The Archive is sad to report the death of manager/producer Irving Fein, who passed away on August 10, 2012 at the age of 101. Fein was manager to both Jack Benny and George Burns. He started out in publicity at Warner Brothers, Columbia, and MGM, then forayed into managing and producing.
Here are some selections from his 1998 Archive interview:
On his first job at Warner Brothers:
I started off in the mailroom. I sorted the mail, delivering it and putting captions on pictures, delivering to the newspapers the daily news stories. Delivered to the New York Times and the Herald Tribune and the Daily News, the trade papers, all the news of the day. Publicity guys used to write out these stories and we would grab them and we’d deliver them. That was my job. While I did that, I submitted a lot of ideas for advertising and publicity and after two months they got me in the Publicity Department to do publicity.
On working in studio publicity:
You got ideas, wrote publicity stories about the pictures, about the stars — biographies — and distributed them to the newspapers and called the Associated Press and columnists and planted items with the columns and came up with ideas. I remember the first one, I was very young. I came up with an idea – Bette Davis was the young star at Warner’s and we were trying to build her up. I came up with an idea. There was a lot of publicity in those days. Every year they would do the 10 best dressed women. I made a tie up with the hairdresser’s union, and they agreed to do it. I came over there; I did the 10 best hair-tressed women. The 10 best-tressed women. I remember I put some famous person first and Bette Davis second or something and therefore we got her name into the papers. That was a long time ago.
On leaving Warner Brothers to become assistant to Samuel Goldwyn:
Samuel Goldwyn brought me over to Goldwyn’s and I did two pictures there. I did “Ball of Fire” with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper, and then I did “The Pride of the Yankees” which was the life of Lou Gehrig with Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright. I was the Publicity Director of those two pictures. I did a lot of good stuff on those stuff pictures.
On running publicity for The Jack Benny Show:
On Jack Benny’s persona vs. his real-life personality:
He was not a stingy fellow at all; he was a very generous man. The average person would tip, in those days, you’d get your hat at a hatcheck stand; they’d tip a quarter. He’d tip a dollar or two dollars or three dollars. A cab ride would be a dollar, most people would tip 50 cents; he’d give them a $5 bill and say, “keep the change.” He was that kind of a guy … We took a cab to New York some place. We both got out of the cab and he thought I paid and I thought he paid. So we both left and we started to walk to the building and the cab driver yelled, “oh, it’s true about you, Mr. Benny.” Jack laughed and came back and gave him a $5 bill or something. For a 40 cent ride.
On managing George Burns:
What happened was George hadn’t done well for about 10 years. He worked very little. He hadn’t worked Vegas in seven years. He worked very few places. His income was very little. Jack got sick once in October. He had a job in Miami; a one-nighter. I had to cancel Jack and I called a fellow and I said, “I’ve got a good idea. George Burns will substitute for him.” George had just had about six, eight weeks before he had a triple bypass. George was the oldest person in the world then (he was 78 ½) to have a bypass, and he came through fine. I called George, I said, “George, do you think you’re well enough to do a one-nighter in Miami Beach?” He said sure. I said, “you’d better ask your doctor.” The doctor said okay, so I got him the job.I had gotten Jack “The Sunshine Boys” movie with Walter Matthau at MGM. Jack was going to do that starting in February. Jack said to me, “why don’t you take on George? Look, I’m going to do the movie. I’ll have you do that while I’m doing the movie for three or four months and then I want to take six months off and rest a little bit and take vacations and then I want to play more concerts.” He would still do those concerts for me, but he said, “you don’t have to come on the road with me. I’ll get somebody, we’ll get something to go with me. Why don’t you take George on?” So I said okay. I said, “George, you want to?” He said, “oh, I’d love it.” He called Abe, the last fellow who was head of William Morris and asked for his release. Fine. He said an hour later, a letter was delivered giving him his release. So I became George’s manager. Then two months later, Jack died. I got George “The Sunshine Boys” job that Jack had had. He was great in that picture and then I got him Vegas again and I got him a few other things and a couple other movies and before we knew it, George was running.
Watch Irving Fein’s full Archive Interview
Read his Deadline.com obituary