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AN INTERVIEW WITH DAYTON ALLEN


"The only thing I lie about are things I speak about."

by Geo. Stewart

"Hello, Sickies. Vitamin Pill can now keep you strong enough to visit your doctor. In the famous Melvin Soak test we tied a rope around an every day ordinary man who had a severe cold. We gave him a pill which we sort of invented and threw him off the back of a boat. We pulled him from Africa to New York. We went full speed and never stopped. But every 700 miles we threw him a towel to dry off. When we got to New York, he still couldn't shake off that old cold. Something went off with the pill. Science has now found that by a simple injection with a needle we can now make a tiny little hole in the skin. A woman how had a nice full grown heavy beard asked me if it could be hormones. I told her "no, it was just hair." I went on to comfort her. I said 'It's nothing to be a shamed of. There are many with beards like yours who have gone on to be famous, wealthy, MEN.' Yes, a sick body on a living person can make you feel really rotten."

That's a typically surreal bit as written and performed by Dayton Allen on The Steve Allen show back in the early 1960s. Often, when confronted with a perplexing question, Dayton would scrunch up his face then bellow insolently "Why not?" which soon became his catch phrase. He looks a bit like a cross between Groucho Marx and Cosmo Krammer with a mustache that, though real, looked even more fake then Groucho's grease paint undergrowth. In the nascent days of television Dayton was all over the tube doing kids show after kids show -- whether for kid kids or adult kids. Today he lives in Hollywood -- Hollywood, Florida -- with his wife of over 40-some years, Evi. When I called him up one day out of the blue, he had no idea who I was or what I wanted. But that didn't stop him from going into a twenty minute monologue to which I was of very little import:

DAYTON ALLEN: When you called I was expecting a phone call from the Bidawee Dog Hospital. I sent my brother over earlier today to be cleaned. I wanted to have him spaded but the doctors didn't know which end to work on.

>GEO: Hi. This is George Stewart. I host a radio show called Crazy College. And I was wonder...

DAYTON ALLEN: oooh! George Stewart! I've been waiting for your call, George. I put off washing the dog.

>GEO: Why?

DAYTON ALLEN: I don't have one. So maybe I'll wash the neighbor and see if he'll finally come clean. I could tell you stories that would keep you awake for several seconds.

>GEO: So when were you born and where?

DAYTON ALLEN: I was born near my mother at the time of my birth at Riverside Hospital in New York in 1919. I really wasn't born, I was blasted. It seems like I've spend half my life growing older. I like to tell people I was really born in Dayton, Ohio and that's how I got my name. But I like to lie.

>GEO: So how did you get your first name?

DAYTON ALLEN: I got it from my mother... She had a friend who came from Dayton and they were very wealthy people -- the husband had a job -- so she named me Dayton.

>GEO: Good thing they didn't hail from Akron. So what about your last name?

DAYTON ALLEN: It was French: “Bolke.” I have a younger step brother named Bradley. You know, my mothers still alive today. She just turned one hundred.

>GEO: Well, give her my best. What was school like?

DAYTON ALLEN: It was full of teachers, for one thing. But I tried it for a few years until I graduated from high school and then I went to the bathroom to get rid of all that crap they had been filling me with. When I graduated things weren't too good. It was during the depression when 10 cents wasn't worth a plug nickel. So I went on the road with a Mohawk Indian named "Swift Eagle" as part of the show for a guy who had a traveling picture business. He would show movies in state institutions and such.

>GEO: This would have been in the Forties?

DAYTON ALLEN: I would have been but it wasn't. It was the mid Thirties. In 1938 I was the first DJ on WINS radio under my real name, Dayton Allen Bolke. Once Jim Harkins, who worked with Fred Allen came up to see all these people who were on my show. And I had to tell him there was only me. I did all the voices. He said if Fred ever needed any writers -- Fred almost wrote the whole show himself -- he wanted me to write for him. I would also do a lot of amateur Hours back then until about 1941 when there was this war that they asked me to help them out with. You might have read about it, it was in all the papers.

>GEO: What branch of the service were you in?

DAYTON ALLEN: Special Services. I did entertaining in USO camps.

>GEO: What was your routine like. You were doing comedy, right?

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah I think so, but I couldn't prove it. I worked with a lot of bandleaders. I would do a lot of voices. Two of my favorites were Loud and Soft. After the war I wrote a lot for Los Vegas comics. People like Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney when they played the Roxy. Paul Winchel I liked; we were good friends, but Mahoney was such a dummy. Once I was asked to open at this real nice dinner club, until they hired this other doorman with a better uniform. But enough about me talking about myself, let me hear about all the other great stuff I've done:

I wrote for Jerry Lester and his brother when they played out in Vegas. They'd give me $25 for each piece of material they'd use. In 1947 I singed on to do as the puppeteer and voice on a kids show called "Oky Doky Ranch" on WABC in New York when it was the flagship station for the Dumont network. At the interview they asked me how long had I been a puppeteer and I said "Oh, for years." I thought that was a better lie then saying "for weeks" which also wasn't true. That damn Oky Doky puppet only weighed about a hundred pounds. It must have been made by an elephant with hands. I got the job through Frank Boletta who was the director of The Jackie Gleason show at the time. The stars of "Oky Doky" -- besides that damn puppet -- were Rex Trailer and Wendy Barrie. She was a big name in movies back then. She had a bigger name but they couldn't get it on the marquee.

>GEO: Soon after that you moved on to another kids show with a high-strung star.

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah, you could say that. In fact you did say that. I heard you so there's no use denying you said it. In 1949 they called me to do some puppets on this new kids program called "Howdy Doody" that had just started the year before. In the Men's Room up at NBC I ran into Bob Keesham who played Clarabell the Clown and later went on to play Captain Kangaroo and he said, "Wow! You should be doing puppets!" I started out only doing the voice for Mister Bluster. But over time I ended up doing all the voices except for Dilly Dally and Howdy Doody.

>GEO: Who did those two voices?

DAYTON ALLEN: Well, Bob Smith did Howdy, of course. Bob had gone to Julliard, you know -- Harry and George Julliard, they make the wine that comes in boxes. Bob was a very good musician. I learned a lot from him. He use to do the voice of Howdy Doody live there for a while. They would just cut away from him to the puppet and Bob'd do the lines off-camera. It must have really confused the kids in the Peanut Gallery.

>GEO: There's a great clip of a Howdy Doody show from early 1948 [the show started in December of 1947] at the Museum of Television and Radio where there's a camera in the shot and they can't cut away to the puppet. So Bob is like putting his hand up over his mouth and trying to turn away from the camera a little bit. Not fooling anybody, I'm afraid -- not even the kids.

DAYTON ALLEN: I was afraid of the kids too, except for the sick or the weakly ones. I was on Howdy Doody for four and a half years. Then in 1953 Bob Kesham and Bill LeCornec [who did the voice of Dilly Dally] and I went to the producers and demanded more money knowing that they wouldn't be able to do the show without us. Well, we left, and the show went on for another ten years.

>GEO: By the time you quit the show, you had created some of the most popular live characters, like Pierre the Chef, Lanky Lou, Ugly Sam the wrestler, and Sir Archibald.

DAYTON ALLEN: And I also had to do a lot of the commercials for the likes of Colgate toothpaste and Paul Parrot shoes.

>GEO: Howdy Doody was one five days a week at this time, live everyday from 5:30 to six.

DAYTON ALLEN: That stupid show made so much money! It covered all the expenses for all of NBC television for close to five years. I was told they made 60 million a year in Howdy Doody merchandizing alone!

>GEO: And did you see any of it?

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah, they would show us pictures.

>GEO: You were not just the voices for these puppets you were also a puppeteer.

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah. I work with Rufus Rose and Rhoda Mann.

>GEO: With such a heavy daily schedule it must have been hard to fine time to rehearse.

DAYTON ALLEN: I use to get in trouble for coming in late a lot.

>GEO: And where were you?

DAYTON ALLEN: Oh, I'm never on time. I was even late for my own birth. Once back in 1952 I had to be one time because I was doing one of the coast to coast split screens, between the west coast and the east coast.

>GEO: On Howdy Doody!?

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah. Bob was in the studio in New York at Radio City and the puppet and I was in the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood with the comedian Jack Carson and Ed Winn, "the old Fire Chief". This was to celebrate the one thousandth episode of Howdy Doody.

>GEO: What was Ed Win Like to work with?

DAYTON ALLEN: He had developed this character of "the perfect fool" and he played the character all the time. I never thought he was that whimsical but apparently the public did. He owed a lot to Hugh Herbert who made a lot of funny films that you never see anymore for some reason. I also liked Henry Almetta.

>GEO: Now him I don't know.

DAYTON ALLEN: Ah! The funniest character actor I've ever seen. He played a guy who hated kids a lot. "Goa way, you sonabitch or Ia breaka your neck!"

>GEO: It was about this time that you met your wife Evi.

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah. It was at the coffee shop at NBC. I was having coffee with Martin Stone the producer of Howdy Doody. And she was showing some NBC big shots around. She use to be a model for things like Clairol. Then she got old. Remember the Maybeleen eyes commercial. That was her. She's an astrologer, you know. She says this is going to be a very bad year for the president; he won't even finish his term.

>GEO: Did every body on the Howdy Doody Show get a long?

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah. It was a fun show. I even like Buffalo Bob even though he helped get me fired. I use to ride to work with him because he lived just down the street from me in West Chester County. We had a lot of laughs and had a lot of fun and they made a lot of money and we wished we did.

>GEO: Were you married at this time.

DAYTON ALLEN: I got married in 1958. I was going to marry Buffalo Bob because I need support. But he said "Get yourself a crutch." Then I married my wife because crutches can break. >GEO: After leaving Howdy Doody in 1953 you moved over to CBS for "Winky Dink and You".

DAYTON ALLEN: Yes siree that is correct. You got that down pat, Jim, whoever Pat may be.

>GEO: You played Jack Barry's klutzy assistant "Mr Bungle" on the live action wrap arounds to the Winky Dink cartoons. Jack Barry probably is best known now for his roll in the 1958 quiz show scandals.

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah, he almost ended up breaking big ones into little ones. But he was later exonerated due to his lack of intelligence. Mae Questel was the voice of Winky Dink.

>GEO: She, of course, was the voice for Betty Boop and Olive Oyle. What was she like to work with?

DAYTON ALLEN: Fat. And short. Actually she was very nice. I knew her before Winky Dink. My wife and I would double date with her and her future husband.

>GEO: Winky Dink was an odd little concept: this pixie like character would find itself needing a ladder or something and the kids at home would use a grease pencil to draw it on their tv screen protected by a sheet of clear plastic.

DAYTON ALLEN: -- their parents hoped. God help them if they had shelled out for the "Winky Dink Magic Tv Kit". What was the dogs name? "Wankel?"

>GEO: "Woofer". Everybody my age seems to remember the show, but I hear it didn't do all that well in the ratings.

DAYTON ALLEN: That stupid show ran for 4 years. "Hey Kids, Winkie lost his trouser. Take your magic crayon and draw Winkie's Dinky."

>GEO: Winky Dink wasn't really an animated cartoon.

DAYTON ALLEN: No. It was like this flip chart kinda thing. I was doing a lot of work for Terry Tunes back then, so I'm not real clear on how it was done. I was doing the voices of Heckle & Jekyll, Deputy Dog, Lariat Sam. I must have done about 800 cartoons for Paul Terry back then before he sold it to CBS.

>GEO: Were they based in New York at that time?

DAYTON ALLEN: New Rochelle. Paul was a real sport. Joe Barbera was an animator for him after MGM closed down their cartoon shop in the 50s. And one day he went to Paul and asked for a ten dollar raise, but Paul would only give him five. So he told Paul to put it were the monkey puts the peanuts and went West where he teamed up with Bill Hanna. Soon he didn't need that extra five dollars.

>GEO: In no time Hanna/Barbera was Terry's biggest competitor with their creation of "Huckleberry Hound" in 1958. It's rare that anyone shows Paul Terry's stuff anymore. Did you improvise much when you recorded a cartoon?

DAYTON ALLEN: Oh, yeah, that's one of the reasons they wanted me -- that and the fact I can do a lot of different voices.

>GEO: Including loud and soft.

DAYTON ALLEN: Yes.

>GEO: Hanna/Barera wanted you to work on the Flintstones, I hear.

DAYTON ALLEN: And I would have but I didn't live out there. I wasn't about to move. I move out there and do fifteen or twenty cartoons at $15oo a pop and then what? sit around sucking your thumb? Or worse, sucking my thumb! I had a lot going on here in New York. I didn't want to leave here. I use to call Joe Barbera whenever I was out on the west coast because he was very interested in some gold mining stocks that I had. Don Knott's brother-in-law wrote about me on the op ed page of The New York Times about how I had made $300,000 on the sale of some gold stock. It wasn't quite true, but hey....

>GEO: When did you start investing in gold?

DAYTON ALLEN: In 1952. I started looking around for a good way to make money because I found out it was the best way to get food. So I started buying some penny stocks. In fact there was this penny stock that I bought about 40 years ago -- we'd buy them for a nickel and then sell them for fifteen or twenty cents. There was one I had bought a long time ago for eight cents a share called "Bandor" and last year my brother called me and said "It's up a little bit: $11". So we did all right.

>GEO: It was in the late 50s that you got involved with the Steve Allen show.

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah, I wasn't involved with him when he was doing the Tonight Show. I joined up in 1959 when he was doing the hour show against Ed Sullivan on the west Coast. They called me to replace Al Kelly, the double talk comedian. At the audition they had Pat Harrington interview me as the new senator from Alaska. And he asked me if I knew just where Alaska was and I said "Yeah, Itsa uppa U.S." Then he asked me to tell him some of the history of my state and I just adlibbed "Why Not?" Everybody fell on their faces which must have hurt like hell. On the first show I was on I wrote a bit where I was a doctor.

>GEO: How was Steve Allen to work with?

DAYTON ALLEN: Steve was great. He didn't care who got the laughs just as long as somebody did. A lot of comics get very jealous if anyone but them gets a laugh. Once I did a commercial with Milton Berle for El Producto cigars. We did 3 commercials for $7500. So while we were shooting these epics I would adlib a lot. At the end the crew gave me a round of applause and I look over and Milton was clapping too. And I thought to myself "That doesn't look too good." And it wasn't. These ran during his show "Jackpot Bowling" and the audience laughed all the way through it. The spot ran once; they never used it again. Actually Berle was very nice -- mostly to himself.

>GEO: Steve Allen created this great repertory company for his show: you, Louis Nye, Pat Harrington, Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Gabe Dell.

DAYTON ALLEN: -- and Bill Dana. Now, Bill was funny. You know, he started out as a writer on the show before he created Jose Jemanes. Gabe was another really funny guy but they never figured out how to use him right. And he started smoking rubber bands or something and ended up getting his ticket punched in the late Eighties. They were all really nice guys. We all got along. In those days we only got $1500 a show. Every other week they would fly me out to the west coast to do the show.

>GEO: And what did you do the rest of the time?

DAYTON ALLEN: I was on a program opposite Jack Parr's Tonight Show called "Everything Goes". It was me and three guys from the Sergeant Bilko Show: Al Melvin, Harvey Lembeck, and "Doberman": Maurice Gosfield.

>GEO: What would Doberman do on a live Tv show.

DAYTON ALLEN: He'd just stand there and try and look dumb, which for him wasn't hard, let me tell you.

>GEO: On The Steve Allen Show you wrote all your own material.

DAYTON ALLEN: Oh, Yeah.

>GEO: Your comedy album "Why Not?", still available at your finer used record shoppes, was made up of air checks from the Steve Allen Show. You can hear his joyful cackle all through the Lp. When did that come out?

DAYTON ALLEN: Oh, 1961 or there abouts.

>GEO: If you don't mind me asking for that album, what kind of money did you see?

DAYTON ALLEN: Droshkies! Seriously it wasn't much, over the years maybe $5000. My book "Why Not!" did even better! I got an advance of $2500 and never saw another penny.

>GEO: The book came out about the same time you created your own little syndicated Tv program -- in 1960. It was a five-minute drop-in of you giving some sort of nonsensical lecture. How many of them did you make?

DAYTON ALLEN: 130. I had two partners: Stan Burns who was a writer on Steve Allen and another guy named Allen Sandler who had a film library. We'd lock ourselves in a hotel room and write a bunch of them and then go shoot them over at KCOP, the public broadcasting studio in Hollywood.

>GEO: It seems odd that you were working so much in LA, but you continued to live in New York.

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah it was something about my head, I couldn't do anything about it. It was just pure stupidity that just festered and grew until it became enlarged stupidness.

>GEO: How many stations picked up the Dayton Allen Show?

DAYTON ALLEN: We were in 26 markets in the US and it was a big hit on the Armed Forces television.

>GEO: Your surrealist style reminds me a lot of Grouch Marx. And you even look a little like him. Did you two ever meet?

DAYTON ALLEN: As a matter of fact we did once. And he told me that they were planning to make a story of his life and he wanted me to play him. This was one night when he was doing the Johnny Carson Show and I accidentally walked into his dressing room and he said "Wait. I'm not dressed yet!" I said, "well, what better time!"

>GEO: So what are you up to now?

DAYTON ALLEN: I had saved my money and done alright with gold futures. In the early Seventies my wife and I opened up a shop called "The Horse Trader" where we sold used furniture and general junk. We made lots of money. The art is in the buying. You can sell anything; there's always some baboon who will give you money for stuff. But the buying, that's the tricky part. And I was good at that. This was up in Elm's Ford, New York, right out side of White Plains. We met a guy who had a furniture striping business there and he recognized me from my days on television. And he told me about the guy who shared the barn with him who was closing up because he wasn't doing any business. I said "that's a good reason to leave." He said "do you want to take over the place?" I said, "what the hell do I know about antiques?" He said "It will only take you about a half hour to learn it all." I had never given it a thought. So I gave it a thought and said to myself "Why not?" The room was about twelve hundred feet. And I wondered how I was gonna fill this damned dump up with stuff to sell. He said look in the paper for auctions and people moving. In two weeks you won't be able to walk in here.' And in two weeks I couldn't -- but it was because of the smell. Then people started hiring us to have sales at their homes. I could sell everything but mirrors and lamps, don't ask me why.

>GEO: Why?

DAYTON ALLEN: I told you not to ask me that. Now you ruined it for me. When the landlord decided to double the rent I decided I'd had enough fun and began selling used pianos from the back of our house. Lots of time when people are moving or getting divorced, they just want to get ride of the piano. I'd give them two hundred, three hundred, bucks and I'd move it out for them. They were happy. I'd sell it for, maybe, $2600 and I was real happy. So everybody was happy. Over the years I had taught myself how to play piano, but not well. Now I play well but not piano. Later I wrote a book called "Dayton Allan's Instant Piano Picture Chord Course" which I would sell to the people when they bought one of my used pianos. I also had bought some houses and fixed them up and then resold them. So in 1978 I got my realtor’s license and began selling commercial stuff. I had a lot of big clients. I had one who's over seven feet tall.

>GEO: In 1986 you move to Florida.

DAYTON ALLEN: Yeah, we came down here of a little vacation. I had been thinking that the economy was gonna go in the toilet. It was a bad time, Saturn was rising and so was my pants. So we sold everything, the house and the commercial properties I owned --

>GEO: And donated your Tv show to the Museum of Television and Radio --

DAYTON ALLEN: -- right. So now we got a nice big apartment right near the beach.

>GEO: Right before you moved you did a small part in a France Ford Capolla movie.

DAYTON ALLEN: Did you happen to see the film the "Cotton Club?" I was in it. I was one of the Bowl weevils. It was a one day shoot but fortunately they missed me. But enough of my greatness, let me tell you about some of the wonderful things I've done.

>GEO: It was around this time that you decided to write a movie along the lines of "Animal House" called "Waldo U. Nipplehead, M.D."

DAYTON ALLEN: Right, right. Of course, "Waldo U. Nipplehead" is a product of my degradation. It’s about a hospital that has no money and they can't get an appropriations because it was built on a swamp. The original title was "The Heavenly Rest Hospital." I was gonna play the head of the hospital, Waldo U Nipplehead. Al Melvin was going to play Dr Sleazy. I got a lot of good names that said they would like to be in the picture. I wanted to use Jonathan Winters, Dom Delouse, Steve Allen. It ends with a wild chase during the funeral for Almondo Snotty, the head of the garbage men's union.

>GEO: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.

DAYTON ALLEN: Well, it shows you how busy I am. And please, if you need anything in the future, George, go out and get it, then you'll have it.

DR NIPPLEHEAD "Thank you ... I appreciate what you tried to say, and in all the years I have been doing doctor stuff, only twp things have thrilled me as much as this. So much for excitement...."*

- *excerpt from "Waldo U. Nipplehead, MD" ccopyright 1976 Dayton Allen.

[copyright 1994 George Stewart]