Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ruling Radio Roost

There weren’t too many newspaper columnists who had bad things to say about Jack Benny. About the worst it got was John Crosby and a few others grumbling that Benny’s shows had the same types of routines before admitting that’s what the (very large) audience wanted.

Hearst columnist Jack O’Brian caught Jack in 1952 when his TV career had become a success. He wrote a birthday piece about Jack, published by the International News Service on February 13, 1955. As this is Jack’s birthday today, let’s reprint it. You’ll notice even columnists took advantage of Benny’s “39” joke to add humour to their stories.

My thanks to Tim Lones for supplying the drawing for this post.
Benny 39?

NEW YORK (INS) Jack Benny, comic Valentine born Feb. 14, 1894, will be 39 tomorrow. We realise this may strike a discordant chronological note, but we don't argue with a man about his own age, and that's what Jack told us; he'll be 39 tomorrow.
What we can do something about is to divulge the fact that at the age of either 61 or 39, Jack Benny, born in Chicago, bred in Waukegan, star of vaudeville, the legitimate stage, movies, radio, television and several banks, observed his impending birthday by moving up to the top ten shows on television.
The Jack Benny show still rules the radio roost, too, as it did 20 years ago. Jack has been in the light for 45 years; he was just 16 when he teamed his then authentically proficient fiddle with the pianistics of one Cora Salisbury, who played with him in the pit orchestra of the Barrison Theatre in Waukegan, at which point a star was born.
Jack had been playing violin in the Barrison for several years, in knee pants.
Cora Salisbury got homesick early in their partnership. When her father became ill, and dashed home to Waukegan. The team Benny & Woods followed, the latter a Chicago pianist.
Enlisting in the Navy at the start of the First World War, Jack was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval training station; became a sailor in greasepaint, raised money and spirits in "The Great Lakes Revue."
This became an important milestone, for it established Jack as a man who could chatter engagingly on stage as well as fiddle.
From the first laugh, comedy became more important than violin. He had planned another musical act with Zez Confrey, legendary jazz pianist, as partner, but Zez got out of the Navy later than Jack, who by then had decided to go it as a "single."
When early talkies were hiring any vaudevillian able to speak in passable grammar, Jack starred in several films revues and did real well in them. Though he was getting big pay, he felt he was stagnating between pictures, and his guilt complex sent him back to the stage.
In a couple of years a little gadget that poured entertainment into homes was in its infancy—radio. It was, as TV was to become later, a chance and a challenge for all in show, business. Jack took the chance and became the biggest name in radio comedy and remained at the top since.
Television claimed him five years ago. His first hilarious phrase came after a long burst of applause from the premier audience, to which he mused: "I'd give a million dollars to know how I looked. He looked, and performed, just fine.
Neither O’Brian or Benny knew it at the time, but the radio roost was about to be torn down. Fewer people were listening, more and more Americans had television sets on at night. American Tobacco didn’t see how it could bear the expense of the Benny show for the diminishing return it was getting from its advertising. The microphones were shut off for a final time on May 22nd. But Jack carried on in television, either on a series or in specials, up until he died. O’Brian was right. Benny “looked, and performed, just fine.”

1 comment:

    If he were LIVING
    Wonder what the hell he'd make of AMERICA, THE WORLD and THE UNIVERSE TODAY?