Sunday, 24 November 2013

Conn-ing Jack Benny

Harry W. Conn was doing well in the 1920s, writing the stage vehicles “Relaxation” (for ventriloquist Valentine Fox), “Dizzy 1928,” “Twelve O’Clock at Night,” “At the Station” and “Just Back From Abroad,” among many others. The 1930s promised to be even better. He connected with vaudeville emcee Jack Benny, who had been hired by Canada Dry to front a radio variety programme. Benny quickly rose in the ratings. Conn knew who was responsible—Harry W. Conn. He proved otherwise by walking out on Benny, then failed writing a comedy show for Joe Penner and failed even more with his own radio comedy. By the ‘50s, Benny was still entertaining audiences while Conn was working as an usher in a New York theatre, dreaming of a comeback.

Conn did a little more than come up with gags for Kringelein and Alois Havrilla, who no one except hard-core fans associate with Benny’s radio show. He came up with this little piece of comedy writing which appeared in the editorial pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of July 3, 1932, about two months after Canada Dry show debuted. You can see the foibles of the Jack Benny we know today aren’t quite there yet.

An interview in one act.
Scene: NBC Studio.
Cast of Characters: Jack Benny and reporter.
Q. Hello Jack Benny. How do you do? Mr. Benny, would you tell me a few things about yourself for The Brooklyn Eagle? A. I don't mind, but please spell my name right—-I'm Jack Benny and not Jack Denny of orchestra fame, get it right. Benny—B, as in Bean Soup—E, as in Sharkee, the fighter—N, as in Knickers—another N, as in pneumonia and Y, as in the State of Y—oming.
Q. O. K., I'll remember that, Mr. Penny. By the way, how do you like broadcasting on the N. B. C. networks?
A. I think it is fine and the name's Benny, please.
Q. Do you like broadcasting as well as stage work?
A. I like it much better because I can't hear my audience hiss me.
Q. When did you first broadcast?
A: My first air work was in 1905.
Q. You did air work in 1905.
A. Yes, I was a parachute jumper, but I like golf much better.
Q. Where were you born, Mr, Benny?
A. Oh, er—I don't know; what cities do you like?
Q. I like Rochester, St. Louis, Boston and Syracuse.
A. That's one; make it Brooklyn.
Q. Were you born in Brooklyn?
A. No, but I like Brooklyn, and as soon as they start hitting the ball and get a little better pitching the pennant will be a cinch.
Q. That's fine; er . . where were you born, Mr. Benny?
A. How do you like this new driver?
Q. Do you play golf every day?
A. Yes, you know, Gene Sarazen is the pro at our country club in Great Neck. I played 18 holes with him yesterday.
Q. I suppose he won.
A. Yes, but it was very close. He shot a 69 but it took him 18 holes to do it. I got my 69 before I reached the ninth tee. The trouble with me is that I putt on the fairway and drive on the green—I like to be different, and——
Q. Where were you born, Mr. Benny?
A. Just as you say; let's take politics. I don't mind talking about that at all. Each man is entitled to his political beliefs; let's take George Olsen who belongs to the Not-So-Liberal-Party.
Q. You mean the George Olsen who owns the orchestra on your radio program?
A. Yes. that fellow who wouldn't give a dime to see Texas Guinan become a reformer.
Q. I was out with Olsen and Ethel Shutta and I must say they paid for everything.
A. That's all right. I loaned him the money.
Q. Ethel Shutta is Mrs. George Olsen, isn't she?
A. Yes, and are you going to print what I said about Olsen?
Q. Of course, Jack.
A. Well, in that case let me tell you one thing, he's the swellest fellow in the world and spends like an oil king.
Q. Now, where were you born, Mr. Benny?
A. O. K. with me. Let's take the Sharkey-Schmeling fight . . I was there. What would you like to know about it?
Q. Where were you born?
A. Yes, I had a ringside scat. Row Z, Section X, seat Number 999 and it certainly was a great fight—so people tell me.
Q. Do you think we'll get repeal in this coming election?
A. Well, if you're going to keep harping on the subject, I was born in Lake Forest, Ill. I had one father and one mother. I spent eight years at college, the University of Illinois . . . and don't ask me if I was a freshman for eight years . . . I didn't attend the classes; I was a cook there. Then I wanted to become a radio announcer, so I practiced talking to myself, but I never got a job as an announcer as a few people listen in to every program and talking to yourself does a person no good. Well, so long, I'll meet you at the 19th hole, Remember—the name's Benny.


  1. No flow to the piece, but Jack's later writers would wring some gags out of his golf game, so there's at least a germ of the future Benny in there.

  2. It seems to me Conn wrote a routine on one of the 1936 shows where Jack avoids answering Don Wilson's questions about his age, much like he avoids answering questions in this "interview" about his birthplace (which doesn't really seem terrible funny).