Sunday, 17 November 2013

Jack Benny Looks Back Again

There appears to have been a preponderance of newspaper interviews by a pyjama-clad Jack Benny during the latter years of his life. This one is from October 2, 1970.

I’ve mentioned before than there’s a bit of a paradox when Jack tells a reporter that he doesn’t look back on the past. He relies on the past to bring in his audience, and it’s likely an audience that wants to go back to the past and laugh yet again at the funny routines he polished on radio years earlier. Something seems amiss when his “gang” isn’t there. And I admit I’m one of those who enjoy his radio show more than his television efforts, even when his radio routines are dug out of the files and lifted word-for-word.

Jack Benny, 76, Keeps Working; Reflects on His 50-Year Career
Chicago Daily News Service

CHICAGO—Jack Benny, dressed in robe and pajamas, is slumped so low in his chair that he looks like the baby Dalai lama on coronation day. But as we approach, he unleashes kingly smile that cuts right through the sleepy haze in which he finds himself.
“Sorry if I'm not quite awake,” he apologizes. “I just got up. Did my first show at Mill Run theater last night. God, that's a nice house. A great audience too, one of the best I've ever had.”
To measure that compliment, consider that in just two years Benny will be twice as old as he has been for the last 37 years. He is now 76, has been in show business for more than 50 years, and though he no longer claims to be 39—at least not so loudly —he is one of the few men his age who could do so without seeming absolutely foolish.
He carries the luggage of years almost disdainfully. “I have no feeling of nostalgia,” he says. “I only think about last week, or last night, or what I'll be doing next week. You know, some people like to tell me they liked me better on radio. Well, I don't care. Let them think so. I like best whatever I'm doing now.”
On Nov. 16 he will celebrate his 20th anniversary in the medium with a big special for NBC. Dinah Shore, one of his first guests in 1950, will be there, and so will. . .
“Let's see. I'll have most of my original people. You know, Don Wilson, (Rochester) Anderson, the rest. And my wife Mary—this is the first time, believe it or not, I've gotten her to come on. Bob Hope will be there. Frank Sinatra will do a few bits. Except for one little thing from my first show, it'll all be new material.”
Will it be his last special? “No, definitely not. I think when I do my last show, I'll do three or four of them, like Maurice Chevalier. Of course, as the years go by, I'll do less and less. But as long as I can get audiences I'll keep working.”
Television is not one of his major activities—nightclub dates and benefit concerts for symphony orchestras are more prominent on his calendar.
“I don't watch much TV, except the ball games,” he says. “But it's a fine medium.”
He believes that TV humor, like humor in general, has not changed much: “Not the humor, just the situations.”
Out of age or simple inclination, Benny has not performed in Vietnam, although he admires Bob Hope's effort there. (Hope apparently has had trouble recently in Vietnam, where some of the young soldiers have been high on marijuana and low on his brand of humor.)
“Well, I would find it difficult to perform under those conditions,” Benny reflects. “You've just got to give them a good show, because they're not going to be impressed simply because you bothered to come. But if it's really like Bob says, I can see how he wouldn't really know what to do.”

1 comment:

  1. Jack's late 60s specials were in part an attempt by him and/or NBC to keep up with the times in some way, and like a lot of veteran comedians who tried to mix the late 60s with their routines, just ended up feeling out of place. His 1970 special seemed to be an attempt to go back to his roots somewhat -- the centerpiece "Jack at the Airport" segment was borrowed from a 1962 show, which or course was in turn modified from bits going back to his radio days. At least for me, it holds up better in re-watching today via YouTube than the 1968-69 shows..