Monday, November 5, 2007

“Well, take advantage of it, Boss—take advantage!”


A recent DVD boxset from Mill Creek Entertainment, The Best of Jack Benny, contains a heapin’ helpin’ of episodes from The Jack Benny Program, and though most of its contents have been previously released on other public domain DVDs (Alpha, Passport and Good Times, to name but a few), there’s still enough material in this set to make it a worthwhile purchase. In particular, there are a few entries from the 1960-64 seasons, when the long-running CBS staple finally became a weekly ritual (in previous seasons it had alternated bi-weekly with the likes of Private Secretary, Bachelor Father and The George Gobel Show) and was filmed, rather than telecast live. A good example of this is a December 31. 1963 telecast (which recycles a script from a December 27, 1953 show) in which Jack’s date for New Year’s Eve bails out at the last minute and he rings in the New Year with his trusty chief-cook-and-bottle-washer Rochester (Eddie Anderson). You can tell that this is one of the later Benny programs (Dennis Day sings a State Farm Insurance jingle, for example) but it really doesn’t differ too much from the earlier, live version—save for the presence of Day (Bob Crosby was in the earlier telecast) and some other minor casting changes (OTR veteran Shirley Mitchell plays Jack’s waitress girlfriend Gloria instead of Sandra Gould).

Another show on the Benny boxset remains a fond memory for me because it was one of the first Benny TV programs I ever watched (growing up in West Virginia, one of the state’s public television stations used to run the syndicated package—some 104 episodes—on Monday nights): a December 11, 1960 telecast guest-starring actor James Stewart and his real-life spouse, Gloria. The Stewarts would make several appearances on Jack’s show and such appearances were modeled after the radio show gigs by the Ronald Colmans. As in the case of Benita Hume (Colman), Jack insisted Gloria play herself in these shows, and as usual his comedic instincts were right on the money—she had marvelous timing and a deadpan delivery reminiscent of Harriet Nelson's. In this episode, Jack is preparing to take his girlfriend, Mildred Meyerhouser (played with gusto by TDOY fave Barbara Nichols), to a violin concerto, and as the two prepare to depart, a man in uniform arrives at the front door to deliver an orchid corsage. As Mildred rushes off to pin it on her dress, Rochester comments to Jack that he must really be serious about her to buy her an orchid. “That’s just it,” Jack responds in bewilderment, “I didn’t order an orchid.”

The scene then shifts to the Stewart domicile, where Jimmy learns that the reason why the orchid is late is because it was delivered not to his address at 366 North Canyon Drive, but 366 North Camden Drive. The florist offers to send a replacement, and Stewart informs him, in his trademark “bashful” stammer, that he and the missus are going out and that he doesn’t think there’ll be time. “Mr. Stewart,” answers the florist, “while you were saying that, we could have had it there…” As Gloria enters the living room, Jimmy gives her the bad news:

JIMMY: Well, you’re not going to get your orchid…by mistake it was delivered to you-know-who
GLORIA: Oh, no…
JIMMY: Yep…
GLORIA: …don’t tell me another one of our deliveries went to Jack Benny’s house…
JIMMY: That’s exactly what happened…
GLORIA: Wouldn’t you think he’d have the decency to call the florist? They could pick it up and exchange it…I mean, after all—what’s Jack going to do with an orchid?
JIMMY: Well…knowing Jack, since he got it for nothing he’ll wear it himself
GLORIA: It wouldn’t be so bad if this was the first time…there was the lampshade…the rattan furniture…and what he did with that girdle of mine, I’ll never know…
JIMMY: But you must admit, he brought over our vacuum cleaner…
GLORIA: Only because we offered a reward
JIMMY: That’s very true…very true… (Gloria starts laughing) What…what are you laughing at?
GLORIA: Remember the time we bought the big tank of tropical fish and they were delivered to Jack’s house?
JIMMY: Oh, yeah…yeah…well, at least we got something out of that—you know, two nights later he invited us over for a fish dinner
GLORIA: Wouldn’t you think that as long as there is a similarity in our house numbers, that…it would work both ways…
JIMMY: Well, if he ever buys anything, maybe it will…
GLORIA: Wait a minute—I just happened to think…once we did get his mail…
JIMMY: When…when was that?
GLORIA: Don’t you remember? We got his milk bill
JIMMY: Oh, no…hon…honey…Jack slipped that under the door himself

From that point on, the show continues much in the same manner as the classic radio broadcast featuring Jack and the Colmans at the Isaac Stern concert (even recycling the bag of peanuts gag) until the Stewarts admit defeat and head for home for a little snack (hot tea and sandwiches) and a peaceful night in. Unfortunately, the cab driver driving Jack and Mildred home drops them off at the Stewarts’ (the addresses get mixed up again) and the two of them make themselves at home, digging into their reluctant hosts’ refreshments. When Mildred asks Gloria for cream to go with her tea, the Stewarts rush out into the kitchen…we then hear a door slam, followed by the sound of a car peeling out of the driveway:

JACK: Mildred…I have a feeling you’d better drink the tea without cream…
MILDRED: Why?
JACK: Well…the last time I was here…they went out for cream and two weeks later I got a postcard from them from the south of France…if it weren’t for me, they’d never go anyplace

Because this set is not titled The Best of the Jack Benny Program, Mill Creek has taken a bit of license with the set’s content and included some other Benny rarities, including two episodes from General Electric Theater (hosted by Ronald Reagan), “The Face is Familiar” (11/21/54—OTR fans will recognize this as a show originally broadcast on Suspense) and “The Honest Man” (02/19/56) and appearances on The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show and The Bing Crosby General Electric Show. (An oddity entitled You Can Change the World is also on the four-disc set, and John McElwee of Greenbriar Picture Shows examines it a bit more closely here.) Sure, the quality is a bit iffy (again, the majority of these programs are culled from kinescopes of live telecasts) but DVD Pacific has the collection priced for $7.79—you can’t beat it!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've always been surprised to find that so much of Jack Benny's TV programs are in the public domain. Didn't CBS make an effort to retain their copyright to his shows by (delightfully) airing four of his half-hour shows in prime time one summer about ten years ago?

And thanks for another great "tip" on the very affordable Benny DVD set -- though I should be a little miffed, since you've once again caused me to unsheath my credit card and buy yet another DVD set that I *really* don't need!

But, then again, who ever really *needs' a DVD set! :-)

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Didn't CBS make an effort to retain their copyright to his shows by (delightfully) airing four of his half-hour shows in prime time one summer about ten years ago?

Sadly, I'm not the go-to guy when it comes to copyrights but I will admit that I was surprised to see some of the 1960s CBS telecasts in this collection. I would give anything to see more of these shows on DVD--particularly the ones you mentioned during that wonderful summer (I loved the one where he visited the vault).

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Benny's vault, I was pleased to discover that the (very pricey) episode of "The Lucy Show" that featured Lucy trying to get Benny's account by having Mooney's bank build a special vault *is* available on many of the PD "Lucy" DVDs currently for sale. I imagine these are taken from later syndication prints (I remember watching the show in re-runs in the 1970s), but they overall quality is very decent indeed -- assuming you buy from the right company, of course. (Would that I had my set at hand to recommend it specifically.)

Odd also to find that so many of Lucille Ball's 1960s shows are PD as well - particularly considering the personal control she had over the show and Desilu at the time. In fairness, some of the shows *may* be licensed -- but given the number of them out there on 99 cent DVDs, I seriously doubt that.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Mill Creek Entertainment put out a boxset of Lucy Shows this year entitled The Best of Lucy and Friends which contains all of the episodes known to be in the public domain. It's got the Jack Benny vault episode, and a great outing with Lucy and George Burns in which she plays "Gracie." Included on the set are a handful of Betty White's Life With Elizabeth shows, which I can take or leave for the most part.

Jimbo said...

I've heard that many of Mill Creek's releases have a dreaded logo "bug" or "watermark" in the corner (similar to what all the cable networks annoyingly do, nowadays). Is the Jack Benny collection so afflicted? That alone would keep me from buying. It takes away such a large part of the enjoyment of watching a DVD.

fryluck said...

Yes, they do indeed have some very annoying watermarks coming in and out. I hate looking at those things on tv channels and now I have to look at it on a dvd too. An awful trend to encourage, but the dvds do look good for the most part.