Sunday, 13 April 2014

Being Jack Benny, 1936

Here’s another “Life with Jack Benny” column supposedly penned by his wife, one of a number that popped up in newspapers in the mid-1930s. This one doesn’t touch on how the two of them met, but we do read that Jack was a doting father, liked golf, enjoyed hanging out with his old comedian buddies—and that she didn’t like his violin playing (years later, his daughter reported he had to practise in a part of the house where Mary couldn’t hear him.

This is from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 26, 1936.


(Batting for Jo Ranson)
Other radio artists may have a little difficulty writing a guest column, but they just aren't fortunate enough to have literary ability the way I do. Of course, poetry Is my specialty but my prose is pretty good, too—I hope. Your radio editor has been good enough to let me play any tune I want on the typewriter. So if it is all right with you, I think I will devote this essay to answering the question that is put to me most frequently—to wit: What kind of a guy is Jack Benny away from the microphone?
On the air Jack portrays a rather quiet sort of fellow, on whom the rest of the cast is constantly picking. He has nobody but himself to blame because he gets up the scripts. Off the air he is equally quiet but hardly the browbeaten lad he pretends he is when showing off for you listeners. If he is browbeaten he never lets on to me. Or perhaps I just don't notice it.
When we're home he never tries to be the comedian, I am very glad to say. As a matter of fact, he does a lot of worrying—he starts in worrying about next week's program the moment this week's is over. Sometimes even sooner. If you see him in the movies you may think he has black hair. Actually there are a few streaks of gray here and there. If he were not doing radio, he wouldn't have those. And if he weren't doing radio he wouldn't be in pictures. So he does not have to worry about that, anyhow.
The greatest fault I find with him is his perpetual good nature. He makes me furious because he is one of those people who always feel good in the morning and gets up early feeling bright and cheery, no matter how late he has been up the night before. Another thing that gets me down is that he will never start an argument. We have our differences of opinion, just like any other couple. But somehow or other I am always the one that starts things.
People often ask if Jack tries to be funny when we have visitors at home. Apparently they think that because a man makes his living by getting other folks to chuckle that he never relaxes. It so happens, that our closest friends are in the business of producing laughs also—the Freddy Allens, Burns and Allen, Block and Sully, the Jack Pearls, and so forth. Benny Rubin, Jane and Goodman Ace and the Eddie Cantors are people we see frequently, too. Whenever we get together with any of them Jack likes to take the part of the audience and get them do their stuff for him. He is a sucker for anything that George Burns says or does, for example. All George has to do is walk in the room and say “Hello,” and Jack prepares himself for a fine evening of laughter—at no expense to him.
I'm very much afraid that our existence must be a great disappointment to the fan magazine writers, because we do not go in very strongly for things they consider suggestive of “GLAMOUR.” Our lives and tastes are very simple. Jack does not care a hang about flashy clothes, late parties and night clubs. He is much more fond of a quiet and easygoing life. If Jack wants to be exceptionally gay and and giddy he will suggest going to a show and top it off by taking in a midnight movie. Try to get glamour out of that!
We do not listen to the radio much, except to news and music. We seldom, if ever, tune in on other comedians. Jack avoids doing so, because he doesn't want, even subconsciously, to be influenced by what the other boys are doing. He really loves fine music, though you would never guess it from hearing him torture “Love in Bloom.” He is also pretty fond of golf, but plays a terrible game. He ought to give it up entirely. One of his greatest pleasures is getting together with his cronies at the Friars Club and just chewing the rag.
Our baby daughter, Joan Naomi, takes up a lot of his time. No matter how busy he is, he tries to take off an hour every day to wheel her. Last week he went around showing his friends the newest scratch she had given him on the nose. He seemed to get more kick out of it than springing a new gag on his pals. He enjoys driving a car a great deal, but I always prefer to hop the trolley. It's not that he goes in for speeding—to the contrary, he just crawls along. But he always seems to be thinking about something else other than where he is going. He is an avid follower of sports and devours the sport page of every edition he can lay hands on. Horse racing gets a lot of his attention, but he picks 'em so badly I have made him stop betting.
I hope this gives you some sort of notion of the kind of bird J. Benny is when, he isn't working. In any case I am grateful to Jo Ranson for the opportunity to display my talent as a writer.

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