For Seniors : Allen and Meadows 'Ad-Lib' Their Way to 40 Years Together

She's the daughter of Episcopalian missionaries. He's the son of alcoholics. She's a Republican. He's a Democrat. She's dramatic. He's droll. They're both unique. Married 40 years, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows talk about their enduring relationship and a lot more.

"Marriage is an ad-lib," says Steve. "It's a wonder (that) any marriage can be a success."

But if success can be measured by longevity, their marriage is decidedly a hit. Adds Steve: "We'll be married after death."

To watch them together at home is to observe the dynamics and drama of a marriage in motion. A brown folder is missing; in it is the text of an article about the couple that Jayne is supposed to proofread. Steve gently reminds her of a noon deadline--minutes away--that must be met or the story gets printed mistakes and all. She is caught up retelling the story of how they first met in New York, she mending from a broken romance and he still embroiled in an unhappy marriage.

"It wasn't love at first sight," she says, "but I found him terribly attractive."

She's probably told the story scores of times, but when Jayne Meadows tells a story it's as if it happened yesterday and you're the first one to hear the details. A trait he loves.

Steve leaves the room and, not missing a beat, she says, "He's disappeared and will probably finish half a book by the time he returns." And then she talks about how she's exactly like her mother and never knew it. How her mother sang instead of talked, and how she has her mother's tendency to tell people what to do, but in a friendly way. For example, she says, "Darling, how good to see you. You must definitely consider removing that dark mole on the side of your nose."

He returns, sans brown folder, and mentions the deadline again. Was it love at first sight for him? "No, she was just a very pretty woman. Vivacious. I was in a confused emotional state then, so my mind is hazy about that first meeting. She did make a big impression."

From their first date it was clear this could be the start of something. She remembers exactly what he said to her: "Other men took you to the Stork Club, I took you to the planetarium."

After another reminder about the folder, he talks about how they make up after arguing. "When there's a flare-up, I withdraw, and after Jayne's calmer I'm available for making up. I'm always grateful for peace."

"It's a scar from his childhood," she says.

She reminds that she is a redhead, with all that implies. And he relates that he is the original absent-minded professor, with a mind so crammed with data that he can't remember where his keys are. There's a library in the house lined with shelves holding black books containing the information Steve has gathered over the years for his various projects. The last book is labeled "World Law."

"Jayne is the most sensitive person I know. I can't imagine someone more sensitive who isn't locked up. It's a hopeless situation for someone on earth, since life is one damn thing after another. Jayne can't accommodate, she has a tendency to blame, whether blame is justified or not. I could be standing there innocently when a window breaks. . . ."

She interrupts with laughter.

Steve handles his emotions by creating a vehicle for them. He wrote his first of 43 books about the breakup of his first marriage, and he has written several short stories about Jayne's antics, plus a Broadway play, titled "The Wake," about growing up in a household with family members who couldn't be in the same room together for 20 minutes without wanting to kill each other.

He's also written 5,000 songs and made 40 record albums. He's starred in films, created and hosted the original "The Tonight Show" in 1953 and the critically acclaimed "Meeting of Minds" series for PBS in 1977. His resume of 45 pages reads like the creative lives of a group of people, rather than of just one man.

And Jayne--Emmy winner and four-time nominee, Broadway and film actress, and a writer herself--is accomplished in her own right.

What, then, is the common ground? Ask Jayne and she says, "Love of family, love of the arts and love of country."

Steve Allen has been described as doing so many things that he's listed on every one of the Yellow Pages. He's never bored, but if he approaches boredom he examines it like the rest of us mortals would look at an interesting problem in need of a solution.

He's never bored with Jayne.

"She's formidable and entertaining. I think if she was just a bossy, domineering type, I wouldn't like her, but she is the mother to the whole world and I love that about her," he said.

He writes poems to her. This from Valentine's Day, 1980:

Most men are thankful if their love should last

But I'm most fortunate because mine grows,

Unlike the brief, sweet beauty of the rose.

There is a permanence to you, my dear

Who are more precious, Valentine, with each new year.

Meadows, 68, and Allen, 73, will be masters of ceremonies Wednesday for a UCLA Center on Aging event titled, "Building Relationships That Last a Lifetime." For more information: (310) 312-0530.

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