A Principled Gentleman

Published: May 14, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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Steve Allen wrote 52 books, acted on stage, films, and TV, created and hosted The Tonight Show as well as more than 1,000 episodes of Steve Allen Shows and in his spare time, composed more than 9,000 songs!

In the last several years of his life, he traveled around the country speaking to groups about the importance of ethics and morality. Although I received a couple of letters from him, I wish I had had an opportunity to meet and speak with the man, who was not only one of the wittiest and most intelligent people on the planet but one of the most sincere and direct in his beliefs about what he stood for.

After Steve’s death, Jayne Meadows Allen, award-winning actress of Broadway, film, and TV, shared this story with me about one of many principled stands taken by her husband, Steve.

“It was well after one o’clock in the morning. Steve and I had just returned home from an enormous Hollywood party when the phone rang. It was Marlon Brando who said he had to talk to Steve immediately and asked if I had Shirley MacLaine’s phone number.

“The two men spoke briefly and I heard Steve repeat, ‘That’s LAX, United, eight o’clock, I’ll be there. Oh, no problem, Jayne will call Shirley right now.’

“‘About what?’ I asked.

“‘Marlon wants Shirley to fly to Sacramento with us today to help convince Governor Brown to stay the execution of Caryl Chessman.’

“‘Chessman, the rapist!’ I reminded Steve.

“‘Please, just call Shirley.’

“Several hours later, the three activists were on their way to Sacramento. The next day, every major newspaper in the United States carried a front-page picture of the three superstars at the California state capitol.

“They were crucified by the conservative press. Steve’s title sponsor, the Chrysler Plymouth Company as well as his employers at NBC, were up in arms. Marlon and Shirley were movie stars without the pressures from advertising agencies and networks.

“I warned Steve, ‘Darling, my parents were missionaries who devoted their lives to fighting evil, but you are in the public eye, and all your courageous (and very public) fighting of organized crime, the atomic bomb, and now this stand against the death penalty,will affect your television ratings.’

“Steve answered, ‘I care much more about the ratings of mankind than about the ratings of my TV show.’

“And so he did, and that’s one of the main reasons I married him. He was a principled gentleman, like my father.”


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