| Steve Allen is, today, known as a principled man skilled at veritably everything: comedy, innovation, music composition, authorship, improvisation, even the mentorship of great young talent of his era. Prior to his development of the now-standard late-night talk show, however, his resume was not yet so extensive, and he was primarily a locally-known, New York-based jack of all trades who had, by the early 1950s, worked successfully as a disc jockey and sometimes-television host, often commanding airtime on late-night programs at NBC. His consistent successful handling of impromptu late-night hosting duties afforded him by studio heads eventually earned him his own modest television series, and in July of 1953, The Steve Allen Show began to air from New York's WNBT-TV, broadcasting only to the tri-state area of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. The forty-minute show aired weeknights just before midnight.
After little more than a year on the air, Allen's nightly show had garnered enough support from affiliates to move to NBC's full network, and on September 27, 1954 the show broadcast from New York City's Hudson Theatre to a national audience as Tonight! It aired five nights a week, and a fifteen-minute portion seen only by New York area viewers prefaced the national airing of the ninety-minute show, which was televised live to the nation from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. "This show's gonna go on forever," Allen quipped in his first nationally-broadcast monologue. "Boy, you think you're tired now, wait til you see one o'clock roll around."
But viewers did anything but grow tired of the inimitable Allen, his hi-jinks, and the cavalcade of talent he hand-picked to complement him. The show's incendiary 1954 episode opened with a location shot of singers Steve Lawrence, a veteran of Allen's local New York show, and the newfound Eydie Gorme, whom Allen had commissioned to replace vocalist Helen Dixon prior to the show's national broadcast. In the initial sequence the pair strolled to the home of baseball star Willie Mays, ascended a ladder to his bedroom window, and proceeded to serenade him with a tune crafted for the occasion of his team's upcoming participation in the World Series, after which winsome Lawrence and genial Mays chatted about the impending sports showdown. The effect of such a winning formula was twofold: Mays' Giants won the Series, and Allen scored a staid success with Tonight.
Television was still in its infancy in 1954, and prior to Tonight, no one had ventured to host a show past the evening schedule, leaving room for the substantial development of the late-night sector. Allen found his series' timeslot and the novel format of television to be ideal for both perfecting and showcasing the persona he had crafted during his tenures in radio and in television: effortlessly witty, deprecatingly intelligent, appealingly conversational and accessibly cultured. He could just as easily dedicate an entire show to the study of a foreign nation's culture, tailoring monologues to music to suit his subject matter, as he could pioneer the idea of interacting with the audience or take his camera crew to locations as steep as Niagara Falls or as sandy as Miami. Jazz aficionado Allen also welcomed a slew of acclaimed musicians and singers to complement his piano playing and in-house singers, perhaps most notable among them African-American artists who were often prohibited from performing on television in the racially charged era.
| Understanding the historical significance of the Tonight Show allows one to more clearly place Eydie Gorme within the context of television history, to understand the magnitude of which she was a part. A true 'child of television' and a contributor to a landmark component of the medium, her career blossomed in her five year stint with Steve Allen, and she later supplemented her popular nightclub engagements with guest appearances on innumerable popular series and variety shows throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Television not only allowed her to launch a career, but to maintain one.
In 1953, Eydie was fresh from her year-long tour with the Tex Beneke Band, navigating a fledgling solo career through the slow fadeout of the Big Band Era (of which bands like Beneke's were a solid part). Her first single, "Frenesi," had just been released with much success, and while performing the tune on television, Eydie caught the attention of Steve Allen, who dispatched a manager to encourage her to audition for Tonight. Allen had just fired a young female vocalist, Helen Dixon, from his show due to her scant repertoire of songs (she reportedly knew just five), and with his live show being broadcast five nights a week, he couldn't afford to be long without a 'girl singer' opposite in-house vocalist Steve Lawrence, 18.
But Eydie's most recent attempts to land a position on television - via the office of prestigious TV host Arthur Godfrey - had eventually resulted in a locked office door designed to inhibit her from successive tryouts, and she initially bristled at the offer to audition for Allen's show. The fact that she didn't know who Allen was didn't endear her to the cause, either. Additionally, Eydie was interested in advancing her career more actively, and she felt that being bound to a nightly show was not only unconducive to this goal, but it would restrict her exposure to the tri-state area where the local Tonight was still broadcast. Still, she took the opportunity to try out for the show, although, as she recalled in 1992, she suspected at the audition that the Allen show was 'looking for a blonde, someone who looked like Marilyn Monroe. And I was, well, me. With my bangs.' Being Eydie, with her vocal prowess and the impressive catalogue of American standards she knew, won her a two-week stint on Tonight, beginning in September of 1953. She would remain a regular on the show for its five-year run.
|As acclaim and viewership for the still-local Tonight grew, NBC decided to market the success of the Steve Allen Show nationally, though the network expressed its apprehension toward maintaining Steve and Eydie as the lead vocalists, suggesting that audiences might take issue with the pair's 'ethnicity.' Reading into the thinly-veiled dismissal of his prized singers' private religious orientations, Allen was steadfast in his refusal to change the show's line-up. NBC withdrew its request, but instead presented an ultimatum: the network would only agree to move forward if two more signers would be hired, and pairs of singers alternated weeknight performances "so that three times a week they would have Gentiles, and two times a week they would have us," as Eydie remarked in 2003. Andy Williams and Patricia Marshall, later replaced by Pat Kirby, would become the second set of singers to join the show; each of the four vocalists performed alternately twice and thrice weekly.|
| Performing on Tonight! acted as an invaluable training ground for the young singers. Not only were they given the opportunity to perfect their art in a dynamic and responsive environment, but, due to the quality of musicianship Allen attracted to his show, but his singers were privy to interaction with some of the best musicians in the business, true masters of their craft. It was during this time that Eydie began to develop the passionate, emotive style of singing for which she is now famous. Prior to joining Tonight, she had become a rather "careful" singer, as during her year with Tex Beneke she was constantly told to refrain from her naturally expressive use of her voice and hand gestures, but the laid back mood of the Allen show allowed for her to experiment and utilize her inherent means of artistic expression.
Her work with Steve Allen would do more than foster her development as a performer, however: it was under his television tutelage that Eydie worked consistently alongside fellow singer and future husband, Steve Lawrence, whom she had met but briefly before joining the show's cast. They were frequently paired in duets and sketches and as performers in exotic locations, and as the series progressed, so did their offscreen courtship, a fact that, while not publicized, appeared as endearing to viewers as it was evident. Steve and Eydie's December, 1957 nuptials preceded the end of Tonight's run by several months, at which point the pair assumed hosting duties for a summer replacement series, Steve Allen Presents the Steve Lawrence-Eydie Gorme Show, in July and August of 1958.
|Such inventive fare on television was not the only element of the show's appeal, though. In addition to the creative efforts of Allen's musical and comedic co-horts - stars and Tonight regulars like Andy Williams, Don Knotts, Louis Nye and Tom Poston can credit the show with their considerable welcome to celebrity - the show was live, allowing for spontaneity, improvisation, and endearingly humorous mishaps of its stars. Such convergence of wit, comedy, and music created an entirely a new style of television for posterity. It also ushered the star of Eydie Gorme onto the national stage.|