Connie Allen was the “senior” member of WAVY -TV’s famous THREE MUSKETEERS: Connie, reporter DEREK ROSE and me. What? You, uh, haven’t heard of us? Well, just about EVERYBODY outside our tight circle hadn’t either. Let me explain. We shared something special- our birthday: August 26th. Yeah, it’s the craziest thing. And, DEREK and I even attended the same college in Baltimore. But I digress.
The second thing we shared is even more personal than that. Moisturizer. PLEASE let me explain: I was on the set, just seconds away from the start of recording the public affairs’ show BOTTOM LINE, when executive producer, CONNIE ALLEN, stopped everything. “Hey Director, graphics operator, audio technician, camera, and master control room operators – STOP THE SHOW.” The problem? CONNIE could see, through the 12″ monitor in the control room, that my hands were nearly WHITE- from ASH. Let me repeat: CONNIE ALLEN stopped the show – because my hands were “ashy.” Now, for an African American child from “back in the day” ashy skin was a NO-NO! I guess it implied that you did not bathe. My mother would not allow me to be caught DEAD in the street – with ashy- ANYTHING- face, hands, legs, any exposed skin. Where’s
the VASELINE? SPLAT! I guess ashy skin reflected badly on a mother’s parenting skills. For me? Cold air and blowing vents dry me out, big time. And, in the WAVY house, CONNIE was like my TV mom- just looking out for me. She was NOT going to allow me or DEREK, or AVA HURDLE, on the air with noticeably ashy skin. Thank you, Connie.
Speaking of the BOTTOM LINE, that public affairs sit-down-with-guest-in-studio-interview show- started back around 1980. It aired every week, then, once a month. I hosted it in 1980-81, then again in the early 90′s, until Connie retired. I must have recorded 300 shows under Connie’s direction. The point I want to make is that-as executive producer and community affairs director, Connie had to know what you, the viewer, wanted and needed to see. She hosted forums, attended community meetings, banquets, luncheons, religious services, you name it. After that input, she booked guests to talk about needs and concerns. She pulled in HUNDREDS of politicians, social and civic leaders, clergy, educators, and “just plainfolk” to address community concerns. It seemed, a frequent topic was depression, 3 or 4 times a year. Connie, for some reason, had a special sensitivity to the issue. Fact is, she knew people suffering from depressions need help - and we may be the catalyst for it.
Connie also initiated a show aimed at children. We called it KID TALK. I, along with Kerri Furey, hosted. What great fun it was. For each show, Connie and her staff arranged for a school to bring about 20 children for the studio audience. An adult guest also added some expertise. I encouraged the children talked about whatever was on their minds. But before each taping, CONNIE, the mother, would read them the riot act: “Don’t swing your feet and bang the boxes your sitting on! Don’t talk out of turn, Raise your hands!” Over the several year run of KID TALK, we had HUNDREDS(if not THOUSANDS) of children- in our “house”- representing every school district in our viewing area. For one week (plus reruns) children and their schools- were SPECIAL! It was great to later hear from parents, teachers and children, who were excited about being on the show. They just wanted to say to Connie: Thank you!”
Connie reached out to children in another key way with a program called YOUNG ACHIEVER. She encouraged you to nominate an outstanding child for a very public award. And the child usually was NOT a star athlete. Not only would the student get to tell their story, on air, some won scholarships through the Y-A program. Hundreds of children, families and communities were touched.
If I recall correctly, Connie was never a “guest” on any of these shows or segments. If you ever saw Connie ON TV, it was probably a “mistake” -or, in a crowd shot. She was content to shine the spotlight on others, stay in the background, and just get the job done. The job was to help that leader or just-plain-folk “get the word out,” fill a community need, offer a helping hand, or receive a pat on the back-thank you for your service.
Hey Connie, here’s your pat on the back, your bouquet of flowers, your Academy Award. Thank YOU, for the the great shows, the stimulating guests, the Young, Achieving, Child stars. And, let me not forget: the birthday phone calls and cards, and most important of all, the moisturizer.
Through all the stress and strife, the headaches and hard work, the happy times and sad, You made a difference.
And that’s the Bottom Line.