Sunday 29 July 2018

How Not To Retire From Radio

“Retirement” was a word in Jack Benny’s vocabulary. He talked about it, he threatened it, but he never actually did it. At the end of his life, he was doing the concerts that he loved and an occasional TV show, and he was likely content with that after a career that had begun in vaudeville some 60-or-so years earlier.

Sheilah Graham of the North America Newspaper Alliance devoted a whole column to Jack. It was published on November 2, 1947. Jack talks about leaving radio in a few years. He didn’t. In fact, his new agents MCA worked out a deal with CBS to move his show to the network and cut Jack’s taxes at the same time. He only gave up radio when all the sponsors’ money and audiences started going into television. In the interview, he also talked about having a second child which the Bennys never got around to doing, and why he didn’t end up doing stage plays, as he had mulled over off and on.

Jack Benny Looks Toward Radio Retirement
And He Has ‘No Desire to Make Another Picture’ Unless It Proves More Interesting Than Playing Golf Daily

By Sheilah Graham
“In four or five years I shall up radio,” says Jack Benny, puffing calmly on a large cigar. “I expect to very tired by then,” he adds. He means of radio. “I’m not much of a radio fan,” confesses the man who has been consistently among the first top Hooper-rating lords ever since the system was started. “Maybe it’s because I know what goes on backstage.”
Now I’ll tell you what goes on backstage—or rather off stage—with Mr. Benny. Jack is now starting his 16th consecutive year in radio—12 of them at the same time (on Sunday). But he is still nervous before each show.
“You’d never guess it,” says Jack. “People who see me just before I go on say I haven’t a nerve in my body. But stage fright is one of the reasons why I want to get out of the business in a few years. Nearly everyone feels the same—except Ingrid Bergman and Barbara Stanwyck; they’re always completely calm before a show.” Jack doesn’t believe even Crosby is as calm as he seems to be before a show. Yet I’d take bets that he is.
Golfs Constantly
I asked Jack what has happened to his plan to star in his movie autobiography, “Always Leave ‘Em Laughing.” “The script wasn’t too hot,” said Benny, who shudders when you mention his last movie, “The Horn Blows At Midnight” “I’ve no desire to make another picture unless it’s worth giving up my golf for.”
Jack plays golf seven days a week, but says he is not in the same class as Hope and Crosby. But, next to traveling, it’s his favorite outdoor sport. Jack has just returned from a three-month tour of the United States. “Mary (Livingstone, his wife) didn’t go with me she hates to travel and she hates to hear me talk about it. I usually come home every day with a handful of pamphlets. I’m always ready to go somewhere.”
The Bennys are going to adopt another child. They already have 13-year-old Joannie. “We should have done it years ago,” Jack told me. “We have a big house, and now, with Joan away in boarding school, it’s very lonely for us” The lucky baby probably will be a European war orphan.
We got to talking of the radio comics of tomorrow. I’ve heard a lot of moaning about “where are they to come from?” Even Mr. Benny doesn’t know. “There's no way of training future comedians today,” he told me. “In the old days, there was vaudeville—you traveled all over the country, did five shows a day, and when you hit the spotlight you knew your job. Today kids have to make good their first time out.”
Jack believes that if Dennis Day and Jack Paar are careful with their writing, they will be the two big radio stars of the future.
Here is the Benny system for having a good show: “I have four writers now. I used to have two, and at one time I only had one. After each show on Sunday, we have a huddle on the idea for the show the following week. Then I forget it completely until the following Thursday morning. The writers start work again on Wednesday, the day before.”
Shows Recorded
One of the secrets of success, according to Jack: “We don’t worry about the show being great—we just see that it isn’t lousy. We never try to follow a ‘great show’ with another great show. We just do our best each time.” Jack has made recordings of each of his shows for the last 12 years. “I can’t get into my bedroom because of records of my shows,” he said.
Jack’s favorite comedy show on the air is “Amos ‘n’ Andy”—“because of the great, great writing job; it’s like a play.” Jack prefers the story-line radio show to the gag show, such as Bob Hope’s. “But one of the reasons Bob has such a big following is because people don’t have to stay with their ears glued to the radio or they lose the plot. They can listen for awhile, then talk, then listen again. But then, again, some people like to listen all the time and follow the story-line.”
When his radio days are over, Jack says, he’d like to do a play on Broadway. “I was going to do stock this summer in ‘The Front Page.’” Jack would have played the part made famous in the movie by Pat O’Brien. “But I couldn't be bothered to learn it all just for two weeks.” Jack used to smoke 15 cigars a day. Now he swears he smokes only one. “I never smoked anything in my life until I was 36,” he told me, and his smoking was an accident. “I had to smoke a cigar in an Earl Carroll show.” Jack says his doctor wants him to drink more than he does. “Drinking is good for the arteries,” he assured me with a straight face.

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