Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Wives of Radio’s Funny Men Speak

Here’s a 1945 wire service article that’s pretty self-explanatory. Long-time TV and movie columnist Bob Thomas, in a feature story early in his career at the A.P., simply asked wives of some of radio’s comedians a couple of basic, and fairly unimaginative, questions: “Is he funny at home?” and “Is he like what you hear on the radio?”

There probably are no surprises here to anyone familiar with the people being discussed. Jack Benny was known as being a great laugher at someone else’s jokes, especially George Burns.’ Interestingly, Gracie Allen isn’t interviewed for this piece. It certainly wasn’t because she was a star because Thomas talked with Marian Jordan.

There’s a formality here that has long gone out of style. Who reads today of a wife being referred to be her husband’s name? It was considered improper to do so otherwise in a formal setting at one time; I recall reading an Emily Post column from years ago on the proper manner of addressing a married woman in formal settings. It would have been “Mrs. Bob Hope” not “Mrs. Dolores Hope.”

There was a time, long before instant communications of today, when newspapers would bank a feature story for whenever they had available space, even months after getting it on the wire. The earliest I’ve found this piece was January 15, 1945.

Comedians Play It Straight Off Stage
Associated Press Newsfeatures
HOLLYWOOD — Does Jack Benny give his wife $1 spending money weekly?
Are Fibber McGee’s closets piled with junk?
Does Bob Hope whistle at girls who pass his home?
Radio and movie fans may wonder where a comedian’s characterization ends and his home life begins. Their wives will tell you that the funnyman is like any normal husband around the house, except for a more marked sense of humor. And the wife’s function is equally normal, except for the duty of delivering a verdict on the comic’s latest gag.
Mrs. Bob Hope says her husband is “very delightful” at home, but no cut-up. “He is an intelligent, well-balanced man,” she declares, “and he has his serious side as well.”
* * *
Sometimes he tries out untested jokes on her. She listens faithfully to every broadcast and will tell him if he seems off his routine, providing he inquires.
Hope’s large-scale wanderings to entertain servicemen would seem hard on the wife at home, but Mrs. Hope considers herself “much luckier than the wives who haven't seen their husbands in two or three years.”
Mary Livingston thinks her husband, Jack Benny, has “a wonderful sense of humor,” but the “Love in Bloom” virtuoso is little different from any other husband. “He doesn't wake me up in the middle of the night to tell me a new gag he has just dreamed up,” she assures.
Mary says Jack doesn’t invariably convulse guests at their home. “He is usually laughing at someone else.”
Sylvia Fine, who is Danny Kaye’s wife and writer, says her husband is even funnier at home than professionally. She adores his “child’s sense of humor,” which she says is keener than most people’s.
* * *
“You can't make him be funny when he doesn’t want to be,” she remarked, “but usually he sees the humorous side of everything—even little things about the house.” She says they have a perfect domestic arrangement—“He bawls me out for taking so long to dress and I criticize his professional performances.”
When told her father was a funny man, Bob Burns’ young daughter replied, “Yes when we have company.”
The man with the relatives says he soft pedals the gagging at home for fear of driving his family bugs, but Mrs. Burns opines that he is “decidedly funny.” That is no small tribute from Mrs. Burns, who hears his radio gags many times since she does his stenography.
As to that now-famous bit of plumbing, his wife says Robin plays the Bazooka very little around the house, usually only for company. Anyway, Mrs. Burns adds, she likes it.
* * *
Marian Jordan (Molly) testifies that unlike his Fibber McGee counterpart, Jim Jordan is very neat and thoughtful about the house and doesn’t accumulate masses of hardware and junk in closets. Also unlike the sage of Wistful Vista, Jim is very mechanically minded and handy at fixing things.
His family thinks he is even funnier at home than on the air. Jordan was a singer before he found the gold mine in comedy and loves to sing around the house, whether or not company is present.
Eddie Cantor is a card around the house, says his wife, Ida, but still can be very serious and is a strict father to his famed five daughters. They are also very strict with him—when he tries out his gags on them. Failure to evoke laughter from his feminine audience usually outlaws a joke from his repertoire.
Mrs. Cantor says she picked Eddie out of the crowd when they were teen-agers in New York’s East Side because of his sense of humor. He was even funnier then, she reflects.

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