Sunday, 5 June 2016

Schlepp

The Jack Benny radio show created and developed many characters who took on a life of their own. There was a danger in that. The audience only accepted the character’s actor in that role until they finally got tired of it and wanted something new played by someone else.

That, unfortunately, is what happened to one of the show’s earliest semi-regular characters.

Sam Hearn had been a star in vaudeville before World War One, reaching stardom as a single act in dialect. Radio and talking pictures did their best to kill vaudeville careers. Hearn’s real stardom ended. But ethnic stooges were still welcome in radio comedy in the 1930s and Hearn landed a job with Benny as a Jewish character named Schlepperman.

Schlepperman banged the public’s funnybone and there was more and more demand for him. But there was one problem with that. The audience didn’t want Hearn. They wanted Schlepperman. Hearn’s attempt to distance himself from the character by leaving the Benny show didn’t work. So Hearn returned to work for Benny for a while, then began to make personal appearances as Schlepperman into the war years. After the war, when ex-Benny vocalist Kenny Baker’s radio sitcom needed shoring up, Schlepperman was brought in as comic relief, perhaps in the hope the Benny familiarity factor would result in ratings (further adding to that was the choice of announcers, Don Wilson). But the show never really took off.

Here’s a syndicated feature story from the Freeport Daily Review of January 18, 1937, telling of the tribulations of being put in a role that the audience won’t let you leave.
Schlepperman Calls 'Farewell Stranzer' As Sam Hearn of Freeport Takes a Rest
Makes Indies Cruise After Leaving A Hit Song To Audience

By MARY RITA HALPIN
Sam Hearn stooged "Hello Stranzer" to Jack Benny on a radio program two years ago, and Schlepperman, Hearn's alias, made more friends than a dozen lonely hearts columns run end to end.
"I'm taking a trip to the West Indies to try it on the natives," said Mr. Hearn who leaves his home on Wilson place, Freeport, tomorrow, for a 12-day pleasure cruise with his wife and Lester and Mort Lewis, radio script and magazine writers.
Wants Nothing Save A Rest
Regardless of his pen-pushing playmates, the dapper Freeport comedian mirroring sartorial perfection from bis neat mustache to gray spate, seeks a rest. He leaves behind the song, "There's a Sparrow in the Haystack", in words and music of which he introduced to his "Showboat" audience last month, and his cinema self in the "Big Broadcast of 1937" that played the local theatres this week.
"No scripts, just relaxation," announced Hearn under the approving smile of his attractive redheaded wife, the former Helen Eley who last appeared on the stage with Charlie Ruggles in "Battling Butter."
"When I return I'm going to pitch into the 'Schlepperman Enterprises,' a script which we have completed and hope to uncover a sponsor for," the comedian continued seriously.
Resents 'Stooge' Ranking
"I resent classification as a stooge. When on the stage I was called a player. A stooge in the theatre is the lowest form of a player; makes about from $25 to $26.50," he said.
"Of course, when you play with Jack Benny you are a stooge. It's just one stooge family. Jack, incidentally, put me on the air. He heard me at an intimate frolic of the Friars' club when I decided to do an all Jewish dialect. He liked it so much that he asked me to go on the air with him the following week. I did and Schlepperman was born." His infectious "Hello Stranzer" merrily pushed its way through the Chevrolet, General Tires, Jello and Maxwell House programs.
"That happened accidentally. My script ran 'howdy-do' so I said to Jack, I knew you in the studio but the audience doesn't know that how about 'Hello Stranzer.' He said, 'that's good, Sam, try it.' I did and am I glad," Hearn grinned. "Like Joe Penner's 'wanna buy a duck' or Jack Pearl's 'Vas you there Sharlie' it has set a high. It's hard to top."
Quietly affable in manner, with a rare joke rollicking, this funny man thinks he runs according to the sir comedian's pattern. "Radio sets a tedious pace. Jokes are clean due to censorship and they have to be good. Benny is on top. It's turned his hair white. Fred Allen, one of the cleverest, writes his own script, never goes out of the house," was his explanation.
Last Of The Mohicans
Twenty years of Freeport, the Long Island railroad and natural musical talent put Ream's "Sparrow in the Haystack" on the popular music list.
"We're practically the last of the Mohicans of the town's show people. The Lights club is gone and with it the men I used to ride with to New York on the smoker. No one to talk to commuting, I thought up the words to the song then fooled around the piano for a plaintive air. I sang it once and received so many requests it was symphonized for the 'Showboat' program. It was a real thrill to hear Helen Jepson, Lanny Ross and the Modern choir take it up." He rehearsed the presentation on the spot.
Mr. Hearn has appeared in one other moving picture for Paramount besides "The Big Broadcast", "Florida Special" in which Jack Oakie starred.
"Yes, I was the little man with the violin. Pictures are funny. After working your head off the picture is run and you only see yourself in spots. I put pajamas on for the pullman scene at "two" in the afternoon. After waiting around all day they put me in the upper berth at 10 o'clock. I fell asleep when they started adjusting the camera, when I came to at 12:30 with 'what town am I in?' they took three shots and the day was done at twenty to one. You probably won't even remember the few minutes you saw that on the screen," he mused.
Hearn spent the ‘50s back with Benny, though the Jewish dialectician job had been handed to ex newspaper photographer Artie Auerbach. Hearn instead played a rube character, though Schlepp returned for an episode of the Benny TV show. But it seems an absence from the air and a change from radio to TV put Schlepperman to rest. Hearn started picking up different roles, including two in 1964. One was on Universal’s “That Funny Feeling” with another dialectician-turned-Benny bit player, Benny Rubin. Hearn had a heart attack on set almost a week later and died on October 29th.

1 comment:

  1. Schlepperman popped on The Great Gildersleeve during their first season. I wonder if there were many other appearances on other radio shows.

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