Sunday, 31 January 2021

Benny on Broadway

It would seem pointless to publicise a stage show that’s already sold out, but Jack Benny did it anyway when he appeared in New York in 1963. After all, he still had a TV show on the air and he was getting free newspaper space to keep it in the spotlight.

Jack had been around so long, and his radio character was so well known, there wasn’t too much new to ask him. So the story below from the Camden Courier-Post of March 4, 1963 may seem fairly familiar.

Below it are two reviews of what was basically a vaudeville show, one from columnist Hy Gardner and the other from Newsweek. They’re both from March 11th. Jack gave audiences what saw on TV every week, along with a singer and some unknowns. It wasn’t an all-star extravaganza, but he gave them what they wanted, including the duelling violin routine with Toni Marcus.

Benny Pays Tab For Group’s Dinner

NEW YORK—A year or so ago, Jack Benny descended upon New York, recruited a group of Broadway celebrities and invited them to dine at a “famous restaurant.” He walked them to the eatery, lined them up outside, handed each guest 10 nickels, told them to live it up, and marched them into an Automat.
He stepped out of character this past weekend. He invited a group of TV editors, drama critics and celebrities to dinner at the Warwick and then to a private Sunday viewing of his “Jack Benny” show at the Ziegfeld Theatre . . . and . . . Mr. Benny picked up the tab!
BENNY BLAMES . . . and loves . . . his writers for creating his public image as a tightwad who still drives a Maxwell (circa 1922) and never pays Rochester, his man Friday.
This mirth-making illusion probably reached its crescendo on his weekly (pre-TV era) radio show when after having parked his ancient chariot in his garageless driveway he was confronted by a ruffian who stuck a pistol into his midriff and growled, “Your money or your life!”
There was dead silence on the air waves for seconds, then minutes, until the thug snarled impatiently, and Benny querulously bleated,
“Give me more time. I’m trying to make up my mind!”
“MY writers created the image of Stingy Benny,” the comedian told the pros Sunday. “They also were responsible for the violin bit. If I hadn’t been a comedian, I’d have been a virtuoso on the violin . . . but a lousy one. It was like being a golfer who likes to play but hates to practice.
“But I’ve kept this item a secret far too long—I HATE ‘Love in Bloom!’”
BENNY, a perennial 39 going on 70 (he celebrated, without fan-fare, his 69th birthday anniversary last week) is pleasantly and familiarly at ease in his virtually one-man show. But—
“Isn’t it a h—uva time to bring me back to Broadway for a six-week engagement? A snowstorm, a newspaper strike and Lent! Whether the show lays an egg because of those handicaps, I have a window handy on the 28th floor of this hotel.” (Aide to Benny fans: don’t worry, the six-week engagement is sold out.)
“I didn’t get my asking price for this job, but Billy Rose said I could have his lemonade concession,” the insouciant comic grinned. “But I don’t know what my net will be until Mary Livingstone finishes her shopping . . . that is, IF she ever finishes.”
AFTER telling his startled captive audience that because people really believe he is a miser, he leans over backwards to tip generously, he said he bawls out his Tuesday night audiences.
“They should be home watching my TV show!”
On the nights off he’d like to see other shows, but the tickets cost too much. “I went off-Broadway . . . and say, there’s a dilly in Scranton this week!”
So what comes after the six-week run? “I thought of going to Florida but . . . Ponce de Leon couldn’t find what he wanted most, so why should I waste time?

It's Not Just the Jack That Keeps Benny Working

NEW YORK — Jack Benny can make more people laugh hysterically with a famous take, a stare, a grimace or an inaudible grunt than most contemporaries can achieve with a polished script. It's gratifying to see him on television, but you must feel his warmth over the footlights of the Ziegfeld Theater to really appreciate his subtle wit and droll humor.
Why Jack, at this stage of the game, took on the grueling job of playing seven (or is it nine?) live shows a week for six weeks is something only he and Billy Rose, who inveigled him into the trap, can explain. Benny says the answer is a five-letter word, m-o-n-e-y.
But the man who built up the image of a tightwad isn't that money mad. As a matter of fact friends will tell you that whenever they have lunch or dinner with him he puts up a helluva fight to pick up the check. The fact that he never wins is irrelevant. It just goes to prove what a master of timing he is.
The truth is that Benny, like Chevalier, Sophie Tucker, Jimmy Durante, Joe E. Lewis and the other handful of great entertainers in their 60s or 70's, use work as therapy for staying young. Every performance gives them something to look forward to and less time to look backwards.
When they face an audience they're ageless, finer performers than they were a decade or two ago. Their's is a mutual lifelong romance with their audiences. It creates a chemistry that no youngster can concoct. The word for it is Charisma.
At the opening, Benny, in self-defense, said that Chevalier is even more money-mad than he is.

Benny on Broadway
Jack Benny is so wise to his following that the moment he steps out onto the stage of the Ziegfeld Theater he knows what the talkative womenfolk are buzzing into their escorts’ ears. He says it first: “My God, he looks so much younger on TV.” From there on, the audience at this nameless revue could almost play the same trick on Benny. His big blue eyes still serve him as a topic of jest, along with his parsimony and the quirks of the stooge entourage he made famous on radio. Delivered with the familiar old mannerisms—hand on cheek, one limp knee bent inward—the running gags still work, even in a production which looks like the only USO show ever cheeky enough to open in New York at a $7.50 top.
Of all our illustrious clowns, Benny is the one who can do least, but when he catches himself in the reckless act of discarding some stray horsehairs from his violin bow and frugally pockets them instead, nobody could excel the princely finesse of it. Benny has the glowing patina of the vaudeville veteran, and the stage dims when he walks off. His co-star, Jane Morgan, is a torch howler whose welcome depends heavily on the way she makes an evening gown bulge, and there is a troupe of gospel singers who bully the ear drums beyond humane limits. But there is also a two-man juggling act called the Half Brothers whose skills skirt the supernatural. Even Benny is at his funniest when this amazing team interrupts him in the middle of a joke to make him the stunned pivot of a terrifying whirl of Indian clubs.

1 comment:

  1. $7.50 back then is $65 today. And I'd gladly pay that to see Jack live. ;-)