Sunday 29 August 2021

Listen, Mac!

Jack Benny hired many of the top secondary players in radio—Bea Benaderet, Mel Blanc, Sara Berner, Joe Kearns, Frank Nelson, Elvia Allman, Blanche Stewart, among them—to play a variety of characters. All of them were radio veterans. But he hired someone in the 1950s for his radio show whose career had been mainly in feature films.

In a wonderful choice of casting, he brought in Iris Adrian to play the part of a loud, tough-broad waitress. She was perfect.

That’s probably because Adrian was close to that in real life. She was a show girl, for Flo Ziegfeld no less. Maybe not hard-bitten, but she could handle herself in a world where not all patrons of Broadway were legitimate businessmen.

Benny had a “sisters” act that had toured with him since the mid-‘30s; Blanche Stewart and Mary Kelly were originally part of this lousy singing trio. Jack kept resurrecting it for road shows and television, and Adrian became part of it.

Here’s a North American Newspaper Alliance story where Adrian talks about working with Benny. By then, she had become ensconced in the Wonderful World of Disney, not exactly a place you’d find someone who had hobnobbed with underworld figures in the Depression. This appeared in papers of June 22, 1969.

Jack Benny Still Awes Co-Worker Iris Adrian
NEW YORK (NANA)—You may not be able to put a name to the pert, lively face, but most Americans have seen it many times in movies (she's made 250) and on the Jack Benny show. It belongs to Iris Adrian.
"I've worked with Jack for 20 years in radio, TV and nightclubs," she said. "I'm still in awe of him. He once said to me. You're so uncomfortable with me, you make me nervous. Can't you stop thinking of me as a TV star? Can’t you think of me as a jerk?'"
In most of her movies, Miss Adrian is the blonde stereotype, wisecracking, hard-boiled and heart-of-gold. She acts another in the new Walt Disney production, "The Love Bug," with Dean Jones, Michele Lee, Buddy Hackett.
“I play an old beat up car-hop,” she said. "It's my second picture for Disney and I love to work there. The atmosphere is different from any other studio. They hire the cream of the world."
Back to Benny:
"JACK LOOKS better now than he did when I first met him. He's amazing. I do a nightclub act with him that we've done all over the world since 1952. It's never changed and we never get it right but whatever he does is funny.
"I still don't know whether he's tight or not. There are two other girls in the act and not long ago he handed me $20 and told me to take them to lunch 'and bring back the change.' Was he serious, do you think?"
Miss Adrian doesn't exactly throw her money around.
"For years I've put money into houses and land in California. It's not how much you make that counts, it's what you do with it. I've played little bits and big bits and a few second leads in pictures, so I never made any thing but chicken feed—but didn't have any chickens.
"When hear about actors who made big money being broke, it burns me up. It's just stupid."
SINCE 1950, she has been married to Fido Murphy, strategist for the Chicago Bears. He's her fourth husband.
"Football is a very big business and you play it on paper first," she explained. “This is the biggest thing in the world to him. If a guy puts on four pounds Fido has a fit. If a guy wants to get married, Fido says, 'we don't want any lover on our team. You wouldn't believe it.”
“Fido played football at about 18,000 colleges. Wherever there was a weak team, they'd send for him.”
Born in Santa Monica, Miss Adrian came to New York at 15, trailing several beauty contest titles. She was in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1931, last of the woman-glorifying extravaganzas produced by Florenz Ziegfeld.
"ZIEGFELD SAW ME in another show and sent for me. He's supposed to have had my legs insured for a million dollars but of course he never did. I was in the chorus; Mary Carroll and I split center. Once in a while he would put us on an elephant.
"The girls were beautiful. Young girls are always beautiful. When you grow older you may be beautiful in another way but you don't attract the gangsters any more."

There’s another mention of Jack Benny in this interview with Adrian, published in the Desert Sun, April 9, 1979.

Iris Adrian With the Perfect Back

HOLLYWOOD—When Iris Adrian was 13, she won a "perfect back" contest ("Not a perfect front," she deplores) which set her on the path to show biz.
Her march toward the stage and screen was encouraged when her mother couldn't pay the utilities bill.
"One night I was doing my homework, and they turned off the electricity," Iris recollects. "So my mother said, ‘You have to get a job.’"
Quickly, in 1929, Miss Adrian got a job at Paramount studios, where a girl with a back like hers was appreciated.
She's worked much of the time over since handling a variety of assignments which she remembers with zest.
"I understudied Dorothy Lee in 'Rah Rah Days' with Fred Waring on the stage," she tells, recollecting one phase of her career.
"Dorothy was madly in love with Fred. She was hoping he'd marry her, but I don't think, he ever did. Anyway, when she left the show, I replaced her." To continue:
"Ziegfeld sent for me for the Follies of 1931 and put me under a five-year contract.
"Harry Richmond [sic] was in the Follies and asked me to go out on his boat. He was the cutest thing! "But I was young, and my mother wouldn't let me go.
"I was so mad I said, 'Mother, you never will let me do anything. You are ruining my life.'
"I argued, but she still wouldn't let me go, so a girl named Helen Walsh went, and while she was on the boat, it exploded, killing her."
Adrian says she literally danced nationwide, doing the rumba from coast to coast with George Raft who'd seen her in a restaurant and liked her style.
"I danced with him clear across the country," she says, "and the studio wanted to cast me as the lead in his picture, 'Rhumba.'
"But he said, 'Hell, no. I want Carol Lombard.'"
During another phase of her career, Iris recalls that she "played the Palladium in 1933 and went all over Europe with a knife-throwing act."
She also toured extensively with Jack Benny, who threw jokes rather than knives, and who was, she recalls, "a serious, lovely man."
"He used to say, ‘We're all miracles. But what happens when we die?’
"I miss Jack so much. He'd call and say. 'We've got a job,' and off we'd go.
"Jack was a serious man who loved humor."
Iris has been married for years to "Fido" Murphy, former football star and later a consultant for the Chicago Bears who was given his canine nickname by the late Grantland Rice.
They first met at the Gay '90s Club when Iris walked up to Fido's table and announced, "You look important," adding. "Are you a gangster?"
"No," he said. "Call me for breakfast."
They’ve been breakfasting together almost ever since.
Occasionally, Iris has attempted retirement but without much success.
"They called me and asked me to do 'Bustin' Loose,'" she relates, "and then they sent me the script by mistake.
"I thought about staying retired, by [but] my husband asked, ‘What are you going to do? Spend the rest of your life going to lunch?’"
The question decided Iris that she preferred work to leisure.
Within relatively recent years, she's worked in eight Disney films; though she declares, “Working for Disney is like not working!”

Iris Adrian Hostetter died September 17, 1994 from injuries she suffered during the Northridge Earthquake in January. She was 82.


  1. She really was a fixture on film and television for years. The same young wise cracking spitfire in Universal's " Horror Island "(1941 ) was the same portly waitress in " The Odd Couple "flirting with Walther Matthau's Oscar Madison; " Ohhh, give my hand a bite...I can't Write!!" She did the rounds at the major studios, and the " Poverty Roll " studios ( Monogram and PRC ) at the same time. The same earthquake that caused her injuries, was the same one that damaged Jack Chertok's private film vault destroying all but eleven 35mm masters of the Bob Cummings, Julie Newmar sitcom " My Living doll ". Maybe other prints have been found from 16mm prints, or even collectors donating prints, but for a while, the show was all but lost.

  2. THe Disney production I'd know her from would be That Darn Cat as the landlady.

  3. And I'll note that her last name is similiar to Ed Wynn's character's name in TDC.:)Nice seeing she also was in The Love Bug as well,fro Disney..