In this story from April 1950, actress, singer and Kukla and Ollie's best pal Fran Allison shares how she relied on faith when her life was at risk.
- Posted on Nov 19, 2013
The big crisis in my life occurred when I was just starting my career.
A girl friend, Jessie, and I were driving to Des Moines for the weekend. An accident happened; so quickly I barely recall it. There was Jessie’s mad wrestle to control the car; then I was pitched into glass, metal, noise and pain.
In a state of semi-consciousness I remember voices, a hospital and Jessie, unhurt, telling someone to call my mother back in Port City, Iowa, but not to frighten her. Then a priest came to say the last rites over me, just as I slipped into unconsciousness.
Later I remember more voices:
“She wouldn’t be able to get here in time” (meaning my mother) ... “It’s useless to operate"..."Too late to do much of anything.”
Weak as I was, somehow all this made me protest. They hadn’t even tried. Nobody was doing a thing. My doctor at home would have tried.
With a great effort I made a feeble sound and called the name of my home town doctor.
My voice startled them. Jessie then tried to tell me that she had talked to my mother, “Nan,” and that Nan was praying for me. (I learned later that my mother walked up and down the kitchen for ten hours straight praying for my recovery. Anyone who came near her was asked to join.)
The fact that I was able to moan for a doctor, while seemingly on the verge of death, brought on some quick action. It was four in the morning but the nurses immediately pulled out a doctors’ registry. They assumed that the doctor I called for was located in Des Moines.
Call it coincidence, but they located a doctor of the same name and got him on the phone: “Hello, Doctor ... one of your patients is down here at the hospital ... She’s in a bad way. Could you come out immediately?”
Fogged with sleep, the doctor couldn’t remember any patient by the name of Allison, yet he dressed and hurried down to the hospital. Of course he didn’t recognize me, but it was enough that I had called for him.
Gathering together his assistants, he went to work on my smashed face. He felt my condition was this side of hopeless. But he patched me together.
I believe to this day that if God hadn’t given me enough strength to cry out that name, I would have been left unattended to die.
When I quit the hospital, whatever beauty I had was a memory. Behind my face was recurrent pain and dread onslaughts of headaches.
Yet there was much to be grateful for. My sight had been spared. My throat was all right ... I could still sing. I could walk, hear. And I could laugh.
Perhaps it was my brush with death and my awareness of my mother’s prayers and my own–I had the feeling that God had bolstered my spirit when others had given me up.
In this period of recuperation, of constant headache and pain, “Nan’s” (as everyone called mother) remarkable spirit and sense of humor were powerful therapies.
Nan herself was the perfect example of a woman whose faith had triumphed over unbelievable obstacles. When I was five, my father had been felled with paralysis, so our family had to move in with his parents.
While caring for him, Mother contracted tuberculosis. Eventually she was ordered to a sanitarium. It is said that Mother prayed herself well. Cured, she came back to her husband and children, when recovery had been considered impossible.
After 27 years of ill health, my father had passed away. Nan was not bitter. It was her courage that made me realize how necessary it is to fight hard for life.
Certainly every time I am discouraged or consider myself overworked, I remember her tireless spirit and her great faith. My mother taught me by example how much power there was in prayer.
Despite a deep self-conscious feeling about my scarred face, I decided to go on with my career. And since nobody saw you in radio, I felt secure in this field. Even before the accident, I was on the air in Chicago at the wonderful (to me) salary of $50 a week. I went back.
One day a man came in to demonstrate some new songs. We looked at each other, then he took out a song and sang: “You Are My Desire.” A friendship grew, ripened, developed into love.
Archie Levington and I are of different faiths, yet love, respect and understanding are the blended ingredients in our happy marriage.
My career developed and soon fan mail began to multiply. I didn’t like to meet fans because I still felt self-conscious about my face and was very shy. One man wrote many times and finally came into the radio office, so I couldn’t avoid the meeting.
We talked for a while, and he asked about the accident and insisted that I go to a famous doctor in Memphis. He made arrangements.
I went as soon as my radio season was over. After a thorough examination, the doctor sat down with me, an astounded look on his face. He told me that I had had osteomyelitis–that the bone of my nose and right eye showed its ravages–yet now there was no trace of the disease!
“Remarkable!” he cried. “There is no cure, yet you have been cured. Under what lucky star do you live?”
“The Star of Bethlehem, I guess,” I told him.
I knew it was true too!
He performed what was a series of operations–done each year (except one) on my vacation time, until not only do I look almost like my old self again but I was rid of the pressure headaches that tormented me.
The year that didn’t find me “vacationing” in Memphis was to have been the happiest year of our marriage–the coming of the blessing my husband and I wanted above everything. But our child was stillborn.
And once more I had to cling to faith–or lose it. My husband sought out the priest who had married us. And he and my mother prayed me through–and roused me again to faith.
If I had thought the battle after my accident was tough, this second blow had left me feeling numb and cold and forsaken. Only the prayers and Archie’s love helped me pull out of it.
In the past three years, my work with the creative world of Burr Tillstrom has meant much to me.
I had known Burr (and Kukla and Ollie) during the war years when we had done bond-selling shows. But since we have been together on “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” I came to know each of the Kuklapolitans and from each of them I have received a very definite something which I treasure.
We had much in common, Burr and I. We both have mothers who are as much a part of our work, our living, our lives, and our courage and faith as our hands and feet. Closer–my mother is twice as active at 74 and on-the-go as I am, and twice as important to my friends and Archie’s.
Her dates go on whether we are along or not.
Seriously–it’s a good and blessed life with work of special dearness. Success, yes–beyond what we can quite believe.
But when people wonder if my share of it will turn my head, when people tell me how pretty I am on television, I can’t very well do anything but marvel, and give thanks to God and to my mother’s prayers.
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