Sunday, 11 May 2014

Rhode Island Green (As in Money)

There’s nothing like ingenious publicity and Jack Benny used some to push his shows in Providence, Rhode Island in 1969.

You wouldn’t think he’d need it. Benny was a legend in the entertainment business by that time and he should have easily sold out all of his appearances. But there’s nothing wrong with a little P.R. and Benny found a unique way to get it. The story was picked up by the Associated Press; at least one newspaper put it on the front page.

The story appeared on August 8, 1969.

$1 a Year 'Frugality' Advisor
Rhode Island Hires Jack Benny
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island hired that paragon of parsimony, Jack Benny, as a “special financial consultant” Thursday at $1 a year. The comedian said he would be back each year to pick up his pay.
Benny's “invaluable experience” in the ways of frugality will make his advice on state finances particularly important during the tight money situation, declared Gov. Frank Licht at an appointment ceremony in the governor's office.
“His compassionate concern for his fellow man is matched only by his compassionate concern for the conservation of his financial resources,” the governor quipped, advancing Benny his first year's salary.
Stinginess has been a favorite Benny comedy theme over the years, typified by such thrifty policies as driving an ancient Maxwell automobile and collecting tips from dinner guests.
Benny, appearing at the nearby Warwick Musical Theater, said he would be back every year to get his pay. “And when this ceremony is over I'm not going to give the dollar back,” Benny said. But he did return it after autographing the bill with a message to the governor.
“You might be able to sell this to help balance the budget,” he said.
Benny admitted that his miserliness is just an act, and “My wife and I are probably the biggest spenders in show business.
“If it weren't for that, I wouldn't portray the character,” the perennially 39-year-old Benny said. “It makes it much funnier to be cheap. Every family has a member who is cheap.”
Actually, Benny said, “I don't care much about money.”
Will Benny have a plush office?
“Of course, we'll have to give him one,” Licht said. Then, reflecting on the purpose of his new adviser, he took it back: “No, we'll let him use the governor's office.”

The publicity couldn’t have hurt Governor Licht, but he could have used it toward the end of his term. Ironically, money was involved. He didn’t seek re-election because of a public backlash against a tax he put into effect. Perhaps he should have listened closer to his “special financial consultant.”

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