Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Friday, May 02, 2008

There Will Not Be a Slight Pause While You Say, "Who Cares?": The Way It Was, 2 May

1932---Exactly how the myth will develop (other than that it certainly sounds like something the man himself might say) escapes your chronicler, but Jack Benny---two months after he makes his first known old-time radio appearance, on an interview program conducted by then-Broadway columnist Ed Sullivan---hosts his own program for the first time, sponsored by Canada Dry soft drinks, and broadcast over NBC's Blue Network, for the first time.

And here---as opposed to the famous legend that he says, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Benny talking. There will now be a slight pause while you say, 'Who cares?'"---is the way Benny actually does begin that broadcast, after a pleasant introduction ("that suave comedian, dry humourist, and famous master of ceremonies") from his announcer.

Uh, thank you, Mr. Thorgeson, that's pretty good from a man who doesn't even know me. Uh, ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Benny talking, and making my first appearance on the air professionally. By that, I mean I'm finally getting paid, which of course will be a great relief to my creditors.

I, uh, believe you don't know why I'm here. I'm supposed to be a sort of a master of ceremonies, and tell you all the things that will happen, which would happen anyway. I must introduce the different artists who could easily introduce themselves, and also talk about the Canada Dry made to order by the glass, which is a waste of time if you know all about it. You drink it, like it, and don't want to hear about it.

So, ladies and gentlemen, a master of ceremonies is really a fellow who is unemployed and gets paid for it.

---Jack Benny.

Benny had been flat, tentative, and awkward, delivering an unfunny monologue without benefit of an audience, and the jokes deservedly landed with a thud, a far cry from the suave, polished Jack Benny of only a few years hence.

---Gerald Nachman, in "The Anticomedian," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

Well, he isn't exactly that bad. The raw form is there; the wry, understated delivery is yet to be perfected; and, a) the writing leaves plenty enough to be desired while b) somebody must think there's room enough for improvement and development that what seems flat, tentative, and awkward will not remain any of the three for too long.

But it is also time to stop quoting what Jack Benny might have said and start remembering what he actually does say. And what he actually does say isn't necessarily terrible. We will have heard far, far worse gags about masters of ceremonies than his.


1945: "SPLENDID NEWS FROM MOSCOW"---Barely has the world time to absorb the impact of Hitler's death when Stuart Hibberd of the BBC reports the announcement that Berlin has fallen.


1944: FINDING A GIRL FOR DENNIS DAY---The boy tenor who's always "tryin' to get Jack out of Benny" is about to go into the Navy ("What would you do if you had the chance ta make more dough?"), Archie (Ed Gardner) wants to blow him to one last night on the town, but the problem is getting Dennis a date, on tonight's edition of Duffy's Tavern. (Original broadcast: CBS; rebroadcast: AFRS.)

Eddie the Waiter: Eddie Green. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Miss Duffy: Florence Halop. Writers: Ed Gardner, Abe Burrows, Larry Marks.

1946: CRIME WITHOUT PASSION---Adapted from the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur play and film, a criminal attorney (Joseph Cotten) with a superior attitude, disillusioned with his faithless showgirl fiancee, needs an alibi fast enough for himself, when he strikes her dead in self-defence during a bitter, violent argument, on tonight's edition of Suspense. (CBS.)

Additional cast: Unknown. Adaptation: William Spier.

1950: S.O.S.---Stranded and sending a mysteriously futile radio address signal seems the fate of three racketeers, after one (Ralph Bell) talks them into hijacking a ship carrying rare uncut diamonds, on tonight's edition of The Mysterious Traveler. (Mutual.)

Additional cast: Roger DeKoeven, Louis van Rooten. The Traveler: Maurice Tarplin. Writers: Robert A. Arthur, David Kogan.


1885---Hedda Hopper (as Elda Furry; actress: Brenthouse; host, The Hedda Hopper Show), Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.
1892---Bruno Wick (actor: Flash Gordon; The Goldbergs), Krefeld, Germany.
1895---Lorenz Hart (lyricist: The Jumbo Fire Chief Program, The Chase and Sanborn Hour, The Railroad Hour), New York City.
1902---Brian Aherne (actor: The Saint), King's Norton, U.K.; Erin O'Brien-Moore (actress: Big Sister), Los Angeles.
1903---Sylvan Levin (conductor: Brownstone Theater; Let's Go To The Opera), Baltimore.
1904---J. Anthony Hughes (actor: Betty and Bob), New York City.
1905---Sidney Skolsky (columnist/host: Songs By Arlen, Stories By Skolsky; The Bromo Seltzer Program), New York City.
1907---Pinky Lee (as Pincus Leff; comedian: The Hoagy Carmichael Show; Carefree Carnival), St. Paul, Minnesota.
1916---Robert Grapperhaus (sound: One Man's Family, Fitch Bandwagon, Duffy's Tavern), unknown.
1918---Frank Milano (sound: Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders), unknown.


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