In 1960, Steve Allen had an idea for a talk show in which the guests would be the great figures of history. Like, well, William Shakespeare, pictured with Allen at left. The guests would be in costume, but they could be from any historical period. What would happen, Allen wondered, if you asked Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, Galileo, and Attila the Hun to exchange ideas and converse?
According to Cecil Smith in the Los Angelees Times (writing in 1977), Allen actually previewed an idea of this concept on his real talk show in 1963. He worked and pushed for years, got a pilot filmed in 1971, but it was 1977 before his concept--Meeting of Minds, a talk show featuring the important men and women of history--become reality.
Meeting of Minds aired from 1977 to 1981 on PBS. You can read about it or get books of the scripts, videotapes, or audio recordings on this Steve Allen website.
And the shows are being redone, live on stage!
To clarify: although the series aired for four years, don't think of it as a regular TV series with 25-plus episodes per year. More like six or eight. The format was that an hour show would air, in which Steve Allen would introduce three or four famous historical characters. One character, always, would be played by Allen's wife, Janye Meadows. The following show would feature a continuation of the first: an hour of talk by these historical characters, only without the introductions. Two hours for each group; the next show would introduce a new cast. The episode list is available at imdb.
The shows were successful, but not commercial. You can buy them on DVD today, or buy collections of the scripts in book form. Meeting of Minds won an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
They were originally shot at the KCET Studios in Hollywood--and that's a subject for a long blog entry in itself. The studios on Sunset, just east of Hillhurst, have been the site of moviemaking since 1912. Monogram Pictures occupied the address in the 1930s and 1940s, turning out the Bowery Boys movies, along with films like The Hurricane (1937, directed by John Ford). Read a blurb about Monogram Studios/Allied Artists/KCET here are Seeing-Stars.com. But, I digress.
Meeting of Minds is being redone at the Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd. On the third Sunday of the month, a one-hour episode is acted out by Gary Cole and friends, using pretty much the same scripts from the original series. Tickets are only $15 if you reserve in advance.
And next month--March 21--Ed Asner returns as Karl Marx! (the original episode aired January 31, 1977, and Leon Askin played Marx.) Other characters--not cast yet--include Marie Antoinette, Sir Thomas More, and General/President Ulysses S. Grant.
The Theater is part of the Center for Inquiry, so there's another website to check out.