Sunday, 27 October 2019

Why Helen Hayes Was Jigging

You might wonder how Jack Benny had the stamina sometimes.

Granted, being in your late 60s isn’t comparatively old, but I imagine it’s still a grind to fly into a town, meet the press, visit with dignitaries, take part in a rehearsal, try to get some food, perform a concert and then be the centrepiece of a meet-and-greet with wealthy premium concert ticket buyers, then try to sleep before packing and zipping to the airport to head to the next destination.

Benny did that for years, even as he was doing his weekly TV show.

Here’s a piece from the North American Newspaper Alliance about a trip to New York City. It was published December 11, 1960. The story is not quite correct. Jack did a stage show at the Roxy in New York in 1947, one with Fred Allen verbally bombing him and breaking him up. This story should give you a bit on an idea of the Benny grind.
Work Tires Out Jack Benny

NEW YORK (NANA)—FOR THE MOMENT Jack Benny had lost his bounce. He was lying in bed, with the covers pulled up almost to his chin, looking rather lost amidst the grandeur of his Hotel Pierre suite. His violin, a Stradivarius, lay on the unoccupied bed next to him.
"Please forgive me, but I had to get into bed," he said, extending an arm rather limply. "I'm completely fatigued. The last two weeks have been very hectic. I've done three concerts and an Israel bond drive, and now New York."
He shuddered slightly, and groaned.
JACK, WHOSE home is in Beverly Hills, came East to see a bit of theater and to do two shows in his new weekly series. Since he has cultivated a reputation for penury as assiduously as some men seek a name for largess, he entertained while here at a black tie party at the Automat, distributing the nickels to his guests with a splendid show of reluctance.
"The party came out terrifically," he said. "I thought everybody would get dressed up because of the gimmick and that they'd stay a few minutes, then go home. But, boy, they stayed. Helen Hayes was still there jigging around when I left at 1 a.m.
"This might amuse you. I rented a Rolls-Royce and took Bennett Cerf and a few other friends to the party. When I told the chauffeur to go to the Automat, he went into convulsions. He thought I was crazy."
Jack made his last appearance on the New York stage in "Earl Carroll's Vanities" of 1930-31, a show celebrated for nudity, and which was halted briefly by the police. Earlier he was seen in the Shubert production, "Great Temptations." He made his first radio broadcast in 1932, now estimates he has given a thousand performances on radio and TV.
Yet here he was saying, "I'd like to come back to the stage if I could find the right play. But I'd have to give up television to do it."
JACK and his troupe, including Rochester who has been with him 25 years, and Don Wilson, Benny's announcer for 27 years, usually spend five days preparing for a single broadcast.
America's No. 1 comedian started out in life in Waukegan, Ill., and his early ambition was to be a violinist. His concert appearances, such as he made in Indianapolis last month, have raised thousands of dollars for symphony orchestras.
This version of the story came from the Indianapolis Star. Corbin Patrick’s “Between the Acts” column published the same day gave you an idea of the kind of money Benny helped raise for symphonies, concert halls and the like with his violin performances. Benny had performed in Indianapolis on November 2nd as the city’s symphony orchestra launched its endowment fund campaign. Patrick checked the tote board and wrote: “Final nation-wide returns indicate that his effort here was the second most successful of five similar benefits he played in 1960. Benny helped raise $37,200 in the Circle [Theatre] frolic. This gross was exceeded only by a whopping big $46,270 in Cleveland. It topped a take of $36,100 in Cincinnati, $25,300 in Denver, and $23,600 in Honolulu.”

Jack kept up with his performances until the year he died, including one in Redlands, California. It’s appropriately just down the 210 from Cucamonga.

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