Sunday 16 June 2019

Jack Benny, Interviewer and Answerer

What would you ask Jack Benny if you could talk to him?

It seems people wanted to know if all that stuff portrayed on the Jack Benny show was true—whether he drove a Maxwell, if he was cheap, etc.

I imagine the questioning in this joke-filled column in the New York Herald Tribune was pure invention but I’ve read enough of these old newspaper stories to learn that people really did ask Benny if he wore a rug. After all, Benny related in his autobiography, edited and co-written by his daughter Joan, that someone angrily wrote him, chastising him for the way he treated Rochester, not clueing in that he was talking about a fictional character played by a well-paid actor.

This column appeared on January 12, 1959. Benny (or whoever ghosted this) attributes a quote to Fred Allen. It was actually said by Benny’s first writer, Harry Conn, but considering their not-so-gracious break-up, it’s understandable why Benny might not want to credit him.

The Real Benny—As Jack Sees Him
Because Miss Torre refused to reveal the source of a news item that appeared in her column, she has been sentenced to ten days in jail. While she is away, her friends in television will write guest columns.
WHEN MARIE TORRE asked me to do a guest column for her, I rushed right to the typewriter to do the piece. As I sat poised, with my fingers on the keys, I suddenly realized I had reached my first hurdle. I couldn't type.
So I quickly took pen in hand to write the column, but then I remembered I wasn't a writer either. As the late, great Fred Allen once said about me, "Benny couldn't ad lib a burp after a Hungarian dinner."
Undaunted, I rushed to my writers and asked them if they would write the column for me. There was a hushed silence for a moment and then one of the boys pulled out his contract, which he always keeps on hand for such emergencies. There in fine print he unearthed a clause that limited their duties to writing my program and mowing my lawn. I pleaded with them to ignore the clause, but they insisted that if they were to write a column, I would have to pay them their weekly salaries. Now I like Marie Torre—but not $200 worth.
After I fired my lawyer, I though it over and decided that just because I'm a comedian, it doesn't mean I have to be funny all the time. Why not write a straight, informative column on interviews with people on the subject of television?
THE FIRST QUESTION I posed was, "What's wrong with television?" I stopped a man on the street with the question and within five minutes I had enough for a novelette.
So I dropped that subject and asked the next person I met, "What's right with television?". It became a little embarrassing because all I heard were raves for the Jack Benny Show. I decided not to use this observation because it would sound too conceited coming from me, especially since the person I was talking to was my press agent.
Since I couldn't think of any more questions, it seemed more convenient to dump the whole interrogation idea and instead answer the question asked of me by my fans.
The most frequent question is "Are you really 39?" The answer is, "Yes." Last year I pulled a hoax on the American public and celebrated my 40th birthday, but this was because CBS offered to throw a big party for me at their expense. Mary thought it was just awful of me to accept all the presents I was given on this phony birthday and insisted I return them. I agreed with her and took them all back to the stores and got the money back.
EVERYONE wants to know if I have my own hair or wear a toupee. I must confess that I have as much, if not more hair, than Yul Brynner.
Many people inquire if my eyes are blue. If anyone is interested, my eyes are bluer than the stomach of a dachshund running through a huckleberry patch.
Everyone wants to know if I really own a Maxwell. The answer is "No" at this time, but I will own one after I make two more payments. I'll be the only one who ever got his car owner certificate and 400,000-mile checkup at the same time.
Many people are curious to know if I really have a vault 200 feet down in my cellar.
Doesn't everybody? Others ask if it is true that Brigitte Bardot is infatuated with me? Being a gentleman, I feel it only right that the announcement come from her.
And lastly, there has been a lot of talk as to whether or not I'm cheap. You can find out by asking Marie Torre after she gets my bill for writing this column.

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