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FW: ANB - Bio of the Day [Alabama native Mel Allen]

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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi..aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: biod-request@www.anb.org [mailto:biod-request@www.anb.org] Sent: Tuesday, August 27, 2002 1:00 AM To: ANB bioday
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      From: biod-request@... [mailto:biod-request@...]
      Sent: Tuesday, August 27, 2002 1:00 AM
      To: ANB bioday mailing list
      Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day

      American National Biography Online
      [ illustration ]
      Mel Allen, 1955.
      Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112027).

      Allen, Mel (14 Feb. 1913-16 June 1996), sportscaster, was born
      Melvin Allen Israel in Birmingham, Alabama, the eldest child
      of Julius Israel and Anna Leib Israel. His parents were Russian
      immigrants who made their home in the small town of Johns, outside
      Birmingham. Julius Israel ran a general store in Johns and later
      sold women's apparel to support his family, which included Melvin's
      younger brother and sister. The elder Israel moved his family
      to various small towns in Alabama and to Greensboro, North Carolina,
      while he pursued his selling career; by Melvin's early teens
      the family had settled in Birmingham.

      Melvin Israel showed an early aptitude for sports as well as
      academic achievement. At Phillips High School in Birmingham he
      earned letters in basketball and football as well as baseball,
      which he had played since the age of nine. He graduated from
      high school at age fifteen, in 1928, and that fall entered the
      University of Alabama. In college he continued to play all three
      sports until his junior year, when he began writing a sports
      column for the school newspaper. Melvin Israel received a B.A.
      degree in political science in 1932 and went on to the University
      of Alabama School of Law, from which he graduated four years
      later. To support himself during his eight years at the university,
      he worked for a while as a clerk in a shoe store. As a graduate
      student he received a fellowship to teach speech, a subject in
      which he showed exceptional aptitude. Because of his skills he
      was appointed manager of the campus public address system, but
      at this point he was still intent on becoming a lawyer.

      Melvin Israel's future career as a sportscaster was initiated
      in the fall of 1935, when Alabama's football coach asked him
      to give play-by-play details of a Crimson Tide game over the
      stadium loudspeakers. He was soon hired to do the same thing
      for other Alabama games on a Birmingham radio station. He went
      on to graduate from law school in 1936 and passed the Alabama
      bar exam that summer. Meanwhile, his distinctive voice and manner
      on his football broadcasts had attracted favorable attention
      from executives of the Columbia Broadcasting System, and in December
      1936, during a visit with friends in New York City, he auditioned
      at CBS. He was immediately offered a job, which he accepted,
      as an announcer in New York. Although Melvin Israel could probably
      have earned a more than respectable living as a lawyer, the fact
      that the country was suffering through the darkest days of the
      Great Depression undoubtedly influenced his decision to go into
      broadcasting. He began work in January 1937, assuming the on-air
      name of Mel Allen. Six years later he made Mel Allen his legal
      name when he joined the army.

      For more than two and a half years Mel Allen worked as a disk
      jockey and newscaster for CBS Radio in New York. His debut as
      a sportscaster for the network occurred in the summer of 1939,
      when he was asked at the last minute to cover a major boat race,
      the Vanderbilt Cup, off Long Island, broadcasting from an airplane.
      Such aerial coverage was then a novelty, initiated days earlier
      by the major CBS rival, the National Broadcasting Company. Although
      nervous about plane travel--he remained afraid of flying throughout
      his life--Allen ad-libbed for more than an hour, reporting on
      the progress of the yachts as well as tennis matches he could
      see from the air. The broadcast was a huge success, and Allen
      was launched on his lifetime career as a sportscaster. He began
      doing play-by-play broadcasts of major league baseball games
      that same year, and soon he was also broadcasting basketball
      games played at Madison Square Garden. By 1941 he had become
      a regular sportscaster of both Yankee and Giant baseball games
      on the CBS network, with an annual income of $30,000.

      In 1943, as U.S. troops fought overseas in World War II, Allen
      enlisted in the army as a private. By this time he had broadcast
      three World Series games for CBS and had earned a national following
      as a sportscaster. For two years Allen served in the infantry
      in Europe, achieving the rank of staff sergeant. Toward the end
      of the war, in early 1945, he was reassigned to the Armed Forces
      Radio Service, where he worked as an announcer on the program Army Hour.

      In 1946 Allen left the army and returned to New York, where
      he was hired by the Yankees as their radio "voice." Under the
      terms of his contract, he became the game announcer over CBS
      radio station WINS-AM, and his play-by-play coverage was carried
      throughout the United States. During the next eighteen years
      Allen became known as the "Golden Voice of the Yankees." He covered
      not only all Yankee games but also All-Star games and the World
      Series. Allen's affable and exuberant personality and his muted
      southern accent were an irresistible draw for millions of listeners,
      who heard him open every broadcast with a friendly "Hello, everybody,
      this is Mel Allen!" His often repeated exclamation, "How about
      that!," first used after an injured Joe DiMaggio hit a home run
      in a 1949 game, became a national slogan, and his enthusiastic
      on-air promotion of Ballantine Ale and White Owl cigars endeared
      him to his broadcast sponsors. Several famous players earned
      their nicknames courtesy of Allen, including "Joltin' Joe" DiMaggio
      and Tommy "Old Reliable" Henrich. Allen was in the radio booth
      for many memorable moments in Yankee history, including the moving
      farewells of Lou Gehrig in 1939 and Babe Ruth in 1948, and the
      celebrated hitting streak of DiMaggio in 1941. In the course
      of his career he trained several other sportscasters who became
      nationally known and with whom he sometimes shared the microphone,
      including Red Barber and Phil Rizzuto.

      When the Yankees began televised coverage of their games in
      the 1950s, Allen also appeared on TV broadcasts as a commentator
      and increasingly as the game announcer. However, in the 1964
      World Series between the Yankees and the Cardinals, he was abruptly
      replaced by Phil Rizzuto, and when the series ended he was fired
      altogether. Allen was stunned by this action, which has never
      been fully explained. According to some sources, he was dismissed
      at the behest of one broadcast sponsor, Ballantine, in an attempt
      to cut costs; there were also rumors that his garrulous style
      had worn thin among Ballantine management.

      Allen was to spend most of the next thirteen years away from
      broadcasting, an interval that included only one on-air stint--as
      an announcer for the Cleveland Indians during the 1968 season.
      His long absence from the airwaves finally ended nearly a decade
      later, in 1977, when he became the host of the syndicated TV
      show "This Week in Baseball." A year later, in 1978, the new
      Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, hired Allen as the sportscaster
      for the team's games on cable TV's SportsChannel, and he remained
      at that post for eight seasons. Allen's affiliation with "This
      Week in Baseball" continued until his death.

      In 1978 Mel Allen, along with Red Barber, was the first inductee
      into the newly founded broadcasting wing of the Baseball Hall
      of Fame. Allen, who never married, lived for many years in Greenwich,
      Connecticut, and had shared his home with his sister since 1977.
      He died at his home.


      For biographical information on Mel Allen, see H. Horn, "Baseball's
      Babbling Brook," Sports Illustrated, 9 July 1962, pp. 54-58ff;
      B. Davidson, "Mel Allen: Baseball's Most Controversial Voice,"
      Look, 27 Sept. 1960, pp. 97-98ff; "Allen, Mel," in Current Biography
      Yearbook for 1950 and 1996; and Who's Who in America, vol. 32,
      1963-1964. For a posthumous assessment of his career, see R.
      B. Cramer, "Mel Allen," New York Times Magazine, 29 Dec. 1996,
      p. 20. An obituary appears in the New York Times, 17 June 1996.

      Ann T. Keene

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      Ann T. Keene. "Allen, Mel";
      American National Biography Online June 2000 Update.
      Access Date:
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