THE 1939-1940 SEASON
The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny returns with essentially the same main cast as the year prior: host Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, Eddie Anderson as Rochester, Phil Harris and his Orchestra, and Don Wilson as the announcer. However, joining the show this year as a replacement for Kenny Baker as the tenor singer is Dennis Day. Dennis will come to add quite a lot to the show, as a singer, impressionist, and also fine comedian. His role expands on the Baker "innocent kid" persona, but Dennis takes it to the next, higher level. Dennis Day is the "last piece of the puzzle"....the final ingredient of the classic cast, that one missing element that will take the Jack Benny radio show to new heights during the 1940s.
In the “extended” Jell-O cast, Verna Felton is introduced on the opening program as Dennis Day's stern and strict mother Lucretia, and makes several appearances throughout the season. The Jell-O producers wanted to hedge their bets when introducing the newcomer Day, and felt that having the experienced Felton appear with him would help introduce Dennis to the listening audience. As Dennis grew more confident, Felton’s appearances would become less frequent. Stalwart Jell-O programveteran Blanche Stewart continues to make numerous appearances whenever a female is called for. Conversely, after appearing over twenty times the previous season, Sam “Shlepperman” Hearn does not appear at all in 1939-1940. Also on hand are Elliot Lewis, Mary “Bubbles” Kelly, Frank Nelson, Harry Baldwin (as the “door guy“) and show writers Ed Beloin (Mr. Billingsley, among other roles) and Bill Morrow. Mel Blanc makes just two appearances this season; he doesn’t really become a large presence on the program until the 1943-1944 season. It’s worth noting that almost every contemporary account of the Jell-O Program lists Andy Devine as a full-fledged cast member for the 1939-1940 season. Devine was a full cast member and appeared seventeen times during the 1938-1939 season, but he makes only nine appearances this season, and subsequently would return only five more times for the remaining years of the program.
The program writers this year remain Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin. The show's sponsor remains Jell-O. The format for the beginning of each program remains the same; rather than the famous “Love In Bloom/Yankee Doodle Dandy” theme song that will open each Benny show in a few years, during these seasons the show begins with the familiar jingle "J-E-L-L...O", followed by Don Wilson's show introduction ("The Jell-O Program starring Jack Benny, with Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Dennis Day, and yours truly Don Wilson"). Next the Phil Harris orchestra plays a different song each week (arranged by Mahlon Merrick), followed by Don Wilson's Jell-O commercial, and then Don’s individual episode introduction of Jack Benny. (Please note that prior to the Jell-O commercial, Don would announce the title of the song the orchestra is about to play, and then after the Jell-O commercial Don would usually back-announce the title of the song, then begin his introduction of Jack. To reduce redundancies, for each episode I've listed Don's announcement/introduction as starting immediately after he announces the song title. Also Phil Harris and the orchestra usually played a short number near the close of the show: I've chosen not to list these orchestra songs. All other songs sung during the episode by cast members other than Dennis Day are listed.)
For those keeping score at home, at the start of this season in October 1939, in "real life" Jack Benny is 45 years old, Mary Livingstone is 34, Don Wilson is 39, Phil Harris is 35, Eddie Anderson is 34, and Dennis Day is just 23 years old.
The show finished second overall in the ratings for evening radio programs for the 1939-1940 season, with a year-end Hooper rating (the radio equivalent of today's television Nielsen ratings) of 34.1.
Unlike the case for some previous Jack Benny shows and/or seasons, recordings of every show circulates for this year. In fact, fortunately every Benny show aired during the 1940s circulates, although the audio quality can vary wildly. There were 37 episodes aired in the 1939-1940 season, which began on Sunday October 9, 1939 with the dual introduction of Dennis Day and his mother Lucretia. On October 29 Jack has his annual Halloween costume party. Early December brought a two-part football melodrama, “Murder on The Gridiron”, the annual “Christmas Shopping” episode on December 17, and on December 24 a very nice Christmas Eve program featuring Dennis Day’s first go at a Christmas song medley. This was followed a week later by the last Jack Benny program aired during the 1930s, a very funny and classic New Year’s Eve show in which Jack is stood up by his girlfriend Gladys Zabisco. The year 1940 begins slowly with some weaker efforts and nondescript shows, until the classic four-part “Trip To Yosemite” in February. This story arc is a high point of Beloin and Morrow’s tenure thus far, and can be seen as somewhat of a “tipping point” between the Benny show of old and this new, sleeker version. March begins with a quick denouement of the Yosemite trip, a brief guest spot by Presidential candidate Gracie Allen., and a guest appearance by wunderkind Orson Welles. This was followed by the Jell-O gang’s version of Walt Disneys’ film Pinocchio, featuring the first appearance of The Blue Fairy, played by Mary Kelly. April brings the return after three years of Jack’s character Buck Benny, and the gang travels by train to New York City to attend the May 31 premiere of Jack’s new film Buck Benny Rides Again. While still in New York, episodes twenty-nine and thirty feature the hilarious debut of Benny show superfan Logan Jerkfinkel (played by Charles Cantor). After these high points the shows broadcast in May and June are slightly less spectacular, and the season ends with a Father’s Day program.
As the 1939-1940 Jell-O Program was about to open its season, much of the world stood on the brink of all-out war, while America sat on the sidelines, the country divided as to it’s role in this global conflict. Radio kept the country updated on the latest war news, with overseas reports. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to keep from the American people that at this point in late 1939, America was woefully ill-prepared to fight a war, especially the more modern machine-based type of war that Nazi Germany was conducting.
Roosevelt knew that America needed to mobilize in great numbers to be ready for the war when the country would be drawn into it. But many business leaders, distrustful of Roosevelt’s liberal New Deal to begin with, rejected the idea of turning over any of their production time to manufacturing war materiels. There remained rampant unemployment, as the effects of the Depression, while not at it’s worst levels, was still being felt. Unemployment would fall from 17.2 percent in 1939 to 1.2 percent in 1944, in main part thanks to the war effort. In September 1939, the month prior to the season opener, Germany had invaded Poland, leading Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany. On November 4, 1939 the United States Neutrality Act was passed, and on November 30 the Soviet Union invaded Finland. As the Jell-O Program season goes on, in April 1940 Germany invaded Norway and Denmark, on May 10, 1940 Germany launched simultaneous invasions of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, and in June 1940 Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
In a much more lighter subject, motion pictures, in August 1939 the film Stanley and Livingstone opened; in September The Wizard of Oz premiered, as did The Women; December 15 saw the premiere of Gone With The Wind, and on February 7, 1940 Walt Disney’s Pinocchio opened. Stanley and Livingstone, The Wizard of Oz, The Women, and Pinocchio would all be parodied by the Benny program this season, an honor never afforded Gone With the Wind.
In radio, 1939-1940 was a great year for the NBC Red network, which had twelve of the top fifteen rated radio nighttime programs, including all of the top four.. The top evening program for 1939-1940 was The Chase and Sanborn Hour, starring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and airing Sundays at 8:00pm, with a Hooper rating of 34.6. Second was the Jell-O Program starring Jack Benny, at 7:00pm on Sundays, of course. In third place was the Johnson’s Wax sponsored Fibber McGee and Molly, airing on Tuesdays at 9:30pm. Completing a sweep for NBC’s Red network of the top four programs was One Man’s Family, sponsored by Tender Leaf Tea and aired on Sundays at 8:30pm. Finishing in fifth place was the Columbia Broadcasting System’s Lux Radio Theatre, airing Monday nights at 9:00pm. In sixth was NBC Red’s Pepsodent Show starring Bob Hope (Tuesdays at 10:00pm), seventh was NBC Red’s Kraft Music Hall starring Bing Crosby (Thursday at 10:00pm), eighth was NBC Red’s Fitch Bandwagon starring Tobe Reed (which followed the Jack Benny program Sundays at 7:30pm), ninth was the CBS program Major Bowes Amateur Hour, sponsored by Chrysler and airing on Thursdays at 9:00pm, and rounding off the top ten was NBC Red’s Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, sponsored by Lucky Strike and airing on Wednesdays at 10:00pm.
The New York World’s Fair opened on April 30, 1939.
1. 10/8/39 INTRODUCING DENNIS DAY
Orchestra Opening: The program begins with what is known as a “cold opening”, with no musical introduction, although a few minutes into the program the orchestra does play “The Merry Old Land of Oz”. “Merry Old Land of Oz”, written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. (Yip) Harbug, was copyrighted August 12, 1938, and is from the 1939 film The Wizard Of Oz.
The Show: As noted above, rather than the traditional Jell-O Program opening, this first episode of the season program begins with Jack and Rochester driving in Jack’s 1920 Maxwell car to pick up Mary Livingstone, Don Wilson, and Phil Harris for the program:
Jack: “This is our first program and it’s up to me to gather our little group together”
Rochester: “What are you, a mother hen?“
Jack: “Never mind what I am, be careful of those bumps. It’s a wonder you wouldn’t put a little air in these tires”
Rochester: “There’s plenty of air, there just ain’t enough tire”
First they pick up Mary at her home. Mary makes fun of Jack for still driving a 1920 Maxwell, but Jack protests that it’s a LATE 1920 model. Then they go to pick up Phil at Macy’s beauty parlor. Jack makes a rude remark about Phil, and Mary defends him:
Mary: “You’re always running him down… you’re just jealous because Phil’s handsome and you’re you”
Jack: “Look Mary, if you think I’m homely why don’t you come right out and say so?“
Rochester: “It was perfectly clear to me!”
Phil comes out from the beauty parlor and gets in the car. On their way to Don’s they pass their former singer Kenny Baker sitting on his front porch; Jack shouts hello but Mary says “he can’t answer, he’s on another program”. Next they go to Don’s house, but Don’s mother (played by Blanche Stewart), who is selling Jell-O on the front lawn, tells them that Don already left for the studio. Finally, at six minutes into the program comes the introduction of the show, still not mentioning Eddie Anderson (Rochester) and not yet mentioning Dennis Day:
Don: “The Jell-O Program, starring Jack Benny, with Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, and your truly Don Wilson.“
The orchestra “opens” the program with “The Merry Old Land of Oz” (which was a new song, the MGM “Wizard of Oz” film having premiered only two months previous), and Don notes it’s their sixth year on the air for Jell-O.
Don: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, as this is our inaugural program of the new Jell-O series, I would like to present our Master of Ceremonies. Who is he?”
Jack: “Who is he?!”
Don: “To begin with he’s star of stage, screen and radio…plays the violin, and was born in Waukegan Illinois”
Jack: “Oh, it must be me”
Don: “He is humorous, witty, and spends money like a drunken sailor”
Jack: “Now THAT throws me off. Oh, well…”
Don: “So now, ladies and gentlemen, there you are, it’s up to you…who is he?”
Jack: (coughs, then starts to hum “Love in Bloom“)
Jack: “For heavens sake, Jack Benny!”
After Don and Jack discuss what they did over the summer vacation, there’s a knock at the door by the Knocking Door Guy (Harry Baldwin):
Door Guy: “Pardon me, is this the Aldrich Family?“
Jack: “No, this is the Benny family. The Aldrich Family has moved to another station”
Door Guy: “Well turn my dial! Goodbye”
Phil gets a musical introduction, and then proceeds to mispronounce Jell-O. Jack mentions that they have a new tenor singer ready to replace Kenny Baker, a kid named Dennis Day. Dennis and his mother (Verna Felton) arrive late. Dennis’ first ever line on the program is in response to his mothers request for him to “Say hello to the people, Dennis”; “Hello to the people”. Dennis says he’s nineteen years old, and sings his first song on the program, “Goodnight, My Beautiful”.
Mary waits until there’s just a minute left in the first program of the season to have her first “flub” of the season, during the closing dialog:
Jack: “Well, Mary, our first program is over. Aren’t you happy?”
Mary: “Yeah, just think only 38 more weeks until we take our vacation”
Jack: “That’s right. Gee, I don’t know where to go, do you?”
Mary: “Oh, we’ll someplace think of…”
(the audience laughs)
Jack: “Gee, I don’t know where to go, DO YOU?”
Mary: “Oh, we’ll think …I’m nervous, Jack!”…
Jack and Mary together: “Oh, we’ll think of someplace!”
Jack: “Goodnight, folks….”
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "Goodnight, My Beautiful". It was written by Sammy Fain and Jack Yellen for the Broadway musical George White’s Scandals of 1939, and copyrighted on August 15, 1939.
Note: Overall a very funny effort, a good start to the new season, and a good introduction to the new singer Dennis Day. In this first episode, as in the first few weeks afterwards, his mother actually dominates his appearances more than Dennis himself, but that will gradually change. Verna Felton is her usual excellent self as Dennis’ mother.
Note: According to the Radio Guide issue for the week ending October 27, 1939, tenors and celebrities were in attendance at this broadcast, to welcome the program back to the air and to check out the new cast member Dennis Day. Jack approached Dennis right before airtime and told him, “Don’t be nervous, I’m not”, and then collapsed onto the floor (as a joke). It states that after the broadcast Dennis received a phone call from his family in New York, and spoke to twenty-four relatives in five minutes. (The article also says that Dennis resembles the character Dopey from the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!)
2. 10/15/39 DENNIS' MOTHER INTERFERES WITH THE SHOW
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with “Baby Me”. The song was copyrighted December 16, 1939 (a late copyright date) and was written by Lou Handman, Harry Harris and Archie Gottler. It was a 1939 hit for Glenn Miller and His Orchestra featuring vocals by Kay Starr.
The Show: Jack, Mary and Phil are discussing their new singer, Dennis Day, and the trouble that Jack is having with Dennis’ mother, before Andy Devine stops by for a brief cameo. Dennis and his mother show up at the studio late again, and when Dennis’ mom says hello to Mary, Mary does a very funny impersonation of Mrs. Day’s voice. When Jack turns to Dennis and says “Now, Dennis…” Dennis utters his catchphrase “Yes, please?” for the first time (In “real life” Dennis had actually said this in his audition for the program, and the writers liked it so much they decided to use it on the show). Dennis’ mother and Jack then argue about the song that Dennis will sing this week…Jack wants “Melancholy Baby” but Mrs. Day wants “Stay in My Arms, Cinderella”; Dennis sings his mother’s choice. Jack is about to announce a preview of next week’s play “Stanley and Livingstone” when Rochester calls to tell him that Carmichael the Polar Bear has a toothache.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings “Cinderella, Stay in My Arms”. It was copyrighted on August 8, 1939, written by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr, and arranged by R.A. Dixon and G.A. Bronson. It was a 1939 hit for Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians.
3. 10/22/39 STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Good Morning" from the October, 1939 MGM film Babes in Arms, written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown.
Don's Introduction: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, for the third time this season we bring you our Master of Ceremonies…a man who smokes a cigar so short that it finally becomes an inlay, Jack Benny”
Guest Star: Kay Kyser
The Show: Dennis and his mom arrive late to the studio for the third week in a row. Don finds a cigarette case under the orchestra piano; when no one claims it jack takes it. After Mrs. Day and Jack argue over what role Dennis will play in the upcoming play, Kay Kyser shows up to claim the cigarette case. Jack makes Kay play a version of the "Kolledge of Musical Knowledge" quiz to see if the case is really his. Afterwards the cast perform their play, "Stanley and Livingstone".
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "South of The Border"(Down Mexico Way)". It was copyrighted on March 30, 1939, written by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr, and featured in the 1939 Gene Autry film of the same name. It was a hit record in 1939 for Shep Fields.
Note: This episodes guest star, bandleader Kay Kyser, was the host of the popular musical program/quiz show Kollege of Musical Knowledge. The program had begun on the Mutual radio network in 1938, but when future Jack Benny sponsors Lucky Strike (American Tobacco Company) took over the program they brought it from Chicago to New York City, and to the NBC network, on March 30, 1938. Kay Kyser’s band was quite popular and had a number of charting hit songs. The name of one of the most well loved characters on the Kyser program, Ish Kabible, would live on for long after the program left the air.
4. 10/29/39 MASQUERADE PARTY
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "All in Favor Say Aye". It was copyrighted October 10, 1939, (the fast “fox trot” version was copyrighted six days earlier) written by Cliff Friend, and was a 1939 hit for Abe Lyman, who would later substitute for Phil Harris on the Benny show.
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, tonight Jack Benny officially opens his social season with a Halloween masquerade party at his house for the whole gang. So without further ado, we whisk you to Jack's home in Beverly Hills. Take it away~!"
The Show: Jack and Rochester are at home preparing for Jack's Halloween party. Jack is dressed as Romeo from Romeo and Juliet. Mary shows up wearing a fur coat, but under her coat is her costume: a campfire girl. Dennis' mother Lucretia decides to help Jack out by preparing the food for the party in his kitchen. While Rochester keeps trying to spike the punch bowl, Mary tries to convince Jack that Mrs. Day might poison him. Dennis arrives dressed as a "Hollywood tramp", Don's costume is a bowl of Jell-O, Phil is a college professor, and Andy Devine is a ghost. Dennis asks to see Carmichael the polar bear, who is upstairs at Jack's house. Mrs. Day bakes a pumpkin pie for Jack, who is afraid it might be poisoned. Carmichael gets loose, but Mrs. Day yells at him and he faints.
Note: Mary, Phil and the whole gang sing "Make With the Kisses". It was written by Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen, and copyrighted on October 13, 1939
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "I Poured My Heart into a Song". It was copyrighted twice, on May 12, 1939 and then a fox trot arrangement on September 25, 1939. It was written by the great Irving Berlin for the 1939 film Second Fiddle (certainly apropos for Jack Benny) and the hit version was released by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra.
5. 11/05/39 THE WOMEN
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with “Filly” (or “Philly”)
Don’s Introduction: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, this being the first Sunday in November, we bring you the last rose of summer, Jack Benny.”
The Show: Jack announces they’re going to perform their version of the book/play/movie, “The Women”. Mary asks Jack how they’re going to do the play when she is the only female cast member. Jack answers “We’ll just have to do the best we can, Mary”. Don asks Jack “you mean we’re all going to be women tonight?” Jack’s reply of “Exactly~! Well, not exactly…” gets a loud laugh from the audience that nearly drowns out Jack’s next line.
There's a very funny bit when a lady (Blanche Stewart) telephones Jack's studio asking what time the movie starts at Grauman's Chinese Theatre....Don answers and completely ignores every question she asks and instead answers her with a Jell-O commercial.
Jack has parts for the whole cast: Jack is Jacqueline, Dennis is Denise, Don is Donna, Phil is Phyllis, and so on. Because they need more actors for the play, Jack has even asked Rochester to come down to the studio, to play Jack’s maid. They have the following exchange:
Rochester: “I ain’t gonna wear no dress”
Jack “You are too. Now, fellas….”
Rochester: “I ain’t gonna put on no mascara”
Jack: “You are too. Now, fellas…”
Rochester: “It ain’t gonna show”.
The line gets a HUGE audience laugh. While I suppose the above segment isn’t exactly politically correct, Rochester’s reading of the line is hysterical. Eddie Anderson gets several great lines this episode.
After Dennis’ song the cast performs “The Women”, and all
the cast members portray women, with the exception of Mary, who plays Don. Andy Devine has a brief bit as "Andrea". While at the Park Villa Hotel the women see "Frieda Allen" and gossip about her.
At the very close of the episode, Jack’s husband Updike (Harry Baldwin), returns, but says he only came back for his long underwear. Jack then turns to his daughter Denise, played by Dennis Day, and stumbles over his line “...play, Phil. Come along, Denise, we’re going to Reno”… and by managing to combine the names of Phil, Dennis, and Denise, what Jack says comes out sounding incredibly close to “come along, penis, we’re going to Reno”. After saying it Jack starts to laugh over the “we’re going to Reno” part of his line, and you can hear the cast and band cracking up under the orchestra’s closing song.
Dennis’ song: Dennis sings “Last Night”. It was copyrighted on August 18, 1939 and released in 1939 by Chick Bullock and His Levee Loungers.
Note: The MGM film The Women was released the previous month, September 1939.
6. 11/12/39 JACK HAS A TOOTHACHE
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Oh, Johnny, Oh". The song, a.k.a. “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!”, written by Abe Olman and Ed Rose, was originally copyrighted on February 7, 1917, but was released in 1939 by many artists, including Chick Webb (featuring a vocal by Ella Fitzgerald), Orrin Tucker and His Orchestra, and The Andrews Sisters.
Don: "And now, ladies and gentlemen...Oh Jack? Jack?"
Jack: "Yes, Don?"
Don: "Is your tooth still bothering you?"
Jack: "Just a little, Don, but I'll be alright, go ahead"
Don: "And now, ladies and gentlemen....you ought to see a dentist, Jack, a toothache can be very annoying."
Jack: "I know, Don, but I'll be alright. Go ahead and introduce me."
Don: "And now, ladies and gentlemen....but Jack, it must hurt...don't you feel any jumping pains?"
Jack: "Only when you mention it. Now, PLEASE, introduce me."
Don: "Alright, Jack. And now, without further ado, we bring you a man who, despite a severe toothache, feels that the show must go on...that brave little soldier, that grand old trooper...Jack Benny!"
The Show: Jack's face is swollen from a toothache (Mary says he looks like "a squirrel that's all set for a long winter"). When Jack asks where Dennis is, Don and Mary say they saw him downstairs with his mother. Jack says that he and Mrs. Day are friends now since his Halloween party (episode 4), but Mary says Mrs. Day is mad that Jack called her a"pest" on last week's program. Dennis comes in with his mother, who is back to being mad at Jack. After Dennis' song, Jack and Mary leave to go to the dentist (Dr. Frank Nelson). The dentist works on Jack and while he is asleep from the gas, Jack has a dream that Fred Allen (impersonated by Peter Lind Hayes) is the dentist. While under the gas Jack also dreams that Phil has taken over the radio program and hears the introduction of his show by Don Wilson: "The Jello Program, starring Phil Harris, with Mary Livingstone, Mahatma Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, and yours truly, Lady Godiva". Jack then dreams he is his pet polar bear Carmichael.
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "A Man and His Dream" from the 1939 film The Star Maker. The song was copyrighted July 17, 1939, and written by Johnny Burke. It was a 1939 hit for Bing Crosby.
Note: A fairly routine for 1939-1940 episode, but still funny. The start of the program, with Don constantly reminding Jack that his tooth hurts, and then saying that Jack is complaining about it, is very nice...but during Jack's gas-induced dream, the introduction by Don Wilson of the radio program is one of my favorite little Benny show bits ever. If people still used their own .wav files to replace their Windows computer sounds, that would be a great bit for a computer starting up; in fact, I may use it to begin our coming podcasts. You have to give bonus points to the Benny program for continuing to refer back to events that occurred on earlier episodes: instead of ignoring that it happened, they note that Lucretia Day made friends with Jack during the Halloween episode of 10/29/1939. She's back to being mad at Jack on this episode, but it's still nice to see them keep up on their "continuity". Peter Lind Hayes' Fred Allen impersonation this episode is only so-so.
7. 11/19/39 JACK DISCOVERS HE HAS PURCHASED AN OSTRICH FOR THANKSGIVING
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with “It’s a Whole New Thing”. The song was written by Charles Newman and was copyrighted on September 21, 1939. It was a 1939 hit for Bob Crosby and His Orchestra.
Don’s Introduction: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, once again we bring you our Master of Ceremonies, that bubbly personality, that effervescent comedian…that fizz, Jack Benny~!”
The Show: Jack tells Don a joke that Virgil the sound man told him. Jack tells Dennis that he’s gaining poise and confidence each week, and that’s great considering he’s only been with the show for 7 weeks. Dennis replies “7 weeks….am I gonna get paid pretty soon?”
When Jack announces they’re going to do an original playlet about Thanksgiving written by Mary, she tells Jack she’s changed her mind and written a Thanksgiving poem instead. Jack doesn’t want Mary to read her poem, but Mary protests: “Jack Benny, you let me read this poem or I won’t buy my Christmas cards from you this year~!” (the line gets the biggest audience laugh of the show). The title of Mary’s poem also gets a huge laugh from the audience—“Thanksgiving, You’re a Little Mixed Up, Ain’t Ya, Kid?” The subject of Mary’s poem is the double “Franksgiving” that year—see below for the back-story. Jack invites everyone to his house for Thanksgiving, including Mrs. Day. Jack tells them he’s bought a huge turkey for the dinner, but Rochester calls and tells Jack that it’s actually an ostrich.
Don stumbles over a line in his closing Jell-O commercial.
Dennis' song: Dennis sings “Jeanie with
the Light Brown Hair”. Since up to this point in the season all of Dennis’ songs were covers of contemporary hits, it may seem strange that on this episode he reaches back to 1854 for Stephen Foster’s standard “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”. However the song was a hit in 1939, in a version sung by Dale Evans. It also played during the intermission of the year’s blockbuster film Gone With The Wind. The song would be revived yet again during the musicians strike of 1941, when most new music couldn’t be played on the radio, so public domain songs such as this one were dusted off.
Note: U.S. History Trivia: Because Mary’s poem makes little to no sense unless you know the story, and also because U.S. history is so fascinating, here is some background on the subject of “Thanksgiving, You’re a Little Mixed Up, Ain’t Ya, Kid?”:
Mary’s poem deals with the first “two Thanksgiving” year of 1939. Since 1863 the United States had always celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November, meaning that in 1939 Thanksgiving would fall on November 30th. In August of 1939 the general manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association, Lew Hahn, told the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins that having Thanksgiving fall on such a late date would be very harmful to U.S. retail sales for the upcoming Christmas holiday season. The presidents of large retail companies such as Lord & Taylor agreed, and petitioned President Franklin Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving to Thursday the 23rd. While many people opposed the plan, (both Republicans and Democrats alike…though a larger number of Republicans were against it), incredibly President Roosevelt actually agreed with the plan, and announced that Thanksgiving would in fact be moved (he also announced that this plan would stay in effect for 1940 as well). The fact that the “new” date for Thanksgiving was announced so relatively late in the year played havoc with peoples’ holiday plans, not to mention already scheduled college football games. The plan met immediate resistance from many individual states---23 states and the District of Columbia observed Thanksgiving on the new date of November 23rd, but 22 states observed Thanksgiving on the original date of November 30th, and 3 states (Colorado, Mississippi and Texas) had Thanksgiving on BOTH dates. This Thanksgiving-altering plan okayed by Franklin Roosevelt was referred to as “Franksgiving” by many of it's opponents. The fact that this holiday-altering decision by the President was such a big news story can be heard by the studio audience's loud and knowing laughter after Mary announces the title of her poem. Thanksgiving returned back to being observed on the 4th Thursday of the month in 1942.Note: This episode is AKA "Mary's Thanksgiving Poem"
8. 11/26/39 JACK GOES DUCK HUNTING
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "I Must Have One More Kiss Kiss Kiss (Before We Say Goodnight)”. The song was copyrighted on July 20, 1939, written by Al Hoffman, Al Goodhart & Manny Kurtz, and was a popular 1939 hit. by Johnny Messner and his Music Box Band, Russ Morgan and his Orchestra, and others.
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, once again we bring you our Master of Ceremonies, that genial host of Beverly Hills, whose Thanksgiving party of last Thursday will never be forgotten... (Mary :"I'll never forget it" Jack: "Quiet") A man who spared no expense to insure the success of this delightful occasion (Mary laughs; Jack: "Mary, please"). A man whose social gatherings have made him the talk of the film colony (Jack: "Thank you, Don"). A host at whose dinners the second cup of coffee is always free...Jack Benny~!"
9. 12/03/39 MURDER ON THE GRIDIRON---PART ONE
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Down the Alley and Over the Fence". It was copyrighted on November 13, 1939, written by James Cavanaugh, John Redmond and Nat Simon, and released in 1939 by Will Bradley and his Orchestra.
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we bring you the man who officially opened the Christmas season last week by leading the Santa Claus Lane Parade down Hollywood Boulevard, Jack Benny~!"
The Show: The show opens with Don and Jack discussing the Santa Claus Lane parade; once Jack determines Don didn't actually SEE the parade, he begins playing up his prowess on the horse he rode. Mary arrives to tell Don that she DID see the parade, and it was a stuffed horse. When Phil shows up Jack can't understand his "hip" lingo. Dennis and his mother (Verna Felton) arrive, before Dennis sings his song. After Dennis' song, the Benny "We Can Stand It If You Can" Players perform their "annual football classic" "Murder on The Gridiron" or, "He Had 10 Yards To Go When He Went". Someone is trying to kill football player Dynamite Dugan, who plays for Flatfoot College in a game against Meatball Tech. He is finally killed at the end, as the episode ends in a cliffhanger.
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "My Prayer".The song was originally written by Georges Boulanger; the version with English lyrics written by Jimmy Kennedy was copyrighted on December 20, 1939. The song was a huge hit in 1939, in versions by Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, and by The Ink Spots. It was later covered memorably in 1956 by The Platters.
10. 12/10/39 MURDER ON THE GRIDIRON---PART TWO
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "I Wanna Wrap You Up (And Take You Home with Me)”. The song was copyrighted on December 5, 1939, written by Remus Harris and Terry Shand, and was released in 1939 by Blue Barron and His Orchestra.
Don's Introduction: "And now, folks, once again we bring you that genial personality who guides the destiny of this program. A man I am proud to be associated with, and whose friendship I shall always cherish, that grand artist, Jack Benny~!"
The Show: A very funny episode with some great jokes that receive great audience reactions. The program begins with the cast buttering up Jack because Christmas is approaching, and they want nice presents. Mary reads a letter from her mother; then, after an orchestra number, Jack announces the continuation of last weeks' football play, which Jack now calls "The Murder of Dynamite Dugan" or "He Kicked the Bucket When they Kicked The Ball" (nobody seems to notice that "part one" of the play had a different title).
At this point in many circulating copies of this episode, several severe audio static/drop-outs begin to occur that completely block out the dialog at some points. Before they can start the play, Rochester calls to tell Jack about Trudy, the ostrich that Jack bought by mistake on Thanksgiving. After a song By Dennis the second part of the play begins, this part concerning the police investigation into who killed Dynamite Dugan. Jack is Captain O'Benny, Don is Sgt. Wilson, Dennis is Officer O'Day, Phil is the dean of Flatfoot University, and Mary is the girl that was in love with Dugan. Captain O'Benny and his men go to the college to investigate (Jack has a great line: "Sgt. Wilson, you surround the building"), eventually going down to the football field because, as O'Benny says, "the murderer always returns to the scene of a crime". We check back with them still waiting for the killer to show, first ten months later, then 35 years later (which would be 1974).
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "Lilacs in the Rain". It written by the great songwriter Mitchell Parish, and was copyrighted on August 31, 1939. It was released in 1939 in versions by Charlie Barnet, Bob Crosby and Dick Jurgens, among others
11. 12/17/39 CHRISTMAS SHOPPING FOR PERFUME AND A NECKTIE (east coast version)
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Goody Goodbye”. The song, written by James Cavanaugh and Nat Simon, was copyrighted on September 11, 1939 and released by Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol, Sammy Kaye, and Blue Barron, among others.
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen I bring you our worn-out Master of Ceremonies. Between his broadcast at NBC, his picture at Paramount, and his Christmas shopping at the Five and Ten, he's the busiest little man in Hollywood--Jack Benny~!"
The Show: The annual Christmas Shopping episode. Jack and Don discuss how busy Jack is, doing his radio show while filming a western at Paramount Studios. Phil wants Jack to pay up on his football bet. After a while Jack and Mary perform a holiday play written by Don. Jack is Santa Claus and Mary is Mrs. Claus as she reads letters to Santa from Phil Harris, Rochester Van Jones, Jack Benny., and Don Wilson (who wants Jell-O, of course). Jack and Mary leave the show in the hands of the rest of the cast while they go out Christmas shopping.
After Dennis' song we switch scenes to Jack and Mary shopping. From here on the episode starts firing on all cylinders as it becomes extremely funny. Jack argues with the floorwalker, then attempts to buy a $10. The saleswoman insists that the watch is unbreakable, and hands him a hammer. Jack hits the watch and it smashes to pieces; he then gets into an argument with the saleswoman when he demands his $10 back and she won't give it to him. The floorwalker comes over and gets involved again as Jack gets mad:
Jack: ..."certainly a fine store to do business with~!"
Floorwalker: "You walked in, sugarfoot, nobody dragged you"
Jack and Mary overhear Rochester talking to the floorwalker, trying to decide what necktie to buy for Jack. Jack angrily interrupts when Rochester goes to buy the $0.89 one.
A very good episode that only gets better when Jack and Mary go Christmas shopping. The floorwalker has some great lines (when Jack says that the saleswoman told him to hit the watch with the hammer, the floorwalker says "Don't you have a mind of your own?") One of the best episodes of the season and a Benny Christmas classic.
Note: There are notable audio dropouts during Don's closing Jell-O commercial.
Note: Interestingly, two versions circulate of this show: the East Coast version, and a slightly different West Coast version. This season was before the Benny show would be "transcribed' onto a disc for rebroadcast later that evening for the West Coast; at this time the show was still being performed twice live; the cast would do the show first for the East Coast and then again for the West Coast. The fact that both versions actually circulate for this episode gives a unique look at the small changes the writing staff would make after the East Coast broadcast, punching up or deleting lines.
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "Tomorrow Night“ The song, copyrighted on September 12, 1939, was written by Sam Coslow and Will Grosz, and released by Horace Heidt. It would later be covered by a diverse range of artists such as Lonnie Johnson, Lavern Baker, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan.
12. 12/24/39 CHRISTMAS OPEN HOUSE AT JACK'S HOUSE
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "A Very Happy Holiday", and the Jell-O commercial is recited to the poem "Twas The Night Before Christmas".
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, as is always his custom on Christmas Eve, Jack Benny is holding open house tonight for all the members of his cast. So, without further ado, we whisk you to Jack's home in Beverly Hills. Take it away..."
The Show: The show opens with Rochester singing "Jingle Bells". Jack finds out that his ostrich Trudy has eaten half of the Christmas tree decorations. Mary arrives first for Jack's open house party, followed by Dennis and his mother Lucretia (who has definitely mellowed towards Jack, even inviting him to come under the mistletoe with her), and than Don Wilson. Dennis sings a Christmas medley of "O little Town of Bethlehem/The First Noel/Away in a Manger". Next Phil Harris and the orchestra arrive, followed by Jack's sister Florence and her husband Leonard, who is an "interior decorator" (paper hanger), and insists on calling Jack "Droopy". Next up Andy Devine arrives, who tells Jack that on Fred Allen's program Wednesday night, Allen said he and Benny were going to be making a picture together, with director Mark Sandrich (the director of the film Jack was currently shooting). Jack says he knows nothing about this and does not want to make a film with Fred Allen. He calls Mark Sandrich on the phone, but the call is interrupted by a fight in the living room between Trudy the Ostrich and Carmichael the Polar Bear.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings a Christmas medley of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “The First Noel”, and “Away in a Manger”
Note: The next-to-last (penultimate, if you're being fancy) episode of the 1930s is a very funny one, with lots of great lines mixed with a tiny bit of Christmas sentimentality.
13. 12/31/39 GLADYS ZYBISCO DISAPPOINTS JACK ON NEW YEAR'S EVE
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Do I Love You". The song, copyrighted on November 8, 1939, is from the 1939 play Du Barry Was A Lady, and was written by Cole Porter. It was released by Chick Bullock, Artie Shaw, Dick Jurgens, and Woody Herman, all in 1939.
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, in just a few short hours we will welcome in the New Year, 1940. So, without further ado we bring you a man who was once 19 and once 40, Jack Benny~!"
The Show: Jack and Don talk about all the free calendars Jack has received for the New Year. After Jack banters a bit with Don, Phil and Mary, we get this great exchange which cracks up the studio audience:
Jack: "...Dennis? We're ready for a song, how about it?"
Dennis: "oh, no dialog, ehh?"
Jack: "Oh, I'm sorry...."
After Dennis' song, the cast are discussing the New Year when we get another line that gets a great audience response:
Jack: "...in just a few more hours, the old year will pass right out".
Phil: "And I won't be far behind".
The gang all have plans for New Year's Eve; Jack is going out with his girlfriend Gladys Zybisco. Andy Devine stops by to wish everybody a happy New Year. Then Gladys calls to tell Jack that she can't go out with him tonight. The cast invite Jack to go along with them, but he walks home alone. He stops in a diner, and orders a coffee from the waitress. When the waitress asks if he wants cream, Jack says no. The waitress says "Gee, I'm sorry about that.." Jack answers "That's all right, Gladys". What follows is one of the biggest and longest audience laughs of the year. Jack finally winds up at home, with Rochester. In his library, Jack and Rochester are talking about 1940 is approaching in a few hours....a brand new year. Knowing in 2012 what was to come for the world from 1940 to 1945, what follows is sweetly poignant, and one of my favorite Benny show moments:
Rochester: "It ain't getting off to a very good start, is it?"
Jack: "No, it isn't. With all this quarreling and fighting that's going on in the world."
Rochester: "Yeah, that's bad".
Jack: "You know, Rochester, what this world needs is more peace, more brotherly love".
Rochester: "Boss, what this world needs is a few less people who are making less people".
(This scene was later used in an episode of Jack's television series).
Before Jack goes to bed, he and Rochester turn on the radio and tune into the end of the Jack Benny program (going on without him) in time to hear the end of Mary's New Year's poem. And that ends the last broadcast of the Jack Benny program during the decade of the 1930s. It ends with writers Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin on quite a roll, with several classic episodes in a row.
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "All the Things You Are". The song, copyrighted on October 11, 1939, was written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, is from the 1939 play Very Warm for May, and was released by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, and Artie Shaw.
14. 01/07/40 GOLDEN BOY
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Pinch Me". “Pinch Me” was written by Orrin Tucker, Everett Ralston and Joey Sinay, and was copyrighted on December 22, 1939. It was released by Glen Garr, Blue Barron, and by song co-writer Orrin Tucker and His Orchestra.
Don: "And now, ladies and gentlemen..."
Jack: "Oh, Don, Don...did Phil get here yet?"
Don: "Not yet, Jack. And now, ladies and gentlemen, this being our first program of the new year, we bring you that hold-over from 1939, Jack Benny~!"
The Show: Jack is waiting for Phil to arrive because they had a bet on the Rose Bowl game and Jack won. Jack is positive Phil is going to be a sore loser, but when Phil shows up he is happy to pay Jack the $50. Jack is so convinced that Phil is a sore loser that he completely ignores that Phil doesn't care, and gets angry at him. At this point, only roughly 5 minutes into the show, we get a song from Dennis.
After Dennis' song, Jack announces that they will perform the playlet "Rulers of The Sea". Don points out that last week Jack made a big announcement that they would be doing "Golden Boy". ("Golden Boy" was originally a 1937 play by Clifford Odets, made into a film in 1939. It concerns a man whose dreams of becoming a violinist, but is also a boxer, and is torn between the two. The film starred William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck). Jack tells Don he's decided to put off doing "Golden Boy" but won't say why. Mary says she know what the reason is; Don and Phil want her to tell them, so we flash back to "last Saturday night" and Jack and Mary at the Wilshire Bowl, a restaurant where Phil Harri's Orchestra was in residence. After catching a bit of Phil's act, they are leaving when Jack spots Barbara Stanwyck and some friends at a table. Jack goes over to ask Barbara if she will revise her movie role in the parody of "Golden Boy". Stanwyck ignores and shrugs off Jack, who she introduces to her friends as "Ben Bernie". When Phil's band starts up, Jack asks Stanwyck to dance. ((While they are dancing, at approx. the 14:10 mark into the program, after Barbara Stanwyck says "just hang on, pappy", there is a sudden drastic drop in audio quality)). Stanwyck agrees to appear on Jack's show, and to hold a rehearsal Tuesday at Jack's house.
The rehearsal doesn't go well, mainly due to Jack's "acting". Stanwyck tells Jack that it's no use, he can't act, and she won't be doing the show after all.
Barbara Stanwyck isn't the world's greatest comedienne, to put it lightly, and consequently this is the first "weak" episode in a few weeks. The main laughs come from the first few minutes of Phil Harris' corny act at the Wilshire Bowl.
Guest Star: Barbara Stanwyck
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "With The Wind and Rain in Your Hair". It was written by Clara Edwards and Jack Lawrence. Originally copyrighted in 1930, a revised version was copyrighted on January 22, 1940, a few weeks after this episode aired. It was a hit at the time for Horace Hiedt and also Kay Kyser and his Kollege of Musical Knowledge, featuring vocals by Ginny Sims.
Note: A revival of the play "Golden Boy" is opening in New York City in the fall of 2012.
15. 01/14/40 INTERMEZZO
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me". Originally written for a 1921 Vaudeville show starring Eddie Cantor, The Midnight Rounders of 1921. Written by Con Conrad and Sidney Clare, the “fox trot“ version of the song was copyrighted on January 19, 1940. It‘s from the 1940 film of the same name, and was a hit for Dick Robertson and His Orchestra
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, this being the second week of Leap Year, we bring you a man who hasn't leaped in years, Jack Benny~!"
The Show: A play based on the popular movie of the day, Intermezzo. Jack gets to do a lot of violin playing (he was a much better player then he let on to be). (KH)
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings “Down By The River”. It was originally copyrighted on December 13, 1910, re-copyrighted January 8, 1938 and written by Gertrude Wolfram and Alma White. It is not the song of the same name by Neil Young, unfortunately, because how great would it be to hear Dennis Day sing that?
16. 01/21/40 GLADYS ZYBISCO IS DISCUSSED
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens with "Night After Night"
Note: Circulating copies of this episode are often mislabeled copies of the 12/15/1940 program yet again. That program begins with the orchestra playing "Cheerio".
17. 01/28/40 MURDER ON THE BAY BRIDGE
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Billy"
Don: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we bring you our Master of Ceremonies, a man who was so anxious to appear at this benefit tonight, that he drove all the way from Los Angeles to Oakland in his 1923 Maxwell"
Jack: "Boy, am I stiff"
Don: "A man who braved the elements. unflinching and courageous, and made this hazardous journey through wind, rain and storm.."
Jack: "Oh, Donzy.."
Don: "Here he is, folks, that fearless adventurer, that unsung hero of the Jell-O program...Jack Benny~!"
On Location: The show is broadcast from The Civic Auditorium in Oakland, California.
The Show: This episode from Oakland, California, where they are appearing in connection with The President's Birthday Ball (for the March of Dimes fight against infantile paralysis). This episode marked the very first time that admission was charged to be in the audience of the Jack Benny Program, to raise money for the March of Dimes. This is also their first show outside of the studio for the 1939-1940 season.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings “Careless”. The song was written by Eddy Howard, Lew Quadling, and Dick Jurgens, and was copyrighted on December 16, 1939. It was released in 1939 by co-writers Dick Jurgens featuring Eddy Howard, and also by Woody Herman.
Note: Copies of this episode are often mis-labeled copies of the 12/15/1940 program yet again.
18. 02/04/40 LEAVING FOR YOSEMITE (Yosemite, part one)
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "I've Got My Eyes on You". “I’ve Got My Eyes on You”, was written by Cole Porter, and was copyrighted on August 28, 1939. It appeared in the 1939 film Broadway Melody of 1940, in which it was sung by Fred Astaire. It was also released by Tommy Dorsey.
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, as you all know last Sunday our broadcast came to you from Oakland, California, where we gave a benefit performance for the March of Dimes. Well, now we'd like to show you exactly what happened at the conclusion of that program. The place is the Civic Auditorium in Oakland. The orchestra has just finished the closing number, saying as he always does at the end of every show..."
The Show: The show begins with a fade up into the ending of last week's program, including the closing "J-E-L-L-ooo" jingle. We follow the cast as they make their way off the stage to the backstage area, passing autograph seekers (Phil asks the girls' name and phone number). They again mention that 9,000 people attended the broadcast. Jack and Phil get into an argument over who was funnier on the show. Jack says the cast needs to get some sleep because they're all leaving for Yosemite in the morning for a 4 day vacation. Well, all except for Phil---Jack says he can't come because of his attitude. Jack tells the rest of the cast to meet him at 7:30am the next morning at the sporting goods store next to his hotel. We fade back into Don Wilson, who says we will find out what happened next after Dennis sings his song. "Sing, Dennis..."
Jack and Mary meet up at the sporting goods store at 7:30am. Mary is not happy to have woken up so early, to put it mildly. Mary (her character) is actually in a horrible mood for the next few episodes, needling Jack almost constantly, with more anger than usual. The store clerk (Ed Beloin) tells Jack that it's cheaper to rent equipment at Yosemite, but Jack wants his stuff now (Clerk: "Okay, you're the doctor"). ((At this point the recording starts to skip sporadically). Jack buys skis for $22.50---he balks at the price, but Mary says to buy them...."you can send them to your father in Florida". Jack's reply, "gee, that should've gotten a bigger laugh than California" seems to indicate that this is the second, later broadcast for the West Coast. Beloin is great, as usual, though he does make one minor flub that Jack calls him on; he says "I've had just about enough for you" rather than "of you" to Jack.
Dennis, Don, and Phil show up at the sporting goods store. Jack still says that Phil can’t go with them—Phil says he’s going anyway, but on his own. After a band number, Jack, Mary, Don and Dennis crowd into Jack’s Maxwell, driven by Rochester. Jack is holding Dennis on his lap as protection against the cold—the Maxwell has no windshield. Jack hears a noise and says “hey Rochester, listen to that knock in the motor. Does that mean anything?” Rochester: “Not any more~!” It must be said that while most of Mary’s lines the next few weeks during the Yosemite storyline are almost too acerbic and cutting to be funny, nearly every single line that Rochester delivers is hysterically, laugh-out-loud funny.
On the road, in the back seat Don does a Jell-O commercial in his sleep that is quite funny as well. After Phil passes them in his car, the gang decide that since it’s getting dark they should stop somewhere for the night. They stop at a motor court, only to find that Phil has taken the last cabin, so they drive on. Jack tells the complaining gang to stop acting like babies, and tries to get everyone to sing. It fades out as Don tells us to tune in next week for the continuation of the Yosemite trip.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "It's A Blue World". It was copyrighted on October 16, 1939, written by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, and was released by Woody Herman and Glenn Miller, among others.
19. 02/11/40 ARRIVING AT YOSEMITE (Yosemite, part two)
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with “Relax”The first two episodes of the gang's Yosemite trip show the Benny program at a new peak of the Ed Beloin/Bill Morrow years. The shows are laugh-out-loud funny, with a great extended storyline that they'd never really try for again. While the show would continue to have story lines that would run for several episodes (Ronald Colmans' Oscar being stolen, The "I Can't Stand Jack Benny Contest", etc.) they would never try something as ambitious as the four part Yosemite story. Although Mary spends most of the first three episodes completely pissed off (apparently she REALLY hates waking up early) Ed Beloin as the sporting goods clerk and gas station attendant, and Rochester both steal the shows with riotously funny lines. Listening to the Yosemite shows, it seems hard to believe that, way-back-when, the Mary Livingstone character was introduced to the show as a fan of Jack Benny. The feud between Jack and Phil is intense but funny; the race to get to Yosemite first is so important to the two of them that Phil actually tells a policeman that there's a dead body in the trunk of Jack's car.
Don: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, our program tonight will be devoted to a further description of our trip to Yosemite."
Jack: "Yes, sir. "
Don: "As you may remember, last week Jack, Mary, Dennis and myself piled into the Maxwell and left Oakland with Rochester at the wheel. Phil Harris was not a member of our little party, as Jack, in a fit of anger, cancelled his invitation."
Jack: "It wasn’t a fit of anger, Don, he just had to be disciplined, that’s all."
Don: "Nevertheless, Phil left…"
Jack: "A guy has to be put in his place once in a while, you know."
Jack: "I’ll teach him to get smart with me."
Don: "Nevertheless….my goodness Jack~!"
Jack: "Excuse me, Don."
Don: "Nevertheless, Phil left in his own car 6 hours later than we did, and much to our surprise, he soon passed us on the road."
Mary: "Much to whose surprise?"
Jack: "Quiet. Go ahead, Don"
Don: "Anyhow, realizing we couldn’t reach Yosemite that night, we pulled into an auto court only to find that Phil Harris had taken the last cabin."
Jack: "Who cares, we found a much better place to stay."
Mary: "Some place...I rang for a bellboy and a coyote came in."
Jack: "Well, it was rather primitive"
Don: "It is now the following morning, and we are once more on the road, headed down the highway toward Yosemite..."
The Show: As Rochester continues to get seriously funny dialog during this story arc, this episode contains two of Rochester's most famous lines in regards to racial humor on the Jack Benny program. As the show opens, Rochester is driving the Maxwell towards Yosemite, and singing a song. Rochester says he's tired of singing and asks Jack why he doesn't just get a radio for the Maxwell. Jack replies because he only wants to hear what he wants to hear (Jack needed an iPod 70 years too early). Rochester says he doesn't mind singing, but at 8:00 Jack wants him to imitate Amos and Andy:
Rochester: "I can't do that blackface stuff~!"
The audience roars at this line. Amos and Andy, of course, were two black characters voiced on their radio show by two white men, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. The nightly radio show was extremely popular, and the names Amos and Andy still live on and are known by subsequent generations who never even heard the radio program. In publicity photos/appearances, Gosden and Correll would appear in blackface. Of course, knowing this is what makes the joke funny, and this is a extremely funny line by Rochester, in several ways. Books can, and have, been written about Rochester's role on the Benny show, and the racism of American life at the time; but while Jack himself stated that they purposely cut out any racial humor after World War II, it's important to note that, besides calling Jack "boss", in the Yosemite storyline in no way is Rochester subservient to Jack. His comeback lines to Jack are very funny, and he is fully an equal to Don, Phil, or Mary . However, there is a scene in this episode that perhaps subtly reveals the racism of the time; when the gang stop to eat at a dinner, they all go inside--except Rochester.
Another great Rochester line comes up immediately after:
Jack: "There's a car coming, Rochester....I think we'd better let it pass."
Rochester: "I think it's inevitable~!"
The gang stop at a dinner/gas station. The gas station attendant (the great Ed Beloin again) is sarcastic towards Jack, and says "Okay, you're the doctor"; when Jack recognizes the phrase from last week it turns out that the Oakland sporting goods salesman is the gas station attendant's brother. As would happen next season in the 01/05/1941 program, there is a sly nod to Dennis Day having to answer nature's call:
Jack: "Now where did Dennis disappear to? Oh......OH~!"
The line gets a HUGE audience response, as would the 01/05/1941 Dennis Day bathroom joke. The gang goes into the diner to get some food, when Dennis spots a jukebox that has one of his records, and he "plays" it. After Dennis' song, Jack spots a parrot in the diner, but the parrot turns out to be a Fred Allen fan, and gets into an argument with Jack. When they leave the diner, Jack takes over the driving from Rochester; Jack spots Phil Harris coming up behind them, and hogs the road to prevent Phil from passing. A cop pulls them both over; Phil pretends to be a doctor on an emergency call, and tells the cop that Jack's car may have a body in the trunk. The policeman lets Phil go, and then turns to talk to Jack. Jack, seeing that Phil got out of his ticket by lying, tells the cop that the passengers in the Maxwell are his family, that they've poor and have been saving up for the trip to Yosemite. The cop lets them go. Rochester asks "Can I drive now, Daddy?", which the audience roars at. As I've said before, Eddie Anderson is on such a great roll in these episodes.
The gang finally pull up to the gate of Yosemite at 10:00 pm, but it's closed (shades of the future "National Lampoon's Vacation" movie). Making sure everyone is okay, Jack asks where Rochester is. This is followed by the second of the Rochester "racially-driven" jokes:
Rochester: "(I'm) right behind you--it's dark."
Jack: "Well, either open your eyes or smile~!"
The park ranger tells Jack that the park is closed from 10:00pm to 6:00am, and he will not make an exception. The cast decide to sleep in the Maxwell til the morning, and just as they decide this it starts to rain. With the second downbeat episode ending in a row, Don Wilson tells us to tune in next week to see what happens. During the closing "pleas" for the Boy Scouts, Jack and Mary try not to break up laughing.
These first two Yosemite episodes are classic, "top-ten" Jack Benny radio programs from start to finish; hell, even Dennis' song this episode is pretty darn good. There are some audio problems with both the 02/04 show and this show in most (all?) of the circulating copies, and this episode seems to run a little slow.
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "Darn That Dream". The song was copyrighted November 24, 1939, from the Broadway musical Swingin’ The Dream, and written by Eddie DeLange and Jimmy Van Heusen. It was released by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, Blue Barron, and was also big hit for Benny Goodman and His Orchestra
20. 02/18/40 SKIING AT YOSEMITE (Yosemite, part three)
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "How High The Moon", written by Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis and copyrighted on January 30, 1940, the song is from the 1940 Broadway revue Two For The Show. It was a hit for Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, and would later be done by such diverse musicians as Les Paul and Mary Ford (the most famous version of the song), Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Marvin Gaye, Gloria Gaynor, Nat King Cole, and even Phish (at a live concert)
Don’s Introduction: "And now ladies and gentlemen, once again we continue with the description of our trip to Yosemite in Jacks' Maxwell. As you remember last week our little party finally reached the gates of Yosemite National Park, only to find that it was closed for the night (Jack: "Darnit"). being tired and weary, we decided to stay right there in the car until morning. And before we could nod off to sleep we heard a clap of thunder, and it started to rain..."
The Show: The Yosemite trip continues. Mary is STILL upset at Jack for talking her into going on the trip. It's still raining, and the gang are sleeping in the Maxwell. The next morning, the sun is shining as Jack wakes everyone up at 6:00am. After they are awake for a bit we get a Dennis bathroom joke for the second straight episode :
Jack: "Come on, Rochester, let's go. Where's Dennis?.......Ohh~!"
For the second straight week the line gets a huge laugh. The gang then spot an Indian (Dennis' line "..and look at the beads on his jacket" gets a very large laugh from the audience, for reasons not really apparent to me) and Jack tries to ask him for directions in stereotypical "Indian" language---but this Indian speaks perfect English (and sounds like it is Ed Beloin). This is another, admittedly small, example of the program getting laughs by spoofing and proving wrong a popular "stereotype" of the day. After this, Jack is convinced that he sees "Old Faithful", the geyser. Don tells Jack that Old Faithful is in Yellowstone National Park, not Yosemite, but Jack is convinced it's a geyser....until Rochester tells him that it's coming from the Maxwell; they lost the radiator cap~!
After an orchestra number, we are back at the gang's hotel. Jack puts on three sweaters to go skiing. Phil Harris shows up but Jack is still mad at him. Phil tells Jack that they should kiss and make up, but Jack replies "I wouldn't kiss you if I were an old maid, which I'm not, and you were a tramp, period". (Something odd happens here on the two different copies of the program that I have. Right after Jack's line, the audio fades down to silence, there's a few seconds of silence, and then fades back up into audience laughter as Jack says "...so kindly leave this room". I haven't been able to determine if this is on the original recording. I suppose it could be from a recording off a transcription disc, masking a disc flip or something similar, but it's a strange effect, one I've not heard on other Benny programs). Phil then mentions that somebody has broken their leg skiing yesterday, which immediately starts Jack back-pedaling on his plan to ski. He suggests that they postpone skiing until tomorrow, but Mary is still angry and says that since she's spent days in the Maxwell on a trip she didn't even want to go on, she's going to see Jack ski even if she has to push him down the mountain herself. Jack asks Phil how the skier broke their leg; Phil starts to tell the story and then seems to be planned and is most likely on the original recording). Don gives a for-him-somewhat-sarcastic commercial reading.
After yet another band number ("Jingle Bells", played in the middle of February...okayyy...) we continue with the gang going up to Badger Pass mountain to go skiing. The following exchange between Jack and Rochester gets a tremendous laugh:
Jack: "Rochester...Rochester you stay here and watch the car."
Rochester: "I'd kinda like to walk around and see what's going on."
Jack: "Okay, Rochester, but don't get lost in the snow."
Rochester: "Who, me?!?"
They arrive at the ski house, where Jack orders a hot chocolate from the server girl but is told he will have to wait for it. When it's still not ready, they leave the ski house to go to the slopes. Phil introduces Jack to the ski instructor, Mr. Larson. When Phil asks Mr. Larson about the skier that broke a leg, Larson says it was the skiers own fault---he was a beginner and wouldn't listen. This only serves to make Jack MORE nervous. Phil tells the instructor that Jack is a lomgtime skier and a member of the Waukegan Ski Club. The instructor says to Jack "So, you're an old timer, eh?". Mary answers "he's over 21 twice, if that's what you mean". At the top of the mountain, the rest of the gang start to ski while Jack and Mary stay at the top. After Jack puts his skis on backwards, he fixes them and finally goes down the mountain. He is starting to enjoy it and do well...until he realizes that he forgot how to stop. He keeps skiing without stopping until he goes right through the ski house. When he stops in the ski house, the server girl says "here's your hot chocolate, sir". A very funny ending, somewhat "Seinfeld-ian" in the tying up of a funny closing line to something earlier in the episode.
For the show closing, Don Wilson says to tune in next week to see if they will be home or still in Yosemite. Mary does the closing announcement. This is kind of an oddly structured episode for it's time, with multiple orchestra numbers but no Dennis Day song, a rather odd mid-show Jell-O commercial by Don Wilson, and those two weird fade-out moments mentioned above.
Dennis' Song: Dennis appears on the episode but doesn't sing
Note: Most circulating copies suffer from bad audio quality. This is kind of an oddly structured episode for it's time, with multiple orchestra numbers but no solo Dennis Day song, a rather odd mid-show Jell-O commercial by Don Wilson, and those two weird fade-out moments mentioned above
21. 02/25/40 BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR JACK, WHO IS RECOVERING FROM A SKIING ACCIDENT (Yosemite, part four)
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Let's All Sing Together" The song, written by Joe Audino, Nick DiRocca and Bill Keeshan, was copyrighted on February 1, 1940, and was a hit for Glenn Miller and His Orchestra
Don: ""And now, ladies and gentlemen, for the last installment of our recent journey to Yosemite National Park in Jack's Maxwell. The trip will go down in history with the adventures of Marco Polo, the exploits of Admiral Byrd, the voyage of Christopher Columbus.
Mary: "Don't forget the Rover Boys"
Jack: "Quiet, Mary".
Don: "As you remember, last week's episode ended with Jack skiing down a steep hill and crashing into the ski house..."
Don: "with the result that he suffered a sprained ligament in his leg and several abrasions
Jack: "Oh, it's a miracle I'm alive, I must be made of iron".
Don: "It is now several days later, and we take you to Jack's room at the Owanee (sp?) Hotel in Yosemite, where he is convalescing
Jack: :"It's my birthday, too, folks"
Don: "Jack is propped up in bed and as the scene opens, we find Rochester reading to him from a magazine"
The Show: As noted in Don's introduction above, the episode is supposed to take place on Jack's birthday. Jack's actual birthday (and historically it was almost always given as the correct day on the program) is February 14. Which means that either (a), the writers just didn't care that it wasn't Jack's real birthday, or (b) the trip to Yosemite was supposed to have taken place in "real time", meaning that it began sometime after the January 28th program, then the gang took several days to get to Yosemite, were there for a few days, and now, since it is "several days later" after Jack's ski-house accident, that this episode is supposed to take place on February 14. This may be analyzing it too deeply, but eh, what the heck.
The episode opens with Rochester reading to Jack a romance story from a magazine; Jack's resting in bed nursing his leg injury from crashing through the ski house. Mary arrives and has a birthday present for Jack: a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Jack says she's been bored, and he's just been playing "Casino" with Rochester. Jack's lost $80 to Rochester so far, and Jack says he was teaching him how to play~! When Rochester mentions the $80, we get this funny exchange:
Jack: "Oh, well, we were only playing for fun, hey, Roch?"
Rochester: "You ain't gonna Roch me out of it~!"
Jack says he's been waiting for the nurse he hired to arrive since 8:30, but Mary says she saw her skiing with Phil Harris. Don and Dennis show up to wish Jack a happy birthday. When Jack tells them he's been playing Casino with Rochester and owes him $80, he says that he's going to charge Rochester $60 for teaching him the game, and that he recently gave Rochester hos old blue suit which is worth at least $20, so he really doesn't owe Rochester anything. Rochester: "I knew we'd arrive there, but I didn't know just how~!" After Dennis' song, Dr. Nelson (Frank Nelson, of course) arrives, and then finally Nurse Kelly, Jack's nurse shows up , on skis. Jack has Dennis pack up Jack's things while Mary calls the front desk to settle the bill ($198), Jack is shocked at the amount (with good reason...according to an online inflation calculator, $198 in 1940 would be $3132.46 in 2011). Jack gets a telegram from Fred Allen: "as long as you made it, happy birthday". Jack wants Mary to throw the telegram into the fire, but Dennis overhears and mistakenly starts throwing Jacks' underwear into the fire. After an unusually long band number, Jack receives a singing telegram from his Dad for his birthday; the singing gets more and more wild and hysterical, going through several styles and songs.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "The Isle of May". Also known as “On the Isle of May” was copyrighted on January 10, 1949, adapted by Andre Kostelanetz from Tschaikowsky’s D major string quartette, and was a hit for singer Connee Boswell.
22. 03/03/40 GRACIE ALLEN FOR PRESIDENT
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens with "Little Girl". The song was written by Madeline Hyde and Francis Henry, copyrighted April 4, 1931, and revived in 1940 by Mitchell Ayres and his Fashions In Music. Sam Cooke would later cover the song, among other artists.
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we're back in Hollywood after enjoying the winter sports in Yosemite. So without further ado, we bring you our Master of Ceremonies, that outdoor man with an indoor body, Jack Benny~!"
The Show: The show opens with Jack and Don talking about the Yosemite trip; Jack takes issue with Don's introduction of him, and says he's an expert skier. Don asks Jack than why did he have his skis on backwards at first? Jack asks Don if he's ever heard of "doing things the hard way"? Jack says he did it on purpose so Don apologizes. Mary objects and asks Jack, if he's such an expert skier than why did he not know how to stop and crashed through the ski house? Jack replies that it could've been a publicity stunt~! Phil arrives and he and Jack argue about Jack not paying Phil's way on the trip. This segment of the program could basically be called "Trip to Yosemite, part four-and-a-half" as the cast discuss various aspects of the trip.
Jack says he's tired of talking about the Yosemite trip, so the gang begin to question him about the Academy Award banquet the previous Thursday night, but Jack doesn't want to talk about it and keeps asking Dennis to start his song. After Dennis' song ("Make Love With a Guitar", which sounds either illegal or painful) the gang still want to know what happened at the Academy Awards, so Mary fills them in with the details, to Jack's chagrin. Mary says Jack was disappointed that he didn't win Best Actor. Afterwards Jack tries to introduce this week's play, but keeps getting interrupted. Then Andy Devine shows up for a brief but funny cameo, and after he leaves Mary reads Jack a telegram from his father, congratulating him on winning the Best Actor Oscar, and saying that his local newspaper must've gotten the results wrong (it was actually won by Robert Donat for "Goodbye Mr. Chips"). Then we get an orchestra number from Phil. When Jack asks Phil if they'd recently played that song already, Phil doesn't know, so he asks his orchestra...and we get a repeat of the running joke where one person asks the next person the same question, and so on and so on. Jack's attempt to introduce the play is again interrupted, this time by the arrival of Gracie Allen. Which means we finally find out how this episode got it's title. She says she's running for President, and exchanges some banter with the gang, with some funny Grace-isms. As George Burns and Gracie were two of Jack and Mary's closest, if not THE closest, friends, Gracie has an easy rapport with them. It's tempting to wonder how Gracie would've done as a Benny cast member, although her and Dennis on the same show may have been too much of a good thing. It's hard to see why Gracie's brief cameo would give this episode it's usually cited title, but on the other hand it is one of those aimless programs on which it would be difficult to pin a title.
After Gracie's brief cameo, Jack says they don't have time to do the play they were going to do, a spoof on the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"; he jokes that they only have time for "Mr. Smith Goes to Glendale". Rochester calls from Jack's house to tell Jack that Carmichael the Polar Bear and Trudy the Ostrich are fighting again.
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "Make Love With a Guitar". The English lyric version was written by Raymond Leveen, based on the original Spanish version by Maria Grever. It was copyrighted on January 16, 1940, and released on record by Ted Weems
23. 03/10/40 MR. BENNY GOES TO WASHINGTON
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Run, Rabbit, Run". The song was written by Noel Gay and Ralph Butler, was copyrighted July 25, 1939 and than copyrighted again in a different version with anti-Adolf Hitler lyrics on May 15, 1940. It’s from the play The Little Dog Laughed, which opened in London at the start of the new War, on October 11, 1939
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen..." Jack interrupts: "Just a second Don, wait a minute, wait a minute. Er, tonight I'm going to introduce YOU" Don: "What's the idea, Jack?" Jack: "You'll find out. And now, ladies and gentlemen, as is my annual custom, I bring you a man who is today celebrating his 17th anniversary in radio. A man whose genial personality and more than generous physique are known to all of you. A man I am proud to call my friend. That giggle britches of the Jell-O program, Don Wilson".
The Show: Mary gives Don a gift (a musical cigarette case that plays the Jell-O theme) and reads him a poem to celebrate his 17th anniversary in radio (and 6th with the Jack Benny program). The Benny "If you like us tell your friends,if not make off like you didn't hear us" Players perform their version of Frank Capra's film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". Jack is Senator Benny, who wants fresh ink and new blotters for the Waukegan post office. After he filibusters for 12 straight days, Mary tells him he should fiddlebuster...as he starts to play his violin,the senate agrees to his requests.
Note: A generally funny episode. And it's pretty impressive for Don to be celebrating 17 years on the radio already by 1940. Admittedly I'm on record as not being to excited by most of the "plays"/film parodies done by the Benny Players in the pre-1940 years of the show, and this one isn't too much of an exception, but there are some funny lines in their version of the Frank Capra film, especially by Phil Harris.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "Someday You'll Find Your Bluebird". The song, written by Mack Gordon and Alfred Newman (not the MAD magazine mascot) is from the 1940 Shirley Temple film The Blue Bird, was copyrighted on January 11, 1940, and Shirley Temple sang the song. Interestingly, in 1940 Enoch Light released an album that combined both songs from this episode, titled Run Rabbit Run/Someday You’ll Find Your Bluebird
24. 03/17/40 THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Night After Night"
Don: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we bring you our Master of Ceremonies, a man..."
Phil: "Hold it Don, hold it, just a minute. Jack isn't here yet."
Don: "Well, where is he?"
Phil: "Well, he's out in the hall talking to Orson Welles on the telephone."
Dennis: "You mean Orson Welles the famous actor?"
Don: "What's he talking to him about?"
Phil: "Well, it's a long story. Jack is still burned up because he didn't win the Academy Award this year, so from now on he's going in for heavy dramatic stuff. And right now, he's trying to get Orson Welles to coach him. Ain't that a LULU?
Dennis: But gee, Mr. Benny's a comedian. What does he want dramatic lessons for?"
Phil: "That's what I say, he oughta stick to them big shoes and baggy pants~! I better go out in the hall and get him, though".
Don: "Tell him to make it snappy, we're on the air."
Guest Star: Orson Welles
The Show: Don's introduction is interrupted by Phil Harris, who tells Don that Jack isn't there yet...Jack's in the hallway speaking on the phone to Orson Welles. Phil tells Don that Jack is so mad over not getting an Academy Award this year that he's going to start trying more "dramatic" roles, and is asking Orson for advice/coaching.
Dennis sings " Phil the Fluter's Ball"; afterwards Jack says "you hear that, Doll?" (Mary Livingstone was absent for this episode with a cold).
When Jack returns he tells Phil that he and Orson went to high school together; when Phil protests that Orson is only 24 years old, Jack replies "Phil, he graduated high school at the age of 5, don't you read the magazines?" Orson's secretary, Mrs. Wentworth, arrives at the studio looking for Orson. When she's told he's not there yet, she decides to wait for him. Jack answers a phone call for Welles, but forgets to get the caller's name, and Mrs. Wentworth says Mr. Welles will not be pleased. Then a Mr. Stone arrives, and says he's Orson's secretary. When Jack says that Orson's secretary Mrs. Wentworth is already there, Mr. Stone replies "she's his private secretary, I'M right out in the open" (the line gets quite a laugh from the audience). He decides to wait for Orson as well.
There's an odd edit/cut on my copy of the show here, after Jack's line "gee, you'd think I murdered somebody"...it jump cuts to Jack saying "Don...gee now, Don".
Finally, guest Orson Welles shows up at the studio. Jack introduces Orson to the cast (Dennis curtsies). When Jack introduces Phil. Phil says "Hiya Orson, still scaring people?" (a reference to the infamous Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast of "The War of The Worlds" on October 30, 1938). When Jack apologizes Orson says "I don't mind, he's rather amusing in his own barbaric way". For a dramatic part for Jack, Orson recommends Jack perform "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". When Phil insults Jack's rehearsal of the part, Jack says "we don't need any comments from you, Phil, you're barbaric". You can hear Welles' amusingly high-pitched laughter at this line as he cracks up. They perform a scene from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with Welles playing multiple parts, Mrs Wentworth playing Esmerelda, and Jack playing Quasimodo by grunting.
After a brief chat with Orson, Jack signs off with "Goodnight, doll" (as noted above, "doll" and "doll face" were Jack's terms of endearment for Mary).
Note: This is a really good episode, quite funny and one of the best of the entire season. I've been a huge Orson Welles fan for 30+ years (longer than I've even been a Benny fan) and it's funny to hear the Benny cast play off of the popular "cliches" about Orson at the time....his refined language, penchant for playing multiple roles, and for doing several projects at once. It seems almost impossible to believe that Welles is only 24 years old here. It's interesting that Dennis calls him "the famous actor"....at this point in his career he had already been the voice of "The Shadow", done several ground-breaking plays, created the Mercury Theatre on the Air radio program and literally panicked much of the country with the "War of The Worlds" Halloween radio broadcast. But he was still one year away from his film acting debut, which of course he also directed; the greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane. Welles does well with the comedy material here (although if you listen closely near the end of the episode he accidentally says one of Mrs Wentworth's' lines) and his laughter at some of Jack's lines is quite amusing. And of course, in March and April of 1943 Orson would fill in as host of the Jack Benny program while Jack was out sick. It's also interesting that, per the introduction with Don Phil and Dennis, it was apparently already well known by 1940 that to win an Oscar you needed to play a dramatic part, and not act in a comedy.
Note 2: Although some radio histories note that Orson’s Campbell Playhouse broadcast of Huckleberry Finn took place prior to this broadcast, it actually aired immediately following the Benny show, at 8:00pm East Coast Time.
Dennis' song: Dennis sings "Phil the Fluter's Ball" (aka “Phil the Fluther’s Ball”) which was written by Percy French, and is a popular Irish song first performed in the 1880s.
25. 03/24/40 TRAILER FOR PINOCCHIO
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "There's Yes Yes in Your Eyes". It was written by Cliff Friend and Joseph. H Santly, copyrighted on January 12, 1940 and was recorded by Blue Barron and Eddy Howard
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you a man who, last Sunday, gave us his interpretation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Now, I will not say that his performance surpassed Charles Laughton (Jack: "Well, no"). I will not even say that his performance EQUALED Charles Laughton (Jack: "Well, uhh..."). In fact, let's forget all about Laughton and bring you...Jack Benny~!"
The Show: Don gives an Easter-themed Jell-O commercial, and then Jack and Don discuss Jack's "dramatic" performance last week as Quasimodo. Jack reads a review of last week's show by newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan (which Jack just happens to have multiple copies of). Mary Livingstone returns to the show after being out sick. Dennis says he can't sing because he has a sore throat, so Mary and Phil sing a duet on "Holy Smoke" ("Can't You Take a Joke?)".
Jack and Mary then perform another one-act play "written" by Don Wilson, "Love's Young Dream", which turns out to be a Jell-O commercial. After the play Andy Devine stops by for a brief chat. Following Phil's band number, Jack plugs next week's episode and the play they will perform, "Pinocchio". During the plug Rochester calls Jack. Mary does the closing announcement due to Jack rushing to do Orson Welles' show production of "June Moon".
Somewhat of a return to an "older fashioned" Benny show after the appealing looseness of the Orson Welles show the week before. There's no real "focus" to this episode, as it's merely a collection of gags with only the short "Don Wilson" written play breaking it up. It's always cute to hear Mary Livingstone sing, although it is a bit odd to hear her profess her love for Phil Harris in a song. The song is quite "old fashioned" as well, in a nice way. I've kept the title "Trailer for Pinocchio" as that seems to be the most widely used title for this episode, but the "plug" for next week's Pinocchio episode is really quite brief, and occurs at the end of the program.
Dennis' song: Dennis appears on the episode but does not sing.
Note: The song Mary and Phil sing, “Holy Smoke (Can’t Ya Take a Joke”) was written by Royal Marsh with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and was copyrighted on November 17, 1939. It was released by Bing Crosby in February 1940, and Bing also sang it on the January 11 and January 25, 1940 episodes of his own radio program. The songs subtitle is also variously spelled “Can’t You Take a Joke?”
26. 03/31/40 PINOCCHIO
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Playmate"
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, in the last few weeks a new star has loomed over the dramatic horizon. A young man who is destined to become one of the first names in American theatre. So without further ado, we bring you the man who startled the world last Sunday with his amazing performance in 'June Moon', Jack Benny~!"
The Show: The cast does it's version of Walt Disney's "Pinocchio". The character of The Blue Fairy makes her first appearance on the program (she will return a few more times). The Blue Fairy is played by Mary Kelly (also spelled Kelley), who has a fascinating back-story, as noted below.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings a medley of "When You Wish Upon a Star/Hi Diddle Dee Dee". “When You Wish Upon a Star” was written by Ned Washington and Leigh Harline, copyrighted on January 5, 1940, and sung by Cliff Edwards (as Jiminy Cricket).“Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee”, also written by Washington and Harline, was sung by Walter Catlett (as John Worthington Foulfellow, aka Honest John), and copyrighted on January 24, 1940 (a different arrangement was copyrighted on May 9, 1940); both songs are of course from the Walt Disney animated film Pinocchio, released on February 7, 1940 by RKO Radio Pictures.
Note: Before his introduction, Don does not "back announce" the name of the song the orchestra just played, a very rare occurrence.
Note: The introduction references the fact that Jack appeared on Orson Welles' Campbell Playhouse on March 24 in the play 'June Moon'.
27. 04/07/40 JACK REVIVES BUCK BENNY AFTER 3 YEARS
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the show with "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me". See episode 15 of this season for song information
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, as you all know, this is the beginning of Spring. Tiny blades of grass are peaking through the soil, blossoms are bursting into bloom, the harsh winds of winter have changed to soft, balmy breezes. So, without further ado, we bring you a man who is still wearing his 'longies', Jack Benny~!"
The Show: After a discussion about spring, the subject of salaries comes up. Phil says he's not making enough money, and Jack reminds Phil of when he first came to him looking for a job four years earlier. Jack then goes into a intentionally syrupy soliloquy about happiness vs. money, ending with "so if it's money you want, pal, speak up, that's all/and I'll have a new orchestra beginning next fall~! Applause~!" After this, the entire cast begin speaking in rhyming couplets about their jobs.
According to a contemporary account in the newspaper "The Lima News", Benny revived the Buck Benny character after three years to celebrate the 4th anniversary of writers Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin joining the show. I'd guess that the fact a Buck Benny movie was coming out the next month had a great deal to do with it, as well.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "My Kind of Country". “My Kind of Country” was written by Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh, was copyrighted on March 15, 1940 and, by an amazing coincidence, just happens to come from the Jack Benny's new film Buck Benny Rides Again.
28. 04/14/40 PREPARING TO GO TO NY BY TRAIN
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "My Wonderful One, Let's Dance". The song, from the 1940 film Two Girls on Broadway, was written by Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed and Roger Edens, copyrighted on April 3, 1940 and released by Barry McKinley. A very nice version was also performed by Judy Garland on Bob Hope’s weekly Pepsodent radio program, most likely on the May 7, 1940 episode
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, as we announced last week, next week the Jell-O program will originate from New York City, where Paramount is holding the premiere of it's new picture, 'Buck Benny Rides Again'. So, without further ado, we whisk you to Jack Benny's home in Beverly Hills, where Jack is in the throes of last minute packing. Take it awayyy...."
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "Too Romantic". It was written by Johnny Burke and James V. Monaco, was copyrighted on January 30, 1940, and was sung by Bing Crosby, from the great 1940 Bob Hope/Bing Crosby film The Road To Singapore; Glenn Miller also released a version. To bring everything around full circle, like this episodes‘ “My Wonderful One Let’s Dance”, there is also a nice version of this song sung by Judy Garland sometime in 1940 on Bob Hope’s radio program, exact date unknown
Note: As I'm sure you can tell by now, in his show introductions Don Wilson was very fond of saying "Ladies and Gentlemen" and "without further ado" (lines written by the shows' writers, of course). Very often, particularly in the early days, whenever an episode opened with a scene at Jack's home, Don would "whisk" us away to Jack's abode, often followed by the sound of a radio dial being tuned and Don saying "take it away~!". This “tuning in on Jack” conceit would be dropped over time.
29. 04/21/40 IN NEW YORK PREPARING FOR THE PREMIERE OF "BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN"
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "My Little Girl"
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we bring you a man who arrived here Tuesday morning at Grand Central Station, and was greeted by thousands and thousands of his loyal fans, Jack Benny~!"
On Location: The show is broadcast from the Ritz Theatre in New York City, NY.
The Show: This episode introduces the character of Logan Jerkfinkel (played by Charles Cantor), a big fan of Jack Benny. Jerkfinkel (and his family) will become a running joke over the next few programs.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings Last Night's Gardenias, which was written by Sam Coslow, copyrighted on February 28, 1940 and released by Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra.
Note: Circulating copies of this episode are very often confused with the episode of 12/15/1940. That episode takes place at the Ritz Hotel in New York (not the Ritz Theatre) and begins with the orchestra playing "Cheerio".
30. 04/28/40 BUCK BENNY AT THE PARAMOUNT THEATRE
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "I Hear Bluebirds". The song was written by Harry Woods and Charlie Tobias, and was copyrighted February 28, 1940 (and again on May 2, 1940). A popular version from 1940 was by Jack Teagarden.
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the latest and greatest of Western heroes. A rugged, two-fisted cowboy who rides like Roy Rogers, hoots like Hoot Gibson, hops like Hopalong Cassidy, and skips like Allison Skipworth...Jack Benny~!
On Location: The show is broadcast from New York City, NY.
The Show: This is an incredibly loose, and incredibly funny, episode. There are many goofy flubs and ad libs. Unfortunately the use of some stereotypical accents from a few characters detracts somewhat from this great show. But Jack and the gang seems particularly giddy...maybe due to being in New York City, or perhaps they were sampling some of Phil's special cigarettes? Jack even flubs the very last closing line of the program.
Mid-episode, Don Wilson is visited by the former fan of Jack Benny from the previous episode, Logan Jerkfinkel (again played by Charles Cantor). Now Logan is a fan of Don. Even though he enters the episode saying that he and his wife are ardent fans, Logan is obviously supposed to be an effeminate/gay character...however in my opinion it's not really a demeaning portrayal in any way, and Logan's lines are absolutely hysterical. After some banter Logan asks to watch Don do a Jell-O commercial, prompting the following:
Don: "Ladies and gentlemen, whenever you're in the mood for a tempting and appetizing desert, run down to your neighborhood grocer and ask him for a packet of Jell-O"
Logan: "Sing it, kid~!"
The line, and the delivery of it, gets an ENORMOUS laugh from the studio audience, one of the longest and heartiest laughs that I've ever heard on the show. The first time I heard it was a sincere laugh-out-loud moment. After a significant amount of audience laughter, Jack finally butts in with "..Logan~!", as you can hear Don struggle not to laugh. After regaining his composure, Don says another Jell-O line, which is followed by the line:
Logans': "You tell 'em, tubby~!",
which gets another huge laugh from the audience. As things threaten to spiral out of control, Jack tries to rein things in:
Jack; "Well, you heard what you wanted, Logan, so will you please go home? We've got to finish our program and stop Wilson from laughing".
Logan: "Allright..eh, where's the door?"
Jack: "It's that thing with the knob on it, goodbye~!"
There are also numerous references to this being the second, West Coast broadcast, as opposed to the earlier one done for the East, including Jack following a punchline with "I got it right this time". At the close of the program Peter Van Steeden and Martin Lewis of the magazine "Radio Guide" present Jack and Don with awards for favorite comedian and favorite announcer.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "Say It (Over and Over Again)". The song was written by Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser, copyrighted on March 15, 1940, and appeared in Jack’s new film Buck Benny Rides Again. The song was a big hit in 1940 for Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra, featuring his vocalist Frank Sinatra. Recorded on March 14, 1940, it was only Sinatra’s third recording session with Dorsey’s band. John Coltrane would also later do a wonderful instrumental take on the song on his Ballads album.
Note: Jack mentions his and Mary's daughter at the close of the show: "Goodnight, Joanie, be a good girl". As mentioned earlier, he flubs the show's closing line: "Good thing I've got my uniform during my....under my suit".
Note: On May 31, 1940, the Buck Benny Rides Again movie had a premiere at the Loew's Victoria Theater on East 25th Street in Harlem, New York City. In her 1978 book Mary Livingstone writes that a stage show preceded the movie; the show featured Benny Carter's Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who introduced Eddie "Rochester" Anderson to the crowd, and Anderson introduced Jack.
Note: As alluded to earlier, after the Benny show moved from it's original home in New York City to Los Angeles, the programs that they did which originated "on location" from New York City always seemed to be "looser" than normal, with much goofiness and ad-libs.
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Oh Gee, Oh Gosh, Oh Golly, I'm In Love" (later covered by Metallica, of course)* Actually, the song, written by Ernest Breuer, Ole Olsen & Chic Johnson, was originally from Broadway’s Ziegfeld Follies of 1922, and sung by Eddie Cantor. A new, fox-trot version was copyrighted on May 27, 1940, and appeared in Olsen and Johnsons’ insane Broadway comedy Hellzapoppin. Olsen and Johnson released a record of the song this month.
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to announce that tonight marks the 9th anniversary of our Master of Ceremonies. So, without further ado, we bring you a man who, for 9 long years in the field of radio, has worked, slaved, worried---and LOOKS it---Jack Benny~!"
On Location: The show is broadcast from New York City, NY.
The Show: This episode features a parody of "Town Hall Tonight", Fred Allen's radio program.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "How High the Moon" (Phil and the orchestra opened episode 20 with this song, see that episode for song information)
Note: As with the December 17, 1939 program, two versions of this program circulate, the East Coast and the West Coast versions.
Note: *This did not actually happen.
32. 05/12/40 RETURNING ON A TWA PLANE
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "My Wonderful One, Let's Dance" (see episode twenty-eight for song information)
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, for our program tonight we're going to re-enact the events which occurred on our recent airplane trip from New York to Los Angeles. The time is last Monday morning, and as the scene opens a taxicab carrying Jack and Mary is approaching the New York Municipal Airport on Long Island".
The Show: Their stay in New York City at an end, rather than take a train back to California, Jack and the gang are flying back. As the show opens, Jack and Mary are in a cab headed for the NY Municipal Airport, discussing their stay in New York City. Mary says it must've cost Jack a lot of money, and Jack says it doesn't matter (!); "How often do I go to New York?" But Mary finds out it was because Paramount was paying Jack's expenses for the trip. Jack gives Mary his list of expenses charged to Paramount, which includes his underwear and shoe-laces. When the arrive at the airport Mary says "Wow, look at all those planes~!". Jack replies "Yeah...just think, 18 hours and we'll be in California" (note that he's not being sarcastic, either; he is genuinely amazed it will take only 18 hours).
The gang are meeting Jack and Mary at the airport. When they find Phil, he is saying goodbye to a beautiful girl. Phil can't remember her name when he tires to introduce her to Jack, so she introduces herself as Minnie....Minnie Jerkfinkel. Her brother is "ardent fan" Logan Jerkfinkel. The rest of the gang arrive...Dennis is excited to fly for the first time, while Rochester is nervous (though this skirts the stereotyping of the era, it is not too over-the-top, and Rochester's race is never mentioned as the reason he is scared). Before boarding the plane Jack finds a magazine with his picture on the cover and buys all of the copies. The announcement that the plane is boarding is ended with the announcement "All Aboard~!"
On the plane, Phil is already spending time with the hostess, while Jack and Dennis' ears are bothered by the high altitude. After 5 hours the plane stops over in Chicago. Jack asks Rochester if he wants to play Casino, but Rochester says he didn't bring the deck. When Jack points out that they can get cards from the hostess, Rochester protests that he can't win with those. "Oh hooooooooh...so that's it~!" Jack replies, and immediately voids the $9000 he lost to Rochester. When the plane departs they fly over Jack's hometown of Waukegan, Illinois. They are served lunch, and after Jack marvels that he can eat soup while traveling at 200 mph, he naturally spills it all over himself when they experience turbulence. He then proceeds to get air-sick. The hostess sits next to Jack, hold his hand and rubs his forehead...but when Jack wakes up, they've landed, and Rochester has taken her place.
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "Little Mother of Mine" (he sings it while on the airplane, in honor of Mother's Day). “Little Mother of Mine” was written by H.T. Burleigh and Walter H. Brown, and copyrighted on September 13, 1917.
Note: The New York Municipal Airport is now known as LaGuardia Airport. It is located in Queens, New York, which nowadays would not really be recognized as "on Long Island" (although technically it is, nobody would say that in 2012). The airport opened for business on December 02, 1939, so at the time of this episode it had been open to the public for less than six months. While many aspects of Benny episodes are "timeless", this episode contains many lines and scenes that remind you it was performed over 72 years ago. The whole novelty aspect of taking a cross-country flight, the references to an "airplane trip", Jack boasting that the flight back to Los Angeles will take only 18 hours, the cab ride costing Jack $2...the "All Aboard" announcement that the airplane is boarding, the attention given the passengers by the "hostess"....this episode is dated in a way that most of them are not.
Note: This episode is also somewhat unusual that the story is told as an "re-enactment", and not as a flashback. So, to get all meta, we are listening to a radio program with actors "re-enacting" what was supposed to have happened to them in "real life" several days ago. So, if we are listening to a re-enactment of events, does that mean what we are hearing on this "show" are just sound effects of airplanes, etc, that are not supposed to be the "real thing"? It's kind of a clumsy conceit, and later seasons would mostly just use the "flashback" scenario for occasions such as this.
33. 05/19/40 NORTHWEST PASSAGE
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Where Do I Go From You?" It was written by Walter Bullock and Allie Wrubel, and copyrighted on March 13, 1940. The song was recorded by Woody Herman and Benny Goodman, among others, and sung by Bing Crosby on the May 9, 1940 broadcast of his radio show
Don: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we bring you a man who, after 3 hectic weeks in New York, has returned to the simple life of Southern California and resumed his favorite hobby of raising flowers"
Jack: "I love 'em"
Don: "A man who may be seen any day in his Beverly Hills garden, hoe-ing in his hollyhocks, digging in his dahlias, and puttering in his pansies---Jack Benny~!"
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "With the Wind and Rain in Her Hair"
34. 05/26/40 FORMAL DINNER FOR THE SPONSOR, WITHOUT JELLO FOR DESSERT
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Let's Have Another One"written by Don Raye and Hughie Prince, and copyrighted on January 11, 1940. It was recorded by The Andrews Sisters . It’s also sometimes titled “Let’s Have Another One (Before We Say Goodnight)”
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "Hear My Song, Violetta". Written by German songwriters Othmar Klose and Rudolf Lukersch, as “Hor Mein Lied, Violetta” and copyrighted on December 22, 1936, the English lyrics are by Buddy Bernier and Bob Emmerich and were copyrighted on March 13, 1940. It was recorded by Tommy Dorsey.
35. 06/02/40 HILLBILLY FEUD
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "I Hear Bluebirds"
Don's Introduction: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we bring you our Master of Ceremonies; a man who had his option picked up last week and now looks ten years younger---Jack Benny~!"
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "Where I Was"
36. 06/09/40 VACATION PLANS
Orchestra opening: The orchestra opens the program with "Goodnight Moonlight", written by Jack Fina,, Freddy Martin, and Mort Greene, arranged by Al Sendrey. Copyrighted April 15, 1940. Released by Freddy Martin & His Orchestra (vocals by Clyde Rogers)
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "Say It"
37. 06/16/40 FATHER'S DAY
Dennis' Song: Dennis sings "Blue Lovebird". It’s from the film Lillian Russell, and was written by Gus Kahn and Bronislaw Kaper, copyrighted on April 29, 1940. The film starred Alice Faye, who would marry Benny star Phil Harris in 1941.