Sunday 20 December 2020

Ending a Feud For Christmas

Fans of Phil Harris, outside of the Disney animated features, think of him as the character from the Jack Benny radio show—self-loving, lady-loving, booze-loving, English language not-so-loving.

That’s not how his character started off on the Benny show.

When he replaced Johnny Green at the start of the 1936-37 season, Harris was pictured by the writers to be Jack’s antagonist. But, fortunately, the bickering between the two “officially” ended around Christmastime, 1936. The writers must have decided arguing doesn’t create a lot of laughter and slowly modified Harris over the course of the rest of the season. He became a larger-than-life ham, and the show lost a lot of oomph when he left in 1953.

The syndicated “Backstage with Homer Canfield” column of December 8, 1936 gave a preview and also explained how the Benny show was put together. The last bit of advice, Benny took, but quite unexpectedly. Within a month of the column, he and Fred Allen began their feud, and it was decided a trip to Allen’s base of operations in New York was needed to end it.

Jack Benny
"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here—"
Hollywood Dec. 8.—

HERE'S AN INSIDE TIP. THE Jack Benny-Phil Harris feud will end in handshaking Sunday night. Until Christmas peace and quiet will reign throughout the Benny troupe. When Jack gets his Christmas present from Phil . . . wow! watch out.
And don't look for any changes in the cast. No matter what you hear. Jack feels that the present gang is the finest he's ever had. I heard him say that he'll do everything he possibly can to keep them together.
This was Sunday night. I sat through rehearsals; at airtime, watched from the control booth. Although the show dropped below the level of the previous two weeks, Benny was in fine form. The half-hour gave birth to what is destined to become a radio classic.
Benny and Harris had just finished another round:
SOUND—Bell rings.
JACK—I'm so mad my ears are ringing.
MARY—That's the phone you dope.
Outside of the writing surprisingly little time is devoted to the show. Rehearsals start on Saturday night when the cast gets together for a line reading. That lasts for an hour or so. Then Benny, his five gag men and Tom Harrington, the producer, really go to work. They re-write, re-write.
On Sunday afternoon at 12:30 the troupe meets again. They sit around and talk it over. Benny coaches each one in the enact reading of the lines. This takes an hour or more. Cuts are made, the script timed.
Now they're ready to take their place at the mikes. Jack and Mary work on one; the rest of the cast share another.
One more reading to check timing sound effects cues and to give the man at the controls an idea of what to expect. That's all there is. The show is wrapped up right then and there.
The band has been rehearsed the day before. The men never see the program until the first broadcast, which is at 4 o'clock. Easterners listen to this one. The musicians enjoy the show as much as anyone. Haw, haw, haw! Boy, is that funny! And through it all laughs Don Wilson. Sincerely, heartily, constantly. At one time during rehearsal he had to leave the studio. Tears were streaming down his face. Benny to him is the world’s only funny-man and the grandest of guys. And you'll find that all who work for him feel that way.
But while all this hee-hawing is going on, the loudest of laughs come from the script writers. Al Boasberg heads this unit. He sat in the audience, so I can't say about his reaction. But the rest were in the control booth keeping score on the laughs. Notes were made after every line. To serve as reference for future programs, no doubt.
Thirty more programs are left in this series. And all will come from Hollywood. As Benny said, “This is my home. I love California and I'm here to stay.”
Right here I can give Benny a tip. Spend at least one week in New York, Jack. The rest of your cast would like to see the bright lights of Broadway while Jello pays the bills. Nothing like keeping the family happy. You might also lose Phil Harris. Think it over.

No comments:

Post a Comment