Sunday 25 June 2017

Jack Benny on Women

When Jack Benny’s TV series went off the air in 1965, he switched to a number of specials every season. Bob Hope did the same kind of thing, except Hope’s in his later years were filled with bad cue card reading, lame sketches, football players, Brooke Shields (or before her, Elke Sommer). Jack seemed far more relaxed on his specials but a few of the sketches were cringe-worthy.

One special featured a send-up of beauty pageants. Who better to guest star than that curvaceous beauty, Phyllis Diller? It wasn’t the best Benny comedy, but fans didn’t seem to mind, and neither did the sponsor.

Here’s Jack in a syndicated newspaper story that prompted by the coming special which takes, as its topic, women. It looks like a production company or network publicity handout; in fact, I found a version in one paper where the TV writer used some of the quotes and kind of left you with the impression he interviewed Benny. Variously edited versions of this appeared in papers around November 26, 1966.

By all reports (mainly George Burns), Jack was a ladies man in his vaudeville days, and his daughter wrote in her book that her dad was very comfortable around women, who liked him because he was a good and sympathetic listener.

Jack Benny Hosts Musical Fun With Phyllis Diller
New York — Jack Benny emcees a beauty contest, the Smothers Brothers do the judging and Phyllis Diller gets into the act, on The Jack Benny Hour, color special on the NBC television network, Thursday, (8:30-9:30 p.m.). Singing, swinging Trini Lopez is another guest star on the program.
In the beauty contest, 10 girls from all over the world compete for the title of "Miss Northern and Southern Hemisphere." The banners on their bathing suits bear designations ranging from Miss Sweden to Miss Tunisia, Miss France to Miss Japan.
In the best beauty pageant tradition, Benny sings the contest theme song, "Here She Is, Miss Northern and Southern Hemisphere." The girls' official chaperone is Miss Diller.
Leading up to the contest, Benny introduces and trades quips with each of his guest stars. Between times, his more musical guests manage to squeeze in a number or two.
Trini sings "Fly Me to the Moon" and "This Train." The Smothers Brothers offer "I Talk to the Trees."
• • •
THE SMOTHERS LADS, like Miss Diller, made their first splash in show business at the Purple Onion nightclub in San Francisco. The brothers' act there was such a smash that they were encouraged to record it.
The recordings, in turn, was bought by thousands, including Jack Paar, then host of NBC's Tonight Show. Paar booked Tom and Dick onto his show and thereby started a career that earned wide TV popularity for the brothers.
It was Paar who said, in commenting on the duo's unique blend of humor and music, "I don't know what it is that you fellows have—-but whatever it is, no one is ever going to be able to steal it from, you."
There's something funny about beauty contests.
• • •
"The more legitimate anything is, the funnier is the satire," said Benny. Jack's a beauty contest ogler along with around 50,000,000 other Americans who watch the various beauty pageants on TV.
"I watch them for the same reason others watch them—to see beautiful girls," he said. "We're doing our show with real beauties, incidentally. They're all former contest winners."
Jack, who has seen many beautiful women in show business, singled out several for special mention.
"I consider Greta Garbo the most beautiful," he said. "She and Audrey Hepburn, have the most beautiful eyes. My wife, by the way, fits into that category, too. And that's a truth. Garbo, Hepburn and Mary Livingston! I'd say Garbo has the most beautiful mouth and Cyd Charisse has the most beautiful figure. She also has a beautiful face."
• • •
THERE'S MORE to beauty than looks, according to Benny.
"If a woman is very talented, in addition to her looks then she has beauty," he said. "She doesn't have to be in show business to be beautiful. She can have other talents she can be brilliant or have a sense of humor, for instance."
Benny was modest — and honest—when asked what he has hoped to achieve through humor.
"My purpose was to be a big success," he said. "It was a selfish purpose. But a comedian doesn't start out any other way. Of course you serve a function, too in the process. As for the value of humor, I guess you could say that laughter is a sort of virtue. We would all like to see the whole world langh if we could. If everyone could laugh, we wouldn't have any problems. You can't be angry when you laugh and you can't hate when you laugh. When I laugh I feel good. Most of the time that means feeling good physically and mentally."
Obviously a comedian has to be funny to be successful, but there's another ingredient that's important, according to Benny.
"To be a real success," he said, "People have to like you personally and what you stand for. Just getting them to laugh isn't enough."
Generally speaking Benny indicated that humor, if it has a function, "brings people down to size" and exposes "vanity."
Asked what serious thought he has found helpful through years of living, Benny reflected and then, said:
"There's one saying but none of us practice it: 'Don't worry about what you can't do anything about.' "I worry about little things that don't mean anything. But then maybe if I didn't worry about little things, when the big things come along, I wouldn't worry about those either. Maybe I'm successful because I worry."


  1. Diller was probably at her hottest in terms of media exposure about the time this special was made, with ABC trying to make "The Pruitts of Southhampton" sitcom work with her in the lead. So Phyllis' homely woman schtick being used as the big boffo end piece here isn't that big a surprise (as for the overall writing, Jack's late 60s specials tried to adjust to the changing era and at times tried a little too hard. But they seemed to get all that out of their system by the end of the decade and Jack's 1970-74 specials are more consistently enjoyable).

  2. One of the better '60 specials features the Beach Boys.

  3. It's uncomfortable to watch Jack holding the women's hands while interviewing them onstage. They always look uncomfortable, and he won't stop.