On November 16, 2019, the Lone Star Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences inducted Allen Morris into the Gold Circle of NATAS. The Gold Circle is a lifetime achievement award honoring people who have been working in the television industry for fifty years or more. I was there to witness it, as I have been for most of the major events in his life. He is my twin brother. In fact, it was I who gave him his first push into world. I was tired of having his feet in my face. I was pleased to be asked to write about his career because it provides an opportunity for me to brag a little about my brother. Who better since I was there when it all began?
Allen always loved television. He would get up early in the morning and sit in front of the TV staring at the test pattern for hours. Once it signed on, one of our favorite shows was Howdy Doody. There were a lot of puppets on television in the late fifties and early sixties. Art Carney from the Honeymooners hosted Peter and the Wolf, narrating as puppets acted out the story set to Sergei Prokofiev’s musical score. When he was five, he received a marionette for Christmas, the first of many he would eventually collect.
We were probably in the third grade when Allen convinced me to enter a talent show with him. Our parents received a phone call from Jane Carson, the owner of Story Book Playhouse dance school for children, who had seen us perform and was calling to ask our parents if we might be available to perform at children’s parties. That is when we entered show business as professionals. We were paid two dollars each for every fifteen minutes that we performed. Our father had business cards printed that read: Allen’s Puppets and Marionettes, Available for Children’s Parties. Notice anything missing from that card? I did.
The summer after eighth grade, our family moved to Lufkin in deep East Texas. At the start of our freshman year, Allen and I were hired to provide voices and operate puppets on Through Magic Doorways. That was the beginning of his television career. Of course, I was the one who appeared on camera dressed up like a clown. But Allen is the one who got a job working at KTRE-TV 9, shooting and editing news film, making local television commercials, directing live news broadcasts by the time he was seventeen and obtaining his FirstClass FCC Broadcast Engineering license.
As a college student, Allen produced an hour-long special featuring music and theatre students from Stephen F. Austin State University entitled A Journey Through Christmas. Once again, I came to his aid and bailed him out when he was having trouble getting anyone to appear on his little show. It was his first attempt at producing a long-format entertainment show and it was aired for two years consecutively.
After graduating, Allen was hired at KDOG-TV in Houston. There, he edited national television commercials for Ford, Ultrabrite Toothpaste, and others. The first time he won a national award, a Clio, was for a commercial he edited back then. I know it sounds shallow, which is why I point this out; Allen likes winning awards.
In his second year with KDOG, he became the producer of the all-night show, Paws for the Night, hosted by radio personality Roger Gray, and an earlymorning children’s program entitled #26 Morning Place. Both were live programs, featuring local talent. Allen used the programs to create acting opportunities for theatre students from the University of Houston. Brett Cullen was among those students who worked on the comedy skits for Paws for the Night, notably playing Hans Trio in a spoof of Star Wars. Cullen went on to a successful career in Hollywood. Allen commented further:
“In addition to giving young actors and musicians an opportunity to perform, we hosted many celebrities on that late-night show. Carol Channing, Bob Crane, Sammy Davis, Jr., Phyllis Diller, Robert Mitchum, Joan Rivers, Cesar Romero, Sarah Vaughan, and others. Frequently, I had the opportunity to direct some of our show’s guests in public service announcements for local nonprofits. I found most of them to be regular people and fun to work with. I remember an incident with Mickey Rooney. We did a take, and I was mesmerized watching him. When he finished the line, he stood there looking at the camera and then called me over. Taking me aside, where the crew could not hear him, he said, ‘Look, you’re really a good director, but don’t let me intimidate you. I’m not moving until you say CUT. Now, act like you’re telling me how to say the line and we’ll start over.’ We stood there for a moment talking, as if I was giving him direction, and then I went back to stand by the camera, and he went to his mark on the set and we did another take. ‘Cut!’ ‘Was that alright?’ Mickey asked. ‘Actually, I need one more take, a little faster. You were three seconds long.’ ‘Yes, sir.’ He did another take, which was perfect, and I yelled ‘CUT! Perfect. Thank you.’ As he left the set, he shook hands with everyone on the crew, and as he was leaving the studio he turned around, and in a loud voice said, ‘Guys, pay attention to this kid. He’s going places.’ His graciousness and professionalism have stayed with me throughout my career.”
In 1977, Allen co-wrote, produced and acted in a pilot for a situation comedy, They’d Hang You in Nashville, based on the play by a college classmate, William Gleason. He managed to get an appointment with Grant Tinker (at the time, Mary Tyler Moore’s husband) at MTM to show this project. Tinker advised him to throw it in the Los Angeles River on his way out of town. But when Tinker found out Allen had appointments with producers all over town, he told him to go to those and then report back to him. At CBS, Allen met Joan Rivers in the elevator.
“We were alone and I asked what floor she needed, and we were going to the same floor. On the ride up she said, ‘You recognize me, don’t you?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Do you want an autograph’ she asked. ‘No, thank you.’
We both got off the elevator and immediately, the receptionist said, ‘They’re waiting for you Miss Rivers.’ She buzzed the gate and Joan started through as the receptionist asked who I was there to see. I told her I had a four o’clock meeting with Andy Cohen in comedy development. Overhearing me, Joan turned around and said, ‘He’s with me!’ She pulled me through the gate, talking rapidly, ‘I’m not supposed to know about it, but they’re having a surprise party for me in Andy’s office because I’m signing a contract with CBS this afternoon. I’m sure he has forgotten you have an appointment. Why are you meeting with
Andy?’ ‘I have a pilot of a sitcom to show him.’ ‘Really? What’s your name? Where are you from?’ ‘Allen Morris from Houston.’ ‘Very nice to meet you.’ And she extended her hand for me to shake it.
By then, we were at Andy’s office. I opened the door for her and as she stepped in, the crowd shouted ‘Surprise!’ I don’t know who they thought I was as we walked in together. I can only assume everyone thought I might be her boytoy. I joined the party and introduced myself politely and sipped on the glass of champagne someone kept refilling. After about an hour, Andy Cohen walked up to me and asked who I was. Joan then spoke up. ‘This is Allen Morris from Houston. He’s your four o’clock appointment. He’s here to show you this fantastic sitcom pilot he produced.’ ‘Well, let’s take a look at it,’ Cohen said. Flashing back to the bad experience in Tinker’s office, I said, ‘I hate to interrupt the party. Why don’t I leave everything with you, and when you get a chance, take a look at it and give me a call.’ ‘Alright, I will.’ And with that, I said goodbye and thanked my host and told Joan congratulations. As I left, she winked at me.
Flash forward one year later. Joan was a guest on my all-night show promoting ‘Rabbit Test,’ a movie she directed. We pretaped an interview in the middle of the day. When the interview was completed, as I was escorting her to the lobby, she stopped
and asked, ‘What happened with Cohen?’ ‘You remember that?’ ‘Of course I do. What happened?’ ‘He returned my tape and script with a polite rejection letter saying it was not quite right for CBS.’ ‘He can be a real jerk. It’s a tough business, believe me. Thanks for having me on your show.’ Then she handed me her card and said, ‘Keep in touch.’”
During the 1979-81 baseball seasons, Allen was under contract to Metromedia, traveling with the Astros producing their out-of-town baseball games for television. Our dad was proud for him to be working with a professional baseball team and would mention it to his friends often. Allen’s friend Frank Melton was managing KLTV in Tyler at that time and asked Allen to move to Tyler and manage the production department when he was not on the road with the Astros.
“On the road, Larry Dierker, the former pitcher who was doing the color announcing on the games, and I became friends. He and I began working on an idea for a baseball movie. When I moved to Tyler, I met Gary Hagman, an attorney who happened to be Larry Hagman’s brother. Hagman had just completed the second season of the hit show ‘Dallas.’ At end of the ‘79 season, the Astros were in their first divisional playoff game against the Dodgers. I had a brainstorm to invite Larry Hagman to watch the game from the broadcast booth, which would give Dierker and I the opportunity to pitch our movie idea. After the game (the Astros lost, by the way), we drove out to Hagman’s house in Malibu for dinner. We were sitting in a therapeutic hot tub designed by Hagman’s wife, Maj, drinking cocktails and discussing the movie idea, when we were joined by Joel Grey. When she was ready to serve dinner, Maj brought us each a bathrobe. Dierker and I were the only ones wearing swim trunks, and as we emerged from the water, Joel cracked, “You Texas boys are the modest type!’
I reconnected with Larry Hagman in 1982 when he hosted a gala at the Los Colinas movie studios. I was called in to direct a television version of a Broadway-bound musical called ‘Movie Star.’ One of the stars was Brad Maule, who would later play Dr. Tony Jones on ‘General Hospital.’ I knew Brad from SFA in the early 70s. The crew was quite impressed when Hagman walked over and spoke to me like we were long-lost friends (so was I).
In 1984, Allen joined The Renard Group Advertising Agency as Executive Vice President and Creative Director. At the same time, he began Fox Group Productions, producing the Garner Ted Armstrong Show, a weekly evangelistic television program shown in 75 markets across the United States and Canada. The company also developed and syndicated, Young Country, a weekly country music program shot live on locations ranging from Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth to the Oil Palace in Tyler.
“In 1985, I made a film called ‘Managing the Future’ sponsored by Frito-Lay. I called Orson Welles about narrating it and he asked me to send him the script via FedEx. While I was on location in Arizona shooting, my wife got a phone call. ‘May I speak with Allen Morris.’ ‘He’s out of town. May I take a message.’ ‘Yes, tell him I’ll do the film.’ ‘And to whom am I speaking?’ ‘This is Orson Welles.’ ‘Yeah, right. And this is Rita Hayworth.’ ’No, really, I am Orson Welles’ ‘Of course you are. How do you spell that?’ ‘O-R-S-O-N-W-E-L-L-E-S’ ‘I’ll give him the message.’”
His career has afforded Allen the opportunity to work all over the world. He has produced projects in Europe, the Middle East and South America. On location in Egypt in 1986, Allen produced and directed a documentary for the Texas Endowment for Humanities, Alexandria: Monument to Civilization. As they chronicled the influence of the ancient city of Alexandria on the cultural development of western civilization, Allen and crew received unprecedented access to archaeological sites throughout the country. During the Gulf War, he and his crew traveled to Israel, coming back with the first American interview in which Yitzhak Rabin said he would consider a “land for peace” initiative. They conducted interviews with both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, illustrating a common theme in Allen’s career: bringing back and giving more than is expected. Yet, through all this globe-trotting, not once has he invited me to go along on one of those trips. Usually, I don’t even get a postcard!
In 1998, Allen and two colleagues founded Belay Media Solutions. Belay Media coproduced a fundraising event designed to benefit the Houston victims of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The production included a short feature, One Houston United: The Night the Rains Came, that was ultimately nominated for a national Emmy Award in 2003. Allen’s wife Melinda asked if they were going to the ceremony and Allen said, “No. I’ll probably lose.” To which Melinda replied, “Being nominated is quite an honor. You should go. It may be the only time you ever get this honor!” She talked him into attending the presentation in New York, and lo and behold, his name was called. He made a fine acceptance speech; however, he never mentioned his wife…oops!
Since 2001, my brother has produced a number of fine documentaries that have received excellent reviews, won awards and have been showcased at several of the most prestigious film festivals. Among them are An American Rhapsody, a visual history of the United States set to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” performed by Leonard Bernstein; One Man Four Lives, about Holocaust survivor William J. Morgan who adopted different identities to escape the Nazis; and People Who Make a Difference: Dr. Emil J Freireich, a film about the man who helped develop chemotherapy and who discovered the cure for childhood leukemia. Allen is committed to telling stories that make an impact on other people’s lives. During his career, Allen’s work has received recognition from the Addy Awards, the American Marketing Awards, the Associated Press, the Business Communicators Awards, the Clio Awards, the Indie Fest. The Los Angeles Short Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the Reel Award, the Telly Awards, the USA Film Festival, five Emmy Awards, and many others.
Allen currently serves as the First Vice President on the board for the Lone Star Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and as a National Trustee for NATAS. He also served four years as the Co-chair for the Visual Communications Curriculum Board for the Lone Star College System. Throughout his career, Allen has maintained a commitment to community service, creating films and videos that generated over $250 million for various community organizations. Once again, bringing back more than expected. I’ll say this for my twin brother, when he gets involved with a project, he gets involved all the way
A few years ago, Allen fell down the stairs of his house in Houston. He is just as clumsy now as he was when he was a kid. Maybe more so, but apparently due to newly diagnosed medical issues. Anyway, he and Melinda moved back to Tyler in 2011. He started working as creative director for TYLER TODAY Magazine and still handles a few of his out-of-town clients.
“I saw Larry Hagman again in 2012 when he and Linda Gray were doing the re-boot of ‘Dallas.’ We were scheduled for a twenty-minute interview for TYLER TODAY that turned into a two-hour gabfest as he told Linda stories about the playoff game and the dinner at his Malibu home.”
When NATAS honored Allen with induction into the Gold Circle last November, he was able to correct that mistake he made at the Emmy Awards in 2003. When he got to the podium to make his acceptance speech, he explained to the audience about his error of not acknowledging his wife at the Emmy Awards all those years ago. Then, he looked at Melinda and said, “Nina, you have been part of my life for more than half of the fifty years we celebrate tonight. Without you, I have no career. I love you.”
My sister-in-law and I were both moved to tears. He made up for his earlier “oops.” I am glad to be the one to share a few highlights from Allen’s career and the journey that began more than fifty years ago.