Given the answer “9W,” Steve Allen came up with the clever question: “Do you spell your name with a V, Mr. Wagner?”
Fabulous. Of course you have to see that it’s been respelled: “Nein, ‘W’.”
There are other good versions of that gag, but that’s my favorite.
Steve Allen was a favorite: for years, decades. I fell in love with him the summer after the sixth grade. I was at a friend’s, Steve was letting some kid climb around amid the props on the stage. The kid got into a big cardboard box masked as the soap sponsor, the box fell over. Still, Steve just went with it. Comedy improvised around what was actually happening, a novelty then (and now).
One evening in Cony Island, Steeplechase, not long after that, birthday pk spotted Steve Allen accompanied by the Meadows sisters (wife and sister-in-law). My heart just sang.
Wagner is a different story. I held all things “romantic” in contempt till George Bernard Shaw’s take on Wagner converted me in my early twenties. So: first I fell in love with the mythology, the evolutionary politics … the cosmology; then the music really got to me. This site has already declared Wagner to be among my top three favorite musicians ever.
But what prompted me to scribble that joke this morning is my intention of telling a long overdue story about an adventure on Route 9W, west bank of the Hudson, Westchester County NY.
While reporting my love for Steve Allen I should perhaps add a brief mention of one time when I actually hated him: he wrote a series of specials for TV called Meeting of the Minds. He did a pretty good job of imagining dialogue for some authors of the culture’s basic ideas. But for St. Augustine, one of the smartest men ever to lift a writing instrument, Steve fell flat on his face: wasting the genius as a straw man fool. Watching Steve dismiss the saint without understanding what had been said was sad, sad. Unforgivable.