Sunday, 10 January 2016

Overcoming the Yawning Maw

Jack Benny’s success spanned radio and into TV. In a way, one was an extension of the other. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising, as there wasn’t much of a difference in content for shows like Our Miss Brooks and The Life of Riley when they moved from one medium to the other.

But other than maybe Ozzie and Harriet (where the plot focus changed as the sons got older) and Red Skelton, nobody from the radio days had the on-air staying power as Jack.

He talked about the reasons for his success many times in print. Here’s a UPI column from January 29, 1961. He still had a few more years as a TV regular to go after this was published.

Maybe Jack Really Is Only 39

Hollywood — Jack Benny, that blue-eyed bundle of boffolas, has signed his contract for a weekly TV show again next year, proving he is only 39 years old in spirit if not in fact.
Men half his age have passed up weekly comedy series complaining that the grind is too much for them.
Benny thrives on the man-killing schedule.
"This year is the best I've ever had," he said. "The shows have been better than ever, and it's all because the program goes on the air every week instead of once a month or even two weeks.
People connected with the program get in the groove, just like they did in the old radio days.
"Part of the success is that viewers know I'm going to be on the air at a certain time on Sunday nights each week.
There's no confusion about it, and the work actually seems easier."
Other comedians excuse themselves from the weekly treadmill groaning that their writers can't come up with enough material to pour into video's yawning maw. Nonsense, says Benny. His scrivners do it.
"I have to give them an argument about that," he said.
"Perhaps it is true with comedians who haven't established a character and must rely on standup material.
"Fortunately," he added grandly, "I have established a character."
Several, in fact.
Jack has more facets to his ersatz TV personality than a roomful of comics. He's a cheap skinflint, He plays the fiddle outrageously. He’s a lowbrow trying to crash the upper crust. He pouts like an old lady when thwarted. He fights with Don Wilson, Dennis Day and Rochester. He drives a Maxwell. And he's a constant loser.
"It's taken me 25 years to establish these characteristics," Benny said. "And they've been invaluable.
"All I need now is fresh material to go along with that background and I'm in business. Basically, I'm the fall guy with most of the guests getting the comedy lines.
"If I had had the upper hand with the cast members and guests I don't think I'd have had as much success.
"Also, we make it a point to change the pace every week. Sometimes Dennis and Rochester aren't on the show for weeks."

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