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"Mrs Fred Allen"
Television is the triumph of equipment over people… the minds that control it are so small you could put them in the navel of a flea and still have room for the heart of a network vice president.
Television didn't work for Fred Allen, and vice versa.
Not that Fred was no longer funny. His wit was just as sharp as ever, his ad-libs just as quick and biting, and at times TV performances magical. At this time he had rented a small office in New York where he could write without distraction. He would work for six hours a day writing, producing two autobiographies,Treadmill to Oblivion (1954), which became a best selling book on Radio's early years, and Much Ado About Me(1956) which covered his early years and detailing the world of Vaudeville at its height. Fred was also a newspaper columnist.
His television projects were not as successful. He attempted to bring "Allen's Alley" to the small screen, but NBC rejected the project out of hand. It was thought that his genius for ad-libbing would work well as a game-show host, (similar to Groucho Marx on You Bet Your Life) and it was tried on Judge For Yourself. The show suffered from "over production", "the star was lost in the confusion of a half hour with too many people and too much activity."
Fred found some success as a panelist on What's My Line, taking over the seat vacated by Steve Allen when he left for The Tonight Show. Though by no means a Star vehicle, the show made good use of Fred's humor. The game show had a lot of style. The lady panelists wore formal gowns; the men routinely wore black suits and bow ties. The prize money was a mere $50 to insure that the game was played for fun. In his first appearance Fred Allen asked the contestant: "This is your first appearance on the show, isn't it Mr. James? ...and this is my first appearance on the show, and we can save an awful lot of time if you'll just tell me what you do." (The premise of What's My Line was that the panelists would guess the contestants occupation.)
Fred Allen passed away after suffering a heart attack after a midnight walk on the evening of St. Patrick's Day, 1956. The next day What's My Line was scheduled to broadcast (live.) The show's producers wanted to do a Fred Allen Retrospective, but Fred's wife, Portland Hoffa, felt Fred's memory would be better honored if the show went on as intended. Steve Allen took Fred's seat on the panel. The panel and host wore simple black dresses and long black neckties.
Fred's tombstone carries both his given name, John F. Sullivan, and his stage name. Fred Allen has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for Radio at 6709 ½ Hollywood Blvd, and one for Television at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.