Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Party-Pooper Benny

Network radio was live, at least until after World War Two, so that meant if a radio show fell on Christmas Day, the stars showed up live to do it (and they did two shows, one for the Eastern and Central time zones, the other for the Pacific). And there were specials, too. For example, I’ve spotted Jack Benny as one of the guests of a two-hour show sponsored by Elgin in 1943 and 1945. The odd thing is the Benny show was on NBC at the time, while the Elgin special was on CBS.

The Benny Christmas shopping shows are considered high points in his broadcasting career, mainly because of Mel Blanc’s overwrought performance. The following week or two, he’d do a Christmas show involving “the gang” at Jack’s home with Dennis Day (or Larry Stevens) singing a carol at the end. But what did Jack really do Christmas Day? Let Uncle Miltie tell you. This short unbylined piece appeared in newspapers in December 1977.

Berle Tells Xmas Story
NEW YORK (NEA)—If you find yourself at a party this upcoming holiday season, surrounded by holly and less-than-jolly folk, you might find comfort in this story told by Milton Berle.
For 25 years, Berle shared Christmas time with the late Jack Benny—always the same way.
Every Christmas Day, recalls Berle, a prominent theatrical attorney held open house at his Beverly Hills mansion. And every year the place was packed with wall-to-wall celebrities.
"And every year, around noon," said Berle, "I'd get the same phone call: 'Hello, this is Jack.'
"I'd say, 'Jack who?' and he'd say, 'Jack, Jack Benny,' I'd say, Oh, I thought it was Jack Oakie.' Then he would say, 'Are you going to the...' and I'd interrupt with 'You mean the Christmas party? The answer is yes, and you want me to pick you up, right? "To which Jack would say, 'How did you know?'
"Anyhow, I'd pick up Jack and we'd go to this beautiful home. We'd squeeze our way into the front doorway, the maid would start to take our coats and Jack would look around, fingers to cheek in his typical fashion. After milking the moment as only he could, he would turn back to me and say, 'I'm ready (to go) anytime you are.'
"But then next year on Christmas Day around noon I'd get the same phone call. Not once did I get to stay at that party."

Here’s one of the Benny Christmas shopping shows from December 19, 1948. It not only features Blanc but Frank Nelson, Artie Auerbach and Elliott Lewis.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to the old-time radio channel on XM, one of the standard of the drive home for Christmas the past decade has been the chance to listen to several of the Benny Christmas shows on Christmas Eve. I'm assuming they'll again be part of the channel's line-up for the drive this Tuesday.