Sunday 27 November 2016

Don't Thank the Audience

Newspaper reporters chatting with Jack Benny in September 1953 had two choices: they could either pepper him with questions about Marilyn Monroe making her first TV appearance on his season premiere broadcast, or they could eschew that idea because everyone else would be doing it and just talk about his show in general.

The latter is what the author of the “Week on the Air” column for the Associated Press out of New York chose. Not a word about Monroe. However, the story revealed one of the things that bothered Benny, though he’s prudent enough not to state which comedian(s) he was referring to.

The story appeared in papers beginning September 13th.

NEW YORK, Sept. 12 (AP)—How has Jack Benny managed to remain among the top entertainers on the air for more than 20 years while many another star has come and gone?
The secret, he says, “is giving the audience credit for having intelligence.”
“We play up to them, not down to them,” he declares.
Tells Pet Peeve.
“I think all you have to do is keep your humor adult. You can do that and even the kids get it today.
“I don't think anybody on the air is too intelligent for the audience. But it's deadly to be patronizing.”
The Waukegan wit, who actually looks little over the 39 years he jokingly claims as his age, has some pet peeves of his own about TV and radio performers and their attitude towards the audience.
One of them “is somebody who is getting $8,000 a week who comes back at the end of end of the show and says, ‘Thanks for letting me into your living room.’”
“I hate it,” he fumes. “I don't thank the audience for letting me into their living rooms. A lot of them watch me because they have to—there's nothing else on in their city. And how do I know their set is even in the living room. It may be in the bedroom, or the den, or the basement.
“The audience doesn't like to be thanked. They just want to sit back and have fun—and feel free to give you the devil if they don't think the show was good.
22 Years on Air.
The veteran comedian, who begins his 22nd radio season on CBS and his fourth TV season on CBS-TV tomorrow night, declares: “I think they like good down-to-earth humor. But it can be down to earth and not corny.”
Benny, on a brief visit here from Hollywood the other day, said his radio shows all will be recorded on tape this season. That's because he's stepping his TV appearances up to every third week from the one-every-fourth of last season.
He said, however, that while he remains in radio, which will be “as long as the sponsor wants me to,” he'll give it all he has.
“Either you're on radio and do a good job, or you should get the heck off,” he added.
Benny said that two seasons ago, whenever he traveled, folks wanted to talk to him only about his TV show, but that during the last season “they talked about both, and my radio rating was higher than it was the previous season.” A CBS spokesman added that Benny’s average popularity over the last two decades has been higher than that of any other radio star.
How did the Marilyn debut go, by the way? The show’s on-line somewhere so you can watch for yourself and judge. It wasn’t one of Benny’s best, at least to me, and I’m still puzzled as to why Paul Frees was hired to do the voiceover at the beginning. Why wasn’t Don Wilson used? But at least my opinion of the episode isn’t as low as the one expressed by that wet blanket of TV critics, Jack Gould of the New York Times. “This is sex appeal?” he asked about Monroe, a question he answers in the negative. Said Gould:
[T]he end result was more like little sister raiding mother’s closet and vanity table, and doing the grand dame for the edification of the neighborhood brats.
Miss Monroe’s technique was elementary. The seductive voice was out of Drama 1 at the university playhouse—just don’t close your mouth at the end of a sentence and you’re in, honey. The fabled walk was the work of yesteryear’s unsung shoemaker who really knew his last: perch a gal up on six-inch spikes and she’s got to mince her way enticingly, or tip over.
Gould goes on to opine that Monroe’s dress was unnecessarily too tight, and that she wore too much make-up. Basically, his column complained she was not the girl-next-door. Gould must have mixed her up with Doris Day.

We’ve posted John Crosby’s review of the same show and you can read it here.


  1. One story I heard, and I don't know if it's true, the secret to Marilyn's walk was that the heel of one shoe was slightly shorter than the other, so she would hobble a bit, or as Jack Lemmon said in "Some Like it Hot": "Like Jello on springs!"

  2. Any idea who the "$8,000 a week comedian might have been?"