Sunday, 24 April 2016

Niagara, Newton and Benny

A non-stop schedule of TV specials, concerts and stage shows awaited Jack Benny after his series ended in 1965.

Oh, and media interviews.

Jack made an appearance in 1966 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. And reporters were there to take up his time, as they seemed to do in every town where he appeared. He was in a pretty good mood during this particular news conference and comes across in print just like he did on the air—a relaxed, friendly man with a sense of humour.

Among other things, Benny is credited with giving Wayne Newton his biggest career break, and that’s addressed in this story in the Niagara Falls Gazette, August 8, 1966.

Jack Benny Opening Week at Melody Fair

Gazette Staff Writer

Comedian Jack Benny used this term to describe his return to the live stage, at a press party in the Griffon Room at Castle Court Motel Sunday evening.
Benny, and the newest star in his long list of discoveries —singer Wayne Newton—will open a one-week engagement at Melody Fair at 8:30 p.m. today.
The comedian, who has been in show business 55 years, said that he has had time for personal appearances since he stopped doing his weekly television show. "Direct contact with the people is just fun," he said.
Playing the tent circuit is "like a vacation," Mr. Benny said.
* * *
"I'LL PLAY a little golf and I might go and do a little sightseeing, but I'll be playing it by ear," Jack said, noting that this is the first time he has ever played in the Niagara Falls area and the first time he has been here "in years."
He regards playing a show as part of his vacation. "If I didn't have the show to do, I would probably be having dinner with somebody, and I can do that in Hollywood every night," he said.
The variety show will include a lot of Benny, who said he spends about 40 minutes on stage during the first part of the show and never leaves the stage during the second half.
WAYNE NEWTON, who will be appearing with Benny, was in Chicago Sunday and was flying into the Niagara Frontier today.
Newton was discovered "reluctantly" by Benny while the two entertainers were, playing in Sydney, Australia, two years ago.
Irving Fein, the comedian's manager, said they had heard Newton's name and had received a number of requests to see the singer, but they finally relented to see him "very reluctantly."
Their first reaction was "he's dynamite." Newton stopped the show at the Cheveron Hilton in Sydney.
"Another Al Jolson," was the way the manager described Newton who was only 21 at the time.
A few months later, Benny was booked at Harrah's Club in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and needed another act to fill out his show, so he contacted Newton.
* * *
ONE YEAR LATER, the singer that Benny brought in to Lake Tahoe as a fill-in act was headlining at the same club, and Benny followed Newton.
Jack said that the younger generation doesn't remember the comedian who has been on the stage since before World War I, but they know Wayne Newton.
"Some kids come up to me and ask me for tickets to the Wayne Newton Show," Benny said. "I don't care what they call the show, just so long as they buy tickets," the comedian joked.
Dressed in casual gray slacks with a gray silk shirt and a blue and black striped ascot, the comedian kept asking people for matches as he re-lit his cigar several times throughout the evening.
"I'll never have retirement plans," he said, but noted that "each year I will cut down a little." He said leaving his weekly TV show was the first step in his plan to slip into semi-retirement.
* * *
BENNY SAID he is planning to do some TV work, but only on a "special" basis. He also indicated that he would be interested in doing a Broadway show, if he could find the right one.
He said he would be primarily interested in producing the show, but would play a part if there was one in it which he liked.
"I think I'd have to own the show though, so I wouldn't be tied to it and could go into it and leave when I would like to," he said.
He said his slow-down would be "like Bob Hope. God knows he doesn't need the money."
"The only reason I don't go to Viet Nam is because it would be a little bit tough on me," Benny said. He explained that the last time he hit the front line circuit was in 1951 when he spent 21 days and nights entertaining the troops in Korea.
"It's okay for Hope to do, after all, he's 10 years younger than I am," Benny said, acknowledging that that would make Hope "29."
* * *
THE DEAN of American comedy said that if he had it all to do over again, he wouldn't change a thing, but he did regret that he didn't start his concerts about 20 years earlier.
"The best thing I like doing are the concerts," Benny said.
Mr. Benny has played his violin in a number of concerts for charitable causes during the last several years.
"I like playing with a symphony orchestra," the comedian said. He said this type of work takes a lot of practice, because "I do have to play big heavy numbers, or it wouldn't be funny."
"I try to play good," he said, continuing that "all my sour notes are legitimate. I don't mean to play any of them."
Mayor Robert F. Keighan of Niagara Falls, Ont., introduced the official Niagara Falls Tartan when he presented Mr. Benny with a sports coat made of the material which is designed to reflect the muted colors of the lights on the Falls at night.
HE EXPLAINED to Mr. Benny that the tartan would help charity, because two per cent of the royalties from the sale of the tartan will be contributed to the United Appeal of Niagara Falls, Ont.
Mayor E. Dent Lackey of this city presented the comedian with an official Niagara Falls money clip.
"At last I'm being given something I can do something with," the comedian joked. "I get keys to the city everyplace. What am I going to do with a key to the city," Benny continued.
Whether he's 39 or 73, Jack Benny retained the same comic wit that has kept his name in headlines for so many years, even after two hours at the mercy of the press and a hot, four hour drive from Cleveland, Ohio, where he finished playing Saturday.


  1. Jack said that the younger generation doesn't remember the comedian who has been on the stage since before World War I, but they know Wayne Newton.

    I was listening to the Yankees game in the car today, and when their 77-year-old announcer John Sterling mentioned it was Carlos Beltran's 39th birthday, he said, "He's Jack Benny's age." .... Followed by about a five-second pause and the realization that, "Some of you younger people out there have no idea who Jack Benny is."

    More's the pity, though in 2016, my guess is those same younger people today have no idea who Wayne Newton is, either.

  2. The truth was, Jack's first NBC special after his weekly series ended [November 3, 1965, featuring Bob Hope, Elke Sommer and The Beach Boys], was NOT a "success". In fact, Eastern Airlines, who sponsored it, decided not to sponsor any further ones. It took Benny more than a year to find another sponsor {American Motors} and create a special {"THE JACK BENNY HOUR"} that was more "successful".