Sunday, 8 June 2014

He and the Chimp

For reasons known only to him, Jack Benny was hung up on the idea of people thinking he really was cheap. Why he let it bother him, he never explained. But he mentioned it in a whole bunch of interviews during his days on television and that he dealt with it by overspending.

Perhaps he should have been more concerned about why his agent (or whoever) talked him into publicity stunt where he and a chimp played the violin.

Benny had great success in 1959 when the Marquis Chimps appeared on his show. So maybe that’s what gave birth to a stunt the following year featuring Kokomo, Jr., whose claim to fame was replacing J. Fred Muggs on NBC’s Today Show.

Whatever the circumstances, the stunt worked. Benny got newspaper ink. Here’s what UPI reported on November 11, 1960. The stunt took advantage of but, at the same time, contradicted his cheapness. I suspect that’s why he went along with it.

Benny Gives Black Tie Party In Automat

United Press International
New York — “I haven’t come here in 20 years,” Jack Benny mused. “I can’t. If people saw me, they’d say I’m eating here because I’m stingy.” To prove that he was nothing of the sort, Benny last night gave away nickels to more than 400 guests he had invited to a black-tie dinner and dancing party at the automat.
With a brave smile, he sat in the cashiers’ booth himself for about 10 minutes, handing over $2 rolls of nickels to the tuxedoed and be jeweled celebrities, who then bought their own dinners at the slot machine windows or in the cafeteria section.
The giveaway totaled $840 by the end of the party.
The guest list included Broadway and Hollywood stars, writers and singers, and a monkey named Kokomo Jr.
Kokomo played the violin.
So did Benny. He joined the six-piece orchestra on the bandstand to play “Sweet Georgia Brown,” but he had some reservations.
“This is a lousy key,” he grumbled as he started a solo. “Let's try the key of C.”
The accordionist picked up the chorus in C. Benny tucked his violin under his chin and started sawing away again.
“Let’s try D-flat,” he suggested a couple of notes later.
In front of the bandstand, actress Helen Hayes and Iggie Wolfington, now playing in the “Music Man,” danced a jitterbug. The song ended, but Miss Hayes wouldn’t let Benny quit.
“Get up there and play some Bach for us so we can dance legitimately,” she ordered. Benny played his encore.
He then threaded his way through the closely packed cafeteria tables to join Kokomo Jr. for a short, scratchy duet. The knee-high chimpanzee, flashily dressed in a black, spangled suit, sat on the table and warily watched the bow of Benny’s violin. The bow came up. Kokomo ducked, and sneered. He didn’t seem too interested in the duet.
Kokomo, in his spangled suit, wasn’t the only strikingly dressed guest.
Seated across the room at the same table were Mrs. Cindy Adams, wife of comedian Joey Adams, and Mrs. Charles A. Berns, wife of the owner of the 21 Club, both wearing dresses costing close to $1,000. Each outfit was a combination dress and jacket. Each was gold brocade, with floral designs appliqued on. Each looked almost exactly like the other.
When Mrs. Adams left several hours later, she was carrying a rumpled paper bag filled with nickels she hadn’t spent. She jingled them as she said goodnight to Benny.
“I know,” Benny said. “A lot of people made money. A lot of people didn’t eat—they just took the nickels.”


  1. For whatever reason (most likely because it initially got great ratings), pairing off famous comedians with chimps was a major industry in the late 1950s-to-mid 1960s. Lucille Ball and Jack would both pair up with the Marquis Chimps on their regular shows in the mid 60s, and you could always count on an annual appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

    (Meanwhile, Cindy Adams is still working for the New York Post as a gossip writer. Not sure is she still has Jack's nickles...)

  2. LOL! I KNEW someone would blame those Marquis Chimps on J.Fred Muggs...whatever HAPPENED to 'em (outside of YouTube appearances like that tea ad---or how the Chimps originated....I was born in the middle of the time frame that J.Lee mentioned, and wonder about the origin ..there's no WIKIPEDIA, no INTERNET MOVIE DATABASE ,nothin', detailing the beginnings or "breakup" of the chimps. Now I got a chimp on my back about this---it needs a banana..SC.aka Pokey, who did NOT work with chimps on Gumby..

    1. My Father was the owner and trainer of the marquis chimps. After filming Disney movie, Toby Tyler and filming the TV series the hathaways he moved to Las Vegas and did many stage shows. He retired himself and the chimps and lived out his life in Vegas.

    2. Here's an answer to a...rather old question at this point:
      The Marquis Chimps were owned and shown by Gene Detroy.
      There's a pretty fair amount of info on him & them via Google.