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R.S.V.P. : The Comedian With as Many Books as Jokes to His Name


Old comedians don't retire, they just. . . .

"There isn't anything I wouldn't do for Steve Allen," said 81-year-old Milton Berle on Monday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "And there isn't anything Steve wouldn't do for me. Which is why we haven't done anything for each other our whole lives."

Laughter, applause, laughter.

Uncle Miltie was introducing Allen at a book party in the Rodeo Room heralding the publication of Allen's second mystery, "Murder on the Glitter Box."

Can't Spit Without Hitting a Star

Looking around the room, Berle remarked that there wasn't time to mention all the notables present.

"That's my good friend Walter Pidgeon, ladies and gentlemen." Actually, it was Walter Matthau. "Walter, you know, you ought to write a book, considering the sordid life you've led.

"Zsa Zsa couldn't be here tonight," Berle went on. "You know, when she first came to America, she looked around and said, 'Dahlink, this is horrible, I couldn't get arrested here.' "

Comedienne Bea Arthur, in the audience, chuckled: "Oh, Miltie, Miltie, Miltie, Miltie . . . Miltie."

"Forty-five minutes he's been on stage, ad-libbing," said comedian Red Buttons, in the audience, clapping. "Ad-libbing! He's never told one of these jokes before. Ever. That's Hollywood!" Karl Malden, standing nearby, agreed.

Berle had been on stage about 10 minutes. That's Hollywood.

'Very Short Books'

"Steve is very prolific, ladies and gentlemen," Berle continued. "He can write a song and a book in a day. He's written some very, very short books that almost no one knows about--'Famous Jewish Hockey Players,' '10,000 Years of German Humor'. . . .

"But I love this man. Come up here, Steverino."

Actually, Steve Allen, the host of the original "Tonight" show, is quite prolific. "Murder on the Glitter Box" is his 29th book.

And what's the book about?

"About $18.95," Allen said, seated in a corner of the room after he'd made a brief speech. Autograph seekers, chuckling, lined up five deep, "MotGB" in hand. "MotGB" is a very thinly disguised roman a clef , in which one of the detectives is a former talk show host named . . . Steve Allen! And the murder suspects bear striking resemblances to Johnny Carson, Jack Paar, "Tonight" show producer Freddie de Cordova and Joan Rivers, all of them rather brutally portrayed. In Chapter 1, narrator/detective/former talk show host Steve Allen remarks that "like most comedians, she thrived on attention. All she wanted was center stage, all the time, any way she could get it."

But Will He Admit It?

Allen, like fellow roman a clef fers Dominick Dunne and Jackie Collins, will only acknowledge that the characters resemble "types."

"Terry Cole is not Johnny Carson, Tessa Morre is not Joan Rivers . . .," Allen insisted.

"I don't want to be sued," Allen's publisher, Walter Zacharias of Zebra Books, remarked. "It adds flavor that Carson and Rivers are sort of in it. But it's all done tongue-in-cheek."

"It's part of a series," Allen added. "Sort of a new 'Thin Man' with Jayne (Meadows, Allen's wife) and I as Nick and Nora Charles. She was in one with William Powell--'The Song of the Thin Man.' "

Allen looked around the room. The paparazzi were snapping Berle. "Comedians never die," Allen commented. "George Burns is 312. Bob Hope is 175. They never retire."

They just. . . .

"Can you believe that guy!" Milton Berle said about Red Buttons, who had jumped into one of the shots. "He's always trying to get into the picture."

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