Cornell Woolrich Stories in Old Time Radio

Cornell-Woolrich-Typewriter1The appeal of hard boiled detective fiction is a little like the attraction of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. Scholars will point out that, in both cases, the audience is sympathetic to the suffering of the Hero and that the ultimate payoff is a cathartic release as we paradoxically take pleasure in the very human pain he endures.

No matter what the scholars say, those of us in the audience know that we like to see the other guy get his, especially when it is safely confined to the world of fiction.

The best writers of tragedy are able to play on our sympathies. This is why the protagonist in most dramatic tragedies is a hero. The main character in hard boiled fiction is often far from Heroic, in fact, he is very often a sleaze ball. In this case, the emotional payoff is the thrilling tension that the author creates. What the audience may not realize is that, in some cases, the author is able to create sympathy for his less than heroic characters because the author himself is far from being a heroic figure.

Cornell Woolrich is called the fourth greatest crime novelist of his time, after Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Raymond Chandler. More film noir screenplays have been adapted from his writing than from any other crime novelist. Woolrich is little known outside of hard core noir fans, in part because he published much of his work under pseudonyms like William Irish or George Hopley.

Woolrich’s success as a hard boiled novelist is in part due to his own dark existence. His parents split when he was very young. While living in Mexico with his civil engineer father, one of his pastimes was to collect spent bullet casings from the street. Later. he returned to New York to live with his mother.

His first novels were Jazz Age romances, one of which was selected to be adapted for a movie. While in Hollywood, Woolrich found himself in a short lived marriage to a movie moguls’ daughter. He considered it a cruel joke on the young lady. The marriage ended when the secret of his homosexuality was discovered.

Woolrich came from a time when homosexuality was considered an abnormality, usually connected with a great deal of shame. Some characters from old time radio may seem “light in the loafers”, but cute from a modern perspective. Candy Matson’s side kick, Rembrandt Watson, can be seen in this light, even if never acknowledged as being gay.

Woolrich practiced his homosexuality with as much shame and degradation as possible. To hide his predilections he kept a sailor’s uniform in a suitcase so that he could cruise the docks to find partners. After his short marriage, he returned to New York to live in a squalid Harlem hotel room with his mother for the rest of her life. It is reported that he did his writing in a corner of the hotel room with his mother watching him while he worked.

robinson-edward-gFilm Noir directors flocked to Woolrich’s stories. Edward G. Robinson‘s Night Has A Thousand Eyes (1948), The Window (1949), Barbara Stanwyk‘s No Man Of Her Own (1950), Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1954 film Rear Window starring James Stewart, Nightmare (1956) with Edward G. Robinson, and the 2001 film Original Sin starring Angelica Jolie and Antonio Banderas make up a small portion of the films based on Woolrich’s writings.

The Mark Of The Whistler (1944) and The Return Of The Whistler (1948) were part of a Columbia Pictures series built on the popularity of The Whistler radio program and used plots from Woolrich stories.

Although his prose failed to gain the praise of Hammett or Chandler, his plotting and characterization were second to none. Woolrich never relied on recurring characters through his works. Although suspense is an essential element of many stories, his principle delight is heaping ever increasing anguish upon his characters.

Woolrich stories are seldom formulaic but do fall into a number of noir plot types. There is the noir cop story, where a plainclothes detective solves the crime, but depends upon an uncommonly sadistic police technique. There is the clock race stories, where suspense builds as the protagonist must find the deadly secret before it kills them. The oscillation story has the protagonist’s love or trust eaten away as their partner’s deadly secret is slowly revealed. The final hours plot shows the terrifying last moments of someone facing an inevitable death.

These are stories of deception, shame, and personal claustrophobia. One chance encounter leads to another until the characters have no choice but to follow the path to doom. The anguish that Woolrich’s characters are forced to endure is more than any human being should be made to deserve, but on some level, it is what each character deserves.

The stories all provide the cathartic release that we look for in great tragedy. Although the author lived in a personal darkness that most ofCornell-Woolrich us could not imagine, his stories make our own world brighter if only by contrast.

Cornell Woolrich‘s mother passed away in 1957, occasioning his move to the Hotel Franconia.  He rarely socialized, but when he did he was rudely dismissive of those who praised his work. Because of his alcoholism and an amputated foot (the result of an infection that was the result of a too-tight shoe), Woolrich died a recluse. The bulk of his estate went to endow journalism scholarships at Columbia University. The endowment bears his mother’s name.

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May 31: Happy Birthday Fred Allen

Fred Allen had no idea when he was growing up that he would become one of the most popular entertainers of his time. In fact, as a poor Irish kid on the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, he would have been shocked to find out he was going to grow up to be Fred Allen!

Cecilia Herlihy Sullivan brought her first son, John Florence Sullivan, into the world on May 31, 1894, then sadly left the world herself three years later. A family council was convened, and it was decided that Cecilia’s sister, Lizzie, would take in little John, his infant brother and their father. John/Fred would say of his Aunt “another dilemma to Aunt Lizzie was like another raindrop to an umbrella”. The loss of Cecilia took a lot of the life out of the senior Sullivan, which he replaced with drink for many years. When he finally remarried several years later, the boys were given the choice to live with their father or stay with Aunt Lizzie. There was never any doubt that Johnny would stay with his Aunt.

Spending money was at a premium in Aunt Lizzie’s house, so Johnny got a job as a book runner at the Boston Public Library. In those days before Internet search engines, a patron would approach the librarian at the desk and request a book. The book runner was dispatched to find the volume required and bring it to the patron’s table. The rest of the time the boys pretty much had the run of the institution, and young Sullivan began studying books on the history of comedy. His library income gave him enough to see the occasional Vaudeville show. He became entranced with the jugglers and set out to learn their art. When the library staff held a talent show, he “wowed” the audience with his skills and patter, and one young lady told him that his talents were wasted in the library.

A few years later he took that advice and began appearing in local talent shows. These shows were amateur mostly in name, which is not to say they were not amateurish. Supposedly the contestants were competing to be chosen the “winner”, but the real challenge was to be entertaining, and each act was paid for their services. The Amateur’s were placed in the Vaudeville halls by semi-formal booking agents who also worked as Masters of Ceremonies. Johnny Sullivan’s agent soon had enough acts that he began using Johnny as an alternate M.C. Thanks to a booking error Johnny Sullivan became Freddy James, the Worlds Worst Juggler.

Performing was first and foremost a way to make a living, and young Sullivan realized that remaining a local performer would never take him to the big time. So armed with a new stage name and a modicum of confidence, Freddy James hit the vaudeville circuit. Not only did he follow the circuit around the northeast, he ranged out West and even spent 1916 and 1917 touring Australia.

He returned to America a seasoned professional performer. However, theater owners would only pay him the rate he given before leaving the country. The solution was another name change, and he became Fred Allen for the rest of his career. Headlining in Vaudeville led to an opportunity as a monologist in Broadway Reviews. The shows were less than successful, fortunately Fred’s relationship with chorus girl Portland Hoffa was more so.

After they were married in 1927, Fred followed the Vaudeville tradition of writing his wife into the act, and they enjoyed an extended honeymoon following the Western Circuit. They returned to New York to a Broadway engagement which was effectively dead before it opened. Fred used the period of unemployment to give radio work a try. Other vaudevillians were finding success on the air, notably Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor and Jack Pearl. The fact that they had brought their Vaudeville acts to radio never quite sat right with Fred. His idea was that a radio show should be designed for a radio audience and not depend upon slapstick. The show he developed had everything it needed, except a sponsor. The Corn Products Company was enthusiastic about using radio to promote its products, and felt that Fred’s show would be a good fit for their Linit Bath Powder. The Linit Bath Club Review premiered on Oct 23, 1932 and received good ratings. However, Fred continually butted heads with the ad company hired to oversee the show. After a single season Fred found himself unemployed again.

However, there was another advertising agency in town whose client, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, was in trouble. They prevailed upon Fred to create The Salad Bowl Review from the ashes of The Bath Club Review in August of 1933. Again, the ratings were good, but the show was still canceled in December. The sponsor realized that no one was interested in salads in the winter, but Bristol Myers was standing by to give a green light to the Sal Hepatica Review in January.

Bristol Myers owned an hour of airtime on Wednesday nights, half of which was the Sal Hepatica Review and the other pushing Ipana Toothpaste. In March of 1934, the decision was made to combine the two shows into The Hour of Smiles, better remembered as Town Hall Tonight. Fred used reports from his fictional small town to comment on larger issues. The other popular feature of Town Hall Tonight was “People You Don’t Expect To Meet”. This portion the program allowed Fred to introduce some very entertaining amateurs, which worked very well with his ability to ad-lib.

One of the most notorious ad-libs came when Fred featured a ten year old violinist Stuart Canin played Schubert’s “The Bee”. Although there are no surviving recordings of Fred’s actual comment, it is known that he disparaged the violin talents of another radio vaudevillian, Jack Benny. Jack did hear the comment, and thought it was very funny. However, his writing team saw it as great fodder for a supposed feud. The Jack Benny- Fred Allen Feud was the stuff of comedy legend, but the fact was that Benny and Allen were great fans of each other’s work and had been friends since their days together in Vaudeville. The feud went on for more than a decade, becoming a part of both comedian’s programs, several AFRS and War Bond Galas and the movies.

In 1940, Allen moved to CBS and The Texaco Star Theater for the promise of greater creative freedom (away from the NBC censors) and more money (Fred claimed that the oil giant was in financial trouble since people were not driving their cars on Sunday nights, and he was just the guy to push them away from their radios). The feature that Texaco Star Theater is best remembered for was “Allen’s Alley“. The Alley served the same function as the earlier Town Hall reports, a way for Fred the writer to poke fun at current events. The real fun of Allen’s Alley was its population of unique and well known characters. Each week, Fred and Portland would take a stroll down the Alley with a question in mind, knocking on the doors of Mrs Pansy Nussbaum, Senator Beauregard Claghorn, poet Falstaff Openshaw, and New England farmer Titus Moody. Although these characters were outrageously stereotyped, they were never criticized as being anti-Semitic, anti-Southern, anti-Intellectual or anti-New England.

In 1945, NBC managed to woo Fred back as part of a powerful Sunday night line-up featuring Fred, Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen. The line-up was broken when Benny became the first defector in the CBS talent raids. However, what really knocked Fred and NBC off the Sunday night throne was the upstart new network, ABC, and the give-away game show, Stop The Music hosted by Bert Parks. Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen bid a graceful retreat, withdrawing from radio until the Stop The Music craze ran its course. Fred chose to attack the upstart as directly as possible. In addition to parodying the game show, he offered a cash prize to any listener who was called by Stop The Music if they told them they were listening to Fred’s show. He may have actually been winning the war, but on his doctor’s advice he left radio for a year after the 1949 season due to hypertension. He never hosted a radio program again.

Fred was a regular guest on Tallulah Bankhead’s The Big Show from 1950 through 1952. Never a fan of television, Fred was a popular panelist on TV’s What’s My Line from 1954 until his death in 1956. Two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame honor Fred’s contributions to Television, at 7001 Hollywood Blvd, and Radio at 6713 Hollywood Blvd. There is a pedestrian walkway in the Boston theater district named Allen’s Alley.

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Remembering Classic Old Time Radio Westerns

Westerns have always been a part of American popular mythology and entertainment. Westerns were an important genre of the early pulp novels. They became a staple of movies from the time of the earliest silent films, and their relatively low production cost kept them a favorite of the studios. When TV advanced enough to take advantage of outdoor shots, Westerns became a favorite of the small screen, as well.

Westerns on the radio were mostly Radio Cereal Serials, on going after school sagas for the youth audience. Westerns for grown ups took off during the 1950s. There had been Westerns on the radio that were more serious than the kiddie Westerns, but Gunsmoke, premiering in 1952, was the first Western specifically for a grown-up audience.

The audiences for these grown-up Westerns were the younger brothers and sisters of the Greatest Generation who had fought the Second World War. The Hard Boiled, noirish detectives had been immensely popular immediately after the war, but audiences were ready for something new. Gunsmoke was inspired when CBS chief, William Paley, called for a Hardboiled Western series; a Philip Marlowe with horses.

Gunsmoke was created by the writing and directing team of John Meston and Norman MacDonnell. The pair created a rather gritty adult portrayal of the frontier where traditional black and white notions of right and wrong were often blurry. The popularity of Gunsmoke made the the program incredibly attractive to CBS’s Television division, and director MacDonnell held reservations, feeling the show was “perfect for radio” and would lose its authenticity to the constraints of Television. In the end, TV Gunsmoke was “taken away” from MacDonnell (Meston stayed on as head writer), first airing in 1955. Meston and MacDonnell kept Gunsmoke on the radio until 1961, making it one of the most enduring radio dramas (and arguably one of the best of the entire Golden Age of Radio).

After Gunsmoke started on TV, MacDonnell and Meston followed up on the radio with Fort Laramie. Where Gunsmoke was a story about a single lawman facing questions of right and wrong with his interpretation of the law, the hero of Fort Laramie, Captain Lee Quince, had to reconcile right and wrong with his duty. In his own way, Quince was as tormented and tortured as Marshal Matt Dillon.

Quince was convincingly played by an up and coming young actor, Raymond Burr. Burr was a hard working movie player, chiefly in Noir roles. He appeared with Elizabeth Taylor in A Place In The Sun (1951) and played the suspected murderer in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Just before taking the role of Lee Quince, Burr was edited into the seminal Japanese monster film, Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

Fort Laramie was a military drama along the lines of John Ford’s “Calvary Trilogy”,  Fort Apache (1948), She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950). Burr was by no means John Wayne, but he did a very creditable job of playing an officer on the frontier, struggling to maintain his sense of right and wrong while answering his call to duty.

Captain Lee Quince faced the demands of settlers moving into the Western Frontier while striving to respect the culture and honor of the Red man. He recognized that he had a mission to carry out the orders of his superiors, but was fiercely loyal to the troopers under his command. It is a tribute to the talents of Meston, MacDonnell, and the CBS Radio production team to realize that it is difficult to listen to Fort Laramie without seeing visions of the troops, riding through Monument Valley, ala John Ford.

Fort Laramie only lasted a single season. There were 41 episodes broadcast from January to October 1956, and the show continued to be popular over AFRTS for many years. For the 1957 season, Burr moved on to the role for which he would be most closely identified, the TV version of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason.

See also: Where Did All the Radio Westerns Go?

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March 31: Happy Birthday, Les Damon!


Working actor Les Damon is best known for his work on The Thin Man, The Right To Happiness, and especially as detective Mike Waring on The Falcon. Damon had a successful career on daytime TV soap operas and character roles on the small screen in the fifties and early sixties. He would have been 107 on March 31, 2015.

les-damon-on-the-radioThe Golden Age of Hollywood was built on the studio Star system, but relatively few serious actors got into the business hoping for the glamor that comes with the Hollywood lifestyle. Most actors got into the business out of a love of performing (“the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd”). Many actors spent their days in stock companies, performing in a different city every few days, and lending a hand in every task to put on a show, from setting the scenery to selling tickets to comic character roles to romantic leads. They may have juggled a day job while hustling from audition to audition, always hoping for their big break. Or any break, for that matter.
Part of the magic of radio was that in addition to bringing the world closer together, it was a way for countless actors to make a living. Some were part of the Hollywood Star system, trying to put a few extra dollars in the kitty until they got that big starring role. For many, appearing on the radio was a job, just like going to the office or the aircraft plant.
Les Damon was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1908. He got his acting start with the Albee Stock Company in Providence, and traveled to England to apprentice with the Old Vic Company.
Returning to America, Damon began to pick up lead roles in a number of radio dramas in the late 1930s and 40s. Versatility was a watchword for a successful radio actor, and Les Damon had it in spades. He was radio’s original Nick Jones in The Adventures of the Thin Man, and he appeared regularly on Words At War. He was also a regular player for the Hummert Radio Factory, with recurring roles in everything from The Adventures of Helen Trent to Houseboat Hanna to The Right To Happiness.
An actor’s soul is often a romantic one. In 1943, Damon married radio actress Ginger Jones, whom he had met in various broadcast studios. When Ginger went to work on the serial Brave Tomorrow, she wore a beautiful ring set with an African turquoise and diamonds. Hidden is a secret compartment in the ring were two grains of rice which Damon had found in the cuff of his trousers after their wedding.
les-damon-in-the-falconDamon answered his country’s call, and he flew “over the hump” in the China-Burma Theater of WWII, delivering supplies to Chiang Kai Shek’s Army. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service.
After the War, Damon took up where he left off, reclaiming his role on The Thin Man, as well as several appearances on The Cavalcade of America and Gang Busters. In 1950, he began his most famous radio role as The Falcon. Damon was not the first to play the suave detective on the radio, but he did move the role from chasing crooks to the slippery world of espionage.
Through the fifties and early sixties, Damon began getting work in television with recurring but not major roles on The Guiding Light and As The World Turns. He also appeared on The Jackie Gleason Show, The Honeymooners and Have Gun, Will Travel.
Les Damon checked into the UCLA Medical Center complaining of chest pains. He passed away on July 21, 1962 at the age of 53. Damon was survived by his wife Ginger Jones and their daughter Lisa.

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C.P. MacGregor and the Transcribers

1956-C-P-MacGregor-ObsessionOne of the great debates of the Radio Era was “Live” versus “Transcribed” broadcast. This seems like a curiosity today in the Cable TV era, when about the only live shows are sports and local news, and even those are subject to a short delay to keep anything from “slipping” On the Air.

Transcription, the practice of recording a program for later broadcast, has some pretty obvious advantages, but the policy of the big networks for most of the Radio Era was to broadcast live. Some famous proponents of transcription were Freeman Gosden and Charles Cornell of Amos ‘n’ Andy fame. They realized that there were unrealized profits to be had by recording their live broadcasts and allowing local broadcasters to use the material at a later time.

Cecil-and-Sally-15-tbOn of the most prolific transcribers was C.P. “Chip” MacGregor. MacGregor first appears in the records as the West coast distributor of Brunswick Records. The Brunswick Company is better known today as a manufacturer of billiard tables and bowling alley equipment, but in the early decades of the twentieth century they dabbled in phonograph equipment before being selling the division to Columbia.

In 1924 MacGregor operated from a store San Francisco, and opened a recording studio nearby, presumably to produce material to play on the phonographs. One of MacGregor’s first transcription efforts was the popular Cecil and Sally show. Starring Helen Troy and Johnny Patrick, Cecil and Sally was initially based on the banter between the switchboard operator and the staff organist at San Francisco’s KYA. KYA was part of Adolph Linden’s early ABC network which folded in August 1929 under a cloud of scandal.

Forced off the air from August until December of ’29, when they opened on KPO San Francisco, Troy and Patrick made the decision to build their fan-base using electrical transcriptions recorded at the MacGregor Studios. MacGregor transcription discs were made under a few different business partnerships, beginning with MacGregor & Ingram Co, and MacGregor and Sollie in 1932. In 1945 the C.P. MacGregor Studios began operating from Hollywood.

There was a common complaint that transcribed programs lacked the excitement of live broadcasts. MacGregor was quick to point out that he was willing to forgo the “excitement” to create flawless shows. Performing in a recording studio was certainly more pleasant and less stressful for the On Air talent. It would have been much simpler for the broadcasting technician to start and stop a phonograph on cue than to deal with actors in the broadcast studio.

Contrary to popular belief, until the advent of magnetic recording tape after WWII, there was very little editing of transcribed programs. The recording was made by cutting a groove in the recording media, so the entire program had to be recorded in a single cut.

MacGregor Transcriptions include Lux Radio Theater, Skippy Hollywood Theater, Obsession, Proudly We Hail, Heartbeat Theater, and Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon.

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Happy Birthday, Gale Gordon

On Feb 20, 2015, we celebrate the 109 birthday of the beloved character actor Gale Gordon.

gale gordonGale Gordon was born Charles T. Aldrich in New York in 1906, the son of vaudevillian Charles Aldrich and his English actress wife, Gloria Gordon. The couple took their one year old son to Great Britain where they worked on stage, and the boy spent the next eight years absorbing the English reserve that would define his professional persona. Young Gordon underwent a delicate operation to repair a cleft palate while in England. The family returned to America when the boy was nine, settling in New York’s Forest Hill’s area. Gale returned to England to complete his education at the Woolbridge School in Suffolk at the age of 17.

Gale Gordon got his acting start in a 1923 Canadian production, working with stage and silent screen great Richard Bennett. To earn extra cash, Gordon also worked as Gale-Gordon-5Bennett’s dresser. The great actor must have seen potential in the young man, and he endeavored to teach Gordon the elements of acting and the craft of stage work. By 1925, Gordon found himself in Hollywood, taking what acting jobs he could find. In 1926,  he got a call to come to a studio to try his hand at a new thing called radio. “I sang and accompanied myself on ukelele. You might say I almost killed radio before it was born” Gordon later remembered.

By 1933, Gordon was the highest paid radio actor in Hollywood. He played the male lead on serials opposite Mary Pickford and Irene Rich. He appeared on most of the big shows on the air, from Lux Radio Theater to Stories From the Black Chamber. He even played the cockney-accented Inspector Lestrade opposite Basil Rathbone on Sherlock Holmes and was the first actor to play Flash Gordon.

Gordon met Virginia Curley while appearing on Death Valley Days in New York. The couple was married two days after Christmas in 1937. For at least the next twenty years, the 27th of each month was celebrated as an anniversary.

In 1941, Gordon appeared as Molly McGee’s former boy friend. The fit was so good that the part of Mayor LaTrivia was created for him, and Gordon became part of the Fibber McGee and Molly family for the next 12 years, with a break while he served in the Coast Guard. In 1948, Gordon landed the role of Principal Osgood Conklin on Eve Arden’s Our Miss Brooks, a role that would carry him into TV fame. The Conklin character was slightly refined to become banker Rudolph Atterbury on the Lucille Ball vehicle My Favorite Husbandgalegordon2

Lucy and Gordon had been friends for a long time, first working together on Jack Haley’s Wonder Show in 1938-39. When My Favorite Husband made the move to TV as I Love Lucy, Gordon was Lucy’s first choice to fill the role of Fred Mertz. Gordon, however, remained committed to Miss Brooks and eventually moved to TV with the program.

On TV Gordon perfected his famous “slow burn” persona. He realized that his characters were funnier if he lost his temper by degrees rather than exploding all at once. Although his characters were full of bluster, in real life Gordon was a “pipe-smoking homebody”. In 1949, Gordon and wife Virginia bought a 150 acre ranch in Borrego Springs, 175 miles from the craziness of Hollywood. An incurable handyman, Gordon built the house himself and became one of the leading growers of carob beans in the US.

Gordon continued to have commitments on other shows, and was not able to become a regular part of a Lucille Ball TV show until the 1963-64 season of The Lucy Show. TheGale_Gordon_Jay_North_Dennis_the_Menace_boxing_1962 bombast between Gordon and Lucy became an important part of the red-head’s shows until they both “retired” from weekly TV in 1974, but their roles were recreated in annual specials for several years.

Of Lucy herself, Gordon commented “her attitude has never changed. Every show she did was the most important show of her life. And I think that is the secret of her success.”

The secret of Gale Gordon‘s success may have been to find roles he enjoyed, but mostly to enjoy life beyond the studio.

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Happy 39th birthday, Jack Benny!

You probably can’t think of a talk show host who doesn’t have a birthday. But while some of them make brief mention of it during a monologue or none at all, Jack Benny celebrated his birthday, Feb. 14, year after year. From 1937-55, listeners had a chance (or had no choice but to turn the station) to sit in on the perpetual 39th birthday of the famous radio ham, whose real 39th was in 1933.

One of the traits of Benny’s radio persona was his self-involvement, so it’s little surprise that most years, skits involving the celebration of his entrance to this world ran the entire program. (Benny’s show was always colloquially known as “The Jack Benny Program,” but officially named after the sponsor at the time. In the late 30’s it was “The Jello Program.”)

happy birthday jack bennyOn the ’54 show, after the audience opened the show by singing “Happy Birthday,” Jack pulled a curmudgeon from the audience and scolding him onstage for not singing. The other joke in the sketch was his birthday being proclaimed at a Chinese restaurant and all around L.A.

Often, the birthday sketches would include a reenactment of Jack in his home on the day of his birthday (if the show aired one or two days later). One of these included his trying to decide which actress to ask to dinner to help him celebrate.

In some cases, cast members such as announcers George Hicks, and later Don Wilson, Ethel Shutta and Sadye Marks presented Jack with gifts. One year it was a bike tire pump. Another, a carton of Lucky Strikes, the sponsor at the time.

In 1955, the last year of the show’s life, various groups of people were separately planning surprise parties for Jack. When they found out about the coincidence, they decided to throw him one big party at his house. But he missed it by going to the movie theatre to watch “The Horn Blows At Midnight” three times.

Jack’s birthday shows were a prime vehicle for his narcissistic personality and the attendant jabs at his vanity.

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