Sunday 31 May 2020

The Benny-Allen Feud Ends (For Now)

Two people born several months apart and worked, for much of the time, on opposite parts of the U.S. are together entwined in the minds of radio comedy fans.

Ex-vaudevillians Jack Benny and Fred Allen fell into a fake argument on the air, which carried through network radio years and into television, when Allen’s career had quite drastically fallen from his peak in the late ‘40s.

The feud began in late 1936 and was supposedly brought to an end a few months later. But radio knows a good thing when it sees one, and the feud was revived a couple of years later, and even transferred to the big screen in a tough-to-stomach movie called Love Thy Neighbor.

When Benny changed writers during the war, the feud improved tremendously. Jack’s barbs at Allen became far cleverer, Allen responded with the memorable “King For a Day” episode, and the radio side of the feud concluded with a 1953 Benny broadcast from San Francisco with a wonderful premise—instead of enemies, Benny and Allen were friends and vaudeville partners willing to undercut each other for a job.

The first round of the feud ended on March 14, 1937. Soon thereafter the Boston Post devoted three Sunday sections in a row to the Allen-Benny relationship. Below is the third part of the series, published April 11, 1937. Kathy Fuller Seeley, who is probably the best Benny historical scholar around today, went through the Allen archives at the Boston Public Library and is responsible for this post. The articles were taken with a cell phone camera in 2004 from a scrapbook shot at an angle, so the photos below aren’t the greatest.

I presume the fragment of the script comes from the East Coast version of the broadcast. The version of the programme in circulation has some differences in the script, even the song Abe Lyman plays is different, and ends with the NBC ID played on the old Deagan dinner chimes, which were still being used at KFI in Los Angeles at the time. The oddest thing in this version of the script is the concept of a Jew meeting St. Peter.

Here! Laugh Once Again at Radio’s Funniest Skit Broadcast
Experts Call Closing Episode of Jack Benny-Fred Allen Feud “Tops” in Humor—Why the Quarrel Was Terminated

“It must be easy for you and Fred Allen to work up funny situations that are good for laughs week after week,” I remarked to Jack Benny, all the time knowing that it isn’t.
“Huh? What’s that? How did you ever get that idea?” he demanded.
“Well, there you had your feud with Fred, going strong, laying your studio audience in the aisles and knocking the radio fans off their chairs, sure-fire, knockout stuff, good almost indefinitely and, suddenly, the two of you patch up the quarrel when it was good for laughs for at least three months longer.”
“I’ll tell you about that,” Jack offered. “I guess you’re right; the good old feud could have been made funny for a long time yet, probably would have been if I had stayed out in Hollywood and Fred in New York.
“But I had been planning and looking forward to this trip to the big town, too long to put it off. I was hungry to see a good show and dying for a good cup of coffee.”
“Coffee? If you couldn’t get a good cup of it at home, why didn’t you step out to a restaurant?” I wondered.
“Just can get coffee to suit me in Los Angeles, home or restaurant,” he insisted. “But you can get the best cup of coffee in the world in New York; never had a poor cup here.”
Why Feud Was Ended
Well, he ought to know. While he was talking he was sipping his third cup,taking it black. But that didn’t explain why the boys brought the feud to an end, when it had many more laughs left in it.
“Well, here I was in New York and the feud was still raging,” the man from Waukegan went ahead with the explanation. “Both of us knew we have to be in the same town when we ended the feud, if we wanted to develop the situation to the utmost.
“Here we were together and didn’t know exactly when Fred would be out in Hollywood to make his picture, or I’d be back in New York and whether or not the gag would hold up that long? So we decided to call the feud off.”
Maybe that was all for the best. Certainly, there was something of a bang to bringing the gag to a close while interest was at white heat; when the mere mention of “The Bee” was good for a laugh anywhere. Anyway, the scene that silenced the pistols of the Bennys and the Allens is rated by radio experts as the funniest that ever went out over the ether waves.
Remember? The Jello programme is in full swing. Jack is just finishing singing a song and Jack’s singing is funny by itself any time. There comes a loud knock on the studio door and Mary Livingstone calls “Come in!” The door bangs open and in strides Fred Allen, while all the members of the company—Mary, Kenny Baker, Abe Lyman, the orchestra leader; Sam Schlepperman, Don Wilson and the rest exclaim as though covered with consternation, “Fred Allen.”
Anyway, that was the way it sounded over the radio. For the benefit of listeners who have never had the fun of being in a studio and seeing a big programme put on, it should be noted that Fred was right there all the time, sitting on the stage awaiting his cue. He didn’t come in any door; simply stepped to the microphone at the proper moment. The sound effects man did the knocking and opened and closed a “prop” door.
“Hey, what’s going on here? What’s going on here?” Allen opened. “If it’s a fog horn, and I think it is, it should never have been given shore leave.” Let the script of radio’s acknowledged funniest scene take it from there:

“Boo” Allen Enters
JACK: Well, as I live and regret there are no locks on studio doors . . . if it isn’t Boo Allen! . . . Now listen Allen, what’s the idea of breaking in here in the middle of my singing?
ALLEN: Singing? Well, I didn’t mine when you scraped your violin and called it “The Bee” . . . but when you set that group to music and call it singing . . . Benny, you’ve gone too far.
JACK: Oh, so you don’t like it, huh?
ALLEN: Like it! . . . Why you make Andy Devine sound like Lawrence Tibbett.
JACK: Now look here, Allen. I don’t care what you say about my singing or my violin playing on your own programme, but when you come up here . . . be careful. After all, I’ve got listeners.
ALLEN: Keep your family out of this.
JACK: Well, my family likes my singing . . . and my violin playing.
ALLEN: Your violin playing! Why I just heard that a horse committed suicide when he found out your violin bow was made from his tail.
JACK: Hm! Well, listen to me, you Wednesday night Hawk . . . another crack like that and Town Hall will be looking for a new janitor.
ALLEN: Why, you fugitive from a Ripley cartoon . . . you lay a hand on me and you’ll be hollering strawberry, raspberry, cherry, orange, lemon and HELP.
JACK—Ho-ho, listen to that Smile of Beauty . . . Keep this up, Allen, and I’ll ask Don Wilson to FALL on you . . . And if Wilson falls on you, you know what that means.
JACK—Atta girl, Mary, that’s a honey.
MARY—Quiet, coward.
ALLEN—Yes, and she doesn’t mean that English entertainer.
Allen Makes Threat
JACK—Now listen Allen, I’m up here attending to my own business and this is no place to settle our private affairs. How did you get in here without a pass?
ALLEN—I made one at the doorman and YOU’RE next.
JACK—Oh I am, eh?
SAM SCHLEPPERMAN—Gentlemen, gentlemen, don’t fight here. Why don’t you go over to Madison Square Garden?
ALLEN—You keep out of this, you little squirt, or you’ll be getting your matzohs from Saint Peter.
SAM—Good-bye, Jackie-boy, take it heazy.
JACK—There goes Schlepperman, and I wish you’d follow him out.
ALLEN—Listen Cowboy, why didn’t you stay out in Hollywood where you don’t belong?
JACK—Because I heard you were coming out there to make a picture, that’s why. . . . You ought to do very well, Mr. Allen, now that Boris Karloff is in England.
ALLEN—Well I saw YOUR last picture. And maybe you didn’t start Bank Night but you certainly kept it going.
JACK—Oh yeah? Well three States are waiting for YOUR picture to be released. They’re going to use it instead of capital punishment. . . . Wow!
ABE LYMAN—That’s telling him, Jack.
ALLEN—Who’s that guy?
MARY—Sic ‘em, Lyman.
Allen, “the Great Lover”
JACK—Hm, look what’s going to make a picture . . . Fred Allen, the Great Lover! I suppose Gable and Taylor are losing a lot of sleep right now.
ALLEN—Not if they’re listening to this broadcast.
JACK—Oh, what a witty retort. . . . Where are you going to live in Hollywood, Mr. Allen . . . At the Ostrich Farm?
ALLEN—I may.
JACK—What are you laughing at, Mary?
MARY—He’ll show those birds how to lay eggs.
JACK—Mary, that was marvelous. I’m gonna kiss you for that.
MARY—Then I take it back.
JACK—Oh, you do.
ALLEN—She’d RATHER kiss an ostrich.
JACK—Well, Allen, that’s going a little too far. I didn’t mind a little mud-slinging now and then but when you make those kind of remarks, it means FIGHT where I come from.
ALLEN—You mean your blood would boil if you had any?
JACK—Yea, and I’ve got just enough to resent that. . . . Mr. Allen, I come from the West. I’m a hard-ridin’, two-fisted he-man . . . and if you’ll step out into the hallway, I’m ready to settle this little affair man to man.
ALLEN-You are, eh?
ALLEN—(mimicking Jack)—This will be the last number of the last programme of any Jello series—
JACK—Come on, Allen, do you wanna go through with this?
ALLEN—I didn’t come here for your autograph.
Last Chance to Apologize
JACK—Now listen, Allen, I’ll give you just one more chance to apologize.
ALLEN—Apologize? Why I’ll knock you flatter than the first minutes of this programme.
MARY—Hold on there, Allen! Whoever touches a hair on Jack’s gray head has to find it first.
JACK—Who said that?
MARY—Barbara Livingstone.
JACK—Never mind that. . . . Come on, Allen, let us away. Play, Lyman! Hm, I’m sorry now I sold my rowing machine.
Over the radio we heard Fred and Jack stomping out of the studio as the orchestra started to play. Of course, they didn’t do anything of the sort. Jack, undoubtedly, sat down and took it easy, right beside his “mike.” But it Fred Allen comported himself as he does during his own programme, he didn’t sit; he wandered all over the stage. Back to the script:
At Each Other’s Throats
WILSON—That was “Love and Learn” played by the orchestra, with Abe Lyman at the baton, and Benny and Allen at each other’s throats in the hallway.
MARY—And the winner will tell his version on his own programme next Wednesday night.
WILSON—Oh, I don’t know. Jack can take care of himself.
ABE—It’s Allen he has to worry about.
MARY—Gee, I hope nothing’s happened to either one of them . . . especially Jack.
WILSON—They’re both pretty husky, although Jack looked kind of worried.
MARY—Oh, he doesn’t care whether he wins or not, he was going to take a vacation anyway.
(Very heavy footsteps approaching.)
MARY—Sh, here they come now.
(Door opens.)
JACK & ALLEN—(Enter, laughing to beat the band.)
JACK—Ha, ha, ha! Gosh, Freddie, those were the days, weren’t they?
ALLEN—Yes, sir! Remember that time in Toledo when you walked into the magician’s dressing-room and stole his pigeons?
JACK—Do I! They tasted pretty good, didn’t they, Freddie.
ALLEN—You said it, Jack.
JACK—And remember the guy in the show with us who used to take in washing on the side? You know, the guy that did our laundry?
ALLEN—Say, what’s Ben Bernie doing now?
JACK—He’s got a band. Ben Bernie and all the Suds.
JACK—We didn’t make much money in those days, Freddie, but we DID get a lot of laughs.
ALLEN—We certainly did . . . until we walked on the stage.
MARY—Say, Jack.
JACK—Yes, Mary.
MARY—What happened to the fight?
JACK—What fight? Say, Freddie, remember that time in South Bend, Indiana, when you were going with Portland and I—
Feud Never Serious
WILSON—Hey, no kidding fellows, what happened to that fight?
JACK—Why, Don, we were never serious about that.
MARY—Then how did you get that black eye?
JACK—Oh, this? Well, I was writing a letter.
ALLEN—And I dotted his eye.
JACK—Now wait a minute, Freddie. I slapped you more than you did me. Look at your wrist, it’s all red.
ALLEN—Well, I made you say uncle when I pulled your hair.
JACK—Uncle isn’t the word, but let it go.
WILSON—Say Fred, here’s a package you dropped on your way out to the hall.
ALLEN—Oh, yes, that’s a box of candy I was gonna give Jack.
ALLEN—Oh, Freddie!
MARY—Candy! Can I have a piece?
ALLEN—Sure, but take the SQUARE ONES, Mary, they’re not poison.
JACK—Hm, I see. . . . And by the way, Freddie, when you get home, if that box of flowers I sent you is still ticking . . . just put it in water.
ALLEN—I will, and thanks for the tip.
MARY—Gee, this candy is swell . . . have a piece, Jack?
JACK—Mmm! . . . Say, this is good chocolate, wonderful flavor. . . . What’s it filled with, Freddie?
JACK—Oh! Well, I was going to brush my teeth anyway.
ALLEN—Well, Jack, I’ve got to go now. I have a lot of work to do on my own programme.
Thanks for Apology
JACK—Okay, Freddie. Well, thanks for your kind visit and apology.
ALLEN—What apology?
JACK—Never mind, let’s not start that again. . . . Before you go, Fred, I want to tell you I didn’t mind one thing you said about me during our feud.
ALLEN—Well, I’ve gotta leave you now. . . . Oh, by the way, Mr. Lyman!
ABE—Yes, Fred.
ALLEN—You lay offa my pal, Jack Benny, that’s all. . . . Goodbye everybody.
JACK—So long, Freddie.
JACK—Play, Lyman! And watch your step, you heard what Freddie said.
ABE—Why you little sawed-off punk, I’ll take you and tear you limb from limb!
JACK—Oh Freddie! Freddie! FREDDIE! FREDDIE!
And so, ladies and gentlemen of the radio audience, with Jack Benny apparently rushing from the stage to bring back his new-found pal to protect him from the orchestra leader, ended the famour Jack Benny-Fred Allen feud.

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