Sunday, 18 June 2017

Age, Television and Taste

If a survey was taken to name a character trait of Jack Benny, “39” would be somewhere on the list.

Actually, Jack Benny never purported to be 39 years old during the bulk of his career; the age was invented on a radio show in 1948. And because “40 isn’t funny,” as Jack once put it, he stayed 39—with the exception of one Shower of Stars TV special in 1958 where he turned 40, and then treated like it never happened.

Benny had thought about doing it earlier but kept changing his mind. Here’s proof in a story from the Bell Syndicate that appeared in newspapers on May 14, 1955. Several other topics are touched upon including his coming grandchild and Mary not wanting to be on his TV show while just about everyone else did. Of note is the reference to Benny continuing with his Sunday night radio show. He continued for a grand total of two more programmes. American Tobacco wasn’t certain it wanted to keep paying for an expensive radio show in a less-profitable medium. Nobody knew it when this article was published, but a deal couldn’t be worked out and Jack’s show disappeared (with the exception of “Best of Benny” reruns which began in 1956).

Enough Mileage From Gag
Jack Benny Makes Astounding Report—He'll Be 40 Next Year!

NEW YORK—Jack Benny, on the threshold of becoming a grandfather, has made a momentous announcement.
Benny, aged 39 for more years than anyone cares to remember, revealed for the first time in an interview here in his suite at the St. Regis Hotel, that next year he will go to 40.
"It has nothing to do with my becoming a grandfather," said Benny. "I just think I've gotten about enough mileage out of that gag."
On Sunday, Feb. 12, 1956, on his nation-wide television show, Benny will mark the historic occasion with a birthday party and a birthday cake—and presents, he hopes.
The celebration will be two days earlier than his actual birthday, which is Feb. 14.
However, it is indeed a moment to anticipate with poignant sadness. In this turbulent world of chaos and change, there is little to which one can hold. Up to now, there was at least one security, that Jack Benny, the Ponce de Leon of radio and television, would stay 39.
Relaxed, Agreeable
A relaxed, agreeable man, with astute blue eyes and enormous poise, he yawned through a warm Saturday afternoon in mid-Manhattan and spoke about his plans for the coming summer.
"I'm tired," he said. "I've been working hard and there's a lot of work ahead. I'm going back to the Coast now and we'll spend the month of June filming some of next year's television shows."
He said he much prefers to do the television shows live, but he plans to do about six or eight on film so that if he wants to get away for a couple of weeks during the winter, he's free to do it.
Benny, after 20 some years in radio, is now very partial to television, although when he first made friends with this new medium, he didn't much like it.
He disagrees, with his old feuding partner, Fred Allen, that radio is dead. One of the very few big radio stars to stay on in radio, Benny continues to do his Sunday night radio show in the same comfortable, familiar format.
After spending an industrious month of June on the Coast, the Bennys will return to New York in July, accompanied by their closest friends, George Burns and Gracie Allen.
The Benny's only child, Mrs. Seth Baker, wife of a New York stock broker, is expecting a baby, July 9, and they will stay here to await the arrival of their first grandchild and spend a week or so getting acquainted with it.
"I hope it will be a girl," said Mr. Benny, the poker-faced, nonsentimentalist. "I like little girls."
He said that this is the first summer he has not made any personal appearances, but with the television shows to put on film, and the coming of the baby, it turned out to be impossible.
He even had to cancel his plans to appear at the Palladium in London.
He added, however. "We're considering the month of July as our vacation. We always have a lot of fun with the Burns. They're wonderful people, just wonderful. George and I are bringing our golf clubs. Gracie and Mary will shop, probably for small garments."
Mrs. Benny, nee Mary Livingstone, will appear on some of Benny's filmed TV shows next year, but Benny said she is just too nervous about doing live television.
TV Bothers Mary
"She was going to be on our last television program, the one we did from here," said her husband, "but she backed out when we got to New York. I don't know why. It just bothers her."
Apparently nobody else in New York or Hollywood feels any nervousness about appearing on the Jack Benny show.
Numerous stars, Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe—all made their television debut on Benny's show.
"We have a good time doing the show. They know it will be fun," said Mr. Benny, casually dismissing the reason why so many established performers prefer to make their television debut in his company.
A colleague of Mr. Benny's was heard from.
"It's very simple why nobody is afraid to go on Jack's show," he said. "It's because everybody knows he won't hog all the good lines for himself. They all know that, to make the most of the show, Jack will probably throw them the best lines.
"Another thing, he'll never do anything that isn't in good taste. So many comedians don't care how ridiculous other people look, so long as they are funny."
Benny bowed deeply and said, "You're so very kind."
Suave and sure in manner, Benny is the antithesis of the tightwad, defensive, petulant character he has created for himself these many years.
In private conversation, Benny uses none of the exquisite pauses which so typify his character. In a much modified way, some of his familiar inflections are the same, but to add to the shattering disillusionment of the afternoon, not once, not even once, did he pause, stare coldly and say:
Forty years old indeed!

No comments:

Post a Comment