Friday, September 3, 2010

OTR Friday - Vic & Sade and Jack Benny...Radio Comedy at it's Best

"Jello again!" it's "Time to smile again." with my two favorite radio series of all time, Vic & Sade and Jack Benny.

When I hear either of these programs, I sit back and I swear, every part of my body must be smiling. I don't think my condition is contageous, but I sure wish it was...I could hip the whole of the English speaking world to some really good stuff.

First up, our continuing appreciation of Vic & Sade, the midwestern family who seemed to be all of us...

You're right if you noticed that the teen-aged boy in the above picture was NOT Billy "Rush Gook" Idelson alongside our heroes Art "Vic" Van Harvey and Bernadine "Sade" Flynn...but that's a story for muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuch later in the series. I only chose the pic for today because there is a serious lacking of Vic & Sade cast images out there.

Show #1 for today is from April 25, 1939. Rotten Davis (one of Rush's school chums...albeit a few years advanced at 19 years old...actually the older brother of Rooster Davis) has found himself in the steady company of a young lady. The issue being, Rotten's allowance doesn't allow him to take a lady friend on the town every day of the week, so he's begun to impose on the company of the couple half way up in the next block, Vic and Sade Gook.

The niceties of social interactions and the dilema of how Vic & Sade can entertain Rotten and his lady friend while expecting Fred and Ruthie Stembottom for a game of 500 are rich comedy fodder in Paul Rhymer's hands.

Such a pedestrian situation is pure comedy gold here...

From April 26, 1939 this episode has Sade full appreciation for human generosity as she fawns over the new luggage that was given her by Mr. and Mis' Donahue.

The opening is rich with wonderful language as Rush recounts almost-a-fight between Leroy Snow and Milton Welch over at the vacant lot while Vic makes it through his routine in his signature humor. "Proceed me to the living room. We'll look over the pile of important letters,telegrams and trans-oceanic cables that have arrived in our absence." I wish Vic would narrate the drudgery of my life sometimes.

This may be a good time to point out the obvious that is sometimes NOT. With all the interactions we've heard with Fred and Ruthie Stembottom, Mr. and Mis' Donahue, Aunt Bess, Mr. Erickson, Mr. Gumpoc, Blue-Tooth Johson, Rooster Davis, Rotten Davis, and the rest...please note that there are only 3 speaking rolls (later 4) in the entire show.

In this wonderful audio-only medium, Paul Rhymer lets your imagination participate even more, by never letting you hear any of the characters speak. All you think you know about all these perephery characters (the sounds of their voices, their attitudes, their actions) is supplied simply through conversations by Vic, Sade and Rush.

Oh...and they never leave their house on the show either.


Jack Benny. That's all I have to say to make me start to giggle.

Jack Benny broke into radio in 1932 as a guest on Ed Sullivan's program. At the time Sulivan was doing a sports themed show (as Jack recalls in an interview) and had Jack on as a guest. Jack Benny was probably well known to Sullivan as a vaudevilly comedian appearing on Broadway and in and around New York frequently. The sponsors of Sullivan's show (The Canada Dry Company) liked Benny so much, they signed him onto a show of his own almost immediately. From Canada Dry Jack went to The American Tire Company and then to General Foods who had Jack barking for Jello gelatine and Grape Nuts cereal for over a decade, from there he jumped to the American Tobacco Co. and pitched Lucky Strikes for well over the next decade.

From 1932 to 1952, Jack hosted a show every Sunday night for 20 years for 39 weeks a year. The show was in repeats till 1955, but by 1950 Jack had been double timing it on television, and after a few years there did specials and guest appearance right up to his death in the 1970's.

Doing what he loved from the 1920's to the 1970's. I'm very jealous.

There was a retrospective of the Jack Benny Program produced for radio, from what sounds like the 1970's under the title "Speaking of Radio". The show is a 6 hour crash course into all things Benny and features interviews with Jack and every major player on the show. Today I'd like to bring you the first half hour in the 12 part series. It's enjoyable on it's own merits with said interviews and clips from the show showing hints of the creativity and just solid entertainment of the show...I hope you take the time to listen may be the best 30 minutes of your day. ...Not counting the 30 minutes of Vic & Sade above.

This first entry in the series, not only features Jack Benny himself telling the tale of his radio career, but also Sheldon Leonard (above). Leonard you will remember from the many gangster rolls he played in TV and movies for many years (including Harry the Horse in "Guys and Dolls"), not to mention Nick the Bartender in "It's a Wonderful Life" and others. There's also no ignoring the wide swath he cut as a producer for early television. "I Spy", "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "The Danny Thomas Show", "The Andy Griffith Show", "Damon Runyan Theatre", "The Real McCoys" and on and on have the Leonard stamp. It's no wonder that writer/producer/creator Chuck Lorre named his two main characters on "The Big Bang Theory" after this guy.

Well, to make a short story long, Leonard often appeared on the Jack Benny Program as "The Tout"

Enjoy "Speaking of Radio: The Jack Benny Program" part 1 of 12

More to come next week...this is just plain good stuff

A little bonus reading candy...from 1949 Action Comics #138, a two page article about Jack's history BEFORE radio...

Special bonus show: The VERY first Jack Benny program from March 2, 1932. This was Jack's first gig and it's a far cry from what the show would eventually become. Quaint I suppose is what you could call it, but historically significant to be sure.

The show is sponsored by Canada Dry Ginger Ale, if you have some in your fridge, enjoy a glass while listening...sometimes I buy some special just for these shows, and is as much starring band leader George Olsen as Jack. Jack is in full nervous mode for this one...I guess a better term would be "unnatural" than nervous. He'd been a performer and headliner in vaudeville for so long, that performing here for the microphone, he seems much out of his element. Ethel Shutta is the vocalist for the band as the upstart show makes a lively turn at a half hour of music and one-liners.

This is just 7 years into the advent of radio as a commercial medium and it's mind-boggling to think of how Jack would transform it in just a few short years, from a pack of one-line joke segues between musical numbers into a full fledged show full of characters and the humor derived from them.

Enjoy...30 years of radio comedy to come!

Talk to you soon!


Marco said...


Glad to see your found your computer. I was having withdrawals!

Akshunt "Action" Frank Franklyn said...

Jeffy you've just made my day!!! You know how I like Jack Benny, he's simply the best EVER!!!

Jeff Overturf said...

Glad to oblige boys.

Mykal Banta said...

Wow - remember when comedians were . . . funny? Actual grown up men and woman that were bright, clever and (ahem) funny? Today? Mean, little, overbright shits without a clue.

Jeff Overturf said...

Ah, yes Mykal, I remember it well!

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