Fred Allen Biography (Personal Life, Career)

Born in May 31, 1894, Fred Allen was an American radio comedian for nearly two decades who, as early as 1936, had a weekly radio audience of about 20 million. His pointed radio show (1932–1949) made him one of the most popular and forward-looking humorists in the so-called classic era of American radio.

Personal Life

Born John Florence Sullivan in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Irish Catholic parents, the radio comedian, Fred Allen barely knew his mother, Cecilia Herlihy Sullivan, who died of pneumonia. After his mom died, his father, James Henry Sullivan, Allen and his little brother, Robert, were taken in by one of his mother's sisters, "my Aunt Lizzie", around whom he focused the first chapter of his second memoir, Much Ado About Me. Devastated by the mother’s death, the father started to drank more heavily. Eventually, Allen's father remarried and offered his sons the choice between coming with him and his new wife or staying with Aunt Lizzie. Allen's younger brother chose to go with their father, but stand-um comedian decided to stay with his aunt and he never regretted (as he declared later on).

The comedian took piano lessons as a boy and, at the age of 20, he started to work for a local piano company. In the same time, Allen worked at the Boston Public Library, where he discovered a book about the origin and development of comedy trying to learn as much as possible about comedy.

In 1928, stand-up comedian Fred Allen married Portland Hoffa, a former chorus girl he met while he was performing on The Passing Show in Broadway. The comedian died in NY City, 17 March 1956.


The comedian began performing on the stage as an amateur teenage juggler. While he was working for the Library, some library co-workers planned to put on a show and asked him to do a bit of juggling and some of his comedy. Billing himself as the world's worst juggler, he dropped juggling, settled on the professional name of "Fred Allen," and moved up from vaudeville to Broadway revues.

Allen began his radio career in October 23, 1932 with the radio show on NBC called The Linit Bath Club Review . This was a time when the United States was in a deep economic depression and radio in its infancy. The radio comedian thought that radio should provide complete stories, series of episodes, and comedy situations instead of monotonous unrelated jokes then popular on vaudeville. With this idea in hand, he began his first career as a radio comedian.

The comedian’s best-remembered show was “Allen’s Alley,” premiered on Sunday, December 6th, 1942, a weekly segment in which he would discuss issues of the day with eccentric creations like the Senator Claghorn, Brooklyn housewife Pansy Nussbaum and stoic New Englander Titus Moody. He had ethnic comedy routines, appearances by celebrities such as Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, and social commentaries on every conceivable subject, especially criticisms of the advertising and radio industry. His radio producer, Sylvester observed that Allen's humor was so popular that three out of four homes in the country were listening to the comedian

The radio comedian’s most important shows, for which he wrote much of the material himself, were: The Salad Bowl Revue (1933), The Sal Hepatica Revue (1933-34), The Hour of Smiles (1934-35), and Town Hall Tonight (1935-40) witch was the longest-running hour-long comedy-based show in classic radio history. Due to hypertension, he took over a year off and returned in 1945 with The Fred Allen Show on NBC, Sunday nights at 8:30 p.m. EST.

When the World War II was over, American consumers started to purchase a new entertainment device called television. When Fred Allen was asked what he thought of television, he said he didn't like furniture that talked. The comedian dismissed TV as permitting "people who haven't anything to do to watch people who can't do anything." But, after nearly two decades on radio, he fell in the ratings from number 1 to number 38 in just a few months. Listeners of radio were rapidly becoming viewers of TV. Fred Allen left radio in 1949. Ironically, in view of his often barbed observations of the medium, the comedian was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for contributions to television.

The comedian was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988.

Quick Info Fred Allen Biography (Personal Life, Career)

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