Showing posts with label Jack Benny. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jack Benny. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May 3, 1932 Jack Benny Program made its radio debut


On this day in 1932, Jack Benny Program made its radio debut.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 25: Jack Benny Marries Sadye Marks

January 25: Jack Benny Marries Sadye Marks


Sadye Marks looked beautiful in her wedding dress. At least Jack thought she did. Jack was crazy about her, and would marry her on January 25, 1927. Sadye Marks would change her name. If you know the Golden Age of Radio, you know her as Mary... Mary Livingstone. And Jack? Jack Benny, of course.

Sadie was a cousin of the Marx brothers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

September 18: Happy Birthday Eddie Anderson


Join us in celebrating the nativity of one of Old Time Radio's most beloved and recognizable character actors, Mr. Eddie Anderson. The actor so many of us love as Jack Benny's sidekick Rochester was born on September 18, 1905.

In a less enlightened time,  we might say that Eddie Anderson did very well for one of his races. It might even be said that Eddie would never have gone as far if not for his association with Jack Benny. To a certain extend both of these sentiments were true, but when we look at Eddie Anderson's achievements it becomes pretty obvious that Eddie would have found the opportunities and resources to do great things no matter what.

Eddie was born into a show business family in Oakland. “Big Ed” Anderson was a minstrel performer and his wife Ella Mae was a tight rope performer until a fall put an end to her career. As a boy Eddie sold newspapers on the street corner. The newspaper boys believed that whoever would yell the loudest would get the most customers, but as a result, Eddie ruptured his vocal chords. This gave him the distinctive gravel voice which will always be associated with the Rochester character.

The genius of Jack Benny's comedy is that everyone could get the best of Jack, but Anderson managed to bring the best out of Jack. Anderson first appeared on the Jack Benny program as a railway porter in 1937. The chemistry between Jack and the Red Cap got enough laughs that he was brought back a month later (this time as a waiter, but Jack was sure to ask him if he had worked for the railroad). During this appearance, Anderson made himself at home with the cast, joining in the Jello commercial which was not usually expected of the guests. The response was so positive that Jack had the writers create the character of Rochester Van Jones to be Jack's valet.

Having an African American in such a subservient role seems offensive to modern sensibilities, but it was a very common situation at the time. Although both Anderson and Benny took some flack about it, listeners realize that Rochester was anything but subservient to his boss! The character's race could not be completely ignored, but it was rarely an issue on the air. When there was a reference to it, it can from Rochester himself (like the time the gang went skiing in Yosemite, Jack told them he did not want to lose them in the snow and Rochester pipes in “Who? Me?”).

Although Rochester's race was a non-issue on the air, The same could not be said when Jack took the show on the road. During the War, the Jack Benny Program was broadcast from military camps and hospitals around the country, but military segregation rules made it difficult for Anderson to appear on stage. On many of these occasions,  he would interact with the cast over the telephone. There were times when he traveled with the show only to find that the hotel where the company was staying did not allow blacks. On more than one occasion,  Jack had to threaten to change hotels if the policy was not changed. He made better on the threat more than once.

Anderson built on his radio success with some sound (and not so sound) investments. He owned the Pacific Parachute Company which made lifesaving equipment for Army and Navy pilots during WWII. He owned a string of racehorses, including the first black-owned thoroughbred to run in the Kentucky Derby in 1947. Anderson had a lifelong interest in things mechanical, and had a custom sports car build with a one-off low slung chassis and a Cadillac engine.

A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6513 Hollywood Blvd honors Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

Monday, May 30, 2016

May 30: Happy Birthday Mel Blanc


By definition, all Radio Stars are voice actors. No one had as many voices as Mel Blanc. Or perhaps, all those voices had Mel Blanc. Several voice actors have been called “the man of a thousand voices” with some degree of exaggeration. Mel's son, Noel, claimed that Mel's count was closer to 1500.

Mel was born in San Francisco, the second son of Frank and Eva Blanc, on May 30, 1908. The family moved to Portland, OR, where Mel attended Lincoln High school. Mel has been always fond of making up voices and clowning. At the age of 16,  he decided to change his last name because a teacher warned him that he could end up that way, a Blank, a nothing. It is hard to imagine someone as good natured being kept down by such a prediction. He began working in vaudeville throughout the Northwest, and at 17 was the youngest orchestra conductor in the country.

Mel's radio career began at KGW in Portland on the show The Hoot Owls. Mel became  popular with his ability to so many voices and character, and in 1932, he left for Hollywood to find everlasting fame. At this time,  fame eluded him, but he did meet and marry Estelle Rosenbaum. The couple returned to Portland, where Mel went to KEX to produce and co-host the late-night Cobweb and Nuts show. By now, Estelle was gaining confidence in her husband's talents, and convinced him to give Hollywood another try.

He found a job with KFWB, a station that belonged to the Warner Brothers Studio. In 1937, Mel found work with Leon Schlesinger Productions, whose cartoons were distributed by Warner Brothers. Mel is best remembered for the many cartoon characters he brought to life in Warner Brothers cartoons, but in some ways it was just a stepping stone.

The animators loved the way Mel brought their drawings to life. When Mel was recording a voice, he would become the character. Noel claimed he could watch his dad working, and even with the speakers turned down he could tell which character he was playing. Mel was not the only voice talent on Schlesinger's payroll, but he was the most versatile. Voice actors rarely got screen credit in cartoons. When Mel thought he deserved a raise, he went to Schlesinger with his demands. Notoriously tight-fisted Schlesinger was not about to give up anything that would eat into his profits, but did agree to credit “Voice characterizations by Mel Blanc” on each cartoon.

Now that Mel's name was appearing on screens across the country, he began to get even more radio work. He became part of the company on The Jack Benny Program as a sort of human sound effects machine. He played Jack's barely-running Maxwell automobile and gave the growls of Jack's pet polar bear, Carmichael. One day Mel told Jack “Mr. Benny... I can talk too!” Jack told his writers to let him, and Mel became Polly the Parrot, a tormented department store clerk, Jack's long suffering violin teacher, and the announcer at the train station ("Train leaving on track five for Anaheim, Azusa and Cu... camonga!").

Mel had plenty of other radio work. He was the friendly postman on the Burns and Allen Show, as well as appearing on Fibber McGee and Molly, Abbot and Costello, and several AFRS programs. He gave voice to Yank magazine's Private Sad Sack. Mel's success on the Jack Benny Program helped him to get his own show on CBS. Unfortunately, Jack's writers did not come along, and the Mel Blanc Show only lasted the '46-'47 season.

Mel still had plenty to keep him busy. He even continued to work after an auto accident left him in a coma for three weeks (few people realize that for the first season of The Flintstones, Barney Rubble was played by a man in a full body cast!)

A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6385 Hollywood Blvd honors Mel Blanc for his work in radio.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

June 18: Happy Birthday Kay Kyser (Kollege of Musical Knowledge)

James Kern Kyser was born June 18, 1905 and became one of the most notable bandleaders of the 30’s and 40’s. He...oh wait, you may know him by his other name, Kay Kyser...went onto become of the most respected and admired radio personalities of his day. Because of his energy and enthusiasm while in college, Kyser was asked to head up a band whose leader was moving on to other pursuits. As the new bandleader, Kay Kyser discovered his talent lay more in the announcing end of leading then trying to perform an instrument. Kyser would record a couple of hit pieces for Victor before becoming nationally acclaimed. As the band toured the country, Kay’s benchmark of turning playing music into quiz time for the audience, earned the band the name of the Kollege of Musical Knowledge. And as the “The Ol’ Perfessor”, Kyser would use his position to query and encourage the audience into dancing with phrases like, “C’mon chilluns, let’s dance”. By the late 30’s and in through the 40’s, the Kollege of Musical Knowledge was performing on radio for Mutual and NBC. The “Ol’ Professor” was calling out the quiz questions on the air just before hitting the band music for listeners everywhere. Jack Benny and Burns and Allen radio programs were some of the venues that had visits by The Kollege of Musical Knowledge. Hit instrumentalists like Sully Mason and Jack Martin were part of the band, which identified the unique calibre and personality of this travelling ensemble. Kay Kyser would take his band and fame into the movie industry and television. But his legacy as the travelling center of musical academia was his showpiece. Kay Kyser passed away in June of 1985. The “The Ol’ Perfessor” had ended his tenure.

Friday, May 1, 2015

May 1: Happy Birthday, Jack Paar Show


If it were 1918, Jack Paar would be born today. Paar, the host of radio's The Jack Paar Show before the television counterpart, is one of broadcasting's most vibrant personalities. Paar once said that his personality wasn't split but shredded. Perhaps this is what helped him in the format of the talk show, which he's widely-regarded to have pioneered.

In 1947, his radio show debuted as a summer replacement for The Jack Benny Show. It ran Sundays at 7 and was sponsored by Lucky Strike. Episode titles such as "Interview With Beauty Contest Loser," "Singing Cowboy Parody," and "Spoofs on Fan Magazines And Disc Jockeys" go a long way in telling the story.

As good as the radio show may have been, in didn't last long--Paar quickly made the jump to television. It was good while it lasted, and episodes are still available.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

November 23: Happy Birthday, Boris Karloff

November 23: Happy Birthday, Boris Karloff

Unlike a lot of radio stars who would go on to careers in television or film, Boris Karloff was a star of the silver screen before embarking on a radio career. He is best known for starring as Frankenstein's monster in the 1931 opus Frankenstein (as well as in some sequels). He would later cross over and appear in many radio shows. He hosted The Boris Karloff Show in 1957, with episodes such as "The Vampire's Grave," "Shakespeare's Hometown," and "The White House."

Shows on which he appeared as a guest include "Bergen & McCarthy," "Inner Sanctum," "Lights Out," "Martin and Lewis," "Jack Benny Program" and more. To these shows he lent his distinctive, deep, slow, spooky drawl. Later in his life he would play many voice roles, including that of the narrator of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas."

Karloff's birth name was William Henry Pratt.

Monday, January 6, 2014

January 6, 1950: Ronald Colman stars in Halls of Ivy

January 6, 1950: In ‘The Halls of Ivy’, Ronald Coleman acted as the President of Ivy College.

After guest appearances on The Jack Benny Program, with his wife, 'The Halls of Ivy' became a popular show.  Ronald went on to write for the show, which transferred to television in 1954.  Colman won an Academy award for his work in 'Othello'.