Sunday 2 December 2012

Was Jack Benny Right About TV?

John Crosby once remarked that he was such a devotee of Jack Benny’s and a student of his methods, he didn’t even have to see him on television (it sounds more like a one-liner than a complement).

Crosby’s column for the Herald-Tribune syndicate featured Jack a number of times over the years and on at least two occasions, Crosby had Jack join a number of TV/radio stars who wrote fill-in columns while they were on holidays.

Here’s the second one that appeared in papers starting May 17, 1959. Basically, Crosby’s giving him free ad space for a coming TV special. Jack fills the rest of the time—presuming he actually wrote the column—commenting on the first column he wrote for Crosby in 1950.

Benny Comments on Column
Some years ago, after I’d done my first television show, I was asked to write a guest column. I called it to Video Via Radio," and it dealt with my impressions of the then infant medium of television. Those were the days of TV-B.C.— that's Before Cowboys.
It's a little odd to read the words you wrote years ago in the light of what’s happened since. A lot of the things I was worried about then seem silly now, after I've been on television for so many seasons with my own half-hour show plus special shows like my May 23 “Jack Benny Hour.” You should see what I’ve got to worry about nowadays.
Anyhow, some of the remarks I made in my Innocence and youth was only 30 at the time, nine years ago) gave me pause; others gave me a good laugh; and a few gave me chills. Before I had my secretary burn every copy, I jotted down a few of my statements in that column and offer them herewith, along with some observations in that column and offer them herewith, along with some observations in retrospect.
“The day after my video show,” I wrote, “I was walking down Broadway and I heard a woman say to her friend ‘There’s Jack Benny, that new comic I just saw on television. . .’” (Now they say ‘There’s Jack Benny, that old comic I saw, etc.”
In those days, of course, I was still on radio. I wrote, “It had always seemed to that to go on television with all its problems, while continuing to do my radio show might be biting off more than I could chew,” (The president of CBS radio agreed; he told me I should stick to television. The president of CBS Television felt just the opposite).
I was also worried in those days about my format. To wit: “There was something about doing an hour show that didn’t feel right to me—an hour show without dancers, tumblers or other extraneous acts might be too long.” (Today, a number of critics feel that my half hour show is too long.)
“We rehearsed a scene in which I call Dinah Shore in the phone to ask her to appear on the show. She tells me her price is $5,000, and I practically faint from the shock.” (I did the same gag with Gary Cooper this season, only his price was $10,000—and I didn’t bat an eye or move a muscle. I think the doctors call it temporary paralysis.
“Experience and proper organization can and eventually will simplify the creation of TV programs.” (I should have saved a copy and sent it to my producers.)
Then I wrote, “We had Mary talk about three stations at the same time. She said that all night I kept shooting it out with Hopalong Cassidy to see who would marry Gorgeous George . . . (Hopalong Cassidy won, and they’ve lived happily ever after.)
“The $64,000 question,” I continued, “which no one can really answer at this time is whether television will wear out comedians . . . (the answer to that is simple . . . Television won’t but the $64,000 Question almost did).
“When we got to the cab, Milton Berle was sitting there waiting for us. He said he’d left his rehearsal just to come down and me some technical advice. And then. . . he briefed me on the art of how to close your eyes when you’re getting hit in the face with a pie.” (Today Milton is a very sophisticated comedian. He believes you should keep your eyes open when being hit by a pie).
Jack Warner was on one of my early shows. “Speaking about ‘The Horn Blows at Midnight,’ Warner explained that if it were a little better, he might have gotten his money back from the theaters and if it were a little worse it would have been a natural for television.” (Since then Jack Warner released ‘The Horn Blows at Midnight’ to television. This was part of the motion picture industry’s campaign to drive people back into movie theaters.)
Anyhow, that’s what I said nine years ago. And nine years from now, why, then I’ll do a column making fun of this one.

Readers to the blog will know I’ve been trying to post a Benny story every Sunday as that was Jack’s night on the air for years. The source where I was getting these has now become inaccessible. However, I have a few salted away and will try to keep posting them. Next Sunday, we’ll have Crosby himself on Jack’s TV show.

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