Sunday, 18 October 2015

Martha and Emily

One of the great luxuries of the Jack Benny radio show is, eventually, he and his writers developed so many secondary characters that he didn’t need to have them on every week. He could bring them back once in a while so the show sounded fresh but familiar at the same time. Among the characters were two little old ladies named Emily and Martha. Benny made himself out to be a ladies man but these were the only ladies he could attract. The whole concept was funny. Their octogenarian status allowed the writers to come up with age jokes that didn’t involve Benny himself. The concept was later developed on the Benny TV show as a fan club of little old ladies, usually from Pasadena (what the link is between that city and elderly women, especially as it predates Jan and Dean’s song about one, is a cultural reference I don’t get).

Two veteran actresses were picked for the roles. Gloria Gordon played Emily while Jane Morgan was Martha. Their first appearance was on November 3, 1946. They actually didn’t appear very often together, only nine times, with eight of their routines broadcast during the 1940s. Besides the later “fan club” on the TV show, they were the inspiration behind a two-headed vulture (voiced by Julie Bennett) in the 1962 Bugs Bunny cartoon “Transylvania 6-5000.”

Emily has a slight English accent, unintentionally, I suspect because Gordon was English. Morgan’s voice should be recognisable to fans of situation comedy as she began a long tenure as landlady Mrs. Davis on Our Miss Brooks beginning in July 1948 (playing opposite Gordon’s son, Gale). She also played a landlady on My Friend Irma, which debuted in April 1947, but was replaced by Gordon through the series’ run on TV.

The two were profiled in Radio Life, a terrific publication for the Los Angeles area, on May 11, 1947.
Delightfully Devoted
You’ve Heard Them as “Martha” and “Emily,” Jack Benny’s Elderly Admirers. Now Meet Jane Morgan and Gloria Gordon, Two Ladies With Illustrious Careers in the Theater

By Joan Buchanan
“OH, MARTHA, isn’t that Jack Benny over there?”
“Yes, Emily—oh, isn't he handsome?”
Every time Jack Benny’s car pulls to a stop for a Vine Street traffic light, listeners to his Sunday show wait for the foregoing dialogue. Yes, it’s Jane Morgan and Gloria Gordon as “Martha” and "Emily,” Jack’s indefatigable fans, waiting for a glimpse of their “star.”
Ever since this whimsical twosome first made an appearance on NBC’s Benny show, we've promised ourselves that we'd look them up and find out if they really do feel that way about Jack Benny.
“Jack Benny is a dear,” exclaimed Jane.
“He’s a darling boy,” added Gloria.
“So easy to work with,” continued Jane.
“Absolutely pie,” concluded Gloria.
And that’s their word on the subject. Both Jane and Gloria have been in radio for many years. Gloria started in 1928, "and worked for a year, my dear, without pay!” Jane entered soon after, or “whenever it was that there was no more theater.”
Though neither Gloria nor Jane can recall working together before, they have been friends for years and their careers have paralleled one another’s surprisingly. Both were born in England. Gloria calls herself an old Liverpuddlian, the name for those born in Liverpool. Jane’s parents were Welsh and she admits that listening to “How Green Was My Valley” on “Lux” made her cry because it reminded her of her father. Both have been in this country for years, and Gloria proudly announced that she has voted in every election since becoming a citizen.
Both Musical
Both studied music—Jane was a violin, piano and voice student, Gloria studied piano and voice. Both appeared in opera and musical comedy before switching to straight dramatics. Gloria’s career encompassed tours that took her to every important European capital, and between them she and Jane have appeared with almost every great name in their lifetime. Jane was a Boston Opera Company star—“I’ve sung everything from ‘Jack in the Beanstalk’ to ‘Carmen’,” she added. In addition to opera, the concert stage legitimate theater, resident stock, pictures and radio have claimed the talents of this pair, though never as a team until now. Both were working with the Henry Duffy players locally at the same time—but in different companies.
Jane and Gloria have both known the adulation that goes with being a great star. "The movie people get it nowadays," Jane said. “And they’re welcome to it,” added Gloria pleasantly.
“I remember being rushed through the crowd waiting for me at the stage door and across the street to my hotel. People shouted, ‘Here she comes!’ when I came out!” recalled Jane.
“And the Stage Door Johnnies!” continued Gloria. “They don't have anything like that now.”
Both agreed that the old days were much more exciting and glamorous because the barrier between players and audience was much greater. “The illusion is gone now, and after all, show business is the business of illusion,” Jane sighed. “They’ve let the audience in on all the secrets,” said Gloria.
Believe in Credits
According to both our stars, radio is full of such talented young people as to be almost amazing. “Many of these young people are stars, great stars," they told us. “And so often they don’t even get name credit on a show. It’s ridiculous. If you went into a theater and they didn’t give you a program, you'd be indignant.”
Both are ardent hobbyists. Jane calls her new granddaughter, Mary Jane, and her garden, her two main interests. “I love to get into the earth and dig,” she laughed. “And I can't wear gardening gloves—I buy them, put them on, they fall off and the next time I dig in the garden I dig one up.”
"You must have Virgo in your horoscope,” commented Gloria. “Good at gardens.”
Gloria is a specialist in horoscopes and tin ware. She's made horoscopes for all her friends, including Jane. Jane also informed us that Gloria makes beautiful ornaments in tin ware—a very difficult craft to work in. They both retain their interest in classical music and are avid listeners to the fine music programs. “And heaven help me, I keep a diary,” laughed Gloria.
Gloria is mother of that fine radio actor, Gale Gordon, whom she terms a wonderful son and a wonderful actor. “I claim him as mine, too,” smiled Jane. “He’s so wonderful, I can’t let Gloria have him all to herself.” Gloria’s daughter, a playwright, has just completed a play for coming presentation, “Half Past Twilight.” The title is Gloria's contribution.
Real Character Women
Getting back to radio, both actresses have appeared on practically every network show originating from Hollywood. Neither has any idea how she landed on the Benny show. In spite of the fact that both characterizations complement each other beautifully and fit into the show like little jewels, Jane and Gloria think that they were called for the parts “because there aren't really very many character women in radio.”
“They are cute parts, aren't they ?” smiled Jane. “We would love to dress for them.”
“Long black dresses, little bonnets ...” visualized Gloria.
“Some people call us bobby-soxers,” explained Jane, “but I don’t see the characters that way at all. I think if I got that picure in my head, I’d give a wrong reading.”
“We’re bobby-longstockings,” laughed Gloria.
“I see the characters as two nice old ladies who happen to be crazy about Kack Benny instead of—oh—”
“Francis X. Bushman?” suggested Gloria.
“And isn’t Jack Benny a sweetheart?” Jane smiled.
“Such a handsome boy, too,” winked Gloria.
Morgan died of a heart attack in Burbank on New Year’s Day 1972 at the age of 91. Gordon died on November 23, 1962 at 81.

You can hear their debut on the Benny show by clicking on the arrow.

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