A number of years ago I authored a book called A Funny Thing Happened At The Interview. It was a collection of true stories about strange events that had happen to people who were going through the job hunting process.
When the book was completed the publisher got the bright idea that we should try to get a celebrity to write a foreword for the book. She wrote to hundreds of celebrities explaining the concept of the book and asking if they would be willing to write something. From most there was no answer or even an acknowledgement of the letter. From the rest she received a letter from the celebrity’s business manager stating that the celebrity would submit something, but only for a contractual amount of money paid in advance. The amounts of money mentioned were astronomical. None of the business agents asked any questions about the type of book or the quality of the work. If we had the money, the celebrity (or at least someone using the celebrity’s name) would write something praising the book.
Then the publisher heard back from Steve Allen. Not his agent or business manager, but Steve Allen directly. He said for her to send him a few of the stories from the book, and if he liked them he would write the foreword.
To this day I am proud to say that it turned out Steve did like the stories and did in fact write a foreword for the book. He only had two provisos when he submitted the foreword to my publisher. The first was that we had to use the picture of him he gave us. (It was a very nice picture, but it was of Steve Allen at lease 15 years younger than when he wrote the foreword). The second condition was that no one could change a single item in his foreword. Not a word, comma or exclamation mark. (You don’t re-write a great artist.)
Steve asked nothing for his time and effort. He got no fee, no royalty, no “donation” to a favorite cause. He did the work just to be nice and help out a new author.
Steve Allen passed away a few years ago, and it saddens me that when I mention this story about him now, many of the younger people I tell it to do not know who he was. Steve Allen was a really big star in the early days of television. He was the first host of the Tonight Show. He invented the Man on the Street Interviews in which he would go out with a microphone and camera and get funny and interesting stories from ordinary people. Now virtually every comedian does this, but he invented it. One of his funniest gags was when he would simply read the words of a popular song, in a deadpan style and people would realize just how stupid most song lyrics are. He always let others borrow (or steal) his material. He loved helping other people in the business.
People that never got to see him or his work missed out on seeing a genuine talent. But what I will remember him best for is that in a cynical and money oriented business, he was a genuine nice guy.