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Woody Allen's Early Days
by Pete Delaney

woody allen photoAstonishing as it may seem to some people, there once was a time when Woody Allen was a funny, likeable and endearing entertainer whose unique brand of comedy in the 1960s and early 1970s was eagerly anticipated and enjoyed by television audiences.

Back in 1960, Allen Stewart Konigsberg left a lucrative $1,700 a week job as a writer on the Garry Moore TV show with a desire to perform his own jokes. After a tough first year as a standup comic in Greenwich Village clubs working for free, the act performed by this unassuming nerdy, short guy with red hair and big glasses - a unique blend of observations about sex, politics, machines, crime, religion, psychiatrists and urban living - took form making Woody Allen, as he would state, "Successful at comedy beyond my interest in comedy."

Spurred on by his managers Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe, Woody then accepted offers to appear on any kind on television program in the 1960s.

Woody Allen photoThe list of these shows is amazingly diverse: Ed Sullivan, David Susskind, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar, Joe Franklin, Virginia Graham, Steve Allen, Mike Douglas, John Gary, Dick Cavett, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Joe Namath, Hootenanny, Hippodrome, Hullabaloo, I've Got A Secret, What's My Line, Password, Kraft Music Hall, That Was The Week That Was, Candid Camera and even the 1964 New York Mets post-game show.

On all of these shows Woody Allen standup routines such as 'the moose story,' 'Neanderthal man in the lobby' and 'thugs invade Shakespeare in the park' are all done with enthusiasm and cheerfulness.

Here is a look of his best television work from what is nostalgically referred to as 'Woody Allen's Early/Funny Years.'


Among Woody's many ideas for stunts on this series was an uproarious segment where he dictates a love letter to a stenographer: "I love you, one exclamation mark. I need you, two exclamation marks." The secretary's facial expressions are priceless.

'THE JACK PAAR SHOW' (December 14, 1962, NBC)
One of Woody's first important appearances on network TV came on the Paar show. Confident in his unique material, the comedian was on for 8 minutes with bits about his health plan ("It's like a record club. They send me a list of operations and I pick three I like."), dealings with the law ("The New York Public Library surrounded my house with guns and searchlights demanding the books back!"), and self defense ("When threatened, I immediately lapse into the old Navaho trick of screaming and begging.") scoring big with Paar's studio audience.

'I'VE GOT A SECRET' (April 19, 1965, CBS)
Woody's secret is that he and IGAS panelist Bess Myerson had prepared a unique Dixieland jazz duet - Woody playing his beloved clarinet, Bess on flute. With Woody standing on a box to match the statuesque Myerson's height, the duo let loose with a rousing Dixie number.


Woody Allen TV show'WOODY ALLEN' (February 17, 1965, GRANADA)
In this rarely seen half-hour taped for British TV, Woody is able to deliver his night club act without the restraints of American censors. Appearing on a bare stage in front of an appreciative audience, Woody performs many of his classic stories.

Woody recalls being locked in a test fallout shelter with his unstable wife. He also tells of being an advertising agency's 'show Jew' - a funny and insightful routine about anti-Semitism.

'THE BEST ON RECORD' (May 18, 1965, NBC)
Long before the Grammy Awards became an annual TV event, there was this all-star special that featured performances by many 1964 nominees and winners. Between the musical acts, the nominees for best comedy album (including Woody, Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby) would do a quick 3 minute routine. Woody introduced himself saying "I am honored to be part of this fantastic tribute to the recording industry being paid by the recording industry." He assured viewers that he was not upset by not winning since his wrists were healing nicely and he was sure that the swastika he painted on the winner's door was dry by now.

(February 14, 1966, NBC)

In this unique musical salute to New York City that pioneered use of mobile video tape technology with cameras roaming all over Manhattan, Woody Allen gets a healthy 13 minutes of air time providing the comedy between the dancin' and singin'.

Here, Woody receives the most elaborate introduction of his show-business career as a troupe of a dozen singers and dancers parade down Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village and march into the Bitter End nightclub singing "WOOODDDEEEEE ALLLLLLENNNNNN!!!!" before they collapse on the club's floor. The monologue Woody then delivers is important historically in that none of the material was ever released on a comedy album. It's an hilarious account of Woody's family tree starting in ancient Rome ("The Allens were orgy caterers who made wild things out of potato salad."). An Allen was the first comic who, after receiving the 10 commandments told Moses to, "'Take these two tablets and call me in the morning.' Moses was so amused that he could hardly smite him."

Other Allens included the inventor of cowardice, a Jewish Indian tribe and a strange relative who thought he was a 500 pound block of ice. Later in the show Kelly encounters Woody at part of his residence - a double decker British bus parked on 44th street. He explains to Gene that his kitchen is on Staten Island and his bedroom is in a sleazy Times Square hotel.

When Gene asks Woody if he ever feels that he's a bit unusual, Woody replies, "Yes, that's what kept me out of the Army. They wrote on my induction form 'This boy is a little unusual. Don't let him fight for our country.'"

Just before the big musical finale, the British singer Tommy Steele finds Woody playing a grand piano on the sidewalk in front of the Plaza hotel on 59th Street. Atop the piano is Yetta, a stunning blonde. Steele asks Woody, "How do you get a grand piano on a 59th Street sidewalk?" "You rent one," replies the tuxedo clad comedian.

Woody gets his own special the show that was never broadcast - and why.


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Woody Allen

Woody Allen on the
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in 1965

Woody Allen - Part One
Woody Allen's TV Shows - Part Two
Woody Allen on TV - Part Three

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