Sunday, 9 April 2017

Cerfing With Jack Benny

Columnists always seem to be so chummy with the stars. It might have been true. In New York, show biz writers and the stars seem to have hung out in the same drinking spots.

Bennett Cerf was a high-power publisher in New York. He supplanted Hal Block as the resident punster for years on What’s My Line. He penned a syndicated newspaper column. And he seems to have known Jack Benny well enough to have a few rounds of drinks with him (Jack, I understand, was a light drinker at best).

Here’s Cerf’s column (it was called, sigh, “The Cerfboard”) of August 2, 1953 consisting of a smattering of short pieces involving Jack and the questionable caricatures you see below (Hope looks like Jolson, Burns looks like Mel Brooks and Eddie Anderson resembles Hal Smith).

JACK BENNY entered the CBS broadcasting studio in Hollywood recently with his bag of golf clubs slung over his shoulder. "Oho," quipped Georgie Jessel, "I see you've got a date with Eisenhower." Jack thought this was very funny and laughed. That established him immediately as practically unique. Very few important comedians laugh at other important comedians. Very few, in fact, even bother to listen.
The two comics who break up Benny by merely opening their mouths are George Burns and Danny Kaye. Rochester slays him, too. Like the day after the Walcott-Marciano fiasco, on which Rochester lost a bundle. "Do you think Walcott will ever fight again?" asked Benny. "Boss," answered Rochester, "he will if I run into him."
JACK was still sawing away on his fiddle in the two-a-day when he first met Mary Livingston toiling in a Los Angeles department store. For years, the details of their swift romance have been built into a running gag on their radio program, with the name of the store repeated over and over again.
This is the kind of publicity for which most outfits would pay thousands. A rival emporium, in fact, told them they could set their own price for substituting its name for the one where Mary actually had worked. They refused, of course. Mary's former boss, however, remains blissfully unaware that he hasn't exactly overwhelmed the Bennys with appreciation.
He even complained to an associate, "Imagine that Jack Benny not being able to give me tickets at the last minute to his TV show after all the times he's mentioned my name on the air!"
BOTH MARY and Jack are balmy over golf. They take lessons from Ben Hogan at the new Tamarisk Club in Palm Springs. I hope they'll do Mary more good than the course in automobile driving for which she and Barbara Stanwyck once enrolled. When the two girls felt they had achieved a certain degree of proficiency, they arranged to drive toward each other, and meet halfway for a victory luncheon. The traffic proved heavy, however, and neither dared stop in the midst of it. Nor did they feel equal to making a U-turn until they reached traffic circles.
Result: they passed each other three times without being able to do a thing about it, and utterly frustrated, put their cars away and signed up for additional lessons.
THOUGH Jack Benny's fanatical nursing of a buck is wildly exaggerated in his radio characterization, his sense of values has never been upset by great success. At a fancy night club in New York, a bill for $57 for a single round of drinks sent him moaning into the streets. His companion was even more completely undone. "What are you kicking about?" demanded Jack. "I paid the tab, didn't I?" "I know," agreed the companion (who happened to be myself), "but I reached for it."
One old crony who really stopped Jack cold borrowed two dollars from him at the stage door of the Roxy, promising to return it promptly. Six months later, Jack received this note from him:
"I've really hit it rich, Jack. Got me a great job and am engaged to a banker's daughter. Happy days are here again. Am enclosing one dollar. Will send the other as soon as possible."
THE LAST STRAW. Jack Benny not only laughs at his confreres, but cues them into repeating their best stories. It was at his insistence that Jesse Block, of the famous team of Block and Sully, told us of their appearance at the London Palladium, where Miss Sully suddenly discovered that her necklace was missing. "Don't worry," soothed Block. "There are no gangsters over here. All we have to do is summon Scotland Yard."
In due course, exactly the kind of character they were expecting turned up from the Yard complete with walrus mustache, derby, rolled umbrella and black notebook. They heard nothing from him for 24 hours. Then Block was told he was calling. "What did I tell you?" he exulted.
When he returned to the dressing room, Miss Sully demanded, "Has he found my necklace?"
"On the contrary," answered Block glumly. "He's lost his umbrella." – BENNETT CERF


  1. I remember Cerf's column "Try and Stop Me," but not "The Cerfboard."
    That Carl Rose caricature does look rather bizarre (reminds me of Xavier Cugat's caricatures), though he's closer to the mark on Allen and Cantor. Sometime later, Cerf used his son's college buddy Michael K. Frith (who later worked for Jim Henson, as did Christopher Cerf) to illustrate his books such as "Treasury of Atrocious Puns."

  2. The " What's My Line " where Jack Benny was the " mystery quest " was a classic. Cerf guessed who it was with a question berating Jack's violin skills. Jack's reaction..and " Oh Shut Up!! " still puts me on the floor.