Sunday, 25 November 2018

Playing With a President

Former U.S President Harry Truman appeared on the Jack Benny show on October 18, 1959, but that’s not the whole story.

A future president wanted some publicity thanks to Benny, too.

Before the Truman show even aired, Vice-President Richard Nixon “demanded” equal time. And Jack gave him time. It wasn’t quite equal, but it gave the Republican good publicity.

First came this story in the Associated Press on October 14, 1959.

(AP Movie-TV Writer)
HOLLYWOOD (AP) — Ex-President Harry S. Truman turns up in an unlikely place next Sunday: guest star on a comedy show.
Jack Benny, his host, says he has a demand for equal time from Vice President Richard M. Nixon.
"I wrote him back that he's not eligible for my show until he makes president," Benny quipped.
Benny and Nixon have been friends for years.
"I'm neither a Republican nor a Democrat," said Jack in explaining why he is so friendly with leaders of both parties. He said Nixon had written him congratulating him on the show business coup of snagging the former President of the United States as a guest star. "Some of my friends have advised me that I should demand equal time," Nixon wrote Benny.
"I think he was kidding," said Jack.
A reporter asked Benny how he managed to get Truman to appear with him.
"Actually," replied Benny, "I didn't ask him. He asked me."
Some months ago a columnist asked Benny if he intended to use the same old guest stars seen on most of the big TV shows.
"My answer was that I was seeking offbeat guest stars such as Mrs. Jimmy Stewart and I might try for Harry S. Truman The story got printed but I really had no intention of asking the former President of the United States to appear on a comedy show.
"One day Mr. Truman called me and asked: 'What's this I read about my appearing on your show? I'm ready anytime you ask me.' " Benny and the former President once did a benefit violin-piano duet for the Kansas City Symphony.
"He was so grateful to me for helping out those musicians that he was eager to do something for me. I told him that I do benefit concerts all the time, I love to do them. He owed me nothing."
But when Truman agreed to be on the show, Jack suggested that the Truman portion be taped in the Truman Library at Independence, Mo.
Benny said he and the former President had only one disagreement during the taping.
"I wanted to keep it dignified and Mr. Truman is worried about my getting laughs," Benny laughed.
Benny agreed. Nixon didn’t appear on his TV show, though. This United Press International story of November 21, 1959 fills us in:
Benny Plays Fiddle, Nixon Accompanies
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 (UPI)—Vice President Nixon ended a politically significant week tonight by playing a duet with Jack Benny—sometime music partner of former President Truman.
Nixon supplied piano accompaniment for Benny’s violin before an audience composer of many of the nation’s political writers at the National Press Club. The tune was one of Mr. Truman’s specialities—the “Missouri Waltz.”
Benny, a featured entertainer at the press club’s President’s Black Tie Ball, explained that he had written Nixon to congratulate the Vice President on a “wonderful job” on his trip to Russia. In reply, Benny said, he received from Nixon a note saying “After your program with Truman, I demand equal time.”
Benny gave Nixon his chance, and then breezed through a speeded-up version of the “Missouri Waltz.” Nixon’s judgement on the performance, as pronounced to the other guests, was: “All of us should stay in our own rackets.”
The AP version of the story adds:
The occasion for the performance was the annual president’s ball of the club, honoring William H. Lawrence, a correspondent for the New York Times.
Benny also played the violin with the noted violinist Isaac Stern on a program which included metropolitan opera stars Dolores Wilson and Robert Merrill. Benny was presented with the Laurel Leaf Award of the American Composers’ Alliance for promotion of symphonic music.
Benny had emceed the D.C. radio correspondents dinner in 1953, at which Nixon was present.

Nixon and Benny met again, notably in 1961 where the ex vice-president handed Benny a plaque at an American Israeli Foundation dinner to mark the creation of a violin scholarship in Benny’s name. And in 1969, Jack greeted the now-president at Andrews Air Force base after Nixon’s eight-day tour of Europe.

As far as we know, Harry Truman didn’t ask Benny for a response in rebuttal, but you can read about his musical escapades with Jack HERE and HERE.

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