Sunday, 18 September 2016
Jack Benny, 1941, Part 1
Oddly, for a show that was so popular on radio, Benny always seemed to have sponsor trouble. In 1941, relations with General Foods still weren’t all that good and Benny almost signed with someone else. Variety outlined what the disagreement was about.
With that, let’s peer through the trade magazine for the first half of that year. You’ll find a few stories on the anniversary dinner thrown for Jack by NBC. Said he: “I hope I’m with NBC the rest of my radio career.” We know that wasn’t the case. And there are a number of stories of about moral boosting shows for soldiers. The U.S. military draft had begun in fall of 1940 and young American men were already in uniform for what was supposed to have been a one-year hitch (Benny and other comedians joked about a “12 month vacation.” The audience got the reference).
January 1, 1941
Much comment heard around the trade Monday (30) about the latitude which NBC allowed Jack Benny in his script of the day before. For the first time the network let down the barriers against any personal references to Hitler and Mussolini by the dramatic or comedy program route.
Benny wrapped his barb in an allegory. He first spoke of the two hoodlums across the pool who were raising an awful mess, and then added, "One of those guys doesn't seem to be happy about it right now."
There have been flops on Broadway that cost more money and others which stopped more quickly, but none more luridly than the collapse of 'All in Fun.' the Leonard Sillman revue that folded at the Majestic, Saturday (29), after two days. From the time the show opened in New Haven and had to be financially rescued by two girls in the show in order to reach Boston the outfit was in constant eruption. . .
Phil Baker was co-producer and in New Haven he announced there was no money to take the show to Boston. ... He had put in around $17,000, which included coin from Ben Bernie, Fred Allen, Jack Benny and Tyrone Power, each contributing around $2,000.
January 2, 1941
Plagiarism suit seeking damages and an accounting was filed in U. S. district court late Tuesday by Atty. Harold D. Geffen on behalf of Ellen Keltz. Suit is directed at Johnny Mercer, RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., RKO Distributing Corp., Jack Benny, Dennis Day, Kay Kyser, Bergman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., and American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, plus 1,000 John Does.
Action charges infringement of the lyrics and title of 'I'd Know You Anywhere,' which she copyrighted in 1937, and which, plaintiff charges, was featured in the Kay Kyser film at RKO, 'You'll Find Out.' Number was published under the alleged authorship of Mercer, with music credited to Jimmy McHugh.
Court is asked to determine damages sustained by the plaintiff.
January 6, 1941
Operators of the town’s better bistros are nursing a peeve against Jack Benny.
Their unit is over the New Year's eve party he tossed at his Bevhills home, attended by scores of the colony's best spenders. They contend he should have taken the gang to one of their estabs for the prestige and incidental unsheathing of the bankroll.
January 9, 1941
Jack Benny yesterday signed a double barreled contract, adding a straight starring pact with 20th-Fox and continuing his deal with Paramount for another term. New setup is effective at once, and arrangements are being made by both companies to work out obligations harmoniously. Neither studio has announced next Benny vehicle.
January 13, 1941
Jack Benny today adds his foot-prints to Sid Grauman's forecourt collection.
First broadcast authorized by the newly formed joint radio-film committee charged with approval of all future Hollywood relief air shows will be an international program, emanating from Hollywood, London and Athens early next month, for the $10,000,000 Greek War Relief Campaign. ... Many Hollywood stars have already volunteered for the program, tentatively set for Feb. 8. Jack Benny and Bob Hope will share honors of m.c on show.
January 14, 1941
JACK BENNY is said to be spoiling for a change in locale and has broached his sponsor for a pair of broadcasts from Sun Valley. Steve Hannagan, exploiting the resort, and Union Pacific railroad are said to have set up broadcasting facilities in the Idaho snow country as bait for network shows. Benny's request is under consideration by the Young & Rubicam agency and General Foods.
January 15, 1941
George E. Phair column Blessings on thee, great big man,
With thy cheek of indoor tan.
The above is what John G. Whittier might write if he comes back— next Sunday to see the Barefoot Boy, Jack Benny, peeling off his shoes and impressing his footprints on the cement mausoleum in front of Sid Grauman's Chinese theatre.
The Maestro has often, in youth, planted his feet on the sands of Lake Michigan adjacent to Waukegan, and still more often on the toes of Fred Allen, but this will be the first time he has ever registered his pedal autograph on the Floor of Fame. Dennis Day will be in the offing, singing an appropriate corny song. From this time forth, Benny's insteps will be perpetuated in deathless glyphs, along with the Barrymore profile and the Gable ears.
Dear sir—If the imprint of the right foot reveals a dime, dated 1894, that's Benny. He had it in his shoe when he left Waukegan. ALLEN.
January 24, 1941
Jack Benny will take a week's layoff from his program and has instructed his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, to write him out of the Feb. 2 broadcast. He'll pass the rest period in the east. [Note: Herbert Marshall hosted the show].
January 27, 1941
William Perlberg and Jack Benny plane out today to gander 'Charley's Aunt' in New York. Play was recently purchased by 20th-Fox as vehicle for Benny.
January 29, 1941
JACK BENNY and party comprising William Perlberg, [the] Jesse Blocks and Arthur Lyons were grounded at Tucson Monday night en route east. Airline found class hotels filled so relegated gang to a private desert estate where party staged an Impromptu show for their host.
February 4, 1941
Jack Benny and William Perlberg returned yesterday from New York where they ogled 'Charley's Aunt,' which the 20th-Fox associate producer will supervise. Picture probably will go into production this summer while Benny, to be starred in it, is off the air.
February 5, 1941
Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin finding more inspiration and less distraction around the desert cactus near Palm Springs, hence most of the scripts for Jack Benny are dreamed up there.
February 17, 1941
Jack Benny moves his Jello program to Palm Springs for broadcast next Sunday (23) from Plaza theatre, which has seating capacity for 800. Invited to the airing are 500 cadets from March Field, Riverside.
February 19, 1941
Negotiations for a new contract between Jack Benny and General Foods through the Young & Rubicam agency are due to come up within the next few weeks. The comic's present contract, which calls for $17,500 a week, is for 35 weeks and expires June 1.
Benny has been talking about retiring from radio for a year and devoting himself exclusively to pictures, but he hasn't said anything to his agents, A. & S. Lyons, about not taking up the matter of renewal with his client.
February 25, 1941
Jack Benny and his Jello troupe remain over for another week at Palm Springs, doing their Sunday broadcast from the desert.
February 26, 1941
Hollywood made another contribution last night to Green war relief, turning out its top performers and songwriters for a gala show at Shrine auditorium that transcended any previous staging of an all-out musical show.
Turnout of more than 6,000 paid approximately $20,000 to view the cavalcade of music ... Even Jack Benny was caught in the crucible of song and gave out with a violin soloing of 'Love In Bloom.'
February 27, 1941
Jack Benny yesterday conferred with his agents, Lyons and Lyons, on the terms of a new contract soon to be inked for continuation of the Jello air series.
March 3, 1941
Possibility that Jack Benny may end his long association with General Foods (Jello) was indicated yesterday when two major agencies put in bids for radio's top comedian. Dick Marvin, radio director of William Esty, here for few days to close the Louella Parsons deal for Lifebuoy, is known to have made overtures to Benny through his agents, Lyons & Lyons. Ward Wheelock, head of the agency bearing his name, flew in yesterday from Washington to present his proposal in person.
Benny, who draws down $17,500 a week for the Jello package show, is said to have been none too happy of late with the affiliation and is understood to have told his agents he would like to make a change. His current contract is up for renewal late this month.
It was reported last week that a cigaret outfit had made an offer of $25,000 a week for the Benny troupe. It is not known whether the Esty agency, which handles Camels, had any connection with the reputed offer. Wheelock places the radio business for Campbell's soup but may be representing another client on the Benny deal.
Palm Springs, March 2.— This desert resort would have proved a haven for Hollywood ticket scalpers today for the second Jack Benny-Jello program to emanate from this locale. More than 2,500 were turned away from the afternoon and night broadcasts.
Kay Kyser and ork head the entertainment at the 1941 National Orange show, opening in San Bernardino March 13 and continuing through (25). Others on program include Rochester and Phil Harris from the Jack Benny show, Abbott and Costello, Ken Murray, Carole Landis, Virginia Weidler, Rufe Davis, Skinnay Ennis and ork, and others.
March 4, 1941
Agency 'battle for Benny' switched yesterday to Palm Springs. Ward Wheelock headed for the desert early yesterday morning and late in the afternoon Tom Harrington, radio head of Young & Rubicam agency, flew in from New York and after a brief stopover here, sped to the Springs. Dick Marvin, who made the first pitch for radio's top show, continued his negotiations here yesterday with Benny's agents, Lyons & Lyons, and airs back to New York today. Several other New York agencies are also reported dispatching their radio heads here to put in an offer.
Activity among the agencies was touched off when word got around that Benny may end his seven-year association with General Foods (Jello). Offers as high as $25,000 a week are said to have been made, with one such proposal tabled because of Benny's aversion to cigaret sponsorship.
Joe Stauffer, Coast radio head of Young & Rubicam agency, yesterday said that he was hopeful the long and happy association with Benny would continue, and declared that reports of strained relations between Benny and the agency are untrue.
Harrington's hurry-up trip to Palm Springs indicates that Young & Rubicam will make a determined fight to hold the Benny show for Jello and it is understood Harrington is empowered to match any offer or concession made by a rival outfit. Benny and his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, are staying over at the Springs for a few days to work on the script of Sunday's program, which will come from NBC here.
Palm Springs, March 3.—Jack Benny said tonight that his reason for wanting a change in radio sponsorship is not impelled by a desire for more coin, but rather dissatisfaction with the current Jello arrangement. This was taken to mean that he would prefer to move the show around occasionally, but such a procedure is not to the sponsor's liking.
Benny declared that he has no quarrel with the Jello people, and had rather enjoyed the seven-year association. Ward Wheelock, agency head, spent several hours with Benny and last night returned to Los Angeles. Tom Harrington, Young & Rubicam radio head, conferred with Benny last night.
March 5, 1941
Report circulating in the trade that Jack Benny has set $25,000 a program as his price for next season was denied Monday (3) by his agent, the A. & S. Lyons office. Benny and Jell-O (General Foods) will call it quits with the June 1 broadcast, after an association of seven years, and there have already been a couple approaches by other accounts, but without either side going into any detailed discussions. Among those reported as interested are Lever Bros., Campbell Soup and Maxwell House Coffee.
According to the Lyons office Benny is far more interested in finding a good client with the right product and having the latter assent to a certain set of conditions than in hiking up his radio salary. The Lyons office has so far refused to quote any price on Benny's future services, explaining this detail would have to be agreed to in a three-way parley in Hollywood with Benny, the client and the Lyons brothers participating.
Tom Harrington of Young & Rubicam (Jello agency) is at Palm Springs, Cal., where Ward Wheelock (Campbell's) has been huddling with. Benny. Y&R wants to save Benny for one of its clients.
There comes a time even in a radio gag writer's life to become serious. The day arrived last week for Bill Morrow, ace scripter for Jack Benny. He got his summons to report to the draft board for examination.
March 6, 1941
Decision on the fall radio status of Jack Benny is not expected to be reached for another 24 hours, it was indicated last night by those on the fringe of the frenzied dealings that have been going on at Palm Springs since Monday. All offers are said to be in and the matter of weighing each one has been undertaken by the comedian's business advisors. Understood no other proposals will be considered at this time.
Tom Harrington, v.p. in charge of radio for Young & Rubicam, is the only agency exec remaining on the desert. Ward Wheelock, who up to Tuesday night was believed to have held the trump card, planed back east for further consultation with the client he represented on the deal, reported to be Palmolive. Dick Marvin, radio head of William Esty outfit, planed out for New York yesterday. His 'pitch' is believed to have been Lever Bros. (Lifebuoy).
Other soap account being groomed for radio is Lever Bros. Swan brand, for which it is said a budget of $10,000,000 has been earmarked for advertising. Young & Rubicam, which handles the Jello account for General Foods, has been awarded this business.
Just what the deciding factor will be in Benny's choice of offers is said to be anybody's guess. Top air comic has announced that he is not pressing for more coin and declared that his relations both with the sponsor and the agency have been pleasant over the seven-year association. Matter of a term contract beyond one year may play an important part in the final outcome.
March 7, 1941
Jack Benny has been given another two days to make his choice of radio sponsors for next fall. His Jello bankrolled General Foods, yesterday advised him of the extension of time after setting the deadline for last Wednesday night. Benny came up yesterday from Palm Springs for consultation with his business advisors, Arthur Lyons and Myrt Blum, and later returned to the desert for his Sunday broadcast.
March 10, 1941
Jack Benny has decided to remain with Jello for at least another year. He will so advise his radio bankroller, General Foods, today after considering several other agency deals for the last week. Contract is for one year, without optional interruption, at the same figure he is now receiving, $17,500 per week. In the course of negotiations with other sponsors, notably Ward Wheelock's Palmolive pitch, and spotting of the program were the comedian to make a change, it developed that Fred Allen's Wednesday night niche for Texaco will be available for this fall. Buchanan agency is giving up the time on CBS, indicating that Allen and the petrol outfit will part company at the close of this season, June 20.
Understood that so close was Benny to signing with Palmolive that General Foods was on the verge of moving the Aldrich Family into his Sunday night spot. This General Foods show has made the most sensational rise in the ratings of any program on the air. Costing less than $5,000 a week, it now ranks among the leaders of the Crossley 30's.
Wheelock, it is said, had put in a bid for Allen's time, contingent on the deal with Benny going through. Palmolive offer was $19,500 per week on a straight three-year deal. Benny is said to have demanded a similar term, which General Foods refused. Last year the procedure had been reversed, with Benny demanding and getting a one-year deal.
March 11, 1941
Another point scored by Benny in negotiating the new contract is the discontinuance, at his discretion, of the repeat broadcast for the Coast. Previously he had sought to do away with the rebroadcast in favor of transcribing the western show, but was met with opposition by both General Foods and NBC. It is considered likely that the program next fall will be heard here on wax, similar to 'Information Please' while under Canada Dry bankrolling.
Benny has 12 more shows to go on the current pact, winding up the season June 1. After a 15-week summer layoff he initials his eighth season for Jello Oct. 5, covering 35 weeks.
Tom Harrington, radio head of Young & Rubicam agency, who conducted the negotiations for GF, leaves today for Florida to resume his vacation which was interrupted by the spirited agency bidding for Benny's services next fall.
March 12, 1941
Jack Benny and his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, are remaining at Palm Springs until Saturday to whip up the script for Sunday's broadcast from here. They may return to the desert later for the Circus Week festivities.
March 18, 1941
Jack Benny will be togged out in the habiliments of a six-year-old when he guests with the 'Quiz Kids' April 16. Guest shot is reciprocal for the call the youngsters will make on Benny's Jell-O'er April 6.
March 20, 1941
Jack Benny will officiate at a Greek war relief benefit in Chicago April 2.
March 24, 1941
Jack Benny, Eddie Beloin, Bill Morrow and the comedian's secretary, Harry Baldwin, leave March 31 by train for Chicago, where Benny will emcee the Greek War Relief program at the Civic Auditorium April 2. Benny returns April 3 with the Quiz Kids, who will be on his program April 6.
March 28, 1941
Jack Benny, Hal Wallis, Jack Warner and the radio comic's agent, Arthur Lyons, huddled yesterday at Warners studio to talk a picture deal for Benny on the Burbank lot.
April 4, 1941
Jack Benny, accompanied by his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, and his Sunday guesters, the Quiz Kids, pull in tomorrow morning on the Union Pacific from Chicago. Benny did a benefit in the Windy City for Greek war relief.
April 7, 1941
MILTON BERLE will emcee in place of Jack Benny at a Greek A Relief benefit show to be staged at the El Portal theatre in North Hollywood night of (11). House, which has a capacity of 1322 will be scaled at $ I throughout, with benefit performance starting at 1 1 p.m. Show will be virtually the same as given recently at the Shrine auditorium.
April 9, 1941
Jack Benny had one of the funniest shows Sunday (6) night in many weeks, with four Alka-Seltzer 'Quiz Kids' from Chicago as his special guests for the occasion. Program was patterned as a contest between the moppets and the Jello Kids, consisting of Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Dennis Day and Don Wilson. Seriousness was strictly taboo, however, with the youngsters answering genuinely tough questions and the grownups floundering on the most palpable kind of setups—all obviously rehearsed but still goofy enough to break up the urchins several times.
April 14, 1941
Clay Morgan, assistant to NBC prexy, Niles Trammel!, arrived from New York over the weekend to take charge of arrangements for the 10th anniversary tribute to Jack Benny at the Biltmore Bowl May 9. He remains here until after the dinner.
April 15, 1941
Jack Benny at last is to be honored by his home town of Waukegan, Ill. City fathers have under consideration the proposal to change the name of South Patrick St. to Jack Benny St.
Lou Cowan's Quiz Kids make their third successive guest appearance with Jack Benny Sunday. Unable to make the trip east for their guest shot on Bill Stern's Colgate Sports-reel, Gerard Darrow and Cynthia Cline fulfill the commitment here with Stern flying out for the solo program Sunday.
April 17, 1941
Comedy show based on the characters in Gene Byrnes' comic strip, 'Reg'lar Fellers', takes the Jello show through the summer after Jack Benny signs off June 1. Program will come from New York.
April 18, 1941
'Once Upon a Summertime', new tune by Jack Brooks and Norman Berens, will be introduced on the Jack Benny Jello program Sunday.
April 23, 1941
Jack Benny's 10th year in broadcasting will be celebrated May 9 by an NBC dinner at the Biltmore Bowl with 1,000 present. Clay Morgan of NBC in New York is here to edit, invitation list from 2.000 names.
Delegation of about 200 will come here from New York and Chicago. Niles Trammell will be a chief speaker. Sid Strotz. Bertha Brainerd and John Royal will come west. NBCers will fly from here to N.A.B. convention in St. Louis.
Half-hour broadcast will be aired from banquet.
April 25, 1941
Serious speeches will be held to a minimum at the testimonial dinner to Jack Benny in Biltmore Bowl May 9, saluting his 10 years in radio. Louis B. Mayer will speak for the picture industry, and Niles Trammell, NBC prexy, spokesman for the radio business. Other talks will be more or less of a flippant nature.
Unable to make the trip here from New York between broadcasts, shunning air travel, Fred Allen is sending a transcribed 'tribute' to be played at the dinner. Clay Morgan, aide to Trammell, who is handling arrangements for the testimonial, said yesterday that invitation acceptances assure a capacity turnout. Shindy will be strictly a black tie affair.
April 29, 1941
Rudy Vallee yesterday was chosen to emcee the testimonial dinner to Jack Benny in Biltmore Bowl May 9 commemorating his 10 years in radio. Hour before the 1,000 or more guests are seated, NBC will air na-tionally a half-hour program from three points. Fellow vauders who trouped with Benny will be heard from New York; film stars, including Herbert Marshall and Claudette Colbert, join the hookup here, after which controls are switched to Benny's home in Beverly Hills where Benny's man, Rochester, will be dressing him for the big event.
Only member of Benny's Jell-O cast to be missing from the testimonial will be Phil Harris, who is committed to an out-of-town dance date the night of the dinner.
April 30, 1941
Jack Benny and Warners are set on a one-picture deal, with probability that the star will report at the Burbank lot before checking in for his next commitment at Paramount.
Meanwhile, the Beany starrer, 'Charley's Aunt,' at 20th-Fox, has been moved ahead to start May 14.
Benny and Bob Hope will be paired by Paramount in “We Want a Girl Friend.” Robert Kent is screenplaying his original.
May 6, 1941
John Royal, NBC vice-prez in charge of television, short wave and kindred activities, arrived yesterday from New York for the Jack Benny testimonial dinner in Biltmore Bowl Friday night.
Also putting in for the shindy was Bill Thomas, publicity director for Young & Rubicam. Due in tomorrow are Niles Trammell, NBC prexy, and Bertha Brainard, manager of NBC program and talent sales. Arrivals later in the week will include Sidney Strotz, NBC vice-prez in charge of programs, and Colby M. Chester, board chairman of General Foods (Jell-O).
May 7, 1941
Special half-hour program (10:30-11 p.m.) which the NBC-Red will put on as part of the Jack Benny festivities Saturday night (10) will include Amos 'n' Andy, Eddie Cantor, Ole Olson (and Johnson) and Ed Sullivan. Also Alois Havrilla and Ed Thorgenson, who were the announcers on Benny's first program. All these will originate from New York.
The Quiz Kids will be cut in from Gary, Ind.
NBC will try for an innovation at the Jack Benny testimonial dinner in Biltmore Bowl Friday night by making it 100% dress-up affair. Notices went out yesterday to the working press, photographers and newsreelers to deck out in formal getup. Formal aspect of the tribute to the comedian's 10th year on the air is being stressed in the invitations and all communications with the invitees by Clay Morgan, NBC exec in charge of arrangements.
Morgan yesterday dispatched NBC page boys on the rounds for personal delivery of admittance cards, which carry the table locations. Accommodations have been made for 1,268 guests, with Benny to be flanked at the speakers' table by 39 radio and picture execs.
Decision was reached yesterday by NBC not to do a broadcast from the Bowl on account of the preponderance of speeches. Half-hour program will be aired nationally an hour before the festivities begin from three pickup points around the country.
Jack Benny will do a Jell-O broadcast from the marine base at San Diego sometime next month.
May 8, 1941
Jack Benny yesterday made news-reel clip with Carolyn Lee at Paramount for National Defense Bonds.
May 9, 1941
Double industry salute, equivalent to the Navy's 21 guns, tonight will be given to radio's top comic. Jack Benny. Affair in Biltmore Bowl, a testimonial to his 10th year on the airlanes, will bring out leaders and outstanding personalities of the film and radio business. It will be the year's best dressed turnout if the thousand or more respect the sartorial dictum.
Ranged along the speakers' table with Benny will be some 40 personalities, headed by Niles Trammel, NBC prexy, and Frank Freeman, bespeaking the sentiments of the film biz. Rudy Vallee presides as toastmaster. Speeches are promised in light vein, with the guest of honor to be twitted by the biggies and intimate friends of the sprocket and kilocycle.
Host for the evening, NBC, will eschew a broadcast from the Bowl, allowing that too much speechmaking doesn't make for too good listening. However, one hour before the festivities get under way the chain will give out with a half-hour broadcast, signing in at 6:30 p.m. on KFI. Pickups will be made in New York to insert Alois Havrilla and Ed Thorgerson, first announcers to herald Benny's entry into radio; Amos 'n' Andy, Eddie Cantor and Ole Olson, the hellzapopper.
From Gary, Ind., the Quiz Kids will flip a few posies at their pal, Jackie. Comedy highlight of the show will be the pickup from Benny's Bevhills home, where Rochester will be dressing the master for his big night out. Hollywood's contribution will be tributes by Claudette Colbert, Herbert Marshall, Trammell and Don Gilman.
After Freeman and Trammell have taken care of the serious business of lauding the accomplishments of radio's top funnyman and filmdom's front rank comic, Benny will be at the mercy of several masters of the witty saying. Among them will be Bob Hope, W. C. Fields, George Jessel, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Jim and Marian Jordan (Fibber McGee and Molly), Edgar Bergen and Mary Livingstone.
Radio's counterpart of an Academy Oscar will be presented Benny by spokesmen for three groups associated with Benny's career. Filmdom's gift will be tendered by Freeman, NBC's by Trammell, and his sponsor (Jell-O) by Colby Chester, board chairman of General Foods. All will be in the nature of a surprise.
Outpouring of well wishers will be predominated by picture people, with only NBC officials and chain performers in the aerial contingent. Every major advertising agency will be represented, many of the execs making the trip from New York for the biggest social event ever auspiced on the Coast by radio.
Music for the anniversary dinner will be directed by a dozen or so maestros who wield a stick on NBC programs here. Phil Harris, tune dispenser for Benny's airshow, will be missing due to a band commitment out of town. Feuding Fred Allen is sending a proxy, his own idea of regaling Waukegan's first citizen. There'll be no comeback by Benny, for one can't talk back to a pancake.
Clay Morgan, assistant to Trammell, handled the arrangements for the dinner.
May 12, 1941
The kilocycles and the sprockets got together last Friday night in Biltmore Bowl to pay homage to one of their favorite sons, Jack Benny, entering upon his 10th year as a topflight giggle-getter. Serious tribute vied with flip banter for one of the most sentimental and hilarious evenings of this or any other year. Benny's radio pals, all past masters of the quip, paid their respects in the way they knew best, to the howling delight of 1,200-some stiff-bosomed guests.
It wasn't all persiflage, however, for there was the serious business at hand of glad-handing and well-wishing the nation's Sunday night cheerer-upper, embarking on another decade of spreading laughs among a war-worried populace. Such notable sentimentalists as Jimmy Walker, George Jessel, Niles Trammel, Don Gilman balanced off the evening against the onslaught of the zaneys and the blending of the two made it a memorable event.
NBC hosted the party, about $25,000 worth, but NBC Prexy Trammell must have felt well repaid when Benny levelled with 'I hope I'm with NBC the rest of my radio career.' In many minds that put at rest any possibility of him skipping over to any other network. When a man makes that kind of a statement in a mellow mood the blue chips can ride along with it. Benny never sounded more sincere.
Hollywood said it couldn't be done, but the miracle happened. It was a dress-up affair down to one careless bulb-popper. Along the speakers' table were ranged the white ties, all others turned out in tuxes. Clay Morgan, aide to Trammell, who handled the arrangements, proudly presented his minority report. The odds were all against a 100% dress affair, considering the unseasonable heat, but there they were, and there are pictures to prove it.
When Gilman tapped for order and gave a facetious accounting of Toastmaster Rudy Vallee, the crowd all knew they were in for a fast ride the rest of the way. Vallee didn't let the tempo sag for a minute, flipped 'I'm here largely to see that NBC gets the check—payment at the source.' He trade-lasted Benny for letting others of his cast bask in the spotlight and then called up Edgar Bergen, who forthwith unpacked Charlie. How the old vaude bookers would have winced to see that opening act. After a few exchanges with the dummy, Bergen cracked, Yes, I was in vaudeville with Benny. We were the ones that weakened it so Bob Hope could make the kill.' Charlie had the next line. It's not Chase & Sanborn that keeps you awake, Bergen, it's Jell-O'. Bergen passed it off with 'the crown rests on the head it fits best,' but Charlie served notice 'we'll steal it if we can.'
Jim and Marian Jordan (Fibber and Molly) were next up, and whammed the mob with 'anyone who can parlay a fiddle, Fred Allen and a polar bear into a career deserves a dinner.' Quipped Molly, 'all NBC did for us on our 10th anniversary was to start signing our contracts with ink.' When Fibber remarked that Benny was to have his own network, Molly shot back, they've got to give one away to someone, don't they?' Trady and timely and the mob ate it up.
VALLEE GETS CHUCKLE
Vallee cuts himself in for a laugh when, on introducing Colby Chester, board chairman of General Foods, he quipped, 'a sponsor is the man who pays for the radio program his wife runs.' Chester didn't mind it as much as being introduced with his front name last. George Burns and Grade Allen directed their sally at Hilliard Marks, brother of Mary Livingstone. Tossing a glance at the 220-pounder, Gracie jibed, 'now there's a kid who could use a good dinner.' George said he knew him when he was a baby, that he looked like Arthur Lyons—about 10% of him. Sam Lyons took a ribbing as 'interpreter for Benny's father.
' Next called up was Bob Hope, who wanted to know if the order of appearance had anything to do with the Crossley. 'I had the choice of sitting at the speakers' table or being put in the men's room but I don't get along so well with the CBS gang,' he cracked. There weren't a half-dozen Columbians in the room. He then wowed them with 'Benny is a very generous guy. I saw him giving away dollar bills, the same day that Hearst went to see 'Citizen Kane'. He bowed off by saying that 'when bigger laughs are manufactured Rochester will get them.'
A roar swept through the Bowl when Vallee classified the next speaker as 'the man who has done so much for the youth of America.' The crowd at once sensed that it was George Jessel. He took it big and dead-panned, 'those who have been reading the papers know that I have been particularly busy this year.' He then went serious and paid high tribute to the Benny program for the tolerance of many races and creeds on the program. 'That's what makes it a great show and this a great country,' he exulted. 'Long may it live and long may it laugh at Jack Benny.' The mob gave him a tremendous hand.
Surprise guest was Jimmy Walker, onetime New York's hizzoner. Called to the dais by Jessel, he flipped, 'I've turned out to be a buttonmaker,' referring to his new job with the needle trade. Shunning the glaring spotlight with 'I hate those lights,' he struck a serious note when he remarked, 'Time was when people couldn't see me, but now I want to see them.' After paying his respects to Benny and Mary Livingstone as a lovely couple, Walker begged off by saying he was waiting for his wheel chair.
Vallee got himself in solid at the City Hall by having Fletcher Bowron take a bow as 'the best mayor L. A. ever had.' Trammell followed, recalling that 18 years ago he was peddling receiving sets here. He lauded Benny and his cohorts for 'making the country laugh when it needed it most,' and then brought the evening's honor guest to the mike. The crowd rose as one and gave him an ovation that lasted fully two minutes. It was an hour past midnight and Benny laid it on for a hilarious windup.
'I want to thank NBC for inviting so many comics to speak,' he sparked. 'There have been eight up here and I'm standing on Milton Berle. Why do they have to louse up a guy's testimonial? I'd like to say that I wasn't discovered by Vallee, Gus Edwards or anyone else. I was found under a rock in Waukegan by Arthur Lyons. His brother Sam said I looked good for 10 years on the radio and we've all been eating since, only it's more becoming on Arthur.'
LAUDS SHOW MEMBERS
Benny called on members of his show to take bows and lauded each for his work. Speaking of Rochester, he said, 'there's one picture he won't steal and that's 'Charley's Aunt". He's not in it.' Mary Livingstone had to beg off from saying a few words, a sporting gesture inasmuch as the others didn't do any talking. Gifts were showered on Benny as the festive evening came to a close. Frank Freeman, on behalf of the Producers Association, gave him a watch; NBC presented him with a silver service, the master keys to all NBC studios in New York and Hollywood, and a scroll. Timepiece bore the inscription, 'To Jack Benny—in appreciation of his services to humanity.' Freeman added that the sentiment is engraved on all our hearts.
It was radio's first big social outing here and gave the others some-thing to shoot at. It won't easily be topped, east or west.
NBC Side Show
Martha Tilton did all the singing with the band—and plenty good.
'Love In Bloom' was sawed away, after the Benny technique, while the band rested.
Spotted dancing to Gordon Jenkins' music—Paul Rickenbacher and Lolly Parsons.
Hedda Hopper was virtually mobbed by the photogs. Gals gave her headgear a double take.
NBC orders on the party were 'go first class all the way.' Ask anyone who was there if they didn't top that.
Flowers from well-wishers were strewn all over the bowl and over-flowed into the foyer in regimented profusion.
Prexy Trammel! bouqueted Hal Bock, Joe Alvin and Frances Scully Ahc NBC publicity staff for a job well done.
Clay Morgan handled the whole affair with barely a squawk. That should call for a merit badge or something.
It was easily a 90% picture tum-out, which should make the industry cognizant of their radio friends when they toss a party.
Those comics must have savvied fast when Bob Hope cracked, 'Radio is hard on the hair. Your forehead and Crossley go up together.'
Jell-O was not served. Those toothsome morsels were pretty tough to follow. Probably Clay Morgan couldn't think up a fancy name for it.
Don Gilman spent most of his time at the speakers' table standing, mitting the couples as they danced by. Is there anyone that guy doesn't know?
Colossal was the word for the gifts showered on 'The Bee' man. The birthday cake had to be wheeled in and two huskies bore the case of silver service.
Autograph hounds caught the celebs coming out at 1:30 a.m., and had a field day. Kay Kyser and Ginny Simms had to beg off after finger cramps set in.
Benny just couldn't play straight for his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin. After accolading them for being terrific writers, he flipped, 'I introduced them just to see if they could stand.'
Downtown sheets boycotted the Benny dinner as 'un-newsworthy'— but not socially. The biggies and their columnists were out in force. NBC-ites took it big and gave them choice locations.
Trammell and Sidney Strotz, NBC program chief, planed out Saturday for broadcasters' conclave in St. Louis. Other out-of-town visitors dribbled back to their home bases over the weekend.
Jimmy Walker's presence was a real surprise. The hand they gave him must have made him feel pretty good. He returned the gesture by remarking, 'I'm one fellow who knows all Hollywood isn't synthetic.'
May 14, 1941
Jack Benny went to work yesterday (Mon.) as the star in 'Charley's Aunt' at 20th-Fox.
Archie Mayo directs and Peverell Marley handles the camera.
May 16, 1941
BILL MORROW and Ed Beloin, writers for Jack Benny's airer and pictures, will take their first vacation in three years when the Jell-O show rings off for the summer June 1, but they had to brush aside a tempting writing offer to go through with their original plans for a summer sabbatical. Pleading weariness from one of the busiest years of their career, they spurned an offer from 20th-Fox to screenplay 'Charlie's Aunt.' They compromised with Benny's insistence by contributing suggestions before they shove off for Canada and points east to take a complete rest from writing labors for the 15 weeks of the Jell-O hiatus.
May 22, 1941
THE MASQUERS are giving their last testimonial dinner of the season on June 10 in honor of Jack Benny. Dinner is being billed as a Pan Roast, with Edward Earle in charge of preparations and William Collier, Sr., as toastmaster.
May 28, 1941
Phil Harris and Eddie Anderson (Rochester) of the Jack Benny airshow are being booked for a personals tour during the two months program is off the air this summer. They would not appear together, Rochester beginning his trek at the Los Angeles Paramount theatre week of June 16, and Harris starting June 27 at the Orpheum in Omaha.
June 5, 1941
Entertainment for soldiers in camps by film stars and featured players has been undertaken by Artists Managers Guild, with talent being lined up for the first seven shows of the initial series. ...
First show will be staged at Fort Ord, near Monterey, Calif., June 15. Comprising the stellar cast of film names to initiate the project will be Jack Benny,... Fund of $5,000 has been subscribed by AMG members, and studios will be asked to make a like contribution to meet the costs of transportation, musicians' salaries and other incidentals.
June 6, 1941
OLSEN, Johnson and Red Skelton join the comedian lineup that will take part in the 'Pan Roast' show for Jack Benny which The Masquers are staging Tuesday (10). Edward Eerie is chairman for the evening and William Collier, Sr. will be toastmaster.
June 9, 1941
Mary 'Bubbles' Kelly, 46, vaudeville and radio comedienne, whom Grade Allen credited with starting her on her professional career, died in her sleep here Saturday. Miss Kelly started In show business 30 years ago with a Chicago stock company and later appeared in vaudeville with Tom Swift, who also was from the stock troupe. She toured vaudeville houses for 15 years with the song and comedy routine. In recent years deceased turned to radio, appearing on programs with Jack Benny, Burns and Allen and Al Pearce. She was billed with Blanche Stewart as 'The Chicken Sisters' when appearing on many recent beneflts with Jack Benny. Miss Kelly is survived by her husband, Ray Myers, onetime Orpheum booker in New York. Latter left via Challenger last night accompanying body to Chicago, where burial service has been tentatively set for Thursday.
June 13, 1941
Maurice Rapf and Jack Jungmeyer, Jr., have turned in their original story, 'The Gentleman From Carolina', at 20th Fox, slated as a big budget feature on historical lines, and are now writing a treatment of their original story for Jack Benny under the title, 'Whispering Wires.' Both will be Milton Sperling productions.
June 16, 1941
Hollywood trotted out a dazzling array of top calibre talent for trainees at Camp Hunter Liggett and Fort Ord over the weekend in a 'sneak preview' or 'test show' which may be the forerunner of the type of army entertainment to come....
Approximately 22,000 of the 35,000 boys at Liggett Saturday and 15,000 of the 22,000 at Fort Ord today, shouted, whistled and cheered themselves hoarse during the two hours and 10 minutes of the costliest star lineup yet presented in an army camp. When the show was over, thousands of soldiers stood silently on the dust-covered hillsides to give the show people the right-of-way to Del Monte. It was a slick, showmanly, evenly balanced big time production with Jack Benny,...
Jack Benny, suffering a slight flu attack and running a temperature Saturday morning, would likely have cancelled a commercial engagement under the circumstances...
Jack Benny, accompanied by Mary Livingstone, headed the star-studded cast presented by the Motion Picture Committee for Talent and Camp Recreation. With Benny indisposed, George Jessel was drafted at the last minute to pinch-hit as master of ceremonies and divided the assignment as Benny recovered sufficiently to go on later. Both Jessel and Benny were in top form. For the men in uniform it was a most memorable day of an army career.
June 18, 1941
Jack Benny proved he can take it in good grace as well as dish it up, at the Masquers last night when the stags at eve poured it on at 'pan roast' tribute to Waukegan's first citizen. He was at the mercy of some pretty sharp barb throwers, but behind a tall stogie he shook it off and then proceeded to let the ribbers have more than they bargained for. More than a dozen film and radio worthies let go with their best quips, from the first shaft of Toastmaster William Collier down to Y. Frank Freeman, whose verbal chastisement was far more tender than those who preceded him. Even Chairman Edward Earl, usually sedate and quite proper, got in a few 'stinging' licks.
Dick Powell opened the affair by leading the assembled 400 or more — in a mass rendition of 'God Bless America'. That was the last serious note of the evening, and from then on the gags started pouring in. Collier went into a long spiel in Yiddish on the jest of honor, and successively brought to the mike for the verbal assault Joseph Cawthorne, Fred Niblo, Pat O'Brien, Charles Coburn, Mervyn LeRoy, J. L. Warner, Don Gilman, and Freeman. LeRoy was the only one who played it straight, explaining that Benny was a close personal friend. Warner fumbled with a script, and cracked, 'It says here Warner Bros., Inc. I don't know what that Inc. is doing here, since my brothers and I own all the stock.' He flipped at Benny, 'Even if your picture flops, it won't be so bad; our shorts take care of our business.'
Gilman told about how the dinner which NBC tossed for Benny spread from the original intimate party to the splurge at the Biltmore Bowl so as to care for Benny's cast, Mary Livingstone's relatives and Arthur Lyons' client list. Freeman got off to a good start by flipping, 'I've attended a good many of these dinners for Benny.' Freeman said he was young and innocent when he came to Hollywood but fell into the hands of Benny and Arthur Lyons, and 'was my education fast!'
Benny had the last word, even that privilege being extended to the victim of a Masquer panroast, and he squared accounts all around. He took care of his 'traducers' collectively, and cracked, 'The Masquers will give a dinner to any jerk who'll accept it.' Referring to Warners speech, he said, 'If that guy writes my material, I'll go right on through Warners to Republic.'
It was all in good, if not so clean, fun, and Benny probably enjoyed it more than anyone else in the clubroom.
June 23, 1941
Soldier m.c.'s are being engaged for the mammoth three-hour stage show being produced for the United Service Organization drive by the Motion Picture Committee for Talent and Camp Recreation at the Hollywood Bowl next Sunday night (29). Soldiers from various camps were auditioned yesterday with the idea of having every act on the bill introduced by a man in uniform.
The Columbia network has been cleared from coast to coast so that the program can be aired for the first hour and a half, with Mutual and NBC also reported trying to clear time to take the show.
In addition to the names listed, the committee also is trying to line up the highest priced stars at the major studios, and may present many of them coupled as in their screen appearances.
USO Hollywood headquarters listing of those who will definitely appear in the show includes ... Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone...