Sunday, 11 June 2017

He Interviewed an Idol

Jack Benny’s Second Farewell Special proved, though no one knew it at the time, to be the last. A Third Farewell Special was scripted but never shot—Jack’s pancreatic cancer became too much and he died before it could be made.

It’s a little amazing to think that in 1974, Jack was turning 80, his fatal cancer was secretly spreading, but he maintained a schedule that should have worn out anyone. He made the newspaper rounds plugging his special, in addition to performing concerts and appearing on stage (which also required media publicity via interviews with reporters).

By 1974, Jack was in a position where there were now reporters—perhaps a majority of them—who had grown up with him on radio; his show began in 1932. One of them worked for the King Features Syndicate and cobbled together this feature story published in subscribing papers on January 23, 1974. John Goudas was also an actor on stage and television in New York. He died in 2008.

Jack Benny Maintains There's No Formula for Comedy
BY JOHN N. GOUDAS

TV Key, Inc.
NEW YORK (KFS)- Jack Benny was recently in town to drumbeat his latest TV outing, "Jack Benny's Second Farewell Special," airing on NBC tomorrow night.
When I started to talk with him, I must admit I reacted like an autograph-seeking fan who had been granted an audience with his idol. My reaction surprised me at first, but I soon realized how natural it was. After all, one of my earliest recollections is my father asking us to cut down on the noise on many a Sunday night so that he could listen to Mr. Benny on radio (that's TV without the pictures). The Sunday radio lineup included Fred Allen and Eddie Cantor, but it's Jack Benny's unmistakable delivery that echoes in my head.
As I grew a little older, I joined my father in listening to Mr. Benny trade one-liners with his gallery of radio regulars— innocent Dennis Day, rasping Rochester, pompous Don Wilson, sweet Mary Livingston, and wise-cracking Phil Harris.
Then as I was graduating from grammar school, we got our first TV set and there was Jack Benny, in living black and white, holding court as usual — playing the inevitable straight man for everything from a squad of baton twirlers to a group of roller-skating chimps.
So, you can see how it took all the sophistication I could muster when I arrived at his hotel and was introduced to Jack Benny, in person. The first thing he did was offer me a cigar and excuse himself to go into the bedroom to call his wife Mary in California (the Bennys have been married 47 years). He returned a few minutes later and as he walked across the room, I couldn't help thinking to myself, "He really does walk that way. Rich Little isn't exaggerating."
I asked him what he and his old pal, George Burns, would be doing on his special (Redd Foxx, Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore and the De Franco Family join him, too).
"George and I do something a little different. We play statues in a Roman fountain. I think we've got a good show, but you don't always know what's going to work and what isn't. Even after all the years I've been in show business, there's no formula for comedy."
Since Benny's career ranges from vaudeville to video, I asked him what he thought of today's comics. He thought for a second and answered, "I like Woody Allen very much. He's not only a wonderful comedy actor, but he writes and directs his movies. That takes a lot of talent."
I took this opportunity to ask him about one of my favorite films, "To Be Or Not to Be," which starred Benny and Carole Lombard. I detected a gleam in his eye when I informed him that "To Be Or Not to Be" was currently playing on a double bill in a movie house in Greenwich Village.
"Ernst Lubitsch, who directed "To Be Or Not to Be," was one of the best directors in Hollywood," said Benny. "When he called to ask me to appear in the film, I said yes. He said, 'But you haven't even seen the script," and I told him I didn't have to if he was going to direct it. In those days, comics seldom, if ever, got to work with great movie directors."
When I asked Benny what he had lined up for the immediate future, he said Frank Sinatra was throwing him a big birthday party on Feb. 14 — when he will turn 80 — believe it or not. As for retiring, it's the farthest thing from his mind... he has plans for a concert tour in Australia and more TV appearances.
After all, institutions like Jack Benny are as much a part of the American scene as the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore.

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