Sunday 4 June 2023

He's Waiting For 39

Jack Benny had two kinds of tours. One was kind of an extension of his vaudeville career, except he was the one who packaged a revue and took it on the road. He was doing this very early in his radio days. The other was his charity concerts to aid symphony orchestras, their homes and the pensions of the musicians who played on them.

Quite a number of his stops were in cities where he had performed in the 1910s and 1920s.

One was Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he brought his performers in June 1950. Benny had recorded his last show of the radio season on May 11. The pair of Scranton performances were on June 5, a day after appearing in Carnegie Hall for the Runyon Cancer Fund.

Here’s how the Scranton Tribune reported on the event the following day:

7,000 Attend Benny Show in Youth Center
Comedian Ends Busy Day Here With 2 Performances
Paced by a 19-piece orchestra that filled the huge Catholic Youth Center to the last echo, Jack Benny, Phil Harris and gravel-voiced Rochester delighted two large audiences last night in their last personal appearances before going to England and Scotland this week.
It was a long night for the performers. Mr. Benny arrived at the CYC about 6 p. m.—an hour before the first two-hour show was to begin. He did not leave until soon before last midnight and immediately took a plane back to New York.
Nearly 3,000 attended the first show and there was a crowd of nearly 4,000 at the second.
The large audiences were receptive and gave the performers thunderous ovation.
The pattern for the show was based essentially on Jack Benny’s Sunday night broadcast. Missing, however, were Mary Linvingston [sic] and Dennis Day, both of whom are chief supporters to Mr. Benny’s running gags on stinginess.
An improvised stage had been especially erected opposite the Jefferson Ave. entrance. Curtains were draped and wings had to be improvised. This was not exactly a hardship, but it was definitely different from performing on a regular theater stage.
It was the second time for Jack Benny to play in Scranton in nearly 30 years. The first time was when he played vaudeville with his own act, which he described as “Just Jokes and I played my violin,” as he paced ceaselessly back and forth back-stage preparatory to responding to his many cues.
Hovering nearby was City Detective Leo Marcus who had been assigned to the famous comedian for the entire time he was in Scranton. He stayed with him until he boarded his plane for New York early this morning.
It took only a couple of gags to warm up the audience and from that moment on, Benny, Harris and Rochester just about had them rolling in the aisles.
Benny said that a lot of the stuff he pulls on the radio is not actually true. For example, he said, “I’m always gagging about being 39 years old. Humph. I’m not 39—but I can wait.” He said furthermore he is not stingy. And added, “yeah?”
He announced that he will dabble in motion pictures, but as a producer. He said he’s had experience as an actor. His first show will be Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in “The Road to Dunmore.”
Phil Harris and Jack Benny exchanged running fire gags with the latter on the butt end. During a serious point, however, Mr. Harris said that yesterday marked his 14th year with Mr. Benny.
Harris and Benny had several sharp exchanges, but the one that brought down the house was Mr. Harris caricature of Mr. Benny’s role of great love with Vivian Blaine as the love interest.
Thrusting Mr. Benny aside, Mr. Harris took over in the love department and said to Benny: “Dad you’re old enough to be playing with the Scranton Miners.”
Climax of the smartly-paced show was the appearance of “Buck” Benny and his Beverly Hill Billies. This troupe consisted of several members of the band and Miss Blaine with “Buck” Benny attired in blue overalls over red underwear as the leader.
The costumes were moth-eaten and the very appearances of the bedraggled musicians provoked gales of laughter.
To add an element of variety with fine entertainment there were the Wiere Brothers and the Peiro Brothers.
The two shows last night wound up an almost feverish pace for Mr. Benny and his two costars. Arriving at Avoca Airport, about 1 p. m., Mr. Benny was escorted to City Hall and a welcome by Mayor James T. Hanlon, and then appeared before several hundred at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon where he described the LIFE program as [“]one of the finest community efforts I have encountered in my tour of 21 cities.[”]
Gordon Evans, past president of the C of C and chairman of LIFE’s Business Division, was chief speaker. Attorney John R. Lenhan was toastmaster. Anthony Koveleski presented Mr. Benny with a miniature model of a Maxwell car, the counterpart of the decrepit car he owns.
On Friday Mr. Benny, Mr. Harris and Rochester will sail for London to play the Palladium, and later will appear at the Empire Theater in Glasgow.
The Scrantonian-Tribune Charity Foundation Fund received $600 from the proceeds of the two shows—$300 from Mr. Benny and $300 from the Buddy Club, sponsor of the shows.

The Tribune had several sidebar stories, including the seemingly-obligatory one that Jack wasn’t really like he was on radio. There was one praising Benny’s comedy.

Pick Benny as Top Radio Showman In Past 25 Years
Jack Benny has been acclaimed “the greatest radio personality during the latest 25 years” in a questionnaire poll of 330 of the nation’s leading radio editors by Radio Daily.
In selecting Benny, numerous editors polled by Radio Daily also wrote in their non-commercial choice. This honor went to the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt, of whom one radio editor said: “He relied almost entirely on radio to instill confidence, faith, and courage in this nation.”
Many editors supported their choice of Benny with comments on his master showmanship and his consistently top comedy programing over the years. Second choice was Bing Crosby who ran close to Benny in the balloting.
Honors for third place among the commercial radio artists were divided evenly between Bob Hope and Amos ‘n’ Andy.
Among the varied comments on Benny were:
“Jack Benny for his personal accomplishments and those he has helped to stardom.”—Nat Lund, Seattle Times, Seattle, Wash.
“Jack Benny is not necessarily the best or the greatest judge in terms of pure talent—but he deserves the title of the ‘greatest’ in the sense that his radio characterization has not only become a national tradition, but has maintained itself as such in the top levels of public acclaim longer than any other.”—Ben Gross, New York Daily News.
“If by radio persontlity [sic] you mean entertaining personality, I’d say Jack Benny.”—Peg White, San Diego Journal, San Diego, California.
“If F. D. R. is barred from competition, I’ll throw my vote to Jack Benny who had led the way so many years.”—John Crosby, New York Herald-Tribune.

The following story may be the most interesting of the additional ones. It was told a number of times in later years.

Taylor Vet to Remind Benny Of Narrow Escape in Europe
Jack Benny, the funny man, is going to have some pictures presented to him (if he’s willing) when he arrives in Scranton—pictures which almost spelled tragedy to his troupe while touring Germany in 1945. Benny & Co. appear tonight at the Catholic Youth Center.
The pictures are in possession of Tom Burdett, 25, 142 South Main St., Taylor, now a first sergeant of Tank Co., 109th Infantry Regiment, Pennsylvania Guard.
It all happened, according to Tom, when Benny, Ingrid Bergman, Larry Adler and Martha Tilton, were driving in a big, black car from Stutgart to Waiblingen, Germany.
Tom was then a member of Hq. Co., Second Battalion, 398th Infantry, 100th Division, which outfit had check points at two main points in town.
Benny and his troupe were stopped by the battalion CO. After conversing, the group left. Benny, Bergman and Adler were in the back seat of the car.
Miss Tilton was in the front seat with the chauffeur.
The chauffeur failed to heed a command to stop at the second check point. The guard drew his .45 and fired directly at the car!
The bullet went through the rear of the machine and was deflected by the steel slats behind the seats, Burdett, who was a member of the investigating party, said.
The Benny chauffeur stopped after that shot was fired.
Burdett said that had the guard had an M-1 high powered Army rifle, Adler, no doubt, would have been killed.
Tom has two pictures of the “big, black car,” bullet hole and all.
The incident didn’t get any publicity but Tom’s sure that Benny will remember that close call.
And if the funnyman’s willing, Tom will be around the Hotel Casey today and present him with the pictures just to remember.

Jack appeared in Scranton in 1925. The ad for the show is to your left. In promoting it, the Scranton Republican said: “Jack Benny will have the special comedy attraction position. He will appear in joyful moments with himself. His work is always along original lines and it has evoked laughter whenever given. He is expected to go strong with Capitol audiences.”

After the show opened, the paper reported: “He is seen and heard in ‘Joyful Moments,’ an act broad enough to enable him to do his cleverest in several lines of vaudeville work. He had his audiences with him from the start and received a welcome which must have warmed his heart. He is one of the big cards of the week.” Then the next day: “Jack Benny is a lone worker who has developed the art of comedy to a nicety and is responsible for a continuous ripple of laughter.”

It would appear audiences in the city felt the same way 25 years later.

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