Re: Major Benny Question - Anyone Know??


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Posted ByLL on November 15, 2002 at 14:06:16:

In Reply to: Major Benny Question - Anyone Know?? posted byBryan Olsen on November 15, 2002 at 09:20:37:

: My question is this: Does anyone know, specifically, where I can see any tapes of him doing his stand up act? Specifically the violin routine, but anything...
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An excellent question, and one I've heard many times. The nightclub/Vegas routines (I assume that's what you mean by "stand up act") are one of those great, lost Benny treasures. We do have some members who were lucky enough to see him live (Ken, are you listening?). But I know of very few videos of it. I believe someone mentioned to me that there is a bootleg from Vegas where someone sneaked in a camera and shot a show (or part of it), but I have not yet seen it.

However, there are a few things that we did know about the nightclub/Vegas work. I have copies (thank you, Barbara) of portions of Jack's monologues from Vegas appearances in 1968-72. Jack's character and style is so firmly established that reading the scripts is, to me, almost the same as watching a tape of the performance. You can clearly hear and see (in your mind's ear/eye) Jack doing the material. Some of these are in the UCLA and Wyoming collections of Jack's papers.

Also, he reused some routines on the air and his stage performances. A couple of them were gags that went all the way back to Harry Conn (one of Jack's first radio writers, who worked for him until 1936). The first of two skits that come to mind is the Boswell Sisters (evolved over time to a variety of names, finally becoming the Smothers Sisters). The group includes a very homely and/or tough woman (at one time played by Iris Adrian), a very heavy-set woman (originally played by Mary Kelly), and a very pretty woman. The skit goes through a conversation between Jack and the ladies, then into a rather bad musical number by them.

The other Conn skit is the Japanese wrestler bit. Jack talks about a Japanese wrestler that he'd seen, who can take on some amazing number of guys at the same time. So out onto the stage comes a tiny man, and four or five burly stagehands. Jack makes a big deal about how amazing this little wrestler is. Finally he tells the guys to go at it, and within a few seconds, the stagehands pummel the tiny guy into the floor. They walk off leaving what's left of the guy, and Jack doing a classic stare from the failed wrestler, to the audience, back to the wrestler...

Jack worked on stage with Gisele MacKenzie, and they did their "Getting to Know You" routine, among others. Jack reprised that same bit on stage and TV with Toni Marcus, a 12-year-old violinist. Jack also used the two older ladies as "President and Vice-President of the Jack Benny Fan Club....Pasadena Chapter" on both his TV and stage performances. There is a photo in one of the biographies (I think it's Irving Fein's) that shows Jack standing on stage with a group of ladies holding instruments. I have a feeling that was a stage version of the 12-13-59 show where Jack visits a meeting of the Jack Benny Fan Club and plays his violin for them. As they all gasp and swoon on the high notes of "Love in Bloom", eventually some join in on instruments and end the episode by parading around the room with Jack in the lead. (This is one of my favorite JB TV episodes...wonder why...)

I wish there was more audiovisual documentation of Jack's nightclub/Vegas work, but I hope that gives you a taste of what it was.

--LL





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