Sunday, 1 December 2013

What's on Your Head

What was the first running gag on the Jack Benny show? The broken-down Maxwell? Jack being 39 years old? His underground vault? No, not any of those.

It was “hair.”

The routine involved Jack saying “Hair. Hair! What’s on your head” and one of the stooges coming back with a wisecrack. It lasted from mid-1934 through mid-1935 before falling out of favour. However, hair remained an important part of the Benny comedy arsenal. Better make that “lack of it.” For years, the Benny radio show included variations on the “Jack’s toupee” gag which became so familiar, the word “toupee” didn’t have to be uttered after a while; the audience knew exactly what was being talked about (and it was funnier that way).

Jack had real hair until the day he died, though it was, um, “enhanced,” shall we say, for some of his movies. Regardless, he considered it a source of comedy, and not only on his radio show. Witness this column supposedly written by him that appeared in newspapers on May 18, 1935. The funny thing is I can picture him on stage doing this as a monologue.

The picture accompanying this post accompanied the column. Scarbo drew the caricatures. It seems to me we briefly talked about him in the early days of the blog.

By the way, the Benny show was still based out of New York when this 1935 column was written, but he was in Hollywood making, I think, “It’s in the Air,” released that October.


That bright new star you see over the Hollywood horizon is Jack Benny, the comedian, who has wowed them on Broadway for many years and now threatens to throw movie fans off their seats. To introduce him to you, it would be a good idea to have him tell you about himself. And so here he is, Jack Benny, “guest conductor” of the daily column of Hollywood News and Gossip.
After being on the air for a while, an actor, in my opinion, has to learn the other branches of show business all over again. For instance, when I was with Earl Carroll's Vanities or playing in the music halls (vaudeville to you—and me, too, for that matter). 1 would come to the theater at least an hour ahead of time and put on a nice grease paint makeup and a freshly pressed suit of clothes, and make myself generally presentable for the eye of the public.
But radio acting does not require this. On the radio you play to the ear and imagination, and most radio actors take advantage of this situation, and I don’t mean by not washing their ears.
We let our appearance run down and our heels with them; we start to live a free and easy life, paying no attention to the top button of our shirt, or our cravat or maybe our waistcoat, and we make the barber wait till the second or third day to shave us.
Ah, it’s the life, folks, but here’s where the trouble comes in.
"What’s on Your Head?"
You get an offer to make a picture. That’s where the trouble starts. First you find that you are 10 pounds overweight and you start dieting. (You can’t fool a closeup or your tailor.)
Then for the first time you find that you haven’t as much hair as you used to have. Radio comedians get rid of hair quicker than sailors spend their pay checks.
In my case, I share my hair losses with my writer, Harry W. Conn. We both worry. He has been with me for three years and we have a standing bet of $100— the first one who gets bald wins. So far, I’m three up on him.
I haven’t lost much hair, but anyway, it’s hair that will never come back, and to a screen star each hair counts, since a high forehead is an intellectual asset an actor can’t afford.
Has Two Worries
I have also noticed in my screen test, which I saw yesterday, that I have a few wrinkles in my brow. I don't know whether to credit that to radio or golf. Both worry me, so perhaps they are combination radio and golf wrinkles—you know, the birdies I didn’t get in golf, and the birds I did get on the radio.
Golf, by the way, is my main diversion, although it is a very expensive recreation. By this I don’t mean the green and caddie fees. What I mean is the little wagering that goes on in the foursomes I have been playing with.
When I shoot a 90 my playmates shoot an 80; when I shoot an 84 they shoot 75.
They don’t play any harder than they have to. They always give me a half stroke a hole to make me feel that I’m getting something, and I am, but I have a tender neck and 1 can’t take it always.
They are all nice boys, but they have been cutting production costs so much I'm afraid—just afraid no accusations mind you—that they have been doing the same with their golf scores. The trouble is they don’t cut mine, too.
Let’s See the Picture
But, getting back to the picture business, I’m glad I’m in Hollywood to make a picture. I would be glad to be in Hollywood with out making a picture, but— who am I to argue?
After all what’s Gable got that I haven’t — no, I’m picking the wrong person. What’s Montgomery got that I — ? No, I’d better leave him out of this, too.
But what’s—? I think I’d better wait and see how the picture turns out.

1 comment:

  1. Would you like to bet that Harry Conn had a hand in writing this column, too?