Sunday, 31 March 2019

Preparation B (For Benny)

Jack Benny could ad-lib. He preferred polishing his scripts with his writers, in some cases spending time debating whether a word—one word—was going to play well. That didn’t stop him from throwing in a one-liner or make an aside shout-out to someone listening (he once ended a stretch of radio show dialogue with Blanche Stewart with the word “Brenda,” Stewart’s role on the Bob Hope Show).

Here’s a piece from the San Francisco Examiner of October 15, 1961 that starts out about Benny’s ad-libbing and then meanders over to his violin concerts, the longevity of his staff and how he got his stage name.

The Truth About Jack Benny's Ad Libs
By Dwight Newton

FRED ALLEN once said that Jack Benny couldn't ad lib "I do" at his own wedding.
Substitute "wouldn't" for "couldn't" and you have the key to Jack's long term success in show business.
Jack never ad libs anything if he can possibly avoid it. He insist that all dialogue be fully memorized, that all action be thoroughly rehearsed. He won't even permit a teleprompter on his show, nor cue cards.
Jack's TV gospel can be summarized in one word: Preparation.
The payoff to always being prepared has led to a double anniversary tonight—the beginning of Jack's 30th consecutive season in network broadcasting, and his 12th in television (9:30 p. m., channels 5-3E-8-10-12-30).
His star guest will be another veteran of the comedy circuit, Phil Silvers, who'll bring along three surprise guests—including Garry Moore and Alan King, I understand. Betty Johnson will be the songbird of the night. The story line concerns Jack's visit to New York for a talk with his sponsor about his new contract.
It may be a turkey. Jack has had many of them. It may be a hilarious half hour. Jack has had many more of those. One thing is certain. It will be the best he can offer under the circumstances. Jack never short changes the public deliberately.
He is in good shape for this season, having filmed 12 programs in advance. One stars Raymond "Perry Mason" Burr defending Jack against charges of a capital crime.
ANOTHER headlines Tennessee Ernie Ford. En route from NBC last year to ABC next year, Ernie stopped by CBS to do this one comedy show for Jack.
Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Stewart will return for the third time. Other programs already filmed feature Bobby Rydell, Mickey Rooney, Jane Morgan, Shari Lewis, and Roberta Peters who sang on the recent "Carnegie Hall Salutes Jack Benny" program."
That was a spellbinder, the TV musical treat of the year climaxed as Jack on the violin dueted with Isaac Stern in front of the Philadelphia Orchestra. For the first time, Jack let home viewers see a portion of the act that has raised over $2,000,000 for symphony orchestras throughout the country.
The fiddle that foundered so often on "Love in Bloom" has become a financial boon to serious music. Last season, Jack performed with symphony orchestras in Indianapolis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Dallas and New York--and with our own symphony orchestra two years ago. He plays Mendelssohn and Rimsky-Korsakov, draws the crowds, charges up to $150 a seat and evokes classic humor lines from master musicians.
Says Isaac Stern: "When Jack walks out in tails in front of 90 musicians, he looks like the greatest of soloists. What a shame he has to play!"
The fiddle is a continuing Benny trademark along with the Maxwell, the toupe, the age 39 constancy, and the stinginess. Said Benny a while back: "The good things that really happened to me were by accident. I never thought that if I was a stingy character or a lousy violinist this would keep me going 25 years later."
Well, they didn't really. It was Benny who kept them going by applying the Benny Law of thorough preparation before each performance. Add to this his unique talent for hiring able associates and holding them. His senior writers, Sam Perrin and George Balzar [sic], have been with him for 19 years, the others for 12 years. He has had only four vocalists in 30 years—Frank Parker, Kenny Baker, Larry Stevens and Dennis Day. Rochester was hired to play a Pullman porter on one radio show only and remained for a quarter of a century.
DON WILSON has been his announcer for 28 years. Benny recalls that he auditioned for announcers and signed Don because he laughed loudest at Benny's quips. They'll all be back this season with veteran Frank Nelson, musical director Mahlon Merrick (28 years) and Benny Rubin, a lifetime friend who gave Benny his first handle, Jack.
Jack was born Benny Kubelsky and changed it to Ben Benny when he went into vaudeville as a violinist. At the St. Louis Orpheum one week, the Vaudeville Managers Association sent a wire requesting he change it. Ben Benny was too similar to Ben Bernie, a vaudeville fiddler of much greater fame.
Benny Rubin was on the same bill. As they discussed it at dinner that night a sailor came by the table and said "Hi, Jack." "That's it!" exclaimed Benny Rubin. "Jack—Jack Benny," And Jack Benny it has been ever since.
Two weeks ago, the Jack Benny name coined by Benny Rubin received new recognition when Jack returned to his hometown, Waukegan, Ill., for the dedication of a new Jack Benny Junior High School. Jack filmed the event and the school dedication will be the scene of next Sunday's telecast.

1 comment:

  1. No mention of Mel as part of Jack's repertoire company, but this was during the time period when he was still recovering from the January 1961 neat-fatal crash (he would return, in a wheelchair, to do the 'Sy/Si' bit for the 1961 Christmas show before getting back into the regular rotation of semi-regulars for the 1962-63 season).