Sunday, 30 November 2014

Benny: Fact or Fiction

No wonder Jack Benny confused some people into thinking he really drove a Maxwell and was incredibly cheap. It’s easy to leave that impression when you give interviews that are a mix of real life and fake life.

Jack filled in for the radio columnist of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on August 26, 1940 (Mary had pinch-writ in the same space four years earlier). The column—and I don’t know whether he actually wrote it—is an odd mish-mash of fact and fiction.

Poor Fellow, He Never Sees His Nice House

Pinch-hitting for vacationing Jo Ranson.
One of Uncle Sam’s better-pressed mailmen brought me a letter a few days ago. It caught up with me at the Paramount lot so I went off in a corner where Fred Allen couldn’t read over my shoulder before finding out it was from my old friend Jo Ranson.
Jo was going on a vacation, he wrote, and went on to talk of how nice it would be to get away from home for a while. I suppose he will think me wacky just like the rest of my pals for feeling the way I do, but all that I want is to stay at home.
You see it would be a novelty for me to enjoy my home for a change. For all the good I’ve gotten out of it this year, I might just as well sell the place to Mr. Billingsley, my boarder, and rent a room from HIM. He’s there more than I am.
To begin with, I started the year by going to San Francisco for a broadcast, then over to Yosemite for the Winter sports (why I’ll never know), and then Rochester had no sooner unpacked my toothbrush than Paramount decided my gang and I were needed on location at Victorville for a couple of weeks.
Upon my return, I was just preparing to head a safari and explore the unknown vastness of my patio when my writers suddenly became obsessed with the notion they might think better at Palm Springs. So we sweltered in the desert sun every few days for the ensuing six weeks, while I learned all about my Beverly Hills chateau from a tourist who’d been by it on one of those “See-the-Stars’-Homes” trips. . . .
And I’d no sooner succeeded in talking my gang out of a trip to Catalina Island by telling them an active volcano had been discovered next door to the St. Catherine Hotel, than Paramount announced that we were to pack up and hop to New York for three weeks to attend the world’s premiere of “Buck Benny Rides Again.”
Honestly, I haven’t so much as had a chance to work out my new croquet field, and it’s been so long since I’ve played badminton on my court that the “birds” are beginning to molt.
Well, to make a long story short, I’d been back in the West just long enough to strike up a speaking acquaintance with the pantry maid, when my family emerged from three layers of travel folders and whisked me off to Hawaii.
I’m back in Hollywood once again, but things haven’t, improved. When I get home from the studio where they’re filming “Love Thy Neighbor,” I see Fred Allen in front of my eyes.
But I’m not giving up without a fight. No, sir! Confidentially, I think I've figured out a way to beat the rap. I’m going to have my house done over as a dude ranch. And before I’m through, I’ll have Mary Livingstone begging me to get away from it all and spend a few weeks at this inviting new rendezvous.

So let’s tote this up.

● Away from home in 1940. Yes on the air, yes off the air.
● Rent to Billingsley. Yes on the air, no off the air.
● Rochester is his butler. Yes on the air, no off the air.
● Pantry maid. No on the air, yes off the air.
● Family. No on the air, yes off the air.

Is it any wonder in later years, Benny interviews included a disclaimer that he played a character on the air and he wasn’t like that character. In some minds, though, that probably didn’t clear up the confusion. As today’s apologist-fans for misbehaving stars prove, people insist they “know” someone because they’ve seen him or her on the screen. Real life sometimes proves someone to be something much different.

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