Sunday, 9 October 2016

Jack Benny, 1941, Part 2

The Day That Will Live in Infamy happened at the end of 1941 and influenced American life for the next four years. It certainly influenced the entertainment business and it influenced the Jack Benny show as Dennis Day, Phil Harris and writer Bill Morrow ended up in the military. However, that all came later.

Let’s look at the second half of 1941 as it pertained to American’s top radio comedian. July started out with his show on a summer break and Harris, Day and Eddie Anderson all hitting the personal appearance circuit. Day appeared with a blackface act, Art Carney and Jack Benny introducing him on a record, while Harris’ revue included Paul Winchell (and renditions of “That’s What I Like About the South” as well as “The Hut Sut Song”) and Anderson’s show included a filmed bit with Benny.

We’ll skip the clippings from Variety about the weekly take at various box offices for Jack in “Charley’s Aunt.” We’ll only include one review of the movie (the Weekly and Daily versions published different reviews).

“The Widow Wouldn’t Weep” had been proposed for some time. Hedda Hopper reported in late 1942 that Warners Bros. was still trying to persuade Benny to make it.

July 8, 1941
Police have listed the death of Mrs. Delia Kubelsky Sachs, 63-year-old aunt of Jack Benny, as suicide. She died here [in Los Angeles] Saturday. Mrs. Sachs was visiting here from Arizona.

July 16, 1941
Hal Block in from the east to write the comedy spots forguesters on "Millions For Defense." Lined up for early shots are Charlie Chaplin, Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny and Abbott and Costello. [It aired on CBS on the 30th]

July 23, 1941
Charley's Aunt
(Farce Comedy)
20th-Fox production. Stars Jack Benny. Cast: Kay Francis, James Ellison, Anne Baxter, Edmund Gwynn, Reginald Owen, Laird Cregar, Arleen Whelan, Richard Haydn, Ernest Cossart, Morton Lowry, Lionel Pape, Will Stanton, Montague Shaw, Claud Allister, William Austin, Maurice Cass. Directed by Archie Mayo. Producer, William Perlberg. Screenplay by George Seaton. Based on play by Brandon Thomas. Music, Alfred Newman. Photography, Peverell Marley. Art direction, Richard Day and Nathan Juran. Film editor, Robert Bischoff. Costumes, Travis Banton. Trade shown at 20th-Fox exchange, Los Angeles, July 22. Running time: 83 mins.
‘Charley's Aunt’, that timeless and unstated classic farce, is expounded in perfection by Jack Benny and a trouping cast which shows proper respect for a piece of theatre that has amused and prospered on stage and screen for 48 years. Benny, in a performance he has not excelled, adds his comic translation to the best by his predecessors and peers. That the picture will fare handsomely is practically certified by the b.o. history of previous presentations and the production quality placed behind the Benny name. Film had only to be made well and to follow prescription with a sound cast and discerning direction, and this it does, emphatically.
Producers—Darryl F. Zanuck as executive, and William Perlberg actually in charge—realized that no fooling with the original Brandon Thomas play in any of its essentials would be tolerated by the millions familiar with its oft-proved, simple and universally understood clowning. None was attempted. Indeed, the Brandon Thomas estate, which owns the rights and disposes of screen rights for five-year periods only, will not permit basic situations to be tampered with.
Benny plays the title role with relish and gusto. The masquerade is carried off broadly, but without burlesque and without smirk; above all, without the slightest taint of suggestiveness, which would have been fatal. English setting and atmosphere is quickly established at Oxford, with Benny as a cricket shark and a tea addict. James Ellison and Richard Haydn are the boys for whom Benny fronts in the guise of Ellison's 'aunt' when his school chums need a convenient chaperone to outwit the guardianship of Edmund Gwenn over Anne Baxter and Arleen Whelan. Kay Francis is the real aunt, who announces her identity, finally, to confuse the two old suiters of 'aunt' Benny and to make the young folk happy. Reginald Owen is the simpering professor, Laird Cregar is Sir Francis.
All these carefully cast players fulfill their assignments capably, get individual cracks at the laugh material, and are abetted in lesser roles but also very good, by Ernest Cossart, as the valet; Morton Lowry, Lionel Pape, Will Stanton, Montague Shaw, Claud Allister, William Austin and Maurice Cass.
Under Archie Mayo's direction the ancient but hale and hearty farce, refreshed where needed in George Beaton's craftsmanly script, moves smoothly and hilariously. Good for full laughter still are the old routines of the park bench and the garter, the 'aunt's' hungry relish of a cigar, the flirtation at the garden wall and the desperate maneuvers to preserve the masquerade in the face of many cross-purposes.
Alfred Newman contributes the music. Peverell Marley does a choice job of photography. Travis Banton dressed the principals authentically for the period—in 1890. Production is on lavish scale, handsomely dressed.
As a stage play, 'Charley's Aunt' made its debut in London in 1892, came to New York a year later, and was first made in silent films in 1925 when Syd Chaplin played the title role. Since then it is said of the venerable farce, to which millions have laughed, that the sun never had set where the play wasn't being presented by amateur or professional companies, except during the world war periods.

"THREE OF A KIND', special trailer made by George Weiss' department at 20th-Fox to plug 'Charley's Aunt', Is expected to be played by exhibitors as a regular comedy short. Running seven minutes, reel has Jack Benny, Tyrone Power and Randolph Scott, plus the voice of Mary Livingstone, appearing in a short skit that avoids the usual commercial advertising ballyhoo. Entertainment in the trailer will qualify it to stand on its own, using laughs to put over the fact that Benny becomes a female impersonator in the picturization of the old play. Plot has Benny moaning about the role and yearning to do virile characters such as given Power and Scott until the latter pair sell him on what a great opportunity he has. Corner of the Cafe de Paris was used as the stage and studio spend around $2,500 to turn out the reel. It also works in plug: for 'A Yank In the R.A.F.' and 'Belle Starr". Trailer is being sold to exhibitors at the usual rate for coming-attraction reels but studio reports requests for bookings as a regular short because of the name and comedy values.

Jack Benny saw a sign on the Arizona border: “Panhandlers are not allowed to enter California without picture contracts.”

July 30, 1941
WESTWOOD flackery is anticipating record turnout for studio's opening of 'Charley's Aunt' at the Chinese tomorrow night. Bleacher seats for over 5,000 will be built in the forecourt and 75 Los Angeles policemen and 50 studio patrolmen have been assigned to handle crowd. For the benefit of the newsreelers, Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone will do a skit in the lobby prior to taking in film.

July 31, 1941
Chicago, July 30.—Warners will hold its trade showings under the consent decree at the convenience of the exhibitor, Gradwell L. Sears, general sales manager, told delegates today at the company's annual convention in outlining future policy under the new law. Sears also announced Warners program of pictures for 1941-42, giving the salesmen a list of 38 titles.
[Included is] 'The Widow Wouldn't Weep', Dalton Trumbo comedy to star Jack Benny.

August 5, 1941
Salaries of Louis B. Mayer and Gary Cooper top the list of biggest money names in the nation's industries, according to list given out by the Treasury Department. Mayer's was again the pinnacle stipend, $697,048 for 1940, and $688,371 for 1939....
Others in the industry, as listed by the Treasury Department,... Jack Benny, $127,500.

August 13, 1941
[London, England]—Jack Benny transcriptions from his Jell-O broadcast are going over. They’ll air here each two weeks now; was previously on a monthly schedule.

August 26, 1941
Jello is buying the NBC-Blue Pacific Coast net for transcriptions of the Jack Benny program which is slated to return to the air Oct. 5. Recording of the 4 o'clock Red net program will go on at 8:30 PST on the Coast Blue, giving Benny the opportunity of getting away from a repeat broadcast, which he has long sought.
Under the new arrangement the 4 o'clock broadcast, which has not hitherto been heard on the Coast, will be piped through the whole transcontinental Red net. The basic NBC-Blue Coast net consists of seven stations and additional number of outlets to be used by Jello for the delayed broadcast will depend on how far east the sponsor will go. Several NBC affiliates outside of the basic net also may carry the disc show.

August 27, 1941
Following are lists of the programs that had the highest average rating during the October-April period:
1. Jack Benny (39.9).
2. Chase & Sanborn (36.9).
3. Fibber McGee & Molly (32.6).
4. Lux Radio Theatre (32.3).
5. Bob Hope (29.6).

September 17, 1941
Hollywood. Sept. 16.
Because Jack Benny can't make up his mind whether to shove off on the new season from the Coast or New York, his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, are eyebrow deep in a dither. Comic insists on locale coloring in the script and the 3,000 miles in between makes a difference. Seasonal debut is Oct. 5. They straddled the dilemma by pounding out two sheafs, east and west, and keeping their fingers crossed lest he decide to take off from Chicago.

Jack Benny Super-Chiefed to Chicago last night and will pass a few days in Waukegan before proceeding to New York, where he does his first two Jello broadcasts of the new season. Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, writers, plane east Monday and members of the cast will dribble east at intervals. Jello airer, beginning Oct. 5, will be heard twice here on Sundays; at 4 p.m. on KFI and at 8:30 via transcription over KECA.

Mary Livingston preceded hubby Jack Benny to NY, making the nitery rounds with the Ed Sullivans. Benny arrives tomorrow (Thursday).

September 19, 1941
Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, writers for Jack Benny, will take no chances on being caught out on the Pacific drifting aimlessly when they drop their lines in the waters around Catalina over weekend. Boat will be equipped with radio just in case they have another experience like last week when they were rescued after floating around for half a night.

October 1, 1941
Albert Spalding and Jack Benny who teamed in a comedy bit and violined McDowell's 'To a Wild Rose,' after Spalding bad played alone superbly, were a highlight of a fast-moving 'Salute of Champions,' emceed by Bill Stern over NBC blue, to the men in the armed services. Benny, as usual, squeezed laughs out of every line—some of them not particularly funny in themselves; Spalding did a nice bit of foiling. The duet was partly kidding and the rest on the level.

Eddie Cantor, always the showman and often the pioneer, used a rather novel signoff themer on his NBC show, emphasizing the wide variety of radio entertainment available by 'a twist of the wrist.' Apparently it had special lyrics, one of the lines being ‘from a fireside chat to Joe DiMaggio's bat’ (the Yankee slugger guested that night). Bing Crosby and Jack Benny were among the air headliners mentioned in the song. Cantor on the same broadcast did a thing which many comedians would not do: he virtually played straight man, with DiMaggio, to give Bert Gordon (The Mad Russian) a succession of midriff laugh lines. Carole Landis came in for the latter half of the exchange.

October 3, 1941
BILL MORROW and Ed Beloin, who have been whittling witticisms, lo, these past six years, for the Jack Benny larynx, will be two of the six delicious flavors on the temblor dessert Sunday night.

October 7, 1941
'To Be Or Not to Be', forthcoming Ernst Lubitsch production for Alexander Korda with Jack Benny in the lead, has been set to start Nov. 1. Benny will play a Polish matinee idol and story is laid in Warsaw.

October 8, 1941
New York, Oct. 7.—Young & Rubicam is reported interested in Groucho Marx and the agency, representing General Foods, favors a program in which he would replace Jack Benny for Jell-O when the tatter's contract expires in June, 1942.

Jack Benny and Albert Spalding, who met for the first time Sunday night (5) when they both appeared at the 'Fun to Be Free' benefit show at Madison Square Garden, N. Y., enjoyed working together so much they now plan reciprocal guest dates on each other's programs. Benny at first suggested going on the Coca-Cola show with Andre Kostelanetz and Spaldlng next Sunday (12), but it was decided the time was too short to permit adequate preparations. Benny expects to be back in New York sometime in December and the plan is for the exchange guest appearance then.

Show business poured it on for democracy Sunday night (5) at Madison Square Garden, making of Fight for Freedom's 'It's Fun to be Free' rally and entertainment a literate and stirring affair....
Running the gamut of comedy, such as the Easter Parade' two-act by Jack Benny and Eddie Cantor... Only jarring note was the fact that the entertainment was not permitted to finish due to the scheduling on Mutual and WEVD of speeches by Wendell Willkie, chairman of Fight for Freedom. Mayor LaGuardia, William Knudsen and finally Herbert Agar, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, and militant spokesman for American intervention.

London, Sept. 20.
English radio fans are puzzled about quality of the Jack Benny transcriptions now airing here weekly. Realizing the show comes overseas as a gift, there's still cause for wonder at wax impressions that are definitely not easy on the ear. With BBC plugging the fact the recording is shipped this side, there's no room for the old standby ‘atmospherics’ in explaining the fading, fuzziness, etc., which detracts from entertainment.
Same quality flaw is reported in connection with Bob Hope's airer, if not even more pronounced. His show only broadcasts locally every two weeks so there's more time to get over the irritation. With this technical difficulty added to the delivery and jargon of the Yank performers, Britishers find it plenty tough to follow these American programs.

With Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris Orchestra, Rochester, Dennis Day Comedy, Music, Songs
Sunday, 7 p.m.
WEAF NBC, New York
(Young & Rubicam)
There has been a growing tendency in the Jack Benny program to represent the star unattractively. In the name of comedy the program has made sport of his supposed stinginess, hls fancied prowess as a lady killer. Good comedy results have undoubtedly flowed from these attitudes which have long since become standardized, but, which if now exaggerated, may easily become stale. Insofar as making Benny seem a fool or as a has-been as a valid comedy formula and a dividends-producing characterization, it is certainly as clear as Benny's diction that nobody In authority la going to quibble with $ucce$$, if you get the idea.
However, for the first broadcast of the 1941-42 series, the willingness to sappify a once-sophisticated funnyman was carried to what is probably a new peak. An entire sequence was based on Benny's purported blindness without his glasses which he had left behind him in Hollywood. He was led by the hand into Ebbett's Field to attend, but not to see, the World's Series. A whole string of gags based on his physical helplessness without hls glasses followed, the climax being a foul ball which beaned him.
Perhaps It was funny to most people. But surely not to all. Surely not to the thousands who have various infirmities. And what price plot ‘sympathy’ for Benny? To josh a man about his toupee Is one thing. That is vanity. But is not optical blackout, even temporarily, a genuine tragedy? However far-fetched the professional anything-for-a-laugh thinker-uppers of gags may consider such a point, there does seem reason to believe that in this case hokum came awfully close to the suicide of a formula.
Maybe the whole subject of expecting that one comedy vein—Benny's personal idiosyncrasies—to pay off, decade after decade, will have to be brought up for a conference sooner or later, anyhow. There are suggestions that it's pretty frayed. The first broadcast was not, on the whole, a polished sample of a glistening Benny script. There were clear hints of gagging in the medical sense signifying strain. The opening sequence which was represented as the last few minutes just before going on the air was self-conscious stuff. It was a novelty that had been heard before.
In due course the various Benny helpmates were introduced. Phil Harris was represented as a ga-ga newlywed; Rochester as in a crap game jam up in Harlem; Dennis Day as happy to resume eating; Mary Livingstone as the girl with the crack that crushes. It was intermittently socko, occasionally slumpo. The pace that covers up comedy liberties was partly absent. Nobody better than Benny understands the meaning of that terrific momentum that lifts up and carries forward on a tide of comicality everybody and everything. It is the job and the genius of Benny to get thls tide washing in on schedule every Sunday night. These remarks merely emphasize the hazards and difficulties of a killing pace. Benny has had remarkably few bumpy programs year after year, but it is perhaps odd that several of them have been his opening nights. Land.

October 21, 1941
BECAUSE of story difficulties Warners has set back the starting date on 'The Widow Wouldn't Weep', starrer for Jack Benny, until Feb. 20, 1942. Benny reports Nov. 3 to Alexander Korda to star opposite Carole Lombard In 'To Be Or Not to Be', which Ernst Lubitsch will direct. Following the picture at Warners the comedian goes to 20th-Fox for one picture and then to Paramount. Benny has three in four years to make for 20th, two for Paramount and two for Warners.

October 22, 1941
Jack Benny remains the top salary collector, namely, $18,500 a week for the half hour's package.

In Hollywood, the radio trade is discussing the recording of the Jack Benny program on the coast repeat in which the disk bounced around and the needle stuck in a groove on Dennis Day’s number, embarrassing all around—NBC order from east to get tough with comics who run over a few seconds.

October 28, 1941
The radio industry is seeking the cooperation of airshows emanating from Hollywood Nov. 2 in a salute to the Motion Picture Community Chest Drive, which gets under way Monday with mass meetings at all studios. Several major programs have already volunteered their cooperation, and it is expected that all of them will be in line by the end of this week.
Al Jarvis and his Swingo program over KFWB will devote practically their entire hour to the salute with appropriate exploitation tieups in hundreds of local drug stores. Among other shows which have been approached and which have the matter under consideration are Silver Theatre, Jack Benny, Walter Winchell and the Screen Guild.

October 29, 1941
Jack Benny has added a new character to his show, apparently slated as a fixture. Newcomer is 'Belly-laugh' Barton, a moppet gag writer, played by Dix Davis, juve actor from Coast radio ranks. Kid debuted on last week's show and had a sockier spot Sunday night (26), as Benny signed him to his scripting staff. Episode provided a chance to establish the youngster's character and loosed several hefty laughs. It also supplied a springboard for a jibe or two at Bob Hope, for whom the urchin had intended to work. Balance of the Sunday show was in Benny's familiar style, except that Eddie (“Rochester") Anderson was absent. Phil Harris’ orchestra was ragged for the opening selection and, as a centrepiece, swung the trite ‘Poet and Peasant’ overture to death. In general, the program is getting into customary stride after its shaky start.

November 6, 1941
Ernst Lubitsch's production, ‘To Be Or Not To Be’, to be released by Alexander Korda through United Artists, today hits the cameras after a week's dress rehearsals. Carole Lombard and Jack Benny co-star, and in support are Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Sig Rumann, Tom Dugan, Charles Halton, Stanley Ridges, George Lynn, Peter Caldwell and Maude Eburne. Rudy Mate is on the camera.

November 7, 1941
Leo Durocher, the lippy one, will parry a few pleasantries with Jack Benny on Sunday's Jell-O broadcast.

November 11, 1941
'Fibber McGee and Molly' relinquished the top spot in the latest Cross!ey report to Chase & Sanborn due to an ironical exchange of guest appearances. The rating that pushed the java show to the crest was taken on the program on which the Jim Jordans guested. Other CAB leaders are in the following order: Jack Benny, 'Aldrich Family', Lux, Bob Hope, Maxwell House, Walter Winchell, Kate Smith and 'One Man's Family'.

November 12, 1941
NBC will hook up 243 stations for its 15th anniversary broadcast Saturday from 8:15 to 10 p.m. First program by the network Nov. 15, 1926, was carried by 19 transmitters and marked the beginning of chain broadcasting. Talent on the show, to be cut in from various parts of the country, will include Jack Benny...

November 19, 1941
Alice Faye appears as a guest of Jack Benny on the Jello program Sunday to sing a song and go through routine with her husband, Phil Harris.

NBC climaxed a week's celebration of its 15th anniversary with a show last Saturday night (15) which ran four minutes short of three hours. Apparently NBC figured that the way that it could make the anniversary occasion momentous to listeners was to trot out practically every artist heard regularly on the Red and Blue networks. [Jack Benny and Don Wilson appeared].

November 21, 1941
FROM the standpoint of parading talent, tonight's opening of Santa Claus Lane, nee Hollywood boulevard, will be strictly an NBC affair. Hal Bock's publicity crew at Radio City sewed up the big holiday event for its stars. Among those who'll ride in the procession are Jack Benny...

November 25, 1941
DEIGNING favorite amongst the film names along Central Avenue is Johnny Weissmuller because Metro's 'Tarzan' company always hires from 200 to 400 Negroes per picture. Previous No. 1's in the Central Avenue sector were Jack Benny, because of 'Rochester', and Red Skelton because of Wonderful Smith's association with the comic.

November 26, 1941
Chase & Sanborn is still leading the pack in the Crossley sweepstakes. Runner-up is Jack Benny, with 'Fibber and Molly', 'Aldrich Family' and Lux completing the top five in that order.

December 3, 1941
Stanley Ridges, who plays host tonight at St. Donat's restaurant to 40 fledgling R.A.F. pilots, has invited Ernst Lubitsch, Carole Lombard and Jack Benny.

‘To Be or Not to Be,’ new Carole Lombard-Jack Benny starrer, will be distributed by United Artists under Alexander Korda's banner, although UA itself did all the financing and Ernst Lubitsch served as producer-director. Korda gets the billing, a flat fee and a percentage of the gross for his work in getting the players, producer and the entire deal together.
Principal difficulty in obtaining services of Lombard and Benny was demand of Miss Lombard's agent, Arthur S. Lyons, that she get billing over Benny. Lyons is also Benny's agent. After considerable wrangling, inasmuch as UA felt that Benny is a stronger b.o. draw, agreement was made to use Lombard's name first. Pic was technically made by Romaine Productions, Inc., set up specifically for this purpose and antedating United Artists Productions, Inc., UA's new producing outfit.

December 9, 1941
Funeral services for Sam Lyons will be conducted by Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin at 2 p.m. today at the Home of Peace cemetery where interment will take place. Nat Wolff, vice-president of A. & S. Lyons, planed in from Chicago Sunday night to attend the funeral. He had been away four months on business. Jack Benny is suspending work on the Ernst Lubitsch picture today to attend the funeral. Benny was one of the first players represented by the Lyons brothers.

December 17, 1941
St. John [New Brunswick], Dec. 16
On the better late than never theory, the Social Service Council of the Anglican (Church of England), for the diocese, has protested against the broadcasting of baseball games on Sundays, “as a substitute for religious services.” Not until the world's series of 1941 had diamond broadcasts been sent out over the government network and affiliated stations.
A number of denominational organizations have also objected to the tieups with U. S. networks on Sunday programs, with the Charlie McCarthy and Jack Benny lineups, given special attention. On the ground these programs desecrate the Sabbath.

Jack Benny may go on a tour of key towns with a troupe of radio personalities for two or three months to drum up sales of U. S. defense bonds and stamps. Understood that the Treasury Department has added him to make the trip.
Warner Bros. is willing to set back the start of Benny's scheduled picture so that he can keep the tour going through March.
At press time yesterday (Tuesday) the Young & Rubicam agency, which pilots Benny's program, had not heard of the proposal.

December 17, 1941
IT'LL be 'Jell-O again' for Carolyn Lee; the Paramount moppet made such a hit on the Jack Benny show last night she likely will be written into future scripts.

December 24, 1941
Ernst Lubitsch yesterday wound up shooting, three days ahead of schedule, on his United Artists production, 'To Be Or Not To Be', starrer for Carole Lombard and Jack Benny.

December 29, 1941
Jeffrey Lynn has been assigned to one of the top roles in 'The Widow Wouldn't Weep', in which Jack Benny will star at Warners. Starting date for the comedy is set for March 30.
Richard Macaulay and Arthur Herman did the adaptation from an original by Dalton Trumbo.

Studio heads meet today at the Producers Association to hear the newly-formed Hollywood Coordinating Committee for Stage, Screen and Radio outline its plans for handling all requests for free talent during the war. This committee will check all requests to determine which are bona fide, and will then refer them to the proper channels to be staffed.
A meeting of the group was called by Chairman Fred W. Beetson at the Beverly-Wilshire Friday evening, at which time the writers and directors pledged their support. The latter two groups will furnish help and material for all occasions when stars are called upon by the Governmental branches for their talent contributions.
Clark Gable, chairman of the Actors Committee, appeared with Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Jack Benny, Charles Boyer, John Garfield and James Cagney, members of the Actors Committee executive board, to discuss ways and means of coordinating requests for appearance of stars through one source.

No comments:

Post a Comment