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Old Time Radio

How Rochester Helped Win The War

Eddie Anderson

Eddie Anderson was incredibly well suited for his role as second banana. This is reflected in the long term success of the Jack Benny Program, and the fact that Eddie was one of the best paid second bananas in Hollywood Radio. Although there were a few listeners who objected to someone of Eddie’s race achieving so much success, few could argue the fact that Eddie’s success, even beyond his Rochester character, was well earned. And well enjoyed.

Eddie was born into show business. His mother was a tightrope performer and his father performed in minstrel shows. His brother Cornelius was a song and dance man, a path Eddie probably would have followed if he had not ruptured his vocal cords as a boy. He could and did still dance, and he developed a terrific sense of comic timing to go with his gravel voice.

Rochester became one of the most recognizable and well loved characters on radio, and Eddie Anderson enjoyed the fruits of his success. He bought a large home for his family and became a leader in the Los Angeles area African American Community. When America became involved in WWII, Anderson was desperate to contribute whatever he could to the War Effort. He was unable to serve directly like some younger Hollywood and Radio stars. Whenever asked, he made himself available to entertain the troops, often along with the rest of Jack Benny‘s company. He invested his own money in War Bonds and worked tirelessly on Bond Drives, as well.

Early in the War, an opportunity came to Anderson which was of strategic and material import in winning the conflict. Aviation was always a dangerous business, especially military aviation. Nonetheless, it was of vital importance to America’s military effort. Eddie took flying lessons himself, and his was one of the voices that helped to establish the training program for the Tuskegee Airmen.

Rochester 1949

That would not be the end of Eddie’s involvement in aviation safety. Eddie had become friends with Howard “Skippy” Smith, a Daredevil and one of the rare African Americans, at the time, to hold a pilot’s certificate. Death defying skydiving performances were a prominent part of Skippy’s act, and over the years, he had learned “everything there is to know about parachutes”. With the expansion of military aviation, that knowledge took on strategic value.

Skippy approached Eddie with the idea of opening a parachute factory, and Anderson saw the potential in the enterprise. The newly formed business was located in San Diego, the hub of West Coast Aviation (the original building is still standing at 627 8th Ave, just a few blocks away from Petco Park.) Pacific started as a subcontractor for Standard Parachutes, but soon won government contracts of its own.

Skippy Smith oversaw the operations of the factory, but the used a mostly female, racially balanced, workforce. Most of the white and African American girls came to California to work in the aviation industry. From a start with twenty “White and colored girls” the workforce soon swelled to more than 200, approximately 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Mexican. Most of the girls received seamstress training under New Deal training programs.

Eddie Anderson, Marilyn Monroe, and Jack Benny

It would be hard to determine just how many aviators and paratroops floated to safety under a canopy of Pacific Parachute Company silk. When the War ended, demand for their product evaporated, and the company closed its doors. During its existence, it was profitable for everyone involved, perhaps mostly for those airmen who had to put the parachutes to use.

Eddie Anderson‘s leadership in the African American community dwindled somewhat as younger voices came into their own. Eddie continued to enjoy the trappings of a successful Southern California businessman and media figure. He was an enthusiastic, if less than successful, with a stable of racing horses. He also owned and sailed a yacht from Long Beach Harbor.

One of his most notable engineering feats was the “Rochester Special”, a custom built sports car created in 1950. Perhaps as an extension of the aviation industry, Southern California was a hotbed for hotrod and race car design in the early fifties. The Rochester Special was one of the first cars to use a twin-tube frame. Powered by a 331 c.i. Cadillac engine, the car was in many ways a street-legal, two passenger Indy Car.

The car took two years to build, and campaigned successfully in SCCA events. Anderson enjoyed the car and drove it hard. So hard, that after 10 years, it was in need of a complete restoration. Work began in 1960, but with typical Rochester van Jones forgetfulness, Anderson defaulted on the bill. A mechanic’s lien was placed against the car, and it was traded for a Model A pick-up. The current owner of the car began a ground-up, no expense spared restoration in 2002.

Jack and Rochester
Categories
Old Time Radio

Fred Allen and his Friendly Feud with Jack Benny

It is impossible to chronicle the birth of the Fred Allen-Jack Benny feud without going into the life and background of Fred Allen. At the age of fourteen, Fred Allen opened a book that would forever change the course of his life. Working as a stock clerk at the Boston Public Library, he picked up a book on the subject of humor. Not only did this literary work put him on the path of comedy, it also sparked a passion that culminated in a book collection. By the time of his death, Fred Allen’s personal library contained thousands of volumes written on the subject of comedy.

Beginning his career in vaudeville, Allen soon learned that his comedic skills greatly outweighed his juggling ability and he decided to use the juggling act as an anchor for his comedy. He also appeared in a few short films, before getting his break on radio. At the age of thirty-eight, Fred Allen landed a job, as host of The Linit Bath Club Revue. The show premiered on October 23, 1932 on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) network. By 1933, the program was moved to the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) network and renamed, The Salad Bowl Revue, to plug its new sponsor, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. The show went through two additional name changes, before becoming the famous, Town Hall Tonight show in 1935.

Allen was convinced that the new radio medium should dispense with the old, weary, worn-out gags and skits common to vaudeville. Instead, he worked tirelessly to bring fresh comedy into the homes of his listeners. Town Hall was a success and Allen used this platform to launch one of the longest running gag feuds in history.

On December 30, 1936, Fred Allen fired his first volley at fellow comedian Jack Benny. A ten-year old violinist appeared on Allen’s show to play, Flight of the Bumblebee. Allen took this opportunity to poke fun at Benny’s violin playing skills. Benny often listened to Allen’s show and after hearing the joke, the game was afoot.

Fred Allen and Jack Benny had been close friends since their days in vaudeville. Benny knew the attack was a great way to increase ratings on both shows. Shortly thereafter, Benny launched his own assault on Fred Allen. Thus, it was the beginning of a radio feud that would outlast sponsors and persist for nearly a decade.

The audience loved the feuding comedians and soon, the number of listeners increased exponentially. In 1937, Allen appeared on Benny’s show for a face-to-face confrontation. The feud took its place in history, drawing in more listeners than another program, with the exception of Franklin Roosevelt’s Fireside chats.

In 1940, Fred Allen returned to CBS with a new sponsor and Town Hall Tonight became the Texaco Star Theater. By 1942, the network demanded that Allen cut the hour-long program down to thirty-minutes. The shortened format and the network’s preference for amateur guests took a toll on Allen. While other comedians were known to work with teams of writers, Allen insisted on creating his own material with the help of a few occasional assistants. Diagnosed with high blood pressure, Allen took time off to recuperate. He returned with the Fred Allen Show on NBC, in 1944.

Further success incurred when Allen added “Allen’s Alley” as a skit on the new show. The alley had been a creation of his, during his early radio days. Allen’s Alley was a fictional location occupied by several eccentric residents. Residents included Senator Beauregard Cleghorn, Ajax Cassidy, Titus Moody and Minerva Pious. Each represented a slice of American society and ethnicity. However, Allen was often at odds with censors, who deemed some of his material might cause emotional injury. At one point, Allen was not allowed to make fun of cemeteries, because he might upset cemetery owners or morticians.

The move to the Fred Allen Show did not detract from the long running feud. Jack Benny even had his own version of Allen’s Alley, called “Clown Hall Tonight.” Over the years, each would occasionally appear on the other’s show. On May 26, 1946, Benny appeared in Allen’s skit, “King for a Day,” poking fun at the rising popularity of radio game shows. Behind the scenes, it was protocol to give the guest comedian the best lines.

Unaware of their personal friendship, many listeners truly believed that the two were bitter rivals. Benny later revealed in his memoirs that while the feud began in an instant, both comedians later met to plan strategy of the imaginary ongoing feud. In addition, Allen and Benny occasionally appeared together in Hollywood films.

By the late 1940’s, CBS talent raids directly affected Fred Allen’s show. CBS was constantly on the prowl for recognizable talent, who could be tempted into joining the CBS Sunday night line-up. The combination of talent raids, big money game shows and television signaled the end of Fred Allen’s radio career. Allen’s last radio show aired on June 26, 1949.

Allen went on to become a regular on The Big Show, which aired for two seasons. Although Allen thought little of television, he did make guest appearances on several popular programs. Before his death, Allen wrote “Treadmill to Oblivion” a chronicle of his radio years and a regular newspaper column. Fred Allen died on March 17, 1956, but he will forever be remembered for the laughter he wrought out of an imaginary feud.

Sample a taste of this famous feud at:

Categories
Frank Sinatra Old Time Radio

December 12: Happy Birthday Frank Sinatra

Portrait Of Frank SinatraDecember 12 would be Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. We would like to wish Ol’ Blue Eyes a happy one.

franksinatraaschildSinatra is a bit of an enigma. There is no getting around it: Frank was cool. Frank made sure that everyone knew he was cool. Frank got his first breaks in showbiz because of his mother’s influence, and he was still cool. When his career started to take a nose dive, he attempted suicide, and Frank still managed to be cool.

Frank Sinatra was an incredibly talented singer and showman, and that is what ultimately made him cool.

Frank was born in 1915, the only child of Italian immigrants. His father served as a Captain in the  Hoboken Fire Department, and his mother was active in Democratic Politics. Little Frank began singing “professionally” at the age of eight, standing on a bar top and singing for tips.

sinatraYoung Frank Sinatra was invited to leave high school after just 47 days because of his rowdy behavior. He supported himself as a newspaper delivery boy and later as a shipyard riveter, but music was his calling. He listened intently to swing jazz, but never learned to read music. In 1935, Mama Sinatra convinced a local group, the Three Flashes, to become the Hoboken Four. The group appeared on Major Bowes Amateur Hour and was voted first prize.

In 1939,  Frank signed a one year contract with the Harry James Band. Before the year was out, James allowed Sinatra to move on to Tommy Dorsey’s Band. Dorsey had Frank sign a contract that awarded the band leader one third of the singer’s earnings in show business. (It was later rumored that the contract was bought out for a few dollars by mob-boss Sam Giancana. The incident was fictionalized in The Godfather.)

The exposure from singing with the Tommy Dorsey Band put Sinatra on the top of the music industry polls, and suddenly his records were in demand by teenage “bobby soxers”. This was a major shift for the record industry, records had always been marketed to grown-ups before.

tumblr_mlkgll5dIs1qeg3g9o1_500The Musician’s Strike of 1942-44 helped to fuel Sinatramania, along with a few lucrative radio gigs. His first starring vehicle was on CBS’s 15 minute Songs By Sinatra, starting in late 1942. In Feb, 1943, he became the featured singer on Your Hit Parade. A budding movie career led to appearances on Lux Radio Theater and Screen Guild Theater. His growing popularity made him a popular guest for the radio comedians like Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Bergen and McCarthy and Jack Benny. He was also welcomed on the programs of other popular singers like Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters and Dinah Shore.

Frank appeared on a number of AFRS programs during the War, such as Command Performance, GI Journal and Mail Call. However, some who served have related that Frank himself was not well loved, even resented by the troops. Frank was seen by the troops making lots of money and surrounded by pretty girls back home. He was 4F because of a ruptured eardrum, but there were persistent rumors that Sinatra bought his way out of serving (rumors that are thought to have started in reaction to his Democratic Politics).

In 1950,  Frank’s vocal cords began hemorrhaging on stage, and he began to realize that the teenagers who used to swoon for him were moving on to younger idols. He made a couple of less than successful forays into television.

Frank-Sinatra-and-John-F-Kennedy sands las vegasHis career began to rebound with a supporting role in From Here to Eternity in 1953. The same year he returned to radio, this time in a dramatic role as Rocky Fortune. Fortune lasted for a single season. It was the story of a temp worker/ jack-of-all trades who weekly stumbled upon a situation that required his amateur crime-fighting prowess. The program benefited from great writing and the time slot immediately following Dragnet on Tuesday nights.

In the mid-fifties, Sinatra became part of the Holmbly Hills Rat Pack, a group centered around his drinking buddy, Humphrey Bogart. After Bogart’s death, the group began to orbit around Frank and his Las Vegas buddies, notably Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

A lifelong Democrat, Sinatra changed his politics after being snubbed by President Kennedy. The President had been invited to stay at Sinatra’s estate during a West Coast visit; however, the Justice Department had reservations because of Frank’s supposed mob connections. Kennedy enjoyed the hospitality of Bing Crosby in Palm Springs, and Frank moved his loyalty to the GOP.

You can get away with that sort of thing when you are as cool as Frank Sinatra.

 

Categories
Jack Benny Jack Benny Birthday

Happy 39th birthday, Jack Benny!

Jack_Benny_Happy_Birthday_Blue_Eyes_2
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.

Categories
Carole Lombard Jack Benny

Sometimes The Show Doesn’t Go On

Carole Lombard death causes grieving Jack Benny show cancellation (Jan 16, 1942)

There has been plenty written on how the Hollywood community came together to aid their nation when America became embroiled in World War Two. The attack on PearlHarbor touched everyone, and later generations have every reason to be proud of the way the Greatest Generation reacted.

We have heard the stories of the stars who put their careers aside so that they could wear the uniform of their country. Those who couldn’t join the service contributed where they were able. Whether sharing their talents for entertaining the troops, working hard to sell War Bonds, or spreading the message from the rationing board, it seemed that the entire entertainment industry had been mobilized.

Like any other segment of the population, some from the Hollywood community paid the ultimate price in the War Effort. The following is the story of what the Hollywood Victory Committee recognized as the first star to give their life for their country in the war effort.

Carole Lombard was an incredible screen presence and had the power to absolutely entrance men, both on and off the screen. In 1931, she was married to her sometimes costar William Powell. Friends were convinced that they could not overcome the sixteen year difference in age, but they were sure they could be happy together. The marriage only lasted 28 months, but they remained friends and coworkers. Powell even insisted that Lombard costar in his 1936 hit My Man Godfrey.

Carole Lombard starred with Clark Gable in No Man of Her Own (1932) while she was still happily married to Powell. Lombard and Gable renewed their acquaintance at a costume party in 1936, and soon fell in love. Unfortunately, this time Gable was married. When he was offered the role as Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind, part of the deal was a bonus that would cover the expense of Gable‘s divorce.

Carole Lombard was an ideal mate for Gable. She had all the glamor of the movie queen she was, but she also outgoing and enough of an outdoors woman to be a real “pal” to the active Gable. They were married during a break in the production of Gone With The Wind in 1939 and settled on a 20 acre ranch in Encino.

Carole Lombard

Lombard’s career took a bit of a setback about the time of her wedding to Gable; she took a number of dramatic roles that audiences found difficult to accept. She found success in comedies again in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941). She rode the career boost into one of her most successful films, To Be Or Not To Be with radio’s Jack Benny.

The film was a satire set in Nazi occupied Poland. Jack Benny played a “ham” actor who bears a resemblance to Adolph Hitler. Carole Lombard played his suffering wife with a wandering eye. Lombard and Benny struck up a strong friendship during production.

The film was in post production when Pearl Harbor was attacked and Hollywood mobilized. Clark Gable was made the chairman of the Hollywood Victory Committee, and one of his first acts was to send his pretty movie star wife, along with his press agent and her mother, on a War Bond drive tour of her home state of Indiana.

The drive was very successful, raising more than $2 million and hit a high point in Indianapolis, where Carole Lombard exhorted the crowd to “join me in a big cheer- V for Victory!” In a hurry to get back to her husband, Lombard convinced her party to board TWA flight 3, which flew from New York to Burbank, with Indianapolis being one of the stops.

Carole Lombard

When the flight stopped in Las Vegas, the Carole Lombard party was in danger of being bumped for military passengers, but Lombard”pulled rank”, claiming the having sold $2 million in war bonds, she deserved some consideration. 32 miles from the airport, the DC-3 slammed into a cliff on Potosi Mountain. There were no survivors.

Clark Gable was understandably distraught at the loss of his wife and friend, so much so that he joined the Army Air Corp and flew on B-17 missions from England. But first he had to bury Carole Lombard. The Army offered to honor her with a military funeral. Gable choose to respect her wishes, giving her a simple, private funeral at Forest Lawn. He also bought two adjoining burial plots, one for Lombard’s mother, and another for himself.

Lombard’s friend Jack Benny was so broken up over the loss of his friend that he was not able to perform his regular program on Jan 18, 1946. Instead, he had Don Wilson host an all music format. Neither Carole Lombard or the plane crash is mentioned on the broadcast.

Hear the Jack Benny Show from Jan 18, 1942:

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Jack-Benny-420118-430-Carole-Lombards-Death-Show-Is-Without-Jack-OTRCAT.com.mp3

To Be Or Not To Be was initially a disaster. Between the depressing war news and the tragic loss of the film’s star, moviegoers were not much in the mood for laughter when the movie was released. The Screen Guild Theater performed a radio adaptation of the movie exactly a year after Jack Benny‘s music format broadcast. Benny’s role in the radio adaptation was played by Carole Lombard’s first husband, William Powell.

Enjoy The Screen Guild Theater‘s 1943 broadcast of To Be or Not To Be:

 http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Screen-Guild-430118-127-To-Be-Or-Not-To-Be-OTRCAT.com.mp3

Categories
Agnes Moorehead Alfred Hitchcock Old Time Radio Suspense William Spier Yours Truly Johnny Dollar

July 22: 73rd Anniversary of Suspense on the Radio…

Suspense_1946_Title

On July 22,  we celebrate the anniversary of one of Old Time Radio’s greatest treasures, Suspense. Soon fans will argue that the anniversary is actually June 17, 1942. That is when the fully developed program launched as a weekly series. However, that night in July of 1940 was the first time the public heard a Suspense radio program, and the premiere caused its own share of ruckus for a program which would go on to last for twenty years as a weekly feature, right to the very end of the Radio age.

The Columbia Broadcasting Service, the “Tiffany Network”, built a reputation for bringing the highest quality programming to the airwaves, no matter the expense. This pursuit of The Best manifested itself in many ways, from the almost cinematic productions of Norman Corwin to the infamous NBC “Talent Raids” when CBS chief William Paley outbid the older network for some of its most profitable acts (and helped to establish CBS as the dominant presence in Post War radio).

Fun With Hitchcock

Alfred_Hitchcock_by_Jack_MitchellCBS was not afraid to take risks on new shows and concepts, but like anyone else playing for high stakes, they did their best to minimize the risks. One way the network developed to try out new shows was to introduce them as a summer replacement series for the radio. Another device was a weekly program called Forecast (Forecast itself filled a Monday night summer slot). Forecast was designed as a preview of new radio programs, presenting two audition shows each week. Other great shows that got their start on  Forecast include Duffy’s Tavern.

English movie director Alfred Hitchcock had already established himself as “the master of Suspense” by 1940. Having established himself as one of England’s greatest movie directors, Hitchcock was brought to America by producer David R. Selznick. His first American film, Rebecca, won best picture, and he was getting ready to repeat that success with Foreign Correspondent. Part of the promotion for both films was to have Hitchcock direct the audition program for Suspense. To sweeten the deal, Edmund Gwenn and Herbert Marshall, both of whom were working on Foreign Correspondent, were included in the package.

Hitchcock chose to dramatize the short story “The Lodger” which he had brought to the silent screen in 1926. It was the story of a London boarding house keeper whose guest may or may not have been the infamous Jack The Ripper. In an effort to keep the audience in “Suspense”, at the end of the broadcast Hitchcock neglected to reveal whether or not the Lodger really was the Ripper. This was a major coup for the show-to-be. If listeners wanted to find the answer, they had to write to the network. The show received hundreds of letter, not all of it favorable. Many were upset over the cliff hanger, but CBS was convinced.

Establishing a Weekly Favorite

SuspenseadHowever, even the Tiffany network could not afford Hitchcock every week, so the project was turned over to William Spier, “the Hitchcock of the airwaves”. Suspense began as a sustained program, but soon sponsor Roma Wines was paying the bills.

A number of factors went into making Suspense an incredible Radio success. The production values were kept very high. Spier and the producers that followed him were able to attract an impressive selection of actors to Suspense, not just radio heavyweights, but big names from the screen, as well.

For the actors, Suspense gained a reputation for being a fun project to appear on. The anthology format meant that there would be a variety of different characters to play and develop. Rarely were they the sort of characters that the actors were used to playing. It is very interesting to hear comics like Jack Benny playing a Martian laborer or a clueless bank robber, or Jim and Marian Jones (Fibber McGee and Molly) as kidnap victims. Listeners have their ear ready for a quip or joke, but it never comes. Instead, the anticipation draws the listener even deeper into the story.

agnes1

Even more than the production and the actors, the stories were the big attraction of Suspense. Pretty much anything was fair game, as long as it would keep the audience in Suspense. One of the earliest successes was an adaptation of Lucille Fletcher’s “Sorry, Wrong Number”, Agnes Moorehead plays a woman who panics when she overhears part of the murder plot but cannot convince anyone of what she heard. “Sorry,
Wrong Number” would be repeated seven times over the 20 year run of Suspense. Fletcher also penned “The Hitch Hiker”, which featured Orson Welles as a man stalked by a mysterious stranger across country.

Endings, Remembrance, and Rebirth

suspense5The coming of television took a toll on Suspense, but not as big as it would appear. Budgets were slashed, both sponsors and producers left for the small screen, but the stories were still presented every week, keeping audiences in Suspense. Eventually, CBS gave up on dramatic radio completely on September 30, 1962. The last two programs broadcast were Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Suspense.

Suspense was simply too good of a show to die with the Golden Age of Radio. The existing episodes are a cornerstone of any OTR collection.

Categories
Cartoon Comedy Jack Benny Old Time Radio

“The Mouse That Jack Built” – Jack Benny in Looney Tunes Animation

Old Time Radio believes it appeals to a “Nostalgia Market”, which sadly often means that the market will dry up once the generation that remembers when the programs were broadcast moves on. Fortunately, a growing number of enthusiasts are joining the ranks of old time radio fans who are discovering these shows and what a treasure they are.

Some have no recollection of Jack Benny as a Radio or even a Television personality. But we did know him as a small rodent from the Merrie Melodies cartoon, “The Mouse That Jack Built”.

“Merrie Melodies” and “Looney Tunes” were the cornerstones of Warner Brothers animation from the 1930s onwards. Most of the short films were originally released in theaters as companions to Warner Brother’ feature films. Many of us grew to love the cartoons and the great characters when they were released to TV syndication during the 1950s and 1960s. They were also a staple of Saturday mornings on all three networks at different times.

“The Mouse That Jack Built” was released in 1959, directed by Robert McKimson. The plot was a parody of The Jack Benny Program. Most of the references in the cartoon were to the TV show rather than the radio program, but the program was such a close outgrowth of the Radio that most of the gags are familiar to Radio fans.

The story is a dream sequence of a mouse living in the walls of Jack Benny’s house. This mouse is of course Jack himself, and the cartoon hits a number of the running gags from The Jack Benny Program. These include “Jack as a Miser”, “The Vault”, “Jack’s Violin” and “The Maxwell”.

The sound effect for the Maxwell jalopy had been voiced by Mel Blanc since its radio introduction, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to add it to the cartoon. “The Mouse” would be only the second time that on-screen acting credit would be given to someone besides Mel Blanc.

There is a rumor that the only payment Jack Benny asked for the project was a copy of the cartoon.

Categories
Comedy Jack Benny Jack Benny Birthday Old Time Radio

Happy 39th Birthday, Jack Benny!

The “stuck on 39” running gag got started the year after Jack Benny celebrated his “first” 39th birthday on the air. It was so much fun he decided to do the same thing the next year, because “There’s nothing funny about 40.” Jack would celebrate his 39th birthday 41 times. Headlines just after Christmas, 1974, reported “Jack Benny Dies- At Age 39?”

It seems appropriate that such a well loved entertainer would be born on Valentine’s Day, 1894. Meyer and Emma Kubelsky’s boy was born in Chicago and grew up in nearby Waukegan. He began his lifelong affair with the violin at the age of six. He loved the instrument, but hated to practice. He did get good enough to play with local dance bands and his school orchestra by 14, and by 17 began playing in local Vaudeville theaters. In 1911 he shared billing with the young Marx Brothers. The Marx mother, Minnie, though Jack would be a good fit as permanent accompanist for her boy’s act, but the elder Kubelsky’s wouldn’t allow their 17 year old boy to go on the road. The next year he did go on the road with 45 year old pianist Cora Salisbury. Responding to pressure from another violinist with a similar name, Kubelsky became Ben K. Benny.

Joining the Navy during WWI, he often played to entertain his shipmates. One night his violin playing was booed by the sailors, but he managed to ad-lib his way out of the jam, and thereafter the violin became a prop to his comedy. After the war he started a Single act- “Ben K. Benny: Fiddle Funology,” but ran afoul of another name problem.  He adopted the sailor’s nick name “Jack” (short for Jack Tar) and went on developing his comic talents.

In 1922 Jack was invited to a Passover dinner by Zeppo Marx, where he met cousin Sadye Marks, whom he married in 1927. In Vaudeville tradition Jack Benny worked his new bride into the act, and she adopted the stage name of Mary Livingstone.

Jack Bennycame to the radio on May 2, 1932, sponsored by Canada Dry. The Jack Benny Program became a staple of family entertainment. Jack Benny was one of William Paley’s main targets in the famous CBS Talent Raids of 1948-49.

On the Radio, Jack was everything that he was not in real life. Benny’s character was cheap, vain, petty, and self congratulatory. Part of Benny’s genius was that he didn’t hog the laughs for himself. His assumed personality drew fire from his supporting cast, and Benny took the role of straight man. By allowing himself to become vulnerable, what could have been a despicable character was well loved.

One long lasting highlight of Benny’s comedy was the long lasting mock feud with Fred Allen, who, along with Benny, was part of NBCs powerful Sunday night line-up. The feud began when Allen made a disparaging remark about Benny’s violin playing in an ad-lib. Though the feud would run for years, Benny and Allen were great friends.

In later years Jack Benny rediscovered his love of classic violin playing. More due to his fame than talent, he played as a guest with several prominent orchestras, which resulted in considerable fund raising for these important institutions.

Further proof that Jack Benny had been born on Valentine’s Day: Arrangements had been made in his will so that after his death, Mary Livingstone received a single long stemmed red rose every day. This went on until Mary’s own death nine years later.

Enjoy this episode from his Jack Benny’s 39th Birthday in 1937:
http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Jack-Benny-370214-820-Jacks-Birth-OTRCAT.com.mp3
Categories
Comedy Fred Allen Jack Benny Old Time Radio

Jack Benny v Fred Allen Feud “Battle of the Century” 3-14-1937

Jack Benny and Fred AllenBilled as the “Battle of the Century”, comedians Jack Benny and Fred Allen began long running faux feud. This is the opening of the on-air brawl, the broadcast of the Jack Benny program from March 14, 1937:

[audio:Jack-Benny-370314-824-From-The-Hot.mp3]

On the Red Network (KFI, Los Angeles) and sponsored by Jell-O, this program originates from The Grand Ballroom of The Hotel Pierre, New York City. “Bing” Shlepperman (Sam Hearn) offers to substitute for Kenny Baker, who’s back in California and Mary sings! Jack sings the Jell-O commercial, but is interrupted by guest Fred Allen. Jack and Fred start an argument and wind up reminiscing about their days in Vaudeville and then sing a duet.