Sunday, 7 April 2013

Leaving Behind Radio

On May 22, 1955, Jack Benny signed off his radio show with “see you in the fall.” But he didn’t, at least on radio. It was Benny’s final broadcast on the old medium.

People have wondered if Jack knew at the time it was his last radio show. I suspect not. The New York Times’ Val Adams wrote the following story on April 25, 1955.

The American Tobacco Company, Jack Benny's radio sponsor for eleven years, will drop the comedian's radio show and continue his television program next fall.
It was learned yesterday that the company's option to renew the comedian's radio series had expired last Tuesday. The Columbia Broadcasting System, which has Mr. Benny under contract, immediately gave an option to another advertiser, whose option period reportedly expires today. The identity of the company was not revealed.
Whatever the outcome of network negotiations, CBS radio will continue Mr. Benny's program next season in the usual time period, 7 to 7:30 P. M. on Sundays. The program goes off for the summer after May 22.
Mr. Benny, who is visiting here, told yesterday of new plans for his radio series next fall. He said he might do “just a few new shows” and use repeat performances in other weeks.
The repeats, Mr. Benny said, would be selected from recordings of his broadcasts over the years. He added that they might presented under the title of “Best of Benny.” This plan is an extension of the comedian’s current radio pattern. Out of thirty-nine shows this season, twenty-six will be, new and thirteen repeats of former broadcasts.
As for his television schedule next season, Mr. Benny said: “It looks very much like my program will be seen on alternate Sundays from 7:30 to 8 P. M., the same as now. I'll do twenty shows during the season and about twelve will be live and eight on film. I have found this to be a very easy schedule and we have had a wonderful rating.”
Mr. Benny’s television program alternates on CBS with Ann Southern’s [sic] “Private Secretary.”
Repeats of the latter show will fill the time period every Sunday during the summer.

No sooner did the last Benny radio broadcast air than CBS announced Jack’s plans for television for the fall season. There would be more Benny on TV. Besides his bi-weekly show, the network proclaimed he would host six “Shower of Stars” broadcasts, and star in a play in one of them. All that and a radio workload would have been a bit much.

Finally, it was announced in August the radio show was finished.

Jack Benny to Quit Radio Show
HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 20 (AP)—After 23½ years on the air, comedian Jack Benny is quitting the weekly grind of live radio to concentrate on television. There is a possibility, he said yesterday, that the best of his old radio shows will be repeated on the air by recording this fall. He said it’s a question of CBS reaching agreement with a sponsor on price. Benny will appear in a filmed television show every other week, starting in the fall. There will be in addition, he said, “I don’t know how many” one-hour TV shows in which he’ll either play parts in plays or be master of ceremonies for revues. His Sunday evening radio time will be given over next season to a 55-minute show starring Edgar Bergen, CBS announced.

But the “Best of Benny” didn’t air on CBS that fall. At 7 p.m. on Sundays, Larry LeSueur read a five-minute newscast (CBS had decided to get into the top-of-the-hour news business), followed by 55 minutes of Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd and their human straight man. Syndicated columnist Hal Humphrey laid the venerable radio show to rest.

Jack Benny’s Show on Radio Dies Quietly

HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 25—People keep telling me that radio isn’t dead but I think it’s pertinent to mention that part of it died recently, and without even an obituary being written about the demise.
I’m referring to the late “Jack Benny Show” on CBS radio. It was born on “another network” (NBC) in 1932, and after 23 years it succumbed to a malady known as TV. The radio industry, of course, is trying to pretend it didn't happen.
Jack Benny knows it, though, and so do millions of radio listeners who tuned in early this month and found that Jack was no longer around on Sunday night.
None of his fans feel worse about it than Jack himself. Radio was the medium which made him one of the foremost comedy institutions in America, and after 23 years one doesn't kiss off an old friend without a twinge of sentiment and maybe a little heartbreak.
Jack first stepped before a radio microphone as a guest of Ed Sullivan early in 1932. He said, “Hello, folks! This is Jack Benny. Now there will be a slight pause for everyone to say ‘Who cares?’”
After a few jokes in the inimitable Benny manner, it developed that quite a few people cared, including a soft drink manufacturer who auditioned the comedian and signed him to a contract a few weeks later. From then until now Jack never missed a season on radio and became identified at various times with many major product—breakfast foods, cars, tires, desserts and cigarets.
Jack brought several people along the road to fame with his radio show. Bandleader George Olson and Ethel Shutta were the first. A gal by the name of Mary Livingstone, who happened to be Jack’s wife, played the part of a fan from Plainfield, N.J., on an early show. The response from listeners was so big, Jack brought her back and kept her.
Ted Weems, Frank Black, Don Bestor, Johnny Green and Phil Harris became some of the best known bandleaders in the country by being associated with the Benny show.
In 1936 Jack moved his show to Hollywood. A sketch on the first program from here had the entire cast on the train where Jack used a fellow by the name of Rochester (Eddie Anderson) to play a Pullman porter. He’s been with Jack ever since.
The Benny radio show made tenor singers respectable and popular again with such names as Frank Parker, Kenny Baker, Dennis Day and Larry Stevens. And, because of Jack, who can forget Schlepperman (Sam Hearn) and Mr. Kitzel (Artie Auerback)?
But the star of the show always was Jack, the big but likeable boob who never passed 39, tighter than the hinges on his vault, and the butt of most of the jokes.
Although the 61-year-old comedian had too many TV commitments this season to do radio, he had hoped that CBS and his current sponsor would rebroadcast a series of his old shows from the tape recording—a sort of “Best of Benny” on radio.
Despite Jack’s willingness to take practically nothing for these repeats himself, CBS Chief William Paley and the sponsor still weren't willing to pick up the tab on a residual fee for the rest of the cast.
So as a result the top-rated show on radio is no more, Bill Paley and his colleagues keep insisting that radio is not dead yet they just attended a funeral where they were the pallbearers.
Copyright, 1955, Mirror Enterprises Co.

A “Best of Benny” finally did air the following season, starting Sunday night, October 28th at seven (Larry LeSueur got the hour off), sponsored by State Farm Insurance. It lasted through June 22, 1958 and was replaced by “Frontier Gentleman,” a dramatic shows surrounded on the networks by music and news—which turned out to be radio’s future.

1 comment:

  1. Listening to the April 1955 Jack Benny radio episode posted on Kallman's Alley last week featuring Joseph Kearns as Ed the vault guard, it's clear the radio show wasn't simply an afterthought to television even in the final weeks of its final season.

    In fact, for the 1954-55 season, there really were three different Jack Benny Programs -- the radio show, the live TV show (basically the radio show only dressed-up like a TV skit/variety show) and the filmed TV episodes, which took advantage of the medium to do things the live show didn't have the technical capabilities to pull off and which the radio show was unable to do as effectively visually (working with George Burns' McCadden Productions probably helped here -- McCadden would morph into Filmways in the 1960s, and were the leader in incongruous visual sight gags; even in 1954, the crew and Jack's writers were pulling off gags that justified using film for a limited number of episodes). Going in three different directions at once may explain why the Benny shows had six credited writers during the '54-'55 season.