OlMMONS & IIWS InPrefabricated Self-Irony & Pneumatic PraisenWoody Allen: Side Effects; RandomnHouse; New York.nJerome Charyn: Darlin’Bill: ALovenStory of the Wild West; ArbornHouse; New York.nby Gary S. VasilashnWo ‘oody Allen is a very engagingncharacter. I suspect that upon meetingnhim for the first time, even the mostnardent admirer wouldn’t address him asnMr. Allen, but, rather, knowingly nudgenhim in the ribs with an elbow and say,n”How’s it going, Woody.^” A broad winknwould accompany the words. I can see itnnow: Woody responds with a wan smilenand wonders if he has any broken ribs. Ifnthe greeter happens to be a female (and ifnso, you can bet that she’s good-looking inna kooky sort of way), Woody contemplatesnher ribs. The scene fades as thencampy couple wander off in search ofnbagels, peanut butter and Perrier. Hentrips on a shoelace danghng from hisnleft sneaker.nA personality that comes to mind inncontrast —a man who is also accomplishednin many fields while still beingnessentially a comedian—is Steve Allen.nThere seem to be two Steve Aliens: Mr.nAllen and Steverino. The former is ansinger(?)/songwriter (“This could benthe start of something big . . .”), thenwriter/performer of public television’sn”Meeting of the Minds,” and the authornof some 20-odd books, ranging from collectionsnof short stories to a recently publishednone about mainland China (wherenhis wife, Jayne Meadows, was born).nThis can be stacked up against Woodynthe playwright/actor/director/screenplaynwriter, contributor to The NewnYorker, Kenyan Review and The NewnMr. Vasilash is associate editor 0/ManufacturingnEngineering in Detroit, andnone of his pieces for that journal wasnrecently translated into Chinese.n6nChronicles of CulturenRepublic (where 14 of the 16 pieces innSide Effects originally appeared), musiciannand who knows what else.nEven though Mr. Steve Allen comesnoff like a pompous ass and/or idiot innsome of his (what 1 suspect are) noncomedicnworks, such as A Letter to anConservative (and I take that characterizationnback if they really are comic butnhe’s just not telling us), I don’t thinknone would nudge him in the ribs and say,n”Aw, come on, Steve.” With Woody,nhowever, when he gets too serious (e.g.nhis films Interiors and Stardust Memories),nit seems that he could be broughtnback down to earth with such a friendlynpoke. And so could Steverino, the Mr.nHyde of Mr. Allen, the comedian whontells adequate jokes, then guffaws sonstrenuously that the audience can’t helpnbut laugh at (but seemingly with) someonenwho finds his own utterances sonscreamingly funny. Of course, a merenpoke couldn’t get through to Steverino;na poleax would be more effective.nSteve Allen is one-half motley, onehalfngray flannel. Woody Allen appearsnto have been cut from whole cloth: sackcloth,nto be exact. However, sewn withninvisible thread is a silk lining.nWoody Allen has nurtured and developednhis character in many of his films.nIn Take the Money and Run he portraysna combination schlemiel/schlimazel, anbungling redhead with freckles that justncan’t seem to make it as a criminal—ornanything else. When he gets to Play ItnAgain, Sam, the quintessential Woodynnnemerges in the character Allan Felix.nFelix is a film buff who has and does allnof the “right” things, who should, undernnormal circumstances, “make it.” Butnhe just falls short in his own eyes, andneven the apparition of Humphrey Bogartnin a Casablanca trenchcoat can’t get thenself-disparaging Hamlet to go the finalnmillimeters. Success seems to be annillusion.nWhen Woody does make it, such as innAnnie Hall and Manhattan, the viewernknows that something is wrong. Woodyncan’t let them down. And, indeed, henshows that the Gods, Fate, or Whoevernhave it in for him and will come downnon him with the force of a stage deusnex machina when the gears on the elevatingnmechanism suddenly fail and gravityntakes over. Woody makes something of anmodern-day Pilgrim’s Progress as henplods through the streets, parties andnbedrooms of New York City and ancillarynchic spots, tempted from all sidesnby Sex, Drugs and other modern allurements.nThis modern pilgrim’s attitudentoward them is, “Hey, I’m a regularnguy,” so he gives in with a shrug. Afternall, it’s not every day that a Diane Keatonnmakes eyes at someone like him. Manynmen—except those resembling RobertnRedford or Warren Beatty (a qualificationnthat turns the adjective to most)—ncan identify with Woody, just as theyncould sympathize with the skinny guy innthe Charles Atlas ads. Woody is made annoffer he could refuse, but it’s so extraordinaryn(after all, just look at him, thennlook at her) that he can’t bring himself tondo it. It’s only a matter of time until thencam-shaped wheel of fortune turns andnstarts on its long downward motion; thenbrief lobe of success moves out fromnunder him and he’s dumped back on thenroad, alone. Woody Allen has made rejectionnan art form.nWoody is himself a living manifestationnof that art form. The quips thatnare reported to have come from the lipsn