Sunday 17 May 2020

A Little Trip With Jack Benny

One way that Jack Benny relaxed after a hard season of radio was to jump in a car with a friend and get out of California. (No, not in a Maxwell; I believe he owned a Packard then).

One of his trips in 1939 took him through several cities in Montana. Interestingly, he arrived in Montana a couple of weeks after Phil Harris, who appeared in Butte as part of a cross-country tour. Here’s the AP version about one of Benny’s stops.

Youthful Admirers Delay Jack Benny To Get Autograph
HAVRE, July 26.—(AP)—Jack Benny, screen and radio star, stopped Wednesday afternoon en route to Glacier National park for road information, but it took him three hours to get away after juvenile Havre located him.
Benny, accompanied by Jesse Block of the Broadway team of Block and Sully, planned to stop in Glacier park, and at Banff, Canada, before returning to Beverly Hills, Cal. The comedian left town with a weak arm, but countless boys and girls were happily displaying his autograph.

So what else did Benny do in the Treasure State? There were local press reports. Fortunately, the Fallon County Times of Baker, Mont. of August 3rd had a roundup of stories from nearby papers and digested two about Jack Benny. At least parts of the trip were planned in advance.

Glasgow Courier E.D. Benson, manager of the Fair store in Glasgow, is busy denying a persistent report that he replied “Yes, and this is President Roosevelt,” when he was greeted on the telephone early on Wednesday morning with the statement, “This is Jack Benny speaking.” As a matter of fact, it WAS Jack Benny, who was looking for S.H. Orvis, store owner, Benny’s second cousin. And further, Mr. Benson says, he has heard too many Jack Benny radio programs to be fooled, even by experts, on the voice of the Waukegan wise cracker. All of which also speaks well for sound fidelity either in telephones or radios, or both.

Dawson County (Glendive) Review Jack Benny, radio and screen comedian, visited briefly in Glendive Tuesday evening with George Robinson, manager of the Rose and Uptown theatres.
Mr. Benny and a companion were enroute from Minneapolis to Lake Louise in Albert [sic], Canada where he will spend part of his vacation. When they saw Mr. Benny’s name on the marquee of the Rose theatre where his show, “Man About Town,” was playing. Mr. Benny expressed a desire to meet the manager, Mr. Robinson, who was introduced to him.
The meeting with Mr. Robinson had its humorous side. Benny’s companion asked one of the ushers at the theatre how many people were inside. As it was fifteen minutes before show time, the audience was not very large, in fact it totalled just one person, and the usher so stated.
Benny’s face dropped a mile and he nearly lost his cigar. He looked almost as crestfallen as he does when told that his violin rendition of “Love in Bloom” was lousy. He regained his smiling aplomb however, when Mr. Robinson informed him that the show had not started that evening and had played Sunday and Monday to very good houses and the comment was all of the very best.

One Benny got to Alberta, a news conference awaited. After all, Man About Town had just been released. Any opportunity for publicity was welcome. This version appeared in the Calgary Herald but was picked up by other papers. If there were photos taken, I can’t find where they were published.

Human Touch Makes Radio Programs Successful, Says Ace Comedian Jack Benny
(By Our Own Correspondent)
Banff, July 29
Take it from Jack Benny—“it's the human touch that makes a radio program successful.”
“You don't want sophisticated entertainment for the smart listeners only; you don't want jokes alone; but you can hit all classes of people if you strike something basically human in every broadcast,” the top ranking comedian told newsmen at the Banff Springs hotel today.
Holidaying in the mountains with actor friend Jesse Block, Mr. Benny took time out from golf and sightseeing to talk about his own seven years in radio, and what they have taught him.
“Characters in the popular radio program should be very human,” Mr. Benny believes. “They should be like the people you know in your own home town, in situations which might be your own.”
Stay In Character
“Take my own radio character, for example, I've got something that's wrong with everybody. I'm mean, and stingy, and Mary's always picking on me. It's the same with the rest of the company, they never get out of character. Consequently it's not what they say, but the fact that they say it, that amuses people. They're not just gagsters.”
Benny talked too, of his favorite butler, “Rochester.” “The humor in his part lies in the fact that he's supposed to be working for me, and yet he says the things he does, and gets away with it.”
Mr. Benny doesn't take much stock in recent movies-radio altercations.
“I can only say, if you're in radio and make bad pictures, get out of the movies, and if you're in the movies and your radio work is weak, stick to the films. If the one doesn't bolster up your reputation in the other, then give it up.”
He'll Keep On
"Of course I've made bad movies myself," the comedian chuckled, "but my last one is good, so I'll keep on for awhile.”
Benny is no stranger to Canada, where for years he played the vaudeville circuits, “in big towns and little.” He thinks vaudeville was the greatest school of all for the actor, and he deplores its passing. The modern entertainment business is “harder work and greater strain” than in the old days.
“But I can't imagine not staying with it,” Jack Benny says.

1939 was probably a year he needed to relax. His jewelry smuggling case came up in New York City (he pleaded guilty and paid a $10,000 fine), was sued by former writer Harry Conn, who claimed he “made” Jack Benny, and saw singer Kenny Baker quit his show before the end of the 1938-39 season.

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