NAT HIKEN - Writer/Director
It was the teaming of Martha Raye with writer-director Nat Hiken that made her show the success that it was. Hiken was regarded by many as one of the best-- if not the best-- comedy writer of his time.
He first made his mark in the 1940s as chief writer for the great radio comedian Fred Allen and started working with Martha as she was beginning to periodically host the series, ALL-STAR REVUE. As their collaboration took hold, it was clear that Hiken's comic ingenuity had the effect of tempering Raye's occasional excesses as a performer. It was a good match.
Critics recognized that Hiken, and co-writer Billy Friedberg, were due a great deal of credit for the Raye show's quality. This may have contributed to Nat and Martha's eventual split; it was reported that Martha began to resent the amount of attention being paid to her show runner, and that there was increasing friction between the two. In any case, Hiken departed in 1954. The show went on for another two years, but Raye was rarely able to recapture the spark she had displayed with Hiken. Her program folded in 1956.
Nat Hiken did just fine, going over to CBS and creating one of the most loved sitcoms of all time, THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (SGT. BILKO). A few years later he did it again with another highly regarded comedy show, CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?
Even Hiken's own staff members were in awe of his abilities. In his excellent biography of Nat Hiken, KING OF THE HALF HOUR, author David Everitt said:
“When the [BILKO] writers turned in a script, Nat would read through it quickly, saying, 'Good, this is good, this is very good.' Then he would rewrite.
“'And, boy, would he rewrite...!' recalled [staff writer Terry] Ryan.
“A writer could slave over a script, from first draft to rewrite and polish and, in the end, feel quite proud of his work. Then he would visit the set and find that the script had been overhauled and-- even more dismaying-- significantly improved”
Said top comedy writer Leonard Stern: “'Nat was attuned to the show in a way you never could be, or never equal.... He was the most acute practitioner of timing and rhythms, and he had insights that had never occurred to me. I could... attempt to duplicate, but was never able to reach his inspired heights....'”
Stern added, “He had to do everything.” Sadly, Hiken's very indispensability, and attendant over-work, contributed to his premature death (along with smoking, and other poor health habits). In December 1968, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was fifty-four years old.