Sunday, 14 September 2014

Benny in the Third Person

Here’s another fan magazine story, supposedly written by Jack Benny about himself and his radio show. This appeared in the monthly Radio Mirror (along with the NBC publicity photos in this post) in March 1939.

The magazine was aimed at women, so there’s naturally a focus on the happy home life.

What’s a little different about this one is Jack is spoken about in third person, therefore Jack is writing about himself as if he’s another person.

This article was written just before Kenny Baker left the show, therefore there’s no mention of Dennis Day. And Rochester was only a semi-regular at this point and didn’t appear every week.

Speaking of Jack Benny
Your ace comedian lets down his hair (what there is of it) and proves he's as funny with written words as he is on the air (we hope)
I MUST love the spot, because here I am—on it again. The editor of this magazine has just asked me how it feels to be at the top of the radio heap. The little rascal.
Why, that's like asking a man if he still beats his wife. Any way he answers, it's still the eight ball into the side pocket.
In other words, Mr. Smarty Editor, I am going to fool you. How does it feel to be on the top of the heap in radio? I dunno. Ask somebody else. But how does it feel to be Jack Benny? There's a question I can answer—and no one else can.
In the first place, Jack Benny feels just about so big. How big is that? Well, if someone has laughed at his jokes, he is about six foot three inches. If they haven't laughed, he's just three inches. Otherwise, it's always a surprise to him to learn he is five foot ten and a half, and his hair is graying.
I'd say Jack feels very fine in the morning when he wakes up and has breakfast with the wife and kid—yes, that's Mary Livingstone Benny and Joan Naomi Benny—and he likes to whistle when he goes for his two-mile hike. Also, he feels very disgusted when no one believes that he takes that hike, since it is one of the things he really enjoys. When he's working on a picture or on his program, he gets a very shaky feeling in the pit of his stomach and gets so interested in what he's doing that he sometimes forgets to eat—then wonders why his stomach aches. Both the ache and the shaky feeling vanish if an omelet stuffed with creamed chicken is applied internally to his stomach. Incidentally, you can take it from me that Mr. Benny considers that a very fine dish.
After the day's work (if it has gone well), Jack usually has a glad feeling for being able to do that kind of stuff. If the work has gone badly, he feels very low in his mind. He gets a tremendous kick out of talking radio and pictures to practically anyone who will listen.
If he must work after dinner, he raises the devil—but does the work and feels pretty good anyway. If he gets home before eleven at night, he goes up to look at his sleeping youngster, gets bawled out for making a noise, then goes downstairs and tries to get into that book he's been trying to read. Three nights out of four, however, his eyes feel as though they have sand in them, so he trots off to get a couple extra hours of shuteye.
Yep, that's about how Jack Benny feels, I'd say. What's more, he's felt that way ever since he did his first broadcast for columnist Eddie Sullivan seven years ago and all through the three hundred odd shows he's done since then.
In appearance, I'd say that Jack wasn't particularly handsome, except in a quiet, distinguished fashion. You know, sort of the Ronald Colman type. He wears his hair brushed straight back and his teeth brushed in the approved circular motion. What's more, he wears blue, gray, and brown equally well—and I guess that takes care of Phil Harris' remarks about his clothes. He lets his wife select his ties for him because there is nothing else he can do.
I think the most interesting thing about Jack Benny is the way he works. I know it's a surprise to him each week that he gets a show on the air.
When Jack first went on the air, he did long monologues just as he had done on the stage before that. However, he soon ran out of those long monologues, so he added new people to his cast to give his shows freshness. And some of the people have certainly been fresh. It was pretty obvious right away that comedy based upon situation and the character of the cast would be the easiest and most believable comedy.
ONE of Jack's most important activities during preparation of his program is riding herd on his writers, Bill Morrow and Eddie Beloin.
He usually gets together with them each Monday to talk over what he's to do the following Sunday. He meets with them again on Tuesday to try to remember what was said on Monday. On Wednesday, Jack drops into their apartment and discovers that they have gone to Palm Springs.
On Thursday afternoon, there is finally action. Jack gets a telegram from his writers saying, "HAVING A FINE TIME. WISH YOU WERE HERE." You can imagine how that relieves Benny, who has been pretty upset about not having a script. On Friday, Bill and Eddie come back from Palm Springs. And would you believe it? They bring back no material, but the most beautiful sunburn you've ever seen. Benny spends all of Friday afternoon rubbing sunburn lotion into them. As a result, he usually has a pretty good script on Saturday for first rehearsals.
There is one more peculiarity about Jack's method of working, I understand. That is, that he reads the entire script over for the cast before the cast reads it. Strangers have read great importance into this reading, but let me tell a secret. The real reason Jack reads the whole script first is: He wants to have, just once, all those funny lines Kenny and Mary and Phil Harris have.
The real big secret in Jack Benny's life is that he's really very fond of Mary Livingstone. They've just built their little love-nest in Beverly Hills and it certainly is some joint, if I do say so myself. Jack feels that inasmuch as Paramount, keeps propping him up in front of a camera every so often, and his sponsor keeps renting an NBC microphone for him every Sunday, he might as well live out in the land of sunshine.
Of course, the other reason for Jack's decision to stay in California is Joan Naomi Benny. Of course, Mr. Benny is prejudiced, but he will sit on anybody who says Joannie isn't the smartest little trick that ever dumped her spinach off the high chair. Oh, I'd better explain this for Jack while I'm at it. Although Mary has been Mrs. Benny for eleven years, she and Jack ignore that in front of the microphone because they feel it gives a broader comedy angle to be single.
After all, Mary couldn't talk about her dates with Clark Gable . . . and Mr. Benny couldn't talk about Dolores Del Schmoots ... if they also talked about being married to each other.
Well, that's Jack Benny, folks.

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