersome moment to him."
Woody Allen, the nightclub comedian, is formally charged with the minor offense having written what is alleged to be the screenplay of What's New Pussycat? But Mr. Allen can deny it, if he wants to, and he is bound to be believed. He can simply state that no one in his right mind could have written this excuse for a script ... The idea is neurotic and unwholesome, it lacks wit."
- Bowsley Crother, The New York Times, June 1965
Allen was encouraged by management to put on good graces and promote the film despite his reservations. He joked that the film's success allowed him to "fail with a better class of women." He appeared as a celebrity contestant on the game show Password and spoke brightly with host Allen Ludden about the picture. "I'm excited. If business continues at the incredible mob rate it has been going ... I couldn't be more delighted." Allen's insincerity became the thespian norm in subsequent years for those promoting movies they were aware were awful. Away form the game show circuit Woody described the picture as "the result of a two-hundred page manuscript that blew out of a taxicab window and was never put back in its original order." Watch Woody Allen on Password (with Nancy Sinatra) here.
By 1965 Woody Allen was firmly established as a fixture of American showbiz. He was all over television, playing Vegas, the subject of magazine spreads and was even invited as a guest to the Lyndon Johnson White House. "I didn't want to fly [to the White House] in a tuxedo," he says, "so I changed into mine in the bathroom at the Washington National Airport and stuck my [street clothes] in a locker. I went to the White House and ... I was the first one there." He met Johnson's daughters that night and described them later as, "Two of the ugliest sisters I have ever seen." The year saw his second Colpix album released. Woody Allen Volume 2 went to number five on the comedy charts, selling above Newhart and Berman's latest. In August he appeared in a Playboy feature titled What's Nude, Pussycat? with Allen looking nebbish, swamped by Crazy Horse strippers. He did stand-up on nonsense like Hullabaloo and The Andy Williams Show and he sat in on a few episodes of What's My Line? as a panelist. Woody joined The Muppets as a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on New Year's Eve 1965. Watch the appearance here. After recently reviewing this footage Woody lamented, "It's bad rehearsed material ... The jokes are not about anything and they're not very good, more often than not .... I'm no longer like a human being ... My acting is not bad but what I'm doing is nauseating."
What's Up Tiger Lily? was meant as little more than a one-off experimental gag. The film's title was simply producer Harry G. Saperstein's attempt to take the success of What's New Pussycat? and cash-in. Saperstein had been producing television cartoons for UPA when he was inspired by American International Pictures. AIP made a habit of buying cheap foreign sci-fi films, adding new scenes with an American actor, renaming the picture and releasing it in the States to great profit. Saperstein purchased the Toho entity Kagi no Kagi and offered Woody Allen sixty-six thousand dollars to write comic dialogue and turn it into an hour long television special. Allen screened the film with pal Len Maxwell, together conceiving comedic banter that would be dubbed over the Japanese script. Upon completion, Saperstein figured he could make more money if he released the project in theaters. He added an extra twenty minutes to What's Up Tiger Lily? by splicing in footage from other random Japanese properties and hired an actor to imitate Woody Allen's voice(!). Woody never expected the frivolous venture to have a general release. When it did he sued the studio to have it pulled from theaters. However the film and Allen's comic dubbing received accolades from critics and this was enough for Allen to drop the lawsuit.
January 1966 was another prolific year. Woody Allen had his first piece published in The New Yorker. The magazine had rejected his work several times in the past. The Gossage-Varbedian Papers was a humorous exchange of letters, a convention The New Yorker had published before courtesy S.J. Perleman and James Thurber. It was the accomplishment he was proudest of. He spent the year working on similar gratifications and writing a Broadway play. In his downtime he sold his soul. Woody spent the majority of the year in England. He had been hired to act in the film Casino Royale, a star studded James Bond comedy featuring Orson Welles, David Niven, William Holden, Peter Sellers and a score of others. Woody described it as "a moronic enterprise." Prior to the undertaking David Niven said, "Casino Royale is either going to be a classic bit of fun or the biggest fuck-up since the flood. I think perhaps the latter."
The count of names on the screenplay should be a good indicator of Royale's production problems. Most scribes requested their name be removed. Woody Allen, Frank Buxton, Val Guest, Ben Hecht, Joseph Heller, Mickey Rose, Michael Sayers, Dore Schary, Terry Southern, Billy Wilder, Wolf Mankowitz and John Law all penned parts of the project. Six directors - Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish and Richard Talmadge were also involved. Peter Sellers ran sabotage throughout. Clive Donner was first asked by Feldman to take on directing duties. He said he would never work with Peter Sellers again. Wolf Mankowitz warned Feldman in conversation about using Sellers calling him a "treacherous lunatic" adding, "I told Charlie that Sellers would fuck everything up - he wanted different directors, he wanted to piss around with the script. He knew nothing about anything..." Peter Sellers was brought in regardless. Director Joseph McGrath confronted Peter Sellers for consistently holding up the film with frivolous tardiness. Says McGrath, "At one point he said to me, 'Sorry I was a bit late ... I was trying to get a new stylus for my record player.' I said, 'Don't treat me like you treat everybody else,' and then there was a break, and we went into the trailer to talk about another scene, and he said, 'I've had enough of this' and he swung a punch at me ... He hit me on the side of the jaw ... So I tried to hit him ... Terry Southern later [described us as] aiming blows at each other like school girls trying to hit wasps." A couple of weeks later Sellers walked off the set after another argument with McGrath and bumped into producer Leo Jaffe on his way out. Jaffe embarrassed himself saying, "Don't worry about Sellers. We'll take care of him. I'm sorry we ever hired him, but you're a gentleman, Woody." When released, Casino Royale was one hundred and twenty nine minutes long. It had been cut from its original running time of three hours.
Again, Allen stifled his reservations and helped promote the picture. He was the mystery guest on What's My Line? plugging the film. On the other side of the Atlantic he did plenty of British television, including a forty minute taping of his stand-up act for Granada. Allen appeared on Chelsea at Nine, The Eammon Andrews Show and Dusty starring Dusty Springfield. Watch one such performance here. While in London, he also guest hosted Hippodrome. The variety show featured British mod groups, European circus acts and American comedians. CBS picked it up as a summer replacement in the States. Woody increased his reputation as an intellectual New Yorker contributor on Hippodrome when he boxed a kangaroo.
When not nursing marsupial wounds, Woody worked on what would become his Broadway stage play Don't Drink the Water. Full of Simon-esque banter, the coldwar comedy was inspired by The Teahouse of August Moon and You Can't Take it with You. Allen was able to get David Merrick to finance the project. Merrick was responsible for a string of Broadway successes in the nineteen sixties including Hello, Dolly! and Look Back in Anger. He was also somewhat of a Charles Feldman-esque character. Known in the theater world as "Typhoid David" and "The Abominable Showman," Merrick was a boorish, old school mogul. John Osborne, writer of Look Back in Anger says that Merrick "had an almost sinister obsession with theater." When one of Merrick's productions was panned in the press right across the board, he found people with the same names as the major critics and solicited positive quotes from them. Woody had structured his characters to be unmistakably Jewish - but while Allen was busy in England - Merrick casted the production with gentiles he thought would have wide appeal. He secured Vivian Vance from I Love Lucy to play the lead. Woody was not happy. The gentile cast did not work for the Broadway audience either and the play fell flat. Woody returned to America and immediately went to work recasting twelve separate roles. Lou Jacobi took the lead and brought the role of a Jewish tourist stuck behind the Iron Curtain to a new height. Woody promoted his Broadway debut with a very funny appearance on the game show I've Got a Secret. The play ran for a successful six hundred nights.
Blogger Pete Delaney recently viewed the rare special Gene Kelly in New York, New York, largely written by Woody and originally airing on NBC's 1966 Valentine's Day line-up. "In this unique musical salute to New York City ... Woody Allen gets a healthy thirteen minutes of air time providing the comedy between the dancing ... Woody receives the most elaborate introduction ... as a troupe of a dozen singers and dancers parade down Bleeker Street ... and march into the Bitter End ... singing 'WOOODDDEEEEE ALLLLLLENNNNN!!!!" The monologue Woody then delivers is important historically in that none of the material was ever released on a comedy album. It's a hilarious account of Woody's family tree starting in ancient Rome ("The Allens were orgy caterers who made wild things out of potato salad.") An Allen was the first comic who, after receiving the 10 commandments told Moses to, 'Take these two tablets and call me in the morning ... Just before the big musical finale ... Woody [plays] a grand piano on the sidewalk in front of the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street." The Associated Press called it "A pleasant valentine for the nation ... Sandwiched between ... were a couple of insane comedy numbers by Woody Allen."
NBC enjoyed the Woody Allen stand-up spots on squaresville's Andy Williams Show and asked if he would host a summer replacement special in the Williams timeslot. The Year 1967 in Review featured Woody doing topical humor, something he rarely did. The sponsor, Kraft Foods, demanded that the show have a right-wing guest to counteract what they assumed would be Woody's left-wing stance, despite his consistently apolitical comedy. Perhaps the sponsor assumed that since Woody made occasional references to reading, he must have been some kind of commie. The run-of-the-mill variety special was typical of its era. William F. Buckley, Aretha Franklin and John Byner were guests and Liza Minnelli sang Feelin' Groovy. Allen's monologue contained political references but little political opinion. The innocuous routine contained some very funny lines. "President Johnson is most popular in February, because it's the shortest month" and "I tried to enlist in the army ... they took one look at me and the draft board burned my draft card." Allen made fun of conservatism, joking that "Mr. Buckley can not do a dance invented after 1860." Shortly after the taping Allen performed at a fundraiser for Democratic candidate Eugene McCarthy and Colpix's engineers were there to record Woody's third and final album.12 It was done more for money than to make a political statement. The same could be said about Woody's final product endorsement, done around the same time, a plug for Foster Grant sunglasses.
Woody was starting work on Take the Money and Run, a film that Feldman had promised he'd help finance, and the first movie Allen would have complete control over. Allen had written the script with Jerry Lewis in mind. "I can't say I was a fan of his films per se, but I thought he was a hilariously talented man. The movies were always too infantile for me. But his own work was quite good." Allen met with Lewis at his home and Jerry expressed interest in collaboration, but Woody eventually decided against it. He rightly assumed that Lewis' egomania would likely cause Sellers-esque hardship on the production. Allen put the film on hold when he received a frantic phone call from Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Milton Berle broke his leg - could Woody fly in and replace him? Allen flew to Vegas, dollar signs in his eyes, and waited in the wings. Moments before he was to go on, Berle showed up in a wheelchair and announced that the show must go on... but with Milton Berle in a wheelchair, not an able-bodied Woody Allen. Woody said at the time, "This is the most embarrassing moment of my life."
Woody hosted another Kraft special in 1969, this one on CBS. The Kraft Music Hall presents The Woody Allen Show is an entertaining romp featuring a now notorious sit down between Woody and the Reverend Billy Graham. The AP wire service opined that Allen "came off sounding sacreligious." Other guests were Candice Bergen, Tony Randall and The Fifth Dimension. Watch the entire special here. Simultaneously, Woody started on his second play, Play It Again, Sam. Busy with Take the Money and Run, Play It Again, Sam and intermittent stand-up gigs, Woody had no time to supervise or consult the movie version of Don't Drink the Water. The film was another dud with Allen's name attached to it. Despite comedy powerhouses like Jackie Gleason and Howard Morris being involved, the film was extremely bland.
Woody Allen may well be the funniest man in America. But he is not the funniest writer in America, and between the two titles lies a profound gap. At the bottom of the gap is Don't Drink the Water, the film version of Woody's first stage play.
- Time Magazine, Dec 12, 1969
Woody agreed. "Oh, [the film version of Water is] abysmal. It's a textbook example of how you buy a play and ruin it. I'm not saying they were buying Born Yesterday ... but I did it a hundred times better [later on]. As I say, it's not a great play to begin with by any means. Not even a good play. But it's ... an easy laugh vehicle. If you're ready to suspend your critical judgment, it's an evening of laughs, even if the PTA is doing it ... Both the movie and the first casting in New York eschewed Jews, and that was a very big mistake ... [Jackie] Gleason was an absolutely brilliant comedian and no one is a bigger fan than me, but he was just wrong for the part. I had written it for Lou Jacobi and a Jewish actress at the time, Betty Walker."
Play It Again, Sam debuted on Broadway in February, 1969. Woody starred in the production with Diane Keaton. He said at the time, "[Despite being] the writer ... I've been having more trouble than anyone else in the cast learning the lines," and added drolly, "It's based on my love life. It's a very short play." The production was widely praised with the exception of critic Walter Kerr who felt, "[Woody Allen is] still out front, telling us about this funny thing that is rumored to have happened to him. It's all hearsay. He hasn't got the hang of creating lines that require scenes at all."
Meanwhile Take the Money and Run was in the editing room. Allen prepared a frivolous press release for the film:
Mr. Allen describes his first picture as a pro-Catholic pornographic musical about outer space in which he plays a reformed homosexual. His second work, entitled, 'So Loud, So Vapid' is based on the life of Spiro Agnew. United Artists is not thrilled with the acquisition, but Mr. Allen is one of the few young film-makers around who will work for expenses and a little money for the track. Mr. Allen will be required to fix lunch for the crew by contract, which also states he will have final cut of every third frame. Executives of UA responsible for the signing have either left the country or taken their own lives.
Take the Money and Run won over critics and audiences alike when it debuted in August. It also invented a genre that took about thirty years to really catch on, but has since been done ad nauseum: the mockumentary. Woody interviewed himself for the Los Angeles Times.
INTERVIEWER: How did you come up with the idea [for Take the Money and Run]?
WOODY ALLEN: I was high from smoking Polish corn flakes. It suddenly came to me.
INT: I see. How would you rate [it] as a film?
WOODY: It's better than Fellini's masterpiece "How Sweet My Finger" but not as good as Bergman's Greek tragedy "Beyond Dandruff."
After a year on Broadway and the success of his first picture, Allen was planning his escape from the Vegas stand-up life to focus solely on films. He found himself less and less interested in generating stand-up material and occasionally even accepted material solicited by other writers. Jack Rollins purchased material for Woody's act from the Canadian comedy team of Hart and Lorne, although it is not known if their work was ever used. The stars of their own weekly CBC Variety show (and a rare and somewhat racist comedy album pressed in-house by the CBC), Lorne found success a few years later with Saturday Night Live. Yeah, that Lorne.13
Woody next accepted a weekly gig on an educational children's program called Hot Dog, produced by Lee Mendehlson of the Charlie Brown specials. The program's purpose was to show children how various things were made, with fast Laugh-In style editing. In fact, Woody, Jonathan Winters and The Youngbloods were joined by Laugh-In cast member Jo Anne Worley. Among the viewers of an episode in which Woody did a piece on the history of the baseball bat was twenty-one year old Garry Shandling. "He said that originally bats were made of halvah and that after a batter would strike out he would have to eat the bat ... I said, who is this person? He's the funniest person I have ever seen." The program was a nice breather from the same Saturday morning season that featured Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down? and Hot Wheels. Watch some Hot Dog here.
The Mort Sahl part of Woody's brain manifested itself in 1971 at the height of Nixon's bumbling malevolence. Woody starred, wrote and directed in a rarely mentioned television production called Men in Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (based on Henry Kissinger) for the New York PBS affiliate, WNET. The satire was originally slated to be just a section in an hour long special that was to include stand-up and chat, much along the line of Allen's two specials for Kraft. A line such as, "Attorney General John Mitchell has many ideas for strengthening the country's law enforcement methods and is hampered only by lack of funds and the Constitution," are indicative of the special's tone. But word got around while the show was in production and a copy of the script made its way into the hands of CREEP, the Campaign to Re-Elect the President. Richard Nixon already felt that PBS was biased against him and had previously sent word through Clay Whitehead of the White House Telecommunication Policy department that any further criticism of the president might result in PBS funding cuts. PBS screened the special for their legal department to get their take. The lawyers only recommended that public television edit out a real-life news clip that showed Hubert Humphrey accidentally giving a crowd the middle finger. Regardless, station president Ethan Hitchcock watched the special and wrote a memo proclaiming that "under no account must the [the special] be shown." It wasn't.
By the early seventies Woody Allen was finished with stand-up. He was done writing for television. He no longer bothered to appear on talk shows, game shows or variety shows. He was done working on other people's movies. In ten years time with the advent of great works of art like Annie Hall, everyone forgot about the strange career indulgences of the early Woody Allen. Woody was "trying to do Dostoyevsky to live down this shit." Live it down all you like, but this shit is fascinating.
1Abe Burrows also had great success writing the Broadway hits Can Can, Silk Stockings, Cactus Flower and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He kept his face in the public eye as a regular game show panelist on To Tell the Truth, The Name's the Same, What's My Line? and the first version of The Match Game. His son James Burrows created Cheers, which of course, just like his father's Duffy's Tavern, was a sitcom revolving around colorful alcoholic shenanigans. Woody Allen was one of several young, promising comedy writers that Burrows mentored to some degree. The brilliant Nat Hiken, responsible for Car 54 Where Are You? and The Phil Silvers Show (not to mention The Love God, a film starring Don Knotts as a pornographer), was also a disciple.
2Years later, Wilson continued to use Woody's material in his column, quoting lines from his stand-up act. The few jokes that Woody wrote while in high school that appeared in Earl Wilson's newspaper column and have been unearthed are:
Taffy Tuttle heard of a man who was a six-footer, and told Woody Allen, 'Gee, it must take him a long time to put his shoes on.'
Wish I Said That: It's the fallen women who are usually picked up."
Woody Allen reports the latest Tin Pan Alley song hit: "You Were Meant for Me - Dammit"
Woody Allen boasts that he just made a fortune - he was downtown auctioning off his parking space.
3Shriner was a wry wit from Indiana who was purportedly an early influence on fellow Hoosier comedian David Letterman. He was immensely popular in the fifties.
4Both Milt Kamen and Dick Davy started as musicians but eventually became famous as stand-up comics. Kamen and Davy are both barely remembered today, which is a total shame. They both had a good breadth of fame in the sixties and released quality comedy LPs. More on Milt Kamen here. More on Dick Davy here.
5Some sources say fourteen performances and others say twenty-one.
6Garry Marshall relays a different version. "When Fred Freeman and I were writing for The Jack Paar Show, we used to hang out in the Village comedy clubs in New York with other young writers. We all envied Woody because he was a staff writer for The Garry Moore Show and was paid $1500 a week, more than most of us made in a month. One day Woody told us that he had been fired. We all gathered around him and listened as he shared the details. We learned that Garry Moore hosted brunch every Sunday at his home and insisted that every member of the cast and writing staff attend the brunch. Woody was painfully shy and refused to go to the brunch. Moore said,'No brunch, no job,' and fired Woody. A $1500 a week job taken away just like that because a guy wouldn't schmooze over eggs Benedict."
7Mort Sahl remained a hero for Woody but Sahl, bitter about an unfortunate descent into obscurity, took shots at him whenever he could. "He was like flypaper with me ... Woody's appropriated some things of mine. All the stuff in Annie Hall is really me ... Woody Allen is funny but he is dated." A very strange comment from a man whose act is peppered with references to Adlai Stevenson.
9As a testament to the album's legacy of quality, the big seller is rarely found in thrift stores, whereas the other big comedy LPs of 1964, Newhart, Berman, Cosby and Allan Sherman's My Son The Folk Singer have ended up in plentiful supply in junk shops everywhere.
10Perhaps part of Time Magazine's hostility to the left of center comedy show had to do with their friendly relationship wth the CIA - often printng CIA propaganda as news.
12All three of Woody's records were re-released as one well-known double LP in 1978, called Woody Allen - Stand Up Comic.
13 The copy of the Hart and Lorne album I have access to at the CBC has jiffy marker notes scribbled on the back, pointing to certain tracks considered racist, stating, "DO NOT PLAY ON AIR. HIGHLY OFFENSIVE." Ironic, as the LP was made with the sole purpose of playing over CBC Radio in order to promote the CBC television show, The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour.
Mr. Strangelove by Ed Sikov (2002, Hyperion)
Wake Me When it's Funny by Garry Marshall (1995, Adams Publishing)
Woody Allen: A Biography by Eric Lax (1991, Alfred A. Knopf)
Woody Allen: A Biography by John Baxter (1998, Harper Collins)
The Woody Allen Companion by Stephen J. Spignesi (1992, Andrews and McMeel)
Woody Allen A Life in Film by Richard Schickel (2003, Ivan R. Dee)
Woody from Antz to Zelig by Richard A. Schwartz (2000, Greenwood Press)
The Google News Archives (2010, The Internet)