Fred Allen was the star of the long-running The Fred Allen Show that aired from 1932-1949, although it went by many names. He was a well-known and beloved comedian who entertained listeners every Sunday as they eagerly tuned in.
Allen worked hard to produce a show that incorporated the events of the day. He was an avid reader of nine different newspapers and used clippings to help build a script. Often he used lesser-known news items to create a comic centerpiece for his show.
Born John Florence Sullivan on May 31, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fred was raised by his aunt after his mother died when he was age three. As a child he took piano lessons and later he worked for the Boston Public Library. In addition, he began learning to juggle. These three interests help him to learn more about comedy and hone his skills.
He began his career as a comic when he began competing in amateur contests. For the next ten years he would work on the vaudeville circuit, which allowed him to travel the world. In 1922 Fred left vaudeville to try his hand on Broadway working on the production of The Passing Show. It was while working on this show he met his wife, Portland Hoffa.
In 1932 he began his career in radio when he hosted The Linit Bath Review on CBS. In 1933 his show became the Salad Bowl Review sponsored by Hellman’s Mayonnaise. Finally, in 1934 he hosted the Sal Hepatica Revue, which later became the Hour of Smiles. It was renamed Town Hall Tonight a few months later and finally became The Fred Allen Show.
The Fred Allen Show ran until June 26, 1949. Over the years his wife Portland appeared as his sidekick adding to the comedy. But perhaps what Allen is known best for is his feud with real-life friend Jack Benny.
Together Benny and Allen launched a public “feud”. It began by accident, but listeners were so enthralled by it that the writers for both comedians were called together to stretch it out. It became a legendary feud though the two entertainers were very amicable. In fact, the two appeared in two films together – Love Thy Neighbor and It’s In the Bag!
After his radio show ended, he frequently made appearances on The Big Show. He also turned to writing as an outlet of expression. He wrote two autobiographic books – Treadmill to Oblivion and Much Ado About Me.
At the age of 61, Fred Allen passed away from a heart attack while on a late night walk. In 1988, he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. Though he is no longer living, his recordings and books stands as a reminder of his true wit and humor.