Sunday 6 December 2020

Jack and Hank

Can you imagine starting a career and still working 60 years later?

The greats of show business don’t seem to have given it a second thought.

60 years after Jack Benny joined up with Cora Salisbury for a musical act in small-town vaudeville, he was still on the road and still performing music, though he was talking a bit in his act now. And he was appearing on a small screen that wasn’t in homes when he started his entertainment career.

Here’s a short tongue-in-cheek story from United Press International dated April 30, 1971. Benny certainly didn’t need the money, and he was quite happy to give it to Mary Livingstone to buy things.
Benny going to London to tape two video shows

NEW YORK (UPI)—Here is this fellow, Jack Benny, passing through town again looking for for television work, a quest that no retirement-aged 39-year-old should have to undertake. But that's the way life is—callous.
Meanwhile, to shore up his shaky financial situation and carry himself through the summer, this waif of Waukegan —that's in Illinois—has indentured himself to a grasping impresario named James Nederlander, who will pay the comedian a mere umpteen thousands of dollars a week for personal appearances at two Eastern theatrical emporiums.
And before that pittance begins to come in, Benny is even now earning coffee-and-cakes money in London by taping two of the "Kraft Music Hall" summer video shows hosted by British entertainer Des O'Connor for NBC-TV.
"I was to have had a theater engagement in London," Benny said before he started across the Atlantic, "but a hitch developed in getting the right theater at the right time, so I'll have to settle for the two television shows and some sightseeing.
"I just might manage to eke out enough to get back home."
Benny had better get back because this Nederlander, a distant descendant of Simon Legree, holds contracts for the comedian's appearance Aug. 2-7 at the Garden State Arts Center in Holmden, N.J., and at the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia, Md., Aug. 9-14.
In both engagements, Benny will be appearing with composer Henry Mancini and his orchestra. Obviously, the Benny violin bit has to figure in the proceedings. "We haven't figured out the routine of the show as yet," Benny said. "Probably, I will open with a monologue, although it could be otherwise."
Part of the Benny stopover here between Hollywood and London involved negotiations for his usual two television specials next season for NBC.
No details yet, but you can bank on it. In the Benny National Bank, of course. The poor fellow needs the interest.
How did the show with Mancini go in Maryland? What did they do? For the answer, let’s turn to the Baltimore Sun of August 13, 1971. As a fan of Jack’s and someone who enjoys Mancini’s compositions and arrangements, it sounds like a good evening. Evidently, an explanation was needed for those not familiar with a certain rock opera.
Jack Benny, Henry Mancini Please Fans

Jack Benny and Henry Mancini combined music and humor into a sophisticated evening of light entertainment Wednesday at Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion. Backed by a 40-piece orchestra, Mr. Benny with his classic understated comedy and Mr. Mancini with his successful knack for melody made their 2 1/2 hour performance seem too short.
The concert began with selections from two Mancini-scored movies, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Hatari." The composer, dressed in a pinstriped business suit, then sat at the piano to play the theme from another motion picture, "Love Story."
After chatting briefly with the audience and conducting the orchestra in an arrangement of the overture from "Tommy" (an album by The Who), Mr. Mancini then introduced his 39-year-old co-star.
Looking remarkably spry for his age, Mr. Benny sauntered onto the stage with his characteristic walk, remarked about the bad weather, and said: "You know, anybody else would have returned your money."
Just His Voice
From that point, he joked about the local area, retirement, golf, his stinginess, doctors and other assorted tidbits in deceptively rambling fashion. He didn't move much .or rely on props or cavort around the stage as so many modern comedians are wont to do. Using just his voice, trained to conversational perfection from radio days, and his famous timing, Mr. Benny talked about 20 minutes.
One could see why this man has been studied so often by budding performers. Comedy depends at least as much on technique as subject matter. Of course, the technique has to be natural, and that comes with practice and experience. Mr. Benny's technique consists of skillful understatement (buttressed by a very effective deadpan expression), plus the ability to build on a joke and make fun of his real or imagined foibles. It all adds up to amusement and laughter, commodities which have made him a rich and successful man. While perhaps not stingy, the man is certainly economical. I don't imagine that anyone can milk more laughs from a basic joke than Mr. Benny.
Basically Simple
After this brief talk to the audience, the comedian walked off with a promise of more to come and Mr. Mancini went back to his music, which included medleys of Simon and Garfunkel songs and melodies from the rock opera, "Jesus Christ—Superstar."
The popular composer's musical conception seem[s] basically simple, usually built around an appealing melody. Highly skilled in the use of conventional orchestra instruments, he can create pleasant voices around the melody line, as well as rich harmonies.
However, I don't think his music is as interesting or as vibrant as that of Burt Bacharach, whose concert at the Merriweather this summer was a cut above Mr. Mancini's. Both men have learned how to tap the popular imagination, but Mr. Bacharach makes fewer concessions to establish formulas for success.
After 45 more minutes of music by Mr. Mancini, the audience was given a 15-minute break before composer and comedian returned to the stage together, both dressed formally this time for interplay between the orchestra and Mr. Benny's violin.
Ended With Duet
What ensued was a captivating blend of humor, Mr. Benny's admittedly mediocre violin playing and fond stories about his friends George Burns and the late Fred Allen. Needless to say, there was some kidding with the orchestra, including comic feuds with two other violinists, the percussionist and the brass section. The mild-mannered Mr. Mancini kept himself in the background and indeed throughout the entire evening showed admirable deference to all the other musicians. The orchestra, recruited mostly from local talent but augmented by key players with Mr. Mancini, sounded more than adequate for an opening night.
Mr. Benny described it as "the finest first show I've ever had with any orchestra." It all ended with a duet of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" with Benny on his Stradivarius and Mancini on flute. The audience gave them a deserved standing ovation. The amiable Benny-Mancini combination will continue at the pavilion through tomorrow night.


  1. Hans Christian Brando10 December 2020 at 06:59

    We all can't be talented (or lucky) enough to have an amply rewarded career that millions of people love you for doing.

  2. If you're a hard core fan, here's the album RCA released of those Mancini arrangements. Personally, I can't imagine the Benny fans going for the Jesus Christ Superstar Medley. Bacharach was at the height of his powers in '71, but Hank was getting checks for all those Pink Panther cartoons that aired every Saturday morning.