Sunday, 19 May 2013

Benny and Baldy

Jack Benny had a reputation of being a tough editor of his radio scripts, and a gossip magazine gave a good indication of it in 1939.

Radio Mirror was directed at women. Its June 1939 edition featured articles about Edgar Bergen’s love life, Martha Raye on marriage mistakes and Ida Cantor talking about life with Eddie. But there are also invaluable programme guides, profiles of announcers and other people on the air and snippets of news. The edition also has a brief article on how the Benny radio show is put together, accompanied by a picture (probably by NBC) of Jack and Mary. The writer is anonymous.

The article mentions Benny’s preoccupation with sound effects. Later news columns described how fussy he was with sound effects men when it came to footsteps. The other neat thing about the story is the mentions of Harry Baldwin and Blanche Stewart. Baldwin had been with Benny since the early ‘30s when he was sworn in to the U.S. Naval Reserve on August 27, 1942. Yeoman Baldwin of the U.S.S. Los Angeles starred—likely his only starring radio role—with Ginny Simms on “Johnny Presents” on December 15th that year (Jack was involved in the plot) but when the war ended, he never returned. Census and naturalisation records show that Harry Maurice Baldwin was born Hirsch Cohen in Perth, Australia on June 24, 1901. He arrived in New York City on January 31, 1906 and was made an American on Boxing Day 1941. He died in Los Angeles on February 26, 1972.

Stewart was a real unsung talent. She could do voices and animal imitations. She was a good screamer, too. She had been appearing on Benny’s shows on a fairly regular basis starting in 1932 but faded out after the 1939-40 radio season. Stewart spent the ‘40s working with Bob Hope but returned to the Benny show on an occasional basis toward the end of decade. Stewart was not in good health the last few years of her life and died July 24, 1952.

ON THE AIR TONIGHT: The Jell-O Show, on NBC's Red network from 7:00 to 7:30 Eastern Daylight Saving Time, with a rebroadcast for the West Coast at 7:30, Pacific Standard Time.
If you were Jack Benny, star of the Jell-O Show, you'd have to figure on rehearsing a full week for every thirty-minute program—that's what Jack does. He starts on Monday morning to prepare for next Sunday's show—a full-time job from October until early in July. That's how important radio is to Mr. Benny.
The week's procedure goes something like this. Jack collaborates with his two gag-writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, and the three are virtually inseparable until the script is in shape. In fact, Jack relies so much on the boys' comedy sense that his screen studio hires them to write additional dialogue for his Paramount pictures.
When the script is ready, the regular cast—Mary Livingstone, Kenny Baker, Phil Harris and Don Wilson—get together with Jack to read it. A reading rehearsal means hours of work, because showman Jack insists that every word must be paced, timed and given just the right inflection. The microphone rehearsal doesn't take place until Sunday morning, at the studio, when producers Ted Hediger of NBC and Murray Boland of Young and Rubicam, Jell-O's advertising agency, time the program and make the necessary cuts.
Jack personally supervises every detail of the show, but he's particularly fussy over sound effects. They mean so much to his scripts that he always instructs the soundmen himself, and sometimes during a broadcast even waves his arm to cue the sounds in.
Sunday night, after the broadcast, is "date night" for Jack and Mrs. Jack, who is of course Mary Livingstone. Mary wears a neat tailored suit to rehearsals, but shows up at the actual broadcast in a more sophisticated costume, suitable for the gayety afterwards.
Before the program gets under way in NBC's Studio B in Hollywood Radio City, Jack comes out, cigar in mouth and fiddle in hand, and gives a curtain talk—joking, playing the violin, kidding celebrities in the audience, and introducing Mary's mother, who sits in the front row.
The voice that always says "Telegram for Mr. Benny" is that of Harry Baldwin, who also acts as Jack's secretary. Harry's the only secretary in Hollywood who has a contract—he's been with Jack 11 years. Blanche Stewart, the girl who does all the feminine parts except Mary's, is an old-time vaudeville trouper, and a great friend of Mary's.

One last story about Harry Baldwin. On Fred Allen's show of March 19, 1944, there's this little dialogue in Allen's Alley:

Fred: Mrs. Corn, how do you feel about Victory Gardens?
Corn: For the last two years, I've had Victory Gardens.
Fred: Good for you.
Corn: But something always happens.
Fred: How do you mean?
Corn: Last year, my husband threw some old Vitalis bottles out in the garden.
Fred: Yes?
Corn: When the lettuce came up...
Fred: Yes?
Corn: Every head had hair on it.
Fred: Well, that couldn't happen with the apples. The apples are Baldwins, aren't they that you have?

Originally, I thought the Allen audience, which busted a collective gut over the gag, was so tuned in to the Benny show they knew Harry Baldwin and knew he was bald (he even played a character called Dr. Baldy on one show). But it was probably just Fred punning on “bald” and “Baldwin.” Too bad. I’d like to think it referred to Harry.

1 comment:

  1. I was just watching Buck Benny Rides Again, and Harry Baldwin pops up about 39 minutes in. He's the bald messenger who brings back the unwanted flowers. No gag, but it was nice to see the face behind the voice. I didn't know he was Jack's secretary, I always assumed he was one of the writers. Thanks for posting this piece.