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Inside Woody Allen’s TV Past

In his latest play, William M. Hoffman takes on racism, hate and genocide

by Michael Aushenker

January 28, 1999 | 7:00 pm

Before films such as "Radio Days," Woody Allen had his television days. And, for the next three months, fans from "the earlier, funnier Woody" camp will find plenty of artillery for their cause at the Museum of Television and Radio, where "Woody Allen's Television Days" is screening a two-part retrospective of the filmmaker's work as a stand-up comedian and television writer.

Part 1 kicks off with comedy he created for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows," followed by Allen's 1960s "Tonight Show" and "Jack Paar Program" appearances. Next month, Part 2 of the series will showcase his 1967 performances on "The Dean Martin Show" and "The Ed Sullivan Show," as well as a rare interview on Dick Cavett's show, where Allen discusses an encounter with Groucho Marx, his nightclub days, and idol Bob Hope.

The cornerstone of the first 90-minute anthology is the 1967 episode of "The Kraft Music Hall" variety series that Allen guest-hosted, shown in its entirety. The television special includes a hallucinogenic tête-à-tête with arch-conservative William F. Buckley Jr., in which the liberal Allen faces Buckley and tells him, "I'd like to see you become president for a year -- it would cure this country of conservatism for a long time." During the face-off, when an audience member asks Allen if Israel should give back the land they took from the Arabs, Allen quips: "No. They should sell it back." The show also includes a variety of entertaining skits -- including one in which Allen portrays a spoiled Shirley Temple-esque child actor named Baby Bobby Dimples -- and musical performances by Aretha Franklin and Liza Minnelli.

Allen's wit is in top form throughout the Museum of Television and Radio's tribute. Many of his monologues are peppered with punch lines derived from Judaism, including references to interfaith marriages, Hollywood and kashrut. While tracing his family tree in one riff, Allen describes his ancestor who accepted the Ten Commandments from God to hand to Moses: "He said, 'Here, Moses -- take two tablets and call me in the morning.' Moses laughed so hard, he could hardly smite him."

While visiting the museum, be sure to catch the companion exhibit, "Al Hirschfeld Radio and Television Drawings," a display of the master cartoonist's original pen-and-ink illustrations.

Part 1 of "Woody Allen's Television Days" continues through Feb. 18. Part 2 runs from Feb. 19 to Mar. 21. For more information, call Museum of Television and Radio at (310) 786-1000.

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