Sunday 7 May 2023

The Mayor Goes to Anaheim

Jack Benny and his writers knew when a running gag would work, and they generally stuck with it until it could get too stale.

Jack’s radio show got laughs with a train announcer calling passengers for Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga, so they kept doing it. Other radio shows picked it up. Jack Benny put Anaheim on the map long before Walt Disney or the American League.

Eventually, he has made an honorary mayor of all three cities. It was only appropriate, therefore, he should make a visit to one of his little burghs.

Anaheim had a weekly, six-page newspaper in 1947. The Gazette covered the Benny visit, unfortunately minus a cameraman. It really does strike me as small town, especially considering the acts that were lined up to appear with Jack. They even supplied a local townswoman on the piano to accompany him. This was published April 24, 1947.

Jack Benny Smiles Jokes Way Into Heart of Anaheim
Arriving in a blaze of ignition sparks and leaving in a burst of hilarity, as honorary mayor of Anaheim, Jack Benny of radio, Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga fame, made a memorable appearance as special guest speaker at the annual “kick-off” banquet for Civic Progress Week before 340 members of the Chamber of Commerce and friends Monday night. “His arrival was impressive but his speech was better” was the concensus of opinion.
An estimated throng of 1500 cheered the celebrity on as he was appropriately transported in a tour of the town in a 1906 vintage Maxwell roadster piloted by Superior Court Judge Raymond L. Thompson. His police escort roared to a stop before the crowded entrance to the Elks club while the Maxwell, raced and beaten by kids on bicycles, chugged amidst an explosion of flash bulbs.
Completely at ease, wearing big smile and a cigar, Benny stepped before the mike following the banquet. He regaled the packed audience with a full half hour of humorous reminiscences from an inexhaustable supply, wise-cracks, “lay-’em-in-the-aisle” ad-libs and stories of his cast, his life as an entertainer and Hollywood friends and “enemies.” He made special reference to his wife, Mary Livingstone’s sense of humor, and the peculiarities of Band Leader Phil Harris and Comedian Fred Allen. Usually trustworthy sources predict he will send recordings of his speech to Harris and Allen.
Following Benny’s side-splitting presentation, Emcee Whitey Roberts introduced three acts of top-notch vaudeville. Juggler-Clarinetist John Gailus balanced a rubber ball on his instrument while playing and operated a ‘puppet' chorus line simultaneously. Eddie and Lucille Burnett exhibited precision and perfect timing in a terrific tumbling act. The Four Guardsmen sang unique arrangements of old time songs, appearing for two encores.
With doleful mien, Roberts proved a quick-trigger wit and jack of many entertainment trades. He lured Robert Boney on the stage for a duo juggling act with green dishes which afterwards required a broom.
Clyde Nickles, versatile master of ceremonies, welcomed the en-enthusiastic banqueteers who packed the hall and introduced Robert Rossberg, president of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, who read the annual joint report to the city council, planning commission and service clubs.
Concluding in a lighter vein Telephone Company Manager Rossberg remarked “I’ve been at the switchboard down at the phone company so long my voice is changing”; to which Benny replied “If you’re going to be that funny, I’m getting out!”
Nickles then introduced Ernest Moeller, secretary-manager of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, who in turn, presented Benny.
Armed with a violin, the comedian climaxed his act by a traditional rendition of ‘‘Love in Bloom” indispersed with comments, “Well, if you really insist” . . . “Hey, wait for me” to his accompanist, Mrs. William Cook, then “Oh well, it’s the only one she knows’’ and “You thought I was going to be lousey [sic], didn’t you?”
A brilliant musical performance featured William Cook and the high school ensemble, interpreting well contrasted selections during the dinner hour. They also presented the fanfare for Benny’s entrance, “Love in Bloom,” ending on a “true blue” note.
Upon being presented the inscribed gavel as honorary mayor of Anaheim by Mayor Charles A. Pearson, Benny promised to try out the gavel by driving through town at 80 miles per hour.
Members of the Benny party introduced included his production director, Robert Ballin, and Mrs. Ballin, Hillyard Marks, his assistant production manager and Mrs. Marks, and Ned Moss, representing Steve Hannagan and associates, the Benny publicity agency.
Miss Phyllis Officer, newly selected Miss Anaheim, winner of the afternoon fashion show and beauty contest, was introduced. With several junior hostesses she posed with Benny following the affair.
Preceding the festivities, Rev. H.G. Schmelzer said grace, and Song Leader Joe Scholz directed “God Bless America.” He also led participants In the welcome song to Benny and the “Anaheimer Song.”
Flower festooned fish-net decked the walls of the great banquet room highlighted by palm trees (artificial) and Hawaiian hula beauties, also artificial. The stage was accented by forest scene viewed through flowers and butterfly scattered fish net. Spring flowers arranged by leading Anaheim florists graced the long banquet tables.
Concluding the “kick-off” banquet program, General Chairman Dick Gay thanked Jack Benny, the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce and Chairman J. Ben Kaulbars; Everett Cone, show and entertainment chairman; the city council, the planning committee, the Young Ladies Institute for decorations, Whitey Roberts and the talented guest artists.
Arriving here on schedule at 6:30 o’clock, Benny was welcomed by Mayor Pearson and city officials at Center and Palm streets and escorted to Palm and Cypress streets where he climbed aboard the antiquated vehicle complete with the inscription “Jack Benny’s Maxwell” and an auxiliary lantern. His premier stop was at St. Catherines where' a swarm of youngsters sought his autograph. Collecting a bevy of bicycles, the gala caravan traveled to Palm and Center street to be greeted by a larger cheering crowd. Benny again developed writer’s cramp and cracked jokes. Alighting from the venerable limousine, he waved a friendly hand at the engulfing crowds before the Elks club.

Of course, the Anaheim, etc. gag petered out, but Jack still used it whenever he did a train station episode. The last time it was heard on radio was on his final broadcast on May 22, 1955. That wasn’t the end of it. The three cities jointly signed a Resolution of Appreciation to Jack upon his death in December 1974. And the gag became a piece of nostalgia, as Mel Blanc resurrected it when he did TV talk shows into the 1980s.

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