5/17/18

PROFESSOR JACK BENNY



Above is the audio only of a talk Jack Benny gave at UCLA in March of 1973, the year before he died. It's a monologue (as you might expect) in which he rambles through various subjects--humor, cheapness, Bob Hope, how he got started etc. His manner is affable and very user-friendly and he has the ability (which I imagine he had in his early years as a monologist in vaudeville as well) to tell a story in which you can clearly see the punchline coming, but somehow he tells in such a way that he keeps you amused and somehow makes the already known ending a delight. By the way, I hearby nominate that last sentence as perhaps the clumsiest I ever composed, but my Turkey Burger is getting cold and I'm damned if I'm going to sacrifice it for a rewrite.

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5/15/18

THE STRANGE GUESTS OF JACK BENNY; WAYNE NEWTON???



Here's a 1962 Jack Benny Program with guest star Wayne Newton, then a newly popular heart throb boy singer who had just charted big with 'Danke Shoen'. Benny, apparently, was a mentor of Newton's and used him as his opening act in Las Vegas for several years. The Newton seen here is far from the mustachioed Vegas operator of the 70s/80s and is much more like the overly-humble, careful-to-be-respectful, God-loving, show-biz-has-been-good-to-me fellow he's turned back into in recent years (mega-lawsuits aside). Newton is in his early twenties here, tall and fat, with a much higher and stranger voice than the one we're used to--assuming you ever get used to Wayne Newton. According to Wikipedia, the young Newton found great support in the aging, Hillcrest Country Club show-biz klotch consisting of Benny, George Burns, Danny Thomas etc. What on earth did this gang of old vaudevillians see in the country-based, rosy-cheeked 'good boy'? Probably a little of the old vaudeville spirit--Newton's early gimmick was to play a half-dozen instruments during his act to take a break from his singing as a way of controlling his early asthmatic condition. These old bastards weren't so dumb, were they? They smelled the billion-dollar Vegas act of the future and had the good sense to back it--an insurance blanket, if you will, for their old-age in show-biz. Below is a surprisingly pleasant and articulate sit-down with Newton from about ten years ago. I tend to think that his sincere bit is less a bit then perhaps a genuine poor-boy-hit-it-big vibe. Then again, there's the Wayne Newton museum in Las Vegas and those aforementioned lawsuits--literally dozens of them. And the Johnny Carson jokes of course...



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5/14/18

DIMITRI TIOMKIN (OF ALL PEOPLE) MEETS JACK BENNY


Why did Dimitri Tiomkin, the great Russian film composer who inexplicably made his name (and fortune) writing themes for westerns, appear as a guest on The Jack Benny Show in 1961? My guess is that they played Golf or Bridge or Gin Rummy at the Hillcrest Country Club together and the idea came up after Tiomken mentioned that one of his favorite Benny routines was the awful song that Jack wrote that he could never sell. Titled "If You Say I Beg Your Pardon Then I'll Come Back To You", the song first appeared in the Benny radio show years, circa 1945. In the above TV episode, Jack wishes to revive the song and Tiomkin becomes as inexplicably embroiled in the song as he was in the writing of scores for movies like 'Red River', 'High Noon', 'Gunfight at the OK Corral' etc. By the way, Tiomken received twenty-two Academy Award nominations and won four Oscars, one of which was for Best Original Song for 'High Noon' . Titled 'The Ballad of High Noon', the theme was informally known as 'Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling', a title almost as embarrassingly absurd as 'If You Say I Beg Your Pardon...' etc.

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5/10/18

HARLEM, 1930-ish



Above is a lovely visit to Harlem in the early '30s (very early, maybe even late '29 given the fashions on the women specifically). We see a world of pride, fancy clothing, friendly neighborhood deameanor...and perhaps that's all that British-Pathe, who shot this footage (which includes a very good floor show with Duke Ellington's orchestra) wanted anyone to see. The darker corners of Harlem in that era would have been obscured from the view of the English movie crew with the silly accents.

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5/9/18

BUMPING DOWN BROADWAY IN 1929



On a rainy day in 1929, the Fox Movietone people mounted a camera on top of a truck and--with police escort (you can hear the plaintive wail of the siren throughout this video)--took a drive down Broadway. Bumpy though the ride proved to be, it captured a mesmerizing look at a now long dead civilization--the New York of the 1920s. You'll see an El Train at about 30 seconds in. It turns out that's the 53rd St. Crosstown extension--a train I never knew existed. It served to connect the other Elevated trains, running from 9th Avenue across town to 6th Avenue (and perhaps further east??) Click here for more than enough information on that long gone transportation device.

As always with these archeological newsreel digs, the popular culture of the period is on view and delightful to behold. 'Talkies' were new and movie theaters abounded on Broadway, loudly trumpeting the new technology. Richard Dix's 'Redskin' and a movie called 'The River', which was a 'partial talkie' were playing and John Gilbert and Greta Garbo's 'A Woman Of Affairs' was being held over--it was actually made in 1928--and remained immensely popular, even though it contained only synchronized sound effects and music. Clearly the camera was visible to our pedestrians, who strain to look up and figure out why a man is standing with a camera on top of a truck in the rain...

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