Sunday, 21 December 2014

No Maxwell For Christmas

Just about everyone loves the festivities of the Yuletide season, and just about everyone loves a parade. So leave it to Hollywood to combine the two, and throw in big stars at the same time.

Here’s a United Press story about the 1940 Santa Claus parade in Hollywood. Jack Benny took part but without one of his favourite props. And I imagine if Santy didn’t come home that night, he was probably having a snort or ten with Jack Barrymore.

Typical Movie Parade Despite the Cold Wind.

Hollywood, Nov. 23 (U.P.) — Christmas came to Hollywood last night on the wings of a gale which nearly removed Santa Claus’ whiskers, gave the bathing beauties goose pimples, ruined Dorothy Lamour’s hair-do, and blew pieces of palm fronds into the eyes of 300,000 celebrators.
Heralding the great day a full mouth ahead of time were brass bands and a lady with a calliope, all tooting away at “Jingle Bells.” Bob Hope traveled down Hollywood boulevard in a driverless automobile! Jack Benny rode in a bogus Maxwell towed by a horse, and John Barrymore put his arms around Santa Claus atop a three-story float, which was said to have cost $25,000.
Down Hollywood Boulevard, whose every lamp post had been covered with a tin Christmas tree, marched the welcomers of Christmas in November. Moving with them were traveling searchlights, and in front of each light was a drum majorette and her band.
Edgar Bergen rode in a car wired for sound and made wisecracks via Charlie McCarthy, while Fibber McGee and Mollie lolled on the cushions of one of the most magnificent limousines in the west. Behind this masterpiece of motordom came the employes of the Wistful Vista Finance Company, with shotguns to keep an eye on their property.
The celebrated Leo Carrillo rode his horse. Smiley Burnett, the cow-opera comic, nearly fell off his. Andy Devine also had a horse, and so did Irene Rich. And about the only star in town who wasn’t on hand was Dick Powell, who had a cold.
Bob Burns drove a six-horse team of Percherons; Gracie Allen shivered under a blanket, and Rudy Vallee was the only citizen for miles around in a dinner jacket.
Benny’s Maxwell provided the only crisis of the evening. He promised to ride in one with his trusty Rochester at the wheel, but the nearest thing his agents could find was a one-cylinder Brush, manufactured in 1907. Rochester studied its manipulation during a quick lesson in a parking lot, but Benny’s bosses said, “No sirree, Christmas or no Christmas, we aren’t going to risk damaging a valuable piece of properly like him.” So they hitched a horse to the machine and Benny rode in safety.
Behind him came Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, complete with meerschaum pipe, which he didn’t light because he said it was too strong. And then marched the angels with the pink noses and an unidentified platoon of gents in red suits and gold hats. And finally came Santa Claus himself, shouting greetings on a loudspeaker against the cold wind from the sea.
He rode upon a two-seater shay, attached by strings of electric lamps to four solid silver reindeer. The whole works was perched upon a mobile mountain of white gypsum. In the rear seat sat Santy and Barrymore in a Homburg hat; in front were Miss Lamour and Vallee. From above came imitation snow, puffed from a gold smokestack.
That ended the parade and started one of the most superb traffic jams ever devised by the hand of man. At an early hour today Mrs. Santa Claus said her husband still hadn’t come home, and anyone who thinks this sounds a little far-fetched has plenty of time to come see for himself; there’ll be more of the same every night until December 25.

Jack Benny had great Christmas shows on both radio and TV. Mel Blanc’s performance was usually the highlight. Here’s his final one from radio, broadcast December 5, 1954. The best part of this show is Bea Benaderet going crazy at the end; she never got to cut loose like this on “Petticoat Junction” or “The Flintstones.” Frank Nelson, Sheldon Leonard, Veola Vonn and Artie Auerbach made appearances as well. Click on the arrow to listen.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Critic Who Didn’t Like ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

There were three things that I thought as I watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965—that I had read some of the routines in the Peanuts strip in the paper, that the music was really odd for a cartoon and that I could read the lines better than some of those kids.

But that was all minor. I really liked the special. I was a big Peanuts fan at the time. I had put together scrapbooks of Peanuts comics I had cut out of one of the city papers. I even convinced my dad to let me use his reel-to-reel tape machine and put up a mike next to the TV speaker to record the Christmas special.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” won a Peabody, launched seemingly endless hours of Peanuts on TV, and was beloved by everyone.

Okay, not everyone.

I’ve gone back through a bunch of newspapers to see, after its debut 49 years ago, what the critics thought. And the TV columnist for the Associated Press, who had panned a Danny Thomas special in her previous column, wasn’t charmed by the animated Charlie Brown.

Cartoon Cuties Lose Some Of Charm on TV
AP TV-Radio Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Worried Charlie Brown, aggressive Schroeder, insecure Linus — all the inhabitants of the delightful, satiric comic strip by cartoonist Charles Schulz were participants in a Christmas special on CBS Thursday night.
And by some reverse magic, the moment the little pen-line characters were animated and moved off the printed page, and acquired voices, they lost most of their special, piquant charm.
Thus “A Charlie Brown Christmas” became an explicit demonstration of the sad truth that some good things are better left alone—particularly in cases when about half their charm is in the eye of the beholder and in his imagination, too.
Charlie Brown was an infinitely sadder, appealing and sympathetic little character when his admirers were able to fill out his personality with some of their own doubts and fears. Lucy’s destructive manner and bossy ways were much more deadly when the readers were able to identify her with humans of their acquaintance.

With that, the writer turned her attention to weekend pro football games on the tube for the rest of the column.

However, United Press International’s counterpart had a different opinion, though much of his column looks like it comes from transcribing the plot from a CBS news release.

‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ Gets Good Point Across
By RICK Du Brow
HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — The comic strip known as “Peanuts” staked out a claim to a major television future Thursday night on CBS-TV with a half-hour animated special about the commercialization of Christmas.
The program, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”—named after one of the chief characters in the strip—was referred to by CBS-TV as “The first of a planned series of Charlie Brown holiday specials,” and the idea of similar encores is thoroughly welcome.
In brief, Thursday night's offering tried, with humor and gentle world-weariness, to recall the real meaning of Christmas. The executive producer was Lee Mendelson, who was responsible for the network documentary “A Man Named Mays,” about Willie Mays, and the director of animation was Bill Melendez, with the production being made in cooperation with United Feature Syndicate.
The plot, so to speak, of Thursday night's half-hour is indicated as follows: “Everywhere Charlie Brown goes the shadow of commercialism and greed obscures what he knows exists somewhere, if only he can find it: The real Christmas.
Plot Thickens
“In desperation Charlie visits Lucy, the little girl ‘psychiatrist,’ who prescribes ‘involvement’ in the holiday activities and appoints him director of the neighborhood Christmas play. Thrilled by the idea of being leader of the pageant, Charlie soon finds only added disillusionment as his little friends concern themselves with pleas to Santa Claus, money-making schemes and rock ‘n’ roll carols.”
Well, you get the idea. And Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy the dog, Schroeder and the others were on hand to flesh it out And Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” did the writing, which was a very smart move.
At one point, Lucy tells “Beethoven wasn't so great. Have you ever seen his picture on bubble gum cards?” At another point, asked what she really wants for Christmas, Lucy answers: “Real estate.” And another time she notes that it's well known that Christmas is commercial, and that it is run by a big Eastern syndicate.
Needless to say, Charlie Brown finally gets his message across. But, as might be expected, that crazy-silly-wonderful dog Snoopy was the scene-stealer every time he appeared — playing the guitar, mocking Lucy or dancing like a swinger. His doghouse, by the way, was wildly decorated with all those ugly lights and blinking designs that human beings also have been known to use on their homes at Christmas time.

Within a week of the special, CBS announced it would broadcast two more Peanuts half-hours sponsored by Coca-Cola, one about baseball and the other possibly about the Great Pumpkin.

Incidentally, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” wasn’t Charles Schulz’s first go-around with the holiday season. In the December 1963 edition of Good Housekeeping, there was an “exclusive bonus book” called “Charlie Brown Christmas Stocking.” And Variety announced on October 27, 1963 that World Publishing would be out with a book called “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” conveniently available for purchase after the charming TV special aired. After all, what’s Christmas without making a buck?

Friday, 19 December 2014

Noses For Christmas

It’s Christmas-time during the Depression and the Little King decides to do something nice for the holidays by bringing home a couple of hoboes in “Pals” (1933).

They press their noses against the window of a toy store to watch a dancing toy. The gag is the funny shapes the noses make against the glass. The trio get their noses stuck and have to pull them away with a pop.

Jim Tyer gets the animation credit.

Van Beuren made cartoons starring Otto Soglow’s silent character for a little under a year before he was swept off the screen by new management at the studio.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Merry Christmas Dear Kitty (Again)

A typical Famous Studios mouse is shocked to see Santa at the window in “Mice Meeting You” (1950). The mouse shrinks and then stretches. The holly leaves in the background get in the way of the take.

Ah, but it’s not Santa at all. It’s Katnip!!! Don’t worry. Cousin Herman will come to the rescue and fill the cartoon with the spirit of the holidays. Like pouring boiling coffee down the cat’s throat. Ho! Ho! Ho!

This is the cartoon which infamously ends with Herman plugging Katnip’s tail into a wall socket and illuminating the lights strung over the seemingly-dead cat. I get all misty-eyed just thinking about that touching memory of Christmases past.

Bob Jaques, who is unimpeachable when it comes to this topic, identifies this cartoon as being made by the Tendlar-Golden-Reden-Taras unit.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The No-So-Jolly Christmas of the Second Amos Jones

Favourite Christmas specials pop up on TV year after year after year, but the idea didn’t originate in television. Annual Christmas broadcasts were a fixture on radio.

One of the most popular was on “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” where Amos touchingly interpreted The Lord’s Prayer to little Arbadella. It was heard annually beginning in 1940 and was so popular that producers decided to feature the recitation on the “Amos and Andy” TV show in 1952.

Popular the routine may have been, but the TV version of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” was a lump of coal in everyone’s stocking—CBS’s, which owned the show and put it on TV as it did most of its other radio hits; the black community, which was fed up with the dialect humour and stereotyping of characters as schemers or deadbeats; and the actors on the show themselves, who quickly became untouchable due to their association with it.

There was no possible way series creators Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll could appear on TV in character in blackface (instead they acted as consultants). So African-American actors were hired. Alvin Childress, who played the video Amos, explained to Ebony magazine in October 1961 that he refused to dress in loud, ratty clothes and that Gosden, who originated the role in 1927, ended up being tossed off the set for good. Gosden complained Childress’ co-star, Spencer Williams, wasn’t reading his lines in a minstrel-sy dialect like Amos and Andy would. Williams snapped that he ought to know how black people talked because he had been one all his life.

Childress and Williams’ changes weren’t enough. The name “Amos ‘n’ Andy” carried too much racial baggage. Childress related the irony to Ebony, no doubt with some frustration, that a Los Angeles school teacher told him “I likes the Amos ‘n’ Andy show, but I don’t like the dialect you uses.” Pressure on sponsors resulted in the last show being filmed in November 1954, and it was tough for Childress to find acting work. Residuals? What actor in the early ‘50s thought of reruns? The cast got them for only 21 episodes, nothing more, as the shows kept re-running around the world. Childress had to spend one Christmas toiling in a post office instead of reading to an actress playing Arbadella.

Here’s a syndicated newspaper column published in the Troy Times-Record of November 13, 1964 about his post-Amos tribulations.

“Amos” Of “Amos ‘N’ Andy” To Appear On “Perry Mason”

Hollywood—Among the cast of characters in next week's “Perry Mason” show is one billed “A Janitor.” His name is Alvin Childress, and if he has a familiar look it's because he portrayed Amos Jones in the popular “Amos ‘n’ Andy” TV series.
The series still is widely syndicated on TV stations here and abroad by CBS, but it is more than 10 years since the 68 half-hour episodes were filmed, and acting jobs for Childress since then have been few and far between.
Three years ago he found his first steady employment in the Los Angeles County Assessor's office, and last June he transferred into the County Civil Service Commission's test division.
When acting jobs were particularly scarce following the windup of production on “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” Childress tried everything—including parking cars for a while at the Beverly Hills Luau restaurant.
“I wanted to stay in California, if I could make a living, because I preferred it to New York,” he says.
Childress was first of the three lead characters to be hired for a TV version of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” by James Fonda, a CBS producer at the time, who had gone through three years and 800 auditions in his search.
CBS had bought the rights from Charles Correll (Amos) and Freeman Gosden (Andy) [sic], but they retained casting control over the TV series. “Mr. Correll and Mr. Gosden were not easy to please,” Childress recalls. “I don't think they ever got over not being able to do the TV show themselves.”
Childress helped producer Fonda find Tim Moore and Spencer Williams for the roles of Kingfish and Andy, respectively. Tim died a few years after the series was completed. Spencer has retired and lives here.
Fonda is now producer of the “Hazel” TV series. Childress says he has not heard from him since the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” days. It was the “Hazel” series, ironically, which was singled out by one of the Negro groups not long ago as a test case to get more Negroes employed in TV. The beef was squared, more or less, when Fonda was given a Negro assistant.
On the subject of more integration for TV, Childress fears that the pressure mounted by the National Assn. for Advancement of Colored People and others didn't gain for the Negro what they intended to gain.
“Now writers and directors in TV simply duck the problem by putting the blame on the NAACP,” Childress says.
He was amazed that the “Perry Mason” people would call on him or any other Negro to play the role of a janitor. Parts for menials created the stereotype Negro which NAACP asked that movies and TV desist from perpetuating.
Childress disagreed with the NAACP's similar attitude toward the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” TV series.
“I didn't feel it harmed the Negro at all,” he says. “Actually the series had many episodes which showed the Negro with professions and businesses like attorneys, store owners and so on which they never had in TV or movies before.”
Childress left his home in Mississippi and got his first job in New York with producer John Golden in a 1931 Broadway show called “Savage Rhythm.”
He developed into a fine actor and was playing the role of Noah, the bartender in the stage play of “Anna Lucasta” when Fonda tapped him for the TV series.

Childress died in a sanitarium at the age of 78 in 1986. His biggest role turned out to be anything but the racial breakthrough he hoped it would be. As Ebony put it: “For it is certain in this age of youthful protestations of sit-ins and freedom rides, Negro America is no longer amused by the buffoonery of the Mystic Knights of the Sea or the bungling machinations of such as the Kingfish.” The fact there were no other major roles for Childress says more about television (and perhaps, by extension, American society) in the 1950s than does Amos and Andy. Reading The Lord’s Prayer to a little girl at Christmas wasn’t going to change that.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

$#%@$&! Shoe

On a snowy winter’s night, elves are helping a kindly old shoemaker by doing his work for him. However, since this is happening in a Tex Avery, it’s not quite the story of The Shoemaker and The Elves that you remember from childhood.

A zealous elf bashes his hand with a hammer. That brings about a not unexpected response. However, a nearby elf, with the utmost casualness, places a jar over the head of the other elf so children cannot hear the language not suitable for their ears.

Walt Clinton, Grant Simmons and Mike Lah animated “The Peachy Cobbler,” with backgrounds by Johnny Johnsen.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Magoo in the Comics, December 1964, Part 2

Here’s the last part of our series of Mr. Magoo daily cartoons from December 1964. It might seem odd that Magoo isn’t celebrating Christmas, considering he starred in the first Christmas cartoon TV special. But it may be, if I can wildly speculate, that the comics were reasonably new and there was no indication they would be in papers in time for the holidays.

Once again, Charlie appears.

You can click on each week’s worth of comics to enlarge it.


Mike Maltese used it in “Hare Trigger.” The western bad guy orders Bugs Bunny to draw a gun, so he draws a picture of a gun. Maltese re-worked the gag in the Woody Woodpecker cartoon “Square Shootin’ Square” about ten years later. The drawing of the gun fires. The western bad guy then gets out a pencil and draws a gun. Yeah, you know how it’s going to end.

Some of Maltese’s other gags in this cartoon (eg. the Calamity Jane phone routine) will remind you of stuff he wrote for Bugs and Yosemite Sam.

Herman Cohen, Gil Turner and Bob Bentley, all former Warner Bros. animators, got screen credit on this one.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Magoo in the Comics, December 1964

You can’t exactly say Mr. Magoo fell on hard times by 1964. Yes, his Oscar-winning days were long gone, but he was still a valuable property for his stripped-down studio, UPA. Made-for-TV Magoo cartoons were being syndicated and in 1964, he appeared in prime time on NBC in “The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.” Network news releases trumpeted that he was now “a Mr. Magoo who sees well enough to be an expert swordsman,” but today the world still thinks of him as a comedic half-blind guy who mistakes something for something else.

That’s how he was treated in a Magoo daily comic strip which debuted that year. I’ve found nice scans of comics starting Monday, December 7, 1964, so I’m going to post them in two parts.

Don’t expect any “expert swordsman” in these comics. They hew to the tediousness of the syndicated cartoons. I believe I’ve related how I used to “boooo” loudly at my TV set at the end of those cartoons for taking away valuable cartoon-watching time by giving me unentertaining slop. The comics also feature Charlie the houseboy, who I believe was an invention for the TV cartoons and didn’t appear in the theatricals. I’ll ask the same question I asked myself over 50 years ago: would anyone from China really say “Magloo” and “Bloss”?

Click on them to enlarge. Part two with the remainder of December 1964 will be tomorrow.

The cartoons are unsigned so I don’t know if UPA staffers were responsible for the story, design or inking. Click on each week of six comics to enlarge the set. Late note: the artist is revealed in the comment section. You might have seen his work in Warners cartoons.

A Strange Mixture of a Man

A feature article in 1958 about Jack Benny by his wife almost says as much about her as it does about him.

Mary Livingstone seems utterly baffled that “material goods don’t mean a thing to him,” that he wasn’t a clothes-horse or liked gossip. For material goods most decidedly did mean something to her, including clothes—preferably better and more expensive than what was owned by her friend Gracie Allen. She may not have loved show business but she certainly enjoyed the comforts its top echelon could buy. And the fact Benny needed the hired help to turn on a heat switch for him gives you an idea of the insane amount of wealth he had.

It’s a little odd to read how Mary believed she was a better wife by not being on the show. In the ‘50s, being a wife usually meant doing the cooking and cleaning and raising the kids. Mary didn’t do either of the first two and her daughter was married and out of the house by the time she quit television. By all accounts, she spent the bulk of her time playing cards or shopping.

Don’t expect Mary to gossip here. She outlines her husband’s harmless quirks. Perhaps some of them were revealed for the first time in this story. One thing you may take away from it is that while Mary was a great admirer of style, style without substance is nothing. It’s clear from Mary’s tale that Jack Benny had substance, and that’s why he was loved around the world. And, by all accounts, they had a loving relationship. Good for Mary and Jack!

This article appeared in The American Weekly, one of many weekend newspaper magazine supplements. It was published October 19, 1958.

My life with JACK BENNY
Here’s the hilarious lowdown on the private life of TV’s “fiddling tightwad”


THIS is MY LAST magazine article as Mary Livingstone. From now on I’ll just be Mary Benny, because after a quarter of a century in radio and television, I’ve had it.
This June I made two TV films with Jack for showing this fall. As usual, before I faced the camera I was a nervous wreck, and a holy terror to live with. Suddenly I said, “This is it. I’m retiring.”
Jack gave me an argument, of course. Jack wants his Mary Benny and his Mary Livingstone, too. In our 31 years of marriage it’s the only thing we have actually fought about. But my mind’s made up. I make a better wife and a more relaxed one when I’m not on the show.
I never intended getting into the act in the first place. It was back in 1932, some months after Jack made his now famous first appearance on the air and said, “Hello, folks, this is Jack Benny. There will be a slight pause while everyone says, ‘Who cares.’” One day they needed a girl to do a bit on the show and Jack asked me to try it. I was scared, blew my first line and giggled. That giggle did it. I was trapped. The mail started pouring in requesting “more of that girl who giggled” and the writers gave birth to Mary Livingstone as sort of a running gag.
I’d been madly in love with Jack since I was 12 years old and living with my family in Vancouver. My older sister invited Zeppo Marx to dinner one night and Jack came along to get a good home-cooked dinner. He was playing a local vaudeville house, and he was my first contact with show-business. Jack was suave and polite, but definitely not interested in children who carried on like a road company Gloria Swanson. He broke my heart when I heard him whisper to Zeppo, “Get me out of here.”
The next time I met Jack was several years later when my family had moved to Los Angeles and I was working at the May Company. Jack was appearing at the Orpheum and I went backstage with my sister. Even to Jack, who is not the most discerning person in the world, it was quite evident that I was no longer a child.
It was an exciting courtship, with me playing hard to get, but not too hard, and when he proposed I said “yes” real fast before he could change his mind. We were married in Waukegan, January 14, 1927. Two seconds after the ceremony I fainted dead away.
Ours has been a full, rich, good marriage and life with Jack has never been dull for one moment. He has the enthusiasms of a wide-eyed kid at Disneyland. If he has a chocolate ice-cream soda, it is the greatest chocolate ice-cream soda in the world. And off I have to go with him to get one, though I want a chocolate ice-cream soda like a hole in the head.
George Burns likes to tell about the afternoon he and Jack were sitting around our pool. Suddenly Jack jumped out of his chair and whispered excitedly, “George, come up to my room. I have something sensational to show you.” George thought it would be nothing less than the latest nuclear test. Jack threw open the door of his dressing room closet and pointed to a pair of shoes. “Isn’t that the greatest shine you ever saw?” he said.
George, and all Jack’s pals, just had to go to the shoeshine boy at CBS to get their shines. George Jessel has a whole slew of stories on Jack, but one of his favorites concerns the time he ran into Jack lunching at Romanoff’s. “George,” exclaimed Jack, “have you been to Hillcrest lately?” Jessel admitted that he hadn’t. “Well, you must go,” insisted Jack, “—and take a shower. Those towels Georgie, they’re the greatest towels ever.”
Jack's enthusiasms are not passing fancies. During Truman's administration Jack went to Washington to M.C. an important dinner. Mr. Truman told him he was dynamite, and Jack was as pleased as a teen-ager with a souped-up car. “Let’s celebrate with some ham and eggs,” he said to his publicity man. They finally found an open-all-night diner, and Jack proclaimed the ham and eggs the greatest.
Now really, what can be so different about ham and eggs whether you get them at the Waldorf or at Sloppy Joes? A few years later, he was in Washington again at the request of President Eisenhower. He was hardly off the plane before he said, “Let's find that diner for some more of those sensational ham and eggs.” Jack has great enthusiasm for talent.
If there’s an act playing the Mocambo, or one of the Hollywood night clubs, he can’t wait to see it. And if it’s a good act, he sees it again and again and phones all his friends to tell them about it. Jack has “made” almost as many acts as Winchell, and that's a good many.
He is a very strange mixture of a man. Material things don’t mean a thing to him. He is just as happy in the broom closet of a hotel as he is in the royal suite. He has never made a fuss about a table in a restaurant or night club, even when they seat him with the trombones or the potted plants. If he had his way, which he hasn’t, he’d drive a car until it fell apart. During a heat wave last summer, I heard strains of his violin coming from one of those cardboard, sun-baked dressing rooms on the studio lot. “Jack,” I said, “it’s 110 in here. Why aren’t you in one of the air-conditioned dressing rooms?” Well, it seems other members of the company had the air-conditioned dressing rooms, which was certainly all right with Jack. He may be the star of his show, but he never throws his weight around. I am sure he must have 20 pairs of gray flannel slacks, and heaven only knows how many cashmere sweaters, but at home he wears the same ones over and over. He gets attached to his clothes, and once wore the same robe until his elbows popped out. Gracie Allen literally tore it off him, and presented him with a new one.
I buy his ties for him dozens at a time, and all alike. Jack is a soup and coffee spiller. Sometimes he has to change his tie three times in the course of an evening.
But when Jack steps before a camera, or an audience, he is so handsomely groomed and expensively tailored that I fairly burst with wifely pride. Last year he was named one of the best-dressed men of the year. And when he played the Palladium in London his clothes were reviewed right along with his act.
Around the house Jack has all brashness of a mouse with an inferiority complex. He never makes any demands of the servants, and naturally they overwhelm him with service. They adore him. He is not a finicky eater. Everything is the greatest. Most of our servants have been with us 18 years.
Jack lives in a dream world of his own, and has never been able to cope with the mechanical age. He doesn’t even know how to turn on the heat. One day he was working with his writers in the den. They commented it was cold, and asked Jack to turn on the heat.
“Sorry, I can’t, fellows,” said Jack. “The butler is off today.”
One of the writers gave him an incredulous look, went out in the hall and pushed a button.
“Oh, oh,” said Jack. “Is that all you do?” He’d had visions of having to go down to the basement, shovel coal, and stoke the furnace.
At night, before we go to bed, I go around the house turning out the lights. One night I went to bed early with a headache. Around midnight I heard Jack tiptoeing in my room “Doll,” he whispered, “I turned out the lights in the playroom, but how do you get them out in the rest of the house?”
Jack isn’t the most observant person. He'd never make a detective. Light years ago I had workmen take down the chandelier in the dining room. For eight years he has been eating his dinner by candlelight. But just the other night he looked at the ceiling and said, “Why, Doll, you removed the chandelier!”
Jack is the happiest man in the world when he gets up in the morning. He is so happy I could kill him. For me, mornings are for the birds. The few times I have tangled with Jack before noon I have considered a divorce. He simply exudes happiness. He is an early riser, usually up by six o’clock.
If he is going on an automobile trip he makes it five.
Recently I heard him say to his writers, “Well, boys, let’s knock it off until six-thirty tomorrow.” “Jack,” said one of them, “you are the only one in Hollywood I would have to say this to do you mean a. m. or p. m ?”
His breakfast consists of fruit juice, toast and coffee, year in and year out. After breakfast he goes to his office and works on his shows. He usually lunches at Romanoff’s or Hillcrest, his golf club, they are mostly business. After lunch—and by that time I have come to life again—I meet him for several hours of golf. Jack gets in at least nine holes every day. He likes to have me play with him, in fact he insists upon it. This is unlike most Hollywood husbands who say there are three things they must do without their wives—testify, die and putt.
After that we go home and Jack practices on his violin—he is very serious about his violin as I am sure everyone knows by now—or we stop by our daughter Joanie’s house to play with our grandchildren, Michael, three, and Maria, one. Jack is a doting, indulgent grandfather, and buys them such impractical gifts as boxing gloves and gold-plated junior golf clubs.
On nights that we do not go out to dinner with our friends we have a tray in Jack’s bedroom. We look at television, or we read or talk. Mostly we talk. Jack likes to discuss his shows with me, and ask my advice about the minutest details. And this I like, just as long as I don’t have to be in them.
Now don't let me give you the idea that Jack is namby-pamby. He has his definite dislikes, even though he doesn’t shout them from the roof tops, or the newspaper columns. Among his dislikes are people who are not punctual, and “method” actors who mutter. Jack thinks that all performers should speak up clearly and enunciate every syllable. He also dislikes gossip, in any shape or form, I regret to say, though I admire him for it.
When we were first married and Jack was appearing in big lavish musical shows on Broadway, I used all my womanly wiles to extract tasty tidbits from him about the glamourous beauties he appeared with nightly. I might as well have tried to get money out of Fort Knox. They were all “nice girls,” according to Jack, “and good to their mothers.” He’s about as dishy as the Sphinx!
Jack is very loyal to his friends, never sacrifices them for the sake of a wisecrack, and they evidently are very loyal to him.
A well-known magazine writer, who has written about all the greats, spent six weeks in Hollywood trying to get a controversial story on Jack. Finally he gave up, and announced, “I couldn’t find a person who had a bad word to say about the guy.”
Jack may be casual around his home, but on his show he is a driving perfectionist. He knows what he wants and he isn’t stopping until he gets it. Although he has been on radio since 1932, and on TV since 1950, he is still trying to improve his shows. But in his own home he’s the best audience in the world. He loves to sit and watch the other comedians perform.
He loves to plan trips, too. I know of only two actors, Bob Hope and Bill Holden, who like to travel more than does. He wants to travel to the faraway backwoods places (me — I like London, Paris and Rome) and see everything and buy everything (mostly junk, in my opinion). Every time he has lunch with Bill, I know I am going to have another two-hour whirl around the world, via the batch of maps Jack always keeps at his bedside.
Near the night table, too, is the inevitable tray of pills. Jack collects pills. Every time any one tells him about a new one he rushes out and buys it. The assorted colors in little bottles fascinate him, I guess. He’s so fascinated that he forgets to take them.
Jack also collects TV sets and scales. We have them all over the house. Golf tees are his pet extravagance. He never uses the same one twice, and keeps hundreds of them in his dressing room back by the two Emmys he won at the Emmy Awards last spring.
I am very proud of my husband.
Others come and go in this business, but he stays right there on top, year in and year out. Jack explains it, when he is asked, “I guess it’s because I don’t try to be sensational. I just try not to be lousy.”
But I like better William Saroyan’s explanation: “Jack Benny had style from the beginning. He stood straight and walked kind of sideways as if he were being shoved by a touch of genius—and knew it, and knew you’d know it, too, in a moment. Style. If you’ve got it, you don’t need much else. If you haven’t got it well, I hate to do it, but I’ve got to borrow from Barrie—if you haven’t got style, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got.”
Style. That’s my Jack.