Sunday 23 February 2014

Benny's Life of Leisure

There seems to have been a shift in entertainment writing in newspapers as the calendar changed decades into the 1960s. For years, the show biz world in print was dominated by gossip columnists—Hedda, Louella, Winchell, Fidler and so on—who would erupt with a spurt of brief items on a bunch of celebrities and then do it all over again the next day, hopefully landing a scoop in the process. But their status and influenced finally waned, and newspapers seemed to start favouring longer profiles, one star per column.

True or not, Jack Benny got an awful lot of attention in syndicated and wire service columns through the ‘60s until his death in 1974. Some of the feature stories ran a couple of pages in weekend newspapers. A chap named Lloyd Shearer did two on Jack in less than a year.

Here’s one from United Press International that appeared in newspapers beginning March 29, 1964. While Benny was constantly busy, either with television or concert appearances, he still managed to have relaxing life. Who wants to keep their nose to the grindstone when they’re 39?

What Kind of a Guy Is Jack Benny?

UP-International Writer
Hollywood — For a millionaire celebrity, Jack Benny leads a simple, uncomplicated life in luxurious surroundings. If that sounds paradoxical, consider the fact that the blue-eyed 70-year-old comedian could live the life of an Oriental potentate with yachts, New York town houses, castles on the Rhine, strings of race horses, strings of dancing girls and a lifetime pass to the jet set.
Instead Jack lives in a comfortable mansion on the most prestigious street in Beverly Hills, a home he built 27 years ago.
As mansions go, the Benny home is modest, it has four bedrooms, upstairs, a library, living room, play room, kitchen, dining room, and servants' quarters. The exterior presents a neat, manicured appearance to the world. It reflects its owner's personality.
Jack Benny is not a funny man unless he is being paid for it. At home, backstage, at his club or at a party Jack is a listener, a good audience for other comedians. He doesn't try to get laughs himself.
• • •
NEITHER IS he impaled by the frenzy and urgency of a weekly television series that besets other comedians. He has his schedule down pat. His work day begins at 7 a. m. with a leisurely breakfast.
He reports to his office at 10 a. m. four days a week, driving there in his Rolls-Royce in five minutes, or via a brisk, half-hour walk. Readings "and rehearsals require only two hours each of the first two days. The other two days' work are polished off in a morning.
"We don't work very much," Jack admits. "It keeps a certain spontaneity going on the show."
Benny's offices are located on the fringe of the Beverly Hills business district adjacent to the Friars Club; a show business institution.
There, in deep leather chairs or around a card table, the comedian frequently has lunch with friends or his writers.
Other times he will nip off to Hillcrest Country Club for lunch and a round of golf. He's horrendous at the game, but plods around with a 20 handicap. Golf and gin rummy are his major moans of relaxation.
• • •
HIS PASSIONATE preoccupation is playing the violin.
"I practice an hour or two every day, sometimes longer," says Benny. "It's the pleasantest way I know of spending my time."
He is particularly proud of his Stradivarius, a delicate instrument he bought six years ago. He values it at $40,000.
Benny and his wife, Mary, live alone in the big house with a butler and cook. A gardener tends the lawns, flowers and shrubs. Jack occasionally takes a dip in the, pool in the summer months, and once in a while has an over-the-back-yard-fence chat with his next-door neighbor, Lucille Ball.
• • •
SOCIALLY, the Bennys entertain two or three times a month. Their close friends are George Burns and Gracie Allen, Danny Kaye, Groucho Marx, Mervyn LeRoy and Billy Wilder.
They dine out infrequently, but often attend dinner parties at the home of friends. When they do visit a restaurant, Jack favors Cantonese food at the exotic Traders restaurant, a mile or so from his house. He watches his diet and, at 70, is in near perfect health.
Most evenings Jack reads the newspapers and watches television. His taste runs to dramatic shows, not comedies.
Once a week his grandchildren, Michael, 8 1/2, and Maria, 6 1/2, spend the night. It is Mary's favorite time of the week. The youngsters live with their mother, Joan, who was adopted by the Bennys in infancy. She lives a few blocks from her , parents with her husband, movie executive Robert Blumoffe.
• • •
EARLIER this year Benny was voted one of Hollywood's best-dressed men by an organization he can't quite remember. It pleased him.
Jack leans to conservative business suits in grays and blues. They are all tailored for him. But at his office he usually can be found in open sports shirts and slacks.
His practice sessions with the violin generally take place in his bedroom, a spacious boudoir that includes a desk and shelves of books, along with leather-bound copies of his scripts down through the years.
Benny gives generously to charity and is the antithesis of the miserly, egocentric character he plays on his show. He appears to be almost without ego, unruffled by praise or criticism. Neither is he sensitive about his age.
He enjoys his violin concerts more than he does his television show. And peculiarly, he seems to be unaware that he is one of the great comedy stars of his era; a man who has spent more years on radio and television entertaining Americans than any other performer of his time.
He moves his network show from CBS to NBC next season. And because Benny is Benny, televiewers will make the move right along with him.

No comments:

Post a Comment