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Inventing Late Night: Steve Allen And the Original Tonight Show Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 3, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (October 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591023424
  • ASIN: B0068EUJ9E
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,028,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lest anyone think that late-night TV's zany characters and stunts began with Johnny, Jay or Dave, this love letter to original Tonight host Steve Allen will set them straight. Alba's portrait depicts Allen as a ground-breaking force in television whose brief stint (1954-57) on NBC's late-night show had a lasting influence on late night TV. Allen comes across as both a regular Joe and a multitalented Renaissance man whose knack for ad-libbing with audiences, loosely scripted gags and improvisational piano-playing in the days of live TV were as nimble as his commitment to progressive social causes. (Imagine Leno or Letterman devoting segments to discussions of drug abuse or organized crime.) Although only a few episodes of the Allen-era Tonight have survived, this book commendably captures the show's flavor in front of the camera and behind the scenes. That's largely thanks to interviews with Allen prior to his 2000 death and his numerous cohorts and admirers: Tonight producer Bill Harbach; regulars Steve Lawrence and Andy Williams; Don Knotts, Tim Conway and Tom Poston from Allen's prime-time variety series; and longtime friends Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner. Highlights include a blow-by-blow comparison between some of Allen's gags and those later adapted by Johnny Carson and others. The book would benefit from better structuring, and more than a few quotes are repetitious, continually praising Allen's wit and innovation without adding any fresh examples. Like Allen, whose sharp wit and genial demeanor appealed to a wide audience, Alba's detailed homage should resonate with a wide array of readers. 32 pages of b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Steve Allen--not Johnny Carson, not Jack Paar--was the progenitor of the late-night TV yapfest, and Alba's tribute to his pioneering includes current midnight-oil-burning rivals Leno and Letterman acknowledging their indebtedness. Less known than his trailblazing is the fact that Allen was instrumental in bringing African American stars to network TV. On the other hand, and seemingly incongruous with championing black entertainers, hisTonight Show writers included Bill Dana, whose Jose Jimenez performing persona was a long-lived example of another kind of racial stereotyping in TV comedy. Also a dedicated jazz fan, Allen introduced a soupcon of hipness to TV, too, that for many was mitigated, however, by such tiresome routines as his dramatic readings of the lyrics of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and other rock songs. Yet he perceptively interviewed an eclectic roster of guests. A complicated guy. Including the history of the Tonight Show band from Skitch Henderson to Doc Severinsen, this is great stuff for broadcasting and pop-culture collections, though sufficiently conversational and nostalgia-soaked for nonspecialist readers. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Steve Allen- a genius!
Les
Steve Allen created the format for the Tonight Show and all talk shows.
Elizabeth
This book was a very interesting read.
Thomas P. Clyde

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Randall E. Jeffery on August 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I normally read a book in about one week. It took me a day and a half to read "Inventing Late Night" - I could not put it down! Ben Alba's book is hilarious, insightful, impeccably researched, sensitive and portrays an accurate accounting of the genesis of late night TV. He gives full credit to the genius of Steve Allen and is loaded with transcripts from many of Allen's side-splitting comedy bits. As a fan of Allen for over fifty years, I've read every accounting possible concerning his numerous contributions to TV. None is more poignant, dead on precise, humorous and intelligent than Alba's "Inventing Late Night".
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Daniel E. Ursini on October 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Inventing Late Night: Steve Allen and the Original Tonight Show," by Ben Alba evokes an exceptionally rich chapter in the history of popular culture even as it restores recognition to the accomplishments of host Steve Allen and his many gifted collaborators. "Inventing," is indeed the operative term. At that time, there were many blank areas in the tv program schedule, including late night; and the "national" network, in an early stage of growth, had yet to extend beyond the Eastern Seaboard. Under Steve Allen's direction, the Tonight Show was the first network program to create a late night viewership; the revenues it brought in encouraged the spread of the network across the nation. That same success afforded host Allen much creative freedom in both the format and content of his show. The former has pop culture iconic status: opening monologue; celebrity interviews at the desk; roaming cameras; insane stunts. However, the content of the show, rarely imitated, has arguably never been matched by any tv program in the range of its appeal to the mind.

A decade ago, the Lounge revival in music inspired a healthy reassessment of artists like Louie Prima, Keely Smith, as well as towering icons as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. It is intriguing to read about performers who were every bit as spontaneous, witty and jazzy as the rat packers; but who were from another world - that of New York City when high culture was still vibrant, every other layer of culture had its own appealing energy; and central to it all was nightlife. Many of the most stimulating artists of the 20th century appeared on Allen's prototypical Tonight Show. Jazz immortals like Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk did extended sets.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Richard D. Connolly on December 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Ben Alba has written a masterpiece that magically brings you back to the roots of television entertainment.

I beleive that this book will not only remind older readers why they enjoyed Steve Allen & Company (what company!) but young readers will be left with a new appreciation of all those who have followed. It won't be long into this book before you realize that Leno, Letterman & Conan and many others did learn from the master.. Steve Allen.

The musical talents that were part of this show from the beginning all went on to long successful careers. This powerful musical ensemble included Doc Severinsen, Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme' and Andy Williams...

In Summary: A must read book will remind us how much enjoyment Steve Allen brought to our era and bring a hightened appreciation for all the shows that have followed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Todd Bernier on July 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Alba's "Inventing Late Night" gives a wonderful insight into the genuis that was Steve Allen. It is rare book that can be so meticulously researched, yet remain an entertaining page-turner. The fabulous interviews are especially enjoyable. I felt I learned something new about the genesis of the Tonight Show on every page. Mr. Alba is a superb writer with a clever sense of humor.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Gillespie on March 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who is old enough to remember the zany antics of the original Tonight Show with Steve Allen is sure to enjoy this wonderful book. Steve was a person with so many talents--comedian, writer, lyricist, composer--and we saw all of them in those early days. This book does a great job of showing how the Tonight Show--even today--has a heritage that goes back to the marvelous genius of Steve Allen!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Judith F. Rutherford on November 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A great read. As a long time fan of Steve Allen... having been a fan from the very beginning of his show... I believe this marvelous book will delight those who were around back then.. and will help those who were not around back then to know and appreciate Mr. Allen's very special and wonderful talents. Ben Alba's book is a flashback to the glorious, live television days of Steve Allen and the original and best Tonight Show. It not only caused me to recall fond memories but helped me to refresh memories starting to fade... and to fill in details not previously known. Such a shame that the great Steve Allen's Tonight Show film history was not saved. But... so great that this book was written to tell the story. I have already purchased multiple copies to give to family and friends this Christmas.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Garry Wilbur on February 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Be forewarned, for those interested in a full fledged biography of the true inventor of late night TV, who provided the 'template' of late night variety/talk TV , Steve Allen, this is not the book for you. After a brief, cursory review of his early life the book dissolves into a review of Allen's TV career, especially on NBC. Using lots of secondary sources, e.g.newspaper and magazine accounts, with some oral history mixed in, the book has a choppy format, occasionally going back and forth in time. The stories are fun to read but one doesn't really get to know what made Steve Allen tick. Although not particularly well written, it's a good book to at least get an idea of how significant Allen was in TV history.
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