Steve Allen

Steve Allen Biography

Writer, Songwriter, Talk Show Host, Actor (1921–2000)
American television personality Steve Allen is best known as the first host of The Tonight Show. He also starred on The Benny Goodman Show, and was an accomplished musician, composer, author and actor.


Steve Allen was born on December 26, 1921, in New York. In 1949, he began appearing in movies. In the 1950s, he hosted a program that later became NBC's The Tonight Show—making him The Tonight Show's first host—the and starred on television variety shows as well as The Benny Goodman Show. In the 1960s, he started two nightly syndicated series. Allen remained active on TV throughout the 1970s and '80s. He died of a heart attack on October 30, 2000, in Los Angeles, California.

Early Life and Career

Born Steve Valentine Patrick William Allen in New York, New York, on December 26, 1921, to parents in vaudeville, Steve Allen is best known as the first host of The Tonight Show, but he was also an accomplished musician, composer, author and actor, with many books, musical compositions and films to his credit.

After the death of his father, Allen and his mother moved to Chicago, Illinois. In 1947, he began hosting a radio talk show for the Los Angeles CBS affiliate, and made frequent television appearances. Those appearances helped Allen make a name for himself in the burgeoning TV industry.

First Host of 'The Tonight Show'

In 1953, Allen created The Tonight Show for a local New York TV station. The show's format—a new fusion of talk show and variety show—was an unqualified success. Thus, NBC took the show national in 1954.

Allen's clever monologues, quirky supporting characters and wide variety of guests helped create the pattern for contemporary late-night talk shows. He delivered his monologues sitting in front of a piano, and would often punctuate his comments with riffs on the instrument.

Later Years

Steve Allen left The Tonight Show in 1956, but he continued hosting TV shows, as well as acting and writing books, until his death in 2000. Over the course of his career, Allen wrote more than 50 books, including volumes of poetry, humor, social criticism and biblical analysis. He also composed more than 5,000 pieces of music, including film scores and songs for the Broadway musical Sophie.

Following a minor car accident on October 30, 2000, where Allen was driving and collided with a sport utility vehicle that was backing out of a driveway, Allen drove to his son's home in Encino, California, where he decided to take a nap after telling family members that he wasn't feeling well. Not long after, while sleeping, the longtime entertainer suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 78 years old.

Allen's son, Bill Allen, later explained the incident in an interview with Larry King: "My dad was at my home visiting his grandchildren and helping them carve their Halloween pumpkins when he was taken a little ill and asked me if he could go relax in the den, where he spent so many lazy Sunday afternoons with his grandchildren, and took a bit of a nap, and unfortunately didn't wake up from that nap," he said.

Personal Life

In 1943, Allen wed Dorothy Goodman, whom he met while enrolled at Arizona State Teachers College (now Arizona State University, Tempe). The couple had three children together, Stephen Jr., Brian and David, before divorcing in 1952. Allen was married American actress Jayne Meadows from 1954 until his death in 2000. They had one son together, Bill Allen. Allen and Meadows famously appeared together on the popular game show What's My Line? (Meadows also served as a panelist on the game show I've Got a Secret).

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