Benjy Stone, the narrator, tells of the summer (in his "favorite year" of 1954) he met his idol, swashbuckling actor Alan Swann. In the early days of television, Benjy works as a junior comedy writer for a variety show called ''Comedy Cavalcade'' starring Stan "King" Kaiser broadcast live from the NBC studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. As a special upcoming guest, they get the still-famous Alan, who is largely washed up. However, when he shows up, they realize that he is a roaring drunk. Stan is ready to dump him, until Benjy intervenes and promises to keep him sober during the week leading up to the show.