Sunday 22 March 2020

Moving to the Stars Address

No story gripped the radio columns—and some news columns, too—at the end of 1948 than CBS buying Jack Benny’s company Amusement Enterprises, meaning the Jack Benny show would move from NBC at the start of 1949.

CBS hyped and hyped the change; Benny even made fun of the hype on his first CBS broadcast. So did other CBS comedians, judging by the radio column of the Minneapolis Star Tribune of January 4, 1949. You probably won’t read a more thorough summary of what happened on the air the night of Benny’s debut, because the paper put two reporters on the story (kind of).

Frankly, this is far from one of my favourite Benny shows. The Jack/Mary song is nothing more than an over-long network promo—there’s even a reprise, as if to fill time because the show didn’t get enough laughs—with nothing funny in it.

In explanation, NBC replaced Benny with Horace Heidt’s Youth Opportunity musical talent show. And I strongly suspect the NBC staff announcer on duty that night was briefed on what exactly was going to take place; there’s no way he would have been unexpectedly thrown like that on a major network, especially because the extra banter would take up time and that would have to be accounted for on the network log.

Joneses Keep Up With Nets


For awhile Sunday night I was afraid I'd have to listen to two radios at once. I felt some obligation to chronicle the new Sunday night sound of a CBS with Jack Benny, an NBC without Jack Benny.
Mrs. Jones came to the rescue. She offered to listen to one network for me, and to take careful notes. With the rescue came a crisis. We had to flip a coin. Mrs. Jones won CBS and the kitchen. I got NBC and the living room.
Amos ‘n’ Unday
First, however, we both listened to Spike Jones on CBS. Before the Jones show, a CBS announcer reminded everybody to listen to Jack Benny in a half-hour.
Jones rather set the tempo for CBS. The City Slickers played "Sunday." It was all about CBS programs. One line ended with Amos 'n' Unday, to rhyme with Sunday, which sort of gives you an idea. The song was interrupted by a squeaky violin exercise.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Benny,” said Jones, “but you don't go on for a half-hour yet.” Folks laughed, Jones, then paraphrased some Longfellow quote about Sunday.
Right off, CBS showed how wonderfully fully big hearted and confident it was about the whole Sunday night affair by allowing mention of another network, by letters. Buddy Clark, a guest, referred to “my own program on—you’ll pardon the expression—NBC.”
The first commercial had a Coke-on-Sunday theme. Joan Davis, another guest, was ready with a gag about Benny. With Benny, she said, it's “Give that man $4,000,000 to change networks!” With her, she said, it's “Get the net and give ‘er the works!” Folks laughed.
Jones came up with a picture of how it must be in Benny's dressing room:
“I can see it now . . . Jack—surrounded by all his Jack.” Folks laughed.
Those gags, it turned out, were of about the same tenor and caliber of all that were to follow. Jones and Miss Davis got around to Benny-the-pinchpenny and Benney's-toupee-gags, too, of course.
Chuckle in Kitchen
At this point I shuffled off to the living room and NBC. Before Horace Heidt's talent show moved into the old Benny time spot, an announcer warned:
“Don't miss a second of the next 30 minutes.”
Somebody also said, a bit desperately: “The youth of America is in the No. 1 spot of America!” This referred, of course, to the choice NBC time vacated by Benny.
I listened to a saxophonist, a girl duet and was in the midst of an accordionist playing “Quicksilver.” From the kitchen I heard a familiar noise: Benny's Maxwell starting.
I heard Mrs. Jones chuckling. (She told me what the gag was later. Mary Livingstone: “I hope you don't have the usual trouble with your Maxwell.” Benny: “Don't worry. Yesterday I had the motor tuned up.” Sound of Maxwell motor grinding. Mary: “Who tuned it? Spike Jones?”)
Heidt next offered a banjoist, a tonguing trumpeter. The banjoist won. By way of a guest, Heidt hauled out Judge Robert T. Patterson, former secretary of war. Patterson said he trusted “every worthy American citizen will support” Heidt and his talent show because of what they are doing for the youth of America.
Then Heidt urged everybody to have plenty of Philip Morrises around the house “whether you smoke or not, because Philip Morris is helping the youth of America.” It'll be interesting to see just how strongly these noble appeals can compete with Benny’s Maxwell.
Cues, More Cues
The same half-hour on CBS, reports Mrs. Jones, was preceded by a breathless network cue:
“This is CBS-Where-Jack-Benny-Starts-in-30-Seconds, the Columbia Broadcasting System.”
Benny was found, supposedly two hours before his program, heading for the CBS studios to report for work.
Several gags later—
Mary: “Why should you worry—
Benny: “I'm not really nervous.”
Mary: “Stop pacing up and down on the running board—you must have $1,000,000 down in your vault.”
Benny: “I know, but I don't want to break up the serial numbers.”
Mary spotted a billboard on the way to the studio:
Jack Benny has switched to CBS.
Phil Harris has switched to Sterno.

Harris, impressed with the occasion, announced his band would play something special—“That's What I Like About the South.”
Dennis Day came in wearing hip boots, without pants.
His explanation: “I lost them by force of habit. As I passed NBC I walked by, but my pants walked in.”
Jack and Mary sang a special number to the tune of “I'd Like to Get You on a Slow Boat to China.” Their version: “We'd Like to Get You to Stay Tuned on Sunday.”
Amos 'n Andy appeared briefly on the Benny show. On their own program, which followed, however, they wisely avoided the stock Benny gags. Their only reference to the new setup, said Mrs. Jones, was when Andy closed the program: “See you next Sunday, right after the Jack Benny show.”
Network Loyalty
Phil Harris must have left the Benny show early to run down the street in time to compete with Amos 'n' Andy at 6:30 p.m. His voice, at least, was on hand to interrupt an announcer who started to say, “This is NBC.” The fellow got to say "This is—,” and then Harris cut in with:
“Hold it, Bub! Don't bong them chimes until folks know that Alice and me is comin' on next—over N! B! C!”
This display of divided network loyalty was touching, especially in the light of Harris plans to move his own show over to CBS, too. The Phil Harris-Alice Faye script was free of references to networks or personalities until the sign-off. Then Alice said, “Fred Allen follows us on the air now!” Harris then saw fit to “welcome Horace Heidt to our network,” although Heidt has been on “our network” Sunday nights for some months now.
The NBC man with the network cue said, “This is—,” and was interrupted again. Mrs. Nussbaum this time. “Excuse it, pal,” she said. “. . . the Fred Allen show is arriving early over N! B! C!”
“For 12 years Edgar Bergen has been on at this time,” mused Allen. “Thousands of people tune in to hear Edgar Bergen, and instead of Bergen they hear me. And instead of his dummy—”
Portland: “They hear me!”
Allen made some feeble references to Benny, capital gains deals and Horace Heidt's program, but pointed no gags at them.
While this was going on, Sam Spade was getting into the act on CBS. The program opened with Sam saying to his secretary, “What have you been doing?” “Oh,” said the girl, “listening to Jack Benny.” “Jack Benny,” said Sam. “What's his last name?”


  1. 'Special' shows rarely turn out to be special, because everyone's trying too hard to make it more than it should be, and are not focusing on what made people come to the show in the first place. Fortunately for Benny fans, Jack and his writers got the CBS transition thing out of their system pretty quickly.

  2. Too bad the January 2, '49 Spike Jones Show is lost.