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by William H. Benson

December 23, 2010

     Steve Allen was a fixture upon American television for fifty years, from the day his first show, The Steve Allen Show, premiered, which was on Christmas Day of 1950, the day before he turned twenty-nine, until his passing on October 30, 2000. Although the network canceled that first show after only two years, numerous others followed, including his pioneering work as the first host of the Tonight Show, which was first broadcast on September 27, 1954.

     It was Steve Allen who introduced to television audiences the innovative concept of a television talk show, in which he, the host, would begin with a comic monologue, and then introduce a series of guests and comedians who would perform briefly and then seat themselves on a couch and visit with the host, who sat behind a desk. Audiences loved the format, a guaranteed spot of humor at the end of a long day, and it is still on the air today after fifty-six years.

     The Tonight Show—comedy.

     On January 23, 1968, a U. S. Naval research vessel called the Pueblo and commanded by Lloyd Bucher, was attacked and taken hostage by the North Koreans. For the next eleven months, the crew was starved, beaten, and tortured, and Commander Bucher was put through a mock firing squad. The Johnson administration finally issued a written apology and admitted that the Pueblo was on a spying mission. On December 23, 1968, the American crew, 82 men, carrying one deceased sailor, was then released when they were marched across the Bridge of No Return, which connected the two Koreas.

     The North Korean Communist government, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, still holds the Pueblo yet today, even though it is still a commissioned vessel of the U. S. Navy. It is positioned on the Taedong River, and is now a tourist attraction for the North Koreans.

     The Pueblo—history.

     On December 8, at 5:00 P. M. John Lennon, the one-time Beatle, with his wife Yoko Ono beside him, left his home at the the Dakota apartment building, located at 1 West 72nd Street, across from Central Park. Outside he met a young man, then only twenty-five, named Mark David Chapman, who held up a copy of Lennon’s most recent album, Double Fantasy. Lennon took it, autographed it, and handed it back to Chapman. A photographer happened to take a picture of Lennon standing next to Chapman. Lennon and Yoko Ono then slipped into their limousine and headed to a recording session.

     At 10:50 P. M. the couple returned to the Dakota, walked past Chapman, who was still waiting there, and as they were about to step inside, Chapman fired five shots directly at Lennon’s back. Four struck him. He was taken to Roosevelt Hospital and pronounced dead minutes later.

     The assassination of John Lennon—tragedy.

     There we have Shakespeare’s three art forms—comedy, history, and tragedy. Like most human beings, I enjoy wholesome comedy, and I thrive on history, but I shrink away from tragedy.

     There are those individuals, those who are inherently dramatic, who would categorize life’s events into one of those three forms; they are the literary types. Other people see life as little more than a warmup before that final judgment that will determine all people’s eternal fate; they are the religious ones. Others see life as a struggle, a battlefield, a bitter fight to vanquish the enemy and achieve preeminence; these are the workaholics and the power-crazed executives.

     Others are so sated and dulled by entertainment—football, basketball, baseball, movies, and television—that they have given up. They are the proverbial potatoes on the couch. Others are legalistic, paying homage to the statutes, the tax code, or the religious documents and covenants; they are the ones who can quote verbatim from some governmental or sacrosanct document.

     That philosophy of life that runs, like an artery, throughout our minds can, if we let it, determine the outcomes of our lives. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “The years teach us things that the days never knew.” Indeed, the lessons of our lives we learn daily, but together those lessons eventually build into principles, unchanging maxims, such as: “Kindness begets kindness.” “Rudeness begets trouble.” “Arrogance and pride are eventually brought low.” “What goes around comes around.”

     Human nature has not changed for thousands of years. We are, above all else, emotional beings, filled with an astonishing aggressive streak as well as rank passivity, along with anger, greed, and lust, and when you mix life’s lessons, with its core principles, and with those hot human emotions, life  transcends into something unpredictable, a volatile mixture that yields comedy, history, and tragedy.


     The year 2010 is drawing to a close. The Christmas season is upon us, and what will the new year bring? The cynic will say, “More of the same,” meaning more laughter on the Tonight Show, more trouble with the North Koreans, and more tragedy: a series of earthquakes, epidemics, wars and assassinations. Yet, hope springs eternal in the hearts of men, especially the optimistic, and perhaps something magnificent will happen in 2011: a war might end, a cure for all cancers might be discovered, and an epidemic might be conquered. May it be so. “Peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.” Have a great Christmas!