Friday 3 March 2023

The Chevrolet Program

90 years ago tonight, Jack Benny made his radio comeback. He and wife Mary Livingstone were picked up by NBC to broadcast for Chevrolet, after being unceremoniously dumped by Canada Dry and its ad agency, N.W. Ayer.

The soft drink maker wasn’t thrilled with Jack making fun of its product on the air—though listeners seemed to enjoy it quite a deal. After a failed attempt to foist a new writer on Jack (and a new announcer and orchestra due to a network change), he was fired in January 1933 after about nine months on the air.

Within days of his Canada Dry demise on CBS, he auditioned for the comedy spot in Fred Waring’s new show on the network.

Fortune smiled on Jack in the form of Al Jolson. Jolie wanted off his show for Chevrolet. Variety reported on February 21, 1933 that the car maker and agency Campbell Ewald were going to release him from his contract and NBC had already submitted a substituted show with Jack Benny and a studio orchestra led by Frank Black. One AP story said Irene Taylor would be the singer on the proposed show. She never made it and Jimmy Melton got the job. When the show returned from the summer break in October, Melton had moved on and Frank Parker was hired.

The bulk of the Benny shows from 1933 don’t exist in audio form. Reference discs were ruined some years ago. Scripts for all the shows exist, so we do have a script for the programme of March 3, 1933. These scripts are being collated by the great Kathy Fuller-Seeley for publication, and she has supplied a scan of the papers of the first Chevrolet script.

Casual fans of the show will notice there is no Rochester, no Dennis Day, no Don Wilson, no “39,” no Maxwell. None of that had been invented yet. Harry Conn, who had a very unamicable split with Jack several seasons later, was the writer. The formula is this: kibitzing with the announcer at the start, a character or two comes in for a dialogue, Mary gets a featured spot, and maybe some kind of movie parody to end it all. The character in this episode is played by Benny Baker, yet another vaudevillian that appeared on Jack’s show in his early, New York days.

The announcer on the first show was Howard Claney. When Parker replaced Melton, Alois Havrilla took over from Claney. Neither announcers were jolly Don Wilson types. Claney shouts and Havrilla comes across as stuffy and forced. Frank Black may have been a fine orchestra leader, but he sounds growly and somewhat bored. Melton sings far longer than Kenny Baker or Dennis Day ever did. In this episode, he isn’t trusted with dialogue (Larry Stevens later knew the feeling). Edith Evans’ appearance in this show seems pointless. She exchanges very few lines of dialogue, then sings, and disappears.

And, I hate to say it, but I didn’t really laugh reading this script. Jack had been declared one of the top five radio personalities in one poll after his time with Canada Dry, but, to me, he isn’t all that funny here.

Spellings are transcribed exactly. There are a couple of typos. And Mary’s last name is spelled without an ‘e.’


10:30- 11:00 P.M. MARCH 3, 1933      FRIDAY

CLANEY: The Chevrolet Program!


CLANEY: Ladies and Gentlemen: If you have some money to invest and are wondering where to put it—here’s a suggestion. Take that money of yours and use it to buy a new Chevrolet Six. There’s no safer, sounder investment than the purchase of an automobile. There’s no other investment that will pay you such sure dividendsin pleasureand comfort—and peace of mind.
Automobile men will tell you that the low priced car with the highest re-sale value is CHEVROLET. The one with the greatest record of dependability and durability is CHEVROLET. Yes—and the low prices car with the greatest number of New inventions and new thrills is that sound sure investment—CHEVROLET.
Be wise my friends, put that money of yours in the one place that will do you the most good—in a new car—a big new Chevrolet Six—a General Motors value.

CLANEY: (CONT) Frank Black and the Chevrolet Orchestra presents “Strike Me Pink,” and the 2nd orchestra selection that you will hear is “Let’s Call It a Day.” Both of these choices are from the Show “Strike Me Pink” which has its premiere in New York tomorrow night.

CLANEY: And now, ladies and gentlemen, for our big surprise of the evening. I take great pleasure in introducing to you for the first time on the Chevrolet program, that mirth-provoking, inimitable, suave, polished, bland, genteel, learned---
JACK: All right, Howard, all right. Maybe that’s a little too strong.
CLANEY: That effervescent comedian. . .the representative of American youth. . . . .
JACK: Howard, please—this is embarrassing.
CLANEY: A gentleman, a scholar, America’s foremost exponent of wit and humor----
JACK: Howard, stop—you’re crabbing it. Nobody can be that good.

CLANEY: That delineator of mirth. . .a man of intellect, vision and achievement—
JACK: Tell them I’m good to my folks, too – will you?
CLANEY: And last but not least, that well-known stage, screen and radio star, Mister er. . .er. . . . .
JACK: Jack Benny, folks.
CLANEY: Mr. Jack Benny.
JACK: Well, I’m glad that’s over. Some fellows have to die to get that eulogy. . . . . .Howard, do me a favor, will you? The next time you introduce me just say Jack Benny. You’ve taken up half the program already.
CLANEY: Well, Jack, I wanted to give you a good send-off, so take the microphone. It’s all yours. . . . .Good-luck, kid.
JACK: Thanks, Howard.
CLANEY: Oh Frank, give Jack a nice musical introduction.
BLACK: Okay.
JACK: Thanks, Boys. . .That was “Underneath the Harlem Moon”, folks. You can see the cooperation I’m going to get on this program. . . .Well anyway, this is Jack Benny again – remember, hmmmm? the Robert Montgomery of the air?
BAKER: Sez you.
JACK: All right then, the Boris Karloff of the air. . . .Boys, do I look like Karloff?
BAKER: No, but certainly Boris.
JACK: This is a nice program. Even the janitor tells jokes. . .Well anyway, ladies and gentlemen, I’m certainly glad to be back on the air again. I had a nice five-weeks rest and now I’m ready for work.

CLANEY: Where did you spend your vacation, Jack?
JACK: I went down to Miami Beach, Florida, Howard. . .and that’s the spot this time of year, believe me. Imagine, in February, it was seventy in the shade.
CLANEY: Why, when I was down there it was ninety.
JACK: Well, that was during the boom. You know how things have come down since then.
CLANEY: Were you over to Coral Gables?
JACK: Yes, but I didn’t stay. He was making a picture with Joan Crawford. (Pardon me for thinking of that one, folks.)
CLANEY: Say, Jack, they tell me everything is reasonable down there this year.
JACK: Very cheap, Howard, very cheap. I had a lovely room in one of the leading hotels there for thirty-five dollars a day. You see, they have winter and summer rates. In the winter time, you get a room for thirty-five dollars a day, and in the summer time you can buy the hotel for thirty. . . .But one nice thing about it, with every thirty-five dollar room, they give you a locker for nothing. Isn’t that sweet? You know, one of those lockers where you keep your bathing suit?. . . .The second week I was there I checked out of my room and moved into the locker. . .But some things are very reasonable down there. . . .The post-office still sells stamps for three cents.
CLANEY: What hotel did you stop at?
JACK: I stopped at a place called the Roney-Plaza—two names, you know. At the end of the week, you get a bill from each of them. . .I hear they’re building one next season with three names.

CLANEY: How big a city is Miami?
JACK: Oh, I should say, it has a population of about. . . .45,000 Chevrolets. (Wasn’t that good, Howard, for my first program?) But there’s one thing about Miami that’s great—and that’s the sunshine. Boy, what sun! You stay down there about a week or two, and you get that wonderful sunburn and tan all over your face and body. . . .Gee, I saw Kid Chocolate down there and he looked marvelous. . . .But I really had to go down there, Howard, because when I got through with my last air program I was a nervous wreck.
CLANEY: How do you feel now?
JACK: Now I’m sunburned and nervous.
CLANEY: Did you go to the race track while you were there?
JACK: Yes, I played a few horses. I bet on a horse the day I left.
CLANEY: Did he come in?
JACK: Not [sic], but any day now. . . . .I’m expecting a wire. You know, it was a tip. The fellow that gave him to me told me to play him first and last to protect my money. But I got a good run for my money. He was right there with the rest of the horses. . . . .until they left the post, and then he didn’t want any part of them. . . . .Say Howard, I’m taking up too much time here. Who’s that young lady standing over there?
CLANEY: That’s Miss Edith Evans. She’s going to sing, “A Little House on the Hill.”
JACK: She is?. . . .Oh, Miss Evans?
JACK: Miss Evans, pardon me. I’m Jack Benny.

MISS EVANS: How do you do?
JACK: How do you do? Didn’t I meet you once in Paris?
MISS EVANS: No! I was never there and neither were you.
JACK: Ah, you little mind-reader. . . . .Miss Evans, who’s that tall mug you were talking to a few minutes ago?
MISS EVANS: That’s my husband.
JACK: Miss Evans will sing, “A Little House on the Hill”. . . .Play, Frank.
JACK: That was “A Little House on the Hill,” sung by Miss Edith Evans. Very nice, Edith. . . .And now, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to have another musical arrangement by Frank Black and his Orchestra. And what an orchestra! All thorough musicians and each one a soloist. If we could only get them together, it would be swell. But they really are a swell bunch of fellows. Of course I don’t want to tell you where most of the boys come from, but if you’re thinking of Moscow, you’re hot. . . .The first violinist made a screen test in Hollywood last month, and here he is back home again, contented. . . . . And we have a new trombone player who was formerly with a chain gang band. His ankle is getting much better. . . .And I think the drummer is a fugitive from a bathtub. . . .Well, that gives you a rough idea of what these boys look like. But really, folks, there’s one good thing about these boys. They er. . . they er -----
CLANEY: They all drive Chevrolets – the largest selling low-priced car on the market.

JACK: Mmmmm, it looks like I’m going to hear that from now on. This is a commercial program as sure as you’re born. . . . . The Empire State Building don’t have to fall on me.) Anyway, I want you all to meet Frank Black, the director of this orchestra. A very lovely fellow, and the type of leader who swings his baton while the boys use their own judgment. And so far, they’ve been doing pretty good. . . . . .Oh Frank, come over here and say something.
BLACK: Ladies and gentlemen, I er. . . .I er------
JACK: And he will give these lectures on music every Friday night. . . .Thanks, Frank.
BLACK: But I didn’t say anything, Jack.
JACK: That’s all we expect to hear from you, Frank. After all, you’re a musician, you know. . . . .An, ladies and gentlemen, for the benefit of those of you who have never seen Mr. Black, let me describe him to you. First of all, Frank is a rather handsome chap, well-built, and not unlike Clark Gable. . . .yet not like Clark Gable. . . .In fact, disregard Gable and I’ll start over again. . . . .But Frank isn’t bad-looking at all, and he has a smile that suggests a Venetian gondola. And he’s got the cutest dimple on his right cheek, which he got from talking back to his saxophone-player. . .Otherwise, he’s okay. Taking him all in all, Frank reminds me of another great band-leader, Paul Whiteman. That is, Frank looks like the hundred pounds that Whiteman lost.

BLACK: Hey, Jack, what are you talking about?
JACK: Oh, nothing, Frank – just talking.
BLACK: Well, what do you know about music, anyway?
JACK: What do I know about music? Why Frank, don’t you know that I used to be an orchestra leader?
BLACK: You were?
JACK: Certainly, and I found out one thing, Frank. If the orchestra doesn’t show up, you can’t get anything out of that stick.
BLACK: That’s true, Jack. But you can’t run an army without a general. An orchestra needs a leader -- just like an automobile needs gas. Isn’t that right, Howard?
CLANEY:Yes – but you need the least amount of gas when you drive a Chevrolet.
JACK: Oh-oh, I was afraid of that. I knew it—I knew it. . . . .Play, Frank, play.
JACK: Hello, this is Jack Benny again. Glad, hmmm? And now, ladies and gentlemen, I want to get down to the serious work of this program – introducing our guest stars whom we will have here from time to time. Now we don’t intend to have the ordinary run of guest stars, but people who have really accomplished something.

JACK: (CONTINUED) And tonight we have here in this studio no other than that great speed demon who has broken all records at Daytona Beach by driving a motor car at the rate of 364 miles, 4 yards, five feet and 1/8th of an inch per hour. . . . .I now take great pleasure in introducing the world’s greatest traffic-ticket collector, Major Welcome Scrambel.
Come Major, say a word to the folks. Don’t be nervous.
BAKER: Oh, hello.
JACK: (That’s the speed demon.) Now Major, I hope you don’t think I’m rude, but the folks would like to know something about your terrific speed tests. Now tell us, when did you first start speeding.
BAKER: I used to drive a taxi on Broadway.
JACK: Oh, it came natural. . . . .I imagine at the terrific speed you travel that you must have quite a few accidents.
BAKER: Oh yes, I have had hundreds of them.
JACK: Don’t you ever hurt yourself?
BAKER: No, I’m lucky. I always land on my head.
JACK: That’s using your head. . . . .Now tell us something about your record run at Daytona Beach.
BAKER: Well, the weather was nice and the beach was clear, so I started out at first very slow– about two hundred miles an hour–

JACK: I see, just to warm up the motor.
BAKER: Yes, and then I tried to go faster but I couldn’t get out at first.
JACK: Well, isn’t your car free wheeling?
BAKER: No, three more payments. . . . .I finally got into second and loafed along at about two hundred and eighty miles an hour. . . .and then I had to pull to the right several times to let some other cars pass.
JACK: Well, that’s road courtesy. Were these also racing cars?
BAKER: No– Chevrolets.
JACK: Hmmmm, that was very nice of you to say that, Major. And here’s your dollar. I hope this won’t hurt your amateur standing.
BAKER: Don’t worry about it.
JACK: Tell us some more, Major.
BAKER: Well, then I threw her into high. Sixty cylinders all in harmony. Boy! you should have heard that motor sing.
JACK: Motor sing?
BAKER: It was singing, “Oil in me, why not put oil in me, Can’t you see?”. . . . Finally, I looked at the speedometer and found myself going 364 miles an hour, so I threw out the clutch and hit a pedestrian.
JACK: You hit a pedestrian with the clutch?
BAKER: Yes – then I threw in the pedestrian and kept going.

JACK: I see, one down and two to go. . . . .But tell me, Major, on these very fast trips of yours, do you protect your eyes with goggles?
BAKER: No, I just goggle my throat and start out.
JACK: Why don’t you use this on your throat?
BAKER: Heh, heh, heh – that’s a knife.
JACK: Heh, heh, heh – you’re telling me. . . . .Now come on, Major, tell us more about this record-breaking run of yours.
BAKER: Of course on this particular trip, I only drove three minutes.
JACK: Only three minutes, I see. . . .And how far did you go?
BAKER: Well, I started out at Daytona Beach, passed two red lights in Atlantic City and had a little tire trouble in Bar Harbor, Maine.
JACK: This all happened in three minutes.
BAKER: Yes, and I would have driven further, but the snow was terrific in Nova Scotia.
JACK: In going through China, did you notice any change in the war situation?
BAKER: I didn’t get there – but I’m going out for a little spin tonight and I’ll find out.
JACK: Well, thank you very much for coming here, Major.
BAKER: You’re welcome. Well, I guess I’ll have to be going now. . . .Good-bye.
JACK: Good-bye, Major.
What’s that? What’s that, Major?
BAKER: That’s my car. I got it right here with me.

JACK: Sounds like an aeroplane to me.
BAKER: Oh yes, I forgot to tell you. It flies, too. . .Well, good-bye, Mr. Benny.
JACK: So long, Major.
Ah, there he goes, folks, spinning away in his little racing car.
There he goes on his merry way, taking half of the building with him. . .and now James Melton, who just got out of the way of the car in time, feels fortune [sic] that he will be able to sing. “Will you Remember?” from “Maytime”. . . . All right, Jimmy.
JACK: That was James Melton singing, “Will you Remember?” And very good, Jimmy, very good.
MELTON: Thanks, Jack.
JACK: And now our next guest star this evening is a young man who needs no introduction –
MARY: Jack Benny. . . .Jack Benny. . .hello, Jack.
JACK: Hello. . . .oh hello, Mary. . .Well, Mary Livingston. I’m certainly glad to see you. . . .Well, well, well. . .Say Howard, I want you to meet Miss Livingston. She used to be my secretary. You remember her.

CLANEY: Oh sure. . .Glad to know you, Miss Livingston. I’ve heard so much about you.
MARY: Oh, you know how people talk.
JACK: Gee, you’re looking fine, Mary. What are you doing in town?
MARY: Oh, I had to come in town to do some shopping. .and then I heard you were here. . .not to mention that I’m out of work. . . .Gee, I’d like to be on this program. I think Howard is swell.
JACK: One thing at a time, Mary. . .How is everything in your home town, Plainfield?
MARY: Oh just fine. . .things are picking up. The public park has opened up again, and Father’s got his bench back.
JACK: That’s nice.
MARY: I got your postal card from Miami. I’ll bet it was swell down there.
JACK: Did you get that box I sent you?
MARY: Did I?. . . .I showed it to all the neighbors. They never saw Florida beach sand before.
JACK: Well, I just meant it as a little souvenir.
MARY: Did you get my letter, Jack?
JACK: Oh yes, I think I did. . . .It was awfully nice of you.
MARY: Oh, here it is. I forgot to mail it.
JACK: That’s why I didn’t answer it. . .Well, Mary, would you really like to come back to work for me?
MARY: Yes, Jack, I’d love to, and I started already. Here are some telegrams marked “PERSONAL.” I read them, and I think they’re swell. .

JACK: Thanks, and let me read my own personal wires from now on.
JACK: Well, let’s see who these wires are from. Kind-a nice to get these for my opening . . . . Here, who’s this from Mary?
MARY: It’s from your tailorin Brooklyn.
JACK: My tailor?
JACK: (LAUGHS) Always kidding. . . .Hmmm, get this, Mary. It’s from my home town, Waukegan, Illinois. It says: “YOUR PROGRAM WAS GREAT TONIGHT AND I ENJOYED IT IMMENSELY. I THINK YOU’RE MARVELOUS.
MARY: Who’s it from?
JACK: My father. I told him not to send it until after the program. . .Ooop! here’s a cable from Glasgow, Scotland.
MARY: Gee Jack, who’s it from?
JACK: It just says – “LUCK, LAUDER”. . . . Well, that’s two nice words.
MARY: Oh Jack, here’s another one. It says “DEAR JACK BENNY: I HOPE YOUR OPENING TONIGHT IS AS BIG A SUCCESS AS OURS WILL BE TOMORROW.” Signed, Frankie and Johnny. Who’s Frankie and Johnny?
JACK: Frankie Roosevelt and Johnny Garner. . .who’d you think it was, Mae West?. . . Well, it certainly makes me feel good to receive all these telegrams. And now while I recover, Frank Black and his Orchestra will play, “NIGHT AND DAY”, from that popular Broadway success, “The Gay Divorcee”.

(Chevrolet Revised 3-3-33) -14-
JACK: That was the last number on the Chevrolet program on the third day of March. Are you sleeping, hmmmmm? Well, folks, I have to leave you now. I hope you will all listen in again next Friday night, and we will have some more guest stars and many new surprises. . .Oh say, Howard.
CLANEY: Yes, Jack.
JACK: You know we may be working together for the next few weeks, and I was just wondering if. . . . .well, you know, I had a five-weeks vacation, and you know how those horses are and everything. . .and, well er. . .
CLANEY: Well, what is it?
JACK: I was just wondering, Howard. . . .well, you see. . .if you could just let me have ten dollars till next Friday.
CLANEY: Ten dollars?
JACK: Yes, I’m leaving for the Inauguration tonight. I want to see it.
CLANEY: Are you going to Washington?
JACK: No, I’ll get off at Baltimore so I can find a place to stand. . . .What do you say, Howard—how about a ten-spot until Friday?
CLANEY: I’m sorry, Jack, but I. . . . . .er. . . .er---
JACK: Come on, Mary. A lot of cheap people on this program.
MARY: I think he’s swell.
JACK: Come on, Mary.


CLANEY: Before you decide definitely to worry along with that old car of yours any longer, get out your pencil and paper and so [sic] some figuring. Put down first, the amount of money it will be costing you to repair or overhaul your present car this spring. Next, put down what it will probably cost you for tires—in either repairing the old one—or buying new ones. Next, write down the cost of extra oil and the extra gasoline your old car will be burning up this spring just because it IS an old car. Then add up all these figures---- and look at the total!

Ladies and gentlemen, the chances are: that the told will be considerably greater than what you’d pay out this spring driving a NEW Chevrolet. In other words, it will cost you less to own a new Chevrolet than to keep your old car another season. Why not visit your Chevrolet dealer and find out for sure. Ask him what he’ll give you for your old car in trade. Ask him what it will cost per month to pay the balance. Remember—Chevrolet prices are now as low as $485 f.o.b. Flint, Michigan, and G.M.A.C. terms enable you to spread this low price over a convenient period of time. SAVE—with a NEW Chevrolet.

This is the National Broadcasting Company.

Jack’s experience with Chevrolet was worse than with Canada Dry. Chevrolet’s boss, C.E. Coyle, decided he wanted something classier than a comedian. Over the objections of Chevy dealers, he replaced Benny with Victor Young’s orchestra on April 1, 1934.

Jack Osterman’s column in Variety of Feb. 7, 1933 led with an interesting scenario.

Years ago when we were invited to a theatrical party, people would point with pride to the different producers present. Woods, Harris, Earl Carroll, et al. That is a thing of the past. The other week Burns and Allen and Jack Benny invited us to a big party they gave at the Warwick. The room was packed. As we entered Jack grabbed our arm and whispered: ‘See that fellow over there, head man with General Foods. The short fellow next to him is chief of Standard Brands and the woman talking to him controls American Tobacco.’

It turned out Jack’s last two sponsors spanning 21 years on radio were General Foods and American Tobacco.

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