Sunday, 13 November 2016

He Liked Asparagus With Mustard

Jack Benny had his quirks. And with that statement, we proceed to learn about none of them. What we do get in the January 1934 edition of Radioland magazine is a nuts-and-bolts account of the highlights of Benny’s career, touching only when necessary on his personal life.

I’m presuming the author is the same Cedric Adams whose career at WCCO in Minneapolis spanned the Golden Age of Radio and into television. The tone of the article is pretty newsy and matter-of-fact, not filled with the hyperbole and coziness you find in fan magazines of the day. Benny’s comments about hanging gags around a situation equalling success proved to be quite true. Hardly quirky at all.

A Benny for Your Thoughts
Jack Benny Started in Vaudeville as a fiddler and Became a Star Radio Comedian

By Cedric Adams
WHEN a man's favorite dish is cold asparagus and mustard sauce you may expect here and there in his background a curious trait, a peculiar circumstance. Some people call them quirks. Jack Benny, former star of the famous Canada Dry (a nickel back on the large bottle) program, and principal attraction on the new Chevrolet series of weekly broadcasts, has his quirks.
Examining the Benny beginnings, it is apparent that he's entitled to them. He got a break the day he was born. He was a Valentine's present to his mother and father on February 14, 1894. The Kubelsky family (Jack's father and mother) lived in Waukegan, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Jack's mother thought it would be better if the Benny heir were born in a larger city than Waukegan. It would be simpler for the child later on in life when people asked where it was born for it to say Chicago rather than Waukegan. That's why the event took place in the metropolis.
Mr. Kubelsky ran a haberdashery business. When Jack was old enough to start making a living the business of selling shirts, socks and neckties didn't have much appeal. With the clothing business definitely out, Jack cast about for a means of making a living. As a child he had taken a few lessons on the fiddle and became fairly proficient at playing the popular tunes of the early 1900's. After finishing high school he organized a dance band, and played at the various Waukegan dances. The violin he played with the orchestra was an Amati, an expensive make. It proved a good investment, however, for it was the same violin that was to land him at the top of the nation's professional entertainers.
Benny's entrance into the theatrical business was a curious thing. His first job in show business. was doorman in a Waukegan theater. It was that job that started him definitely on a theatrical career. The property man in the theater quit and Benny took the job. While he was handling the props in the theater, the yen for the fiddle came back. A year later he was playing in the pit orchestra.
Show business changes come rapidly. The Waukegan house closed and sent Fiddler Benny into a twenty-year stretch of vaudeville. His first act was a violín-piano act, vastly different from the calm, ironic, succinct humor of the Benny shows today.
In 1918 Jack started as a single entertainer.
With him went his fiddle. There were not very many performances, however, before the violin pieces shrunk and the jokes increased. It was adding gags to this act that launched Benny on a career as one of the originators of what we know today as a Master of Ceremonies.
Out of vaudeville into the revues was a short jump. His first "big-time" came in a Shubert show at the Winter Garden in Great Temptations. Jack re-entered vaudeville in 1926 at the Palace in Chicago as Master of Ceremonies. This tour landed him at the Orpheum in Los Angeles. In one of his audiences one night sat several motion picture moguls. They watched the smoothness of his work, recognized in him picture possibilities.
WITH the expiration of his vaudeville contract he signed for his first big picture, The Hollywood Revue. There is nothing quite so pleasant to the movie executives as the clicking of the turnstiles and Benny twirled them. After the success of this picture, Jack Benny made two more films for Hollywood. In 1930 Earl Carroll selected Benny for the big spot in his Vanities. The show played in Gotham for a year and toured another year as a road show. Jack's start in radio was another irregularity in the comedian's life. A New York newspaper columnist was planning a broadcast over one of the New York stations. To give a little variety to the program he solicited the aid of the Benny fellow.
Jack dashed off his script in a couple of hours, went down to the station with no more than his customary urge to entertain. Something about his presentation, his radio audience appeal created a stir in listening circles. The next morning radio critics on the New York papers had paragraphs on the new radio find. Among the tuners-in that night also were members of the advertising agency who were handling the account of Canada Dry. A week later Benny was signed for his first long-time radio contract. Subsequent weeks built Mr. Benny into what many consider the highest paid radio entertainer in the world. Jack doesn't like to discuss openly the figures of his new Chevrolet contract. He did say, however, that he'll probably make more in one half hour program than he would have made all year in the haberdashery business in Waukegan.
A story heard commonly about radio comedians is that they buy all their material from a syndicate of joke writers or dig through old files of joke magazines. Benny's method is neither of these.
During his vaudeville and stage career he wrote every line of his comedy himself. The demands of a twice-weekly broadcast were a little too heavy. One man could not possibly supply sufficient material to lend variety to a series of programs. For years Jack had been an intimate friend of Harry Conn, famed Broadway wit. Arrangements were made for Harry and Jack to collaborate on their radio programs. Today Jack gives Mr. Conn a great deal of credit and praise for the success they have achieved over the air.
THE Bennys have a serious eye on the future. Jack, for instance, believes now that the straight gagging, joking, punning radio comic is on the way out. "When the entire field of humor can be reduced to six or seven basic gags," he says, "there can't be much variation. The modified versions of the original jokes are pretty well shopworn right now. The situation comedy, the type I've used in my three series of commercial programs, has years to go before it will become tedious to the listener."
If you can't step up in front of a microphone and make good, if you can't please the audience there's something more to blame than the fact that you might have whistled in the dressing room before he took the air. And when you're wowing them you can whistle all day and it won't break them." In January 1927, Jack married Sayde Marks who is the Mary Livingstone you've heard over the air with him. His pet name for her is Doll. Her pet name for him is Doll. Their married life is exemplified by their roles in the programs. They laugh themselves through life, enjoy each other thoroughly.

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