Stephen Valentine Patrick William “Steve” Allen was an American television personality, musician, actor, comedian, and writer. Though he got his start in radio, Allen is best-known for his television career. He first gained national attention as a guest host on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. He graduated to become the first host of The Tonight Show, where he was instrumental in innovating the concept of the television talk show. Thereafter, he hosted numerous game and variety shows, including The Steve Allen Show, I’ve Got a Secret, The New Steve Allen Show, and was a regular panel member on CBS’ What’s My Line?
Allen was a “creditable” pianist, and a prolific composer, having penned over 14,000 songs, one of which was recorded by Perry Como and Margaret Whiting, others by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Les Brown, and Gloria Lynne. Allen won a Grammy award in 1963 for best jazz composition, with his song The Gravy Waltz. Allen wrote more than 50 books and has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Allen was born in New York City, the son of Isabelle Allen, a vaudeville comedienne who performed under the name Belle Montrose, and Carroll Allen, a vaudeville performer who used the stage name Billy Allen. Allen was raised on the south side of Chicago by his mother’s Irish Catholic family. Milton Berle once called Allen’s mother “the funniest woman in vaudeville.”
Allen’s first radio job was on station KOY in Phoenix, Arizona, after he left Arizona State Teachers College in Tempe, while still a sophomore. He enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and was trained as an infantryman. He spent his service time at Camp Roberts, near Monterey, California and did not serve overseas. Allen returned to Phoenix before deciding to move back to California.