Allan Sherman 

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Allan chose his mother “because she was in the room with me and I didn’t dare reject her to her face,” he later wrote. Indecision and disorganization accompanied him for the rest of his life.

With his wife, Dee, Sherman moved to New York in 1946, just as television was becoming America’s medium of choice. Success was elusive. He worked 13 weeks as a joke writer for “Cavalcade of Stars.” A job with “Broadway Open House” lasted three weeks.

In 1951, he and a friend, Howard Merrill, created the quiz show “I’ve Got a Secret.” The Goodson-Todman game show empire offered the pair a dollar for the rights to the show plus $125-a-week jobs as associate producers and another $125 per week in royalties.

Sherman and Merrill agreed. Seven years later Goodson-Todman sold “I’ve Got a Secret” to CBS for $3 million.


Eventually Sherman left “I’ve Got a Secret” and a round of hard times began. Entertainer Steve Allen hired him in 1962 to produce his new variety show, but Sherman’s disorganization led to his rapid firing.

Sherman had entertained at Hollywood parties with clever song parodies. His beloved target was the Broadway musical, Cohen says. Sherman pitched the idea of an album of parodies to Warner Bros. Records, which gave him a $1,500 advance and told him to take songs only from the public domain to save money.

   


Just where the lyrics came from is a matter of dispute. Steve Allen wrote that Sherman “picked 12 songs that he had already been doing for years at show business parties.” But in the book “Comedy on Record,” Ronald L. Smith writes that Sherman “wrote them quickly, fueled by the simple fact that somebody wanted them.”

Stanley Ralph Ross, a Los Angeles producer, actor and writer, told me the songs were a collaboration between Sherman, pianist Lou Busch, and Ross himself. On later albums Busch was given co-credit. Ross, who died in 2000, said his own contributions went unacknowledged. If so, perhaps he had revenge in mind when he recorded his own album of parodies, “My Son, the Copycat.”

But there was nothing but good will on August 6, 1962, when Sherman approached the microphone in the Hollywood recording studio and launched his new career.
 



 


Louis the Sixteenth was the king of France
In Seventeen Eighty-nine
He was worse than Louis the Fifteenth
He was worse than Louis the Fourteenth
He was worse then Louis the Thirteenth
He was the worst
Since Louis the First
 


What a cultural vacuum Allan Sherman stepped into as the summer of 1962 turned to fall. The first wave of rock and roll had exhausted itself, had given way to teenager in love teenage death Dick Clark Brill Building pop. The Beatles’ “Love Me Do” left barely a ripple. The Rolling Stones hadn’t even been formed. Bob Dylan was a scruffy, dissembling kid who had just recorded a second album of what was called folk music.

Oh the earnestness of it. The solemnity of folk music revived, even when leavened by the joyous Caribbean folkloring of Harry Belafonte, the King of Calypso: “Day-O” “Come Back Liza” “Water Boy” “Kingston Town” “Sweetheart from Venezuela.”

And before one banjo too many had been picked, one freight car ride too many had been recalled, one more cocoanut woman could cause one more tropical heart to palpitate, up popped “My Son, The Folk Singer.”

“All that hot air begged for release, and Sherman provided the pin,” Cohen wrote in his extensive liner notes to “My Son, The Box,” a six-disc compilation issued by Rhino Handmade in 2005.

My Son, The Folk Singer was not proletarian, humid or earnest. Time described him as “a plump crew-cut chipmunk man.”

America snapped up Sherman’s album and its sequels. He recorded “My Son, The Celebrity” on his 38th birthday. “My Son, the Nut,” which included “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,” was released in 1963.
 


 

“He hit at the perfect moment, just before the Beatles came to America,” Cohen says. “In less than a year he had three albums hit No. 1 on the charts, and ‘Hello Muddah’ won a Grammy.”

By then the Jewish shtick had run its course. Sherman took his songs – and stage fright – on the road.

“Just a year ago Allan Sherman was doing weekly guest appearances on the unemployment insurance line at Santa Monica, California,” Richard F. Shepherd wrote in the New York Times on August 4, 1963. “Last week he did a guest appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, drawing 16,097 fans, the big bowl’s largest Friday night audience.”

The next week he parked his tuchess in Johnny Carson’s chair.

“My grip on reality isn’t so good,” he told a reporter around that time. “When you find something like this that catches on so quickly, it’s hard to believe that it won’t go away just as quickly.”

He was thought to have grossed half a million dollars that year, back when that was real money. His life had become fascinating enough for autobiography. “A Gift of Laughter” was published by Atheneum in 1965.
Later Sherman recalled, “I was drinking two bottles of Scotch every day. I couldn’t sleep. Or eat … I got those terrible depressions. And muscle spasms. I was in a whirling madness.”

Sherman had another problem. Writes Steve Allen, “He could only do the one thing that he did so brilliantly: sing one of his witty parodies. He could not perform a sketch, do stand-up jokes, physical comedy, or any of the other things that are part of a comedian’s stock-in-trade.”

Instead of diversifying, My Son The kept returning to the same well: “Allan in Wonderland,” “For Swingin’ Livers Only” and “Peter and the Commissar,” a spoof of “Peter and the Wolf,” in 1964. “My Name is Allan,” a parody of the Streisand album “My Name is Barbra,” in 1965. “Live! Hoping You Are The Same,” in 1966. And “Togetherness” in 1967, its cover sporting a slimmer Sherman sans specs. But the fad had faded, and so did Sherman.

He wrote a Broadway musical in 1969, “The Fig Leaves Are Falling,” based on his divorce in 1966 after a 21-year marriage. The show closed after two nights. Then a book, “The Rape of the A*P*E” (short for “American Puritan Ethic”), about the sexual revolution.

By that time, Newsweek made his obscurity official. The Where Are They Now? column of October 30, 1972, showed a bearded Sherman staring out from sepulchral eyes. “Sherman is overweight and suffering from incipient emphysema,” the magazine wrote.

At the age of 48, Sherman was living at the Motion Picture Country Home. “I suppose this meant that he had run out of money,” Steve Allen wrote.

The obituaries say he was entertaining friends when he collapsed on November 20, 1973, and died of emphysema.

A generation later, Sherman’s presence lingers, not powerfully – although the internet can boost the wattage of even the better-off forgotten – but not dim enough to dismiss.

“There are millions of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who grew up with those albums or listened to them as adults,” Cohen says. “They love those songs. And they aren’t going anywhere.”

My Son The proved that in America any zhlob can make it. Sherman realized that himself. “There seems to be some quality, or lack of quality in my voice, with which the average person can identify. I sing like anyone singing in the bathtub – no good, but with genuine enthusiasm.”

The public responded in kind. Then the novelty wore off. And the public forgot. It’s a homecoming of sorts to take out one of those old 33s after so many years, drop the needle, and listen again, with fresh ears, along with Sherman’s showbiz pals, as those clever lyrics bore down on them for the first time.
 


Oh, I’m Melvin Rose of Texas
And my friends all call me Tex
When I lived in old New Mexico
They used to call me Mex
When I lived in old Kentucky
They called me Old Kentuck
I was born in old Shamokin
Which is why they call me Melvin Rose.


 

Interview with Mark Cohen copyright © 2007 by David Holzel
 



 


The Catskill Ladies
Sing This Song...


My Son, The Website
A nice Web 1.0 tribute site

Allan Sherman Discography

My Son, The Assimilator
Allan Sherman's page in the American songbook, by Jesse Green,
from
Nextbook.org


Allan Recalls Harpo
from Sherman's "A Gift of Laughter"

The Real Camp Granada?
Allan Sherman's brush with misery

Allan Sherman's Grave
He's not getting enough fresh air and sunshine, in my opinion

   

"One Hippopotami," from "My Son, The Nut," Visualization by cputb1



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