Archive for the ‘"Jack Benny Program"’ Category

Remembering Irving Fein

Monday, August 13th, 2012

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 obituary

Irving Fein, longtime manager of Jack Benny and George Burns turns 100!

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Happy 100th birthday to manager/producer Irving Fein! Fein is best known for his 28-year association with comedian Jack Benny, and later, his 22-year association with comedian (and now fellow centenarian) George Burns. He was interviewed by the Archive of American Television in 1998.

Interview clip: Irving Fein discusses working on The Jack Benny Program:

Watch his full Archive of American Television Interview here.

Interview description: Irving Fein was interviewed for three-and-a-half hours in West Hollywood, CA.  He speaks at length about his 28 years managing and producing for Jack Benny, as well as his years managing George Burns.  Fein discusses his transition from motion picture publicity to producing for Benny in 1947 — a path that led him from New York to California, back to New York, and finally back to California once more.  He details the many years he spent publicizing both the radio and television versions of  The Jack Benny Program, and shares tales of producing Benny’s various specials for television. Fein describes Benny’s real-life and television persona, his lasting legacy, and his grace as a comedian.  Fein also recounts managing George Burns during the last years of the comedian’s life — securing for Burns several stand-up appearances, his Oscar-winning role in The Sunshine Boys, and an impressive gathering for his 100th birthday party.  Sunny Parich conducted the interview on August 13, 1998.

Humphrey Bogart on ’50s TV— “Jack Benny,” “Person to Person,” and “Producers’ Showcase”

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Humphrey Bogart was one of the screen’s biggest stars in the 1950s, when TV was considered a rival medium.  Bogart made relatively few appearances on TV before his death in January 1957.  According to sources (such as David M. Inman’s Performers’ Television Credits), Bogart made a few appearances on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town in the early ’50s, but his most notable appearances occurred between 1953-55.

Bogart’s three most well-known TV appearances can all be glimpsed online, and are as listed below.  Visit the Archive’s page on Humphrey Bogart to see these performances and hear from Archive interviewees including writer Tad Mosel (Producers’ Showcase: “The Petrified Forest”)

The Jack Benny Show (airdate: 10/25/53).  Appearing in approximately ten minutes of the show’s run time, Bogart is the featured guest and sends up his tough guy image in a parody that sees him also shilling for Benny’s sponsor, Lucky Strike.

Person to Person (airdate: 9/3/54).  Edward R. Murrow visits Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in their home in Los Angeles in the 41st broadcast of the famed interview show.  Variety noted: “The Bogarts, a literate, witty, engaging couple, indulged in entertaining chitchat about themselves, films and the theatre, with some amusing crisscrosses of conflicting opinions on acting and living.”

“Bogart said there were no really big stars left in the world.  He said, ‘when I say star, I mean a name that you say at the loneliest crossroad in the world and they’ll know who it is.’  He said, ‘there’s Gable and there’s me.’”

– Tad Mosel, who adapted “The Petrified Forest” for TV’s Producers’ Showcase, Bogart’s only dramatic performance on television

Producers Showcase: “The Petrified Forest” (airdate: 5/30/55).  Bogart reprised his Broadway and film role of “Duke Mantee” in this adaptation by Tad Mosel of Robert E. Sherwood’s play, directed by Delbert Mann.  Also in the ensemble: Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda, Richard Jaeckel, Paul Hartman, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Jack Klugman, and Natalie Schafer.  Variety (east coast) and Daily Variety (west coast) had differing opinions of Bogart.  Variety opined: “Bogart, of course, remains Bogart, but somewhere in the adaptation the part of the killer Mantee shrunk to undemanding and unrewarding opportunities” whereas Daily Variety’s take: “As the ruthless killer, Bogart gave it both barrels.  Role was a natural for his dramatic debut on tv and a conspicuous entry.”

Jack Benny Puts Up His Own Money

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Jack Benny was pained to part with his money. So ingrained was this part of the Jack Benny persona that on his radio program, among his biggest laughs came when a robber held him up demanding “Your money or your life?” prompting a long pause from Benny… who finally said “I’m thinking it over!”

In the 1950s, when Benny’s popular radio show made the transition to TV (where it had a fifteen year run), audiences were well aware of Benny’s penchant for stinginess. So his appearance on quiz show The $64,000 Question was especially popular.

But equally funny was the follow-up to Benny’s quiz show stint, when $64,000 Question host Hal March returned the favor by guest-starring on The Jack Benny Program. The twist? March would participate in Benny’s version of The $64,000 Question… with Benny putting up his own money! The result was a very funny, very memorable show (March is quite a sport, as you’ll see). Watch Archive interviewee Irving Fein (Benny’s longtime manager) talk about Benny’s initial appearance on The $64,000 Question, plus an embed of the Jack Benny episode itself at the Archive’s page for The Jack Benny Program: “Hal March Show.”

Look also for Benny’s visit from his “fan club” president and secretary who answer a burning question they have about Benny’s hair.

Ben Wolf’s Archive of American Television Interview Is Now Online

Monday, October 16th, 2006

Cameraman Ben Wolf’s four-hour Archive of American Television interview has been added to the online collection at Google Video. This is tape 6 of his interview in which he talks about working on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Click here to view the entire 8-part interview.

Ben Wolf worked on many of the first shows produced at CBS Television City including Carson’s Cellar (with Johnny Carson), The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and My Favorite Husband.

Interview description:

Ben Wolf was interviewed for nearly four hours in Los Angeles, CA. He recalled his early television experience at KLAC, and then CBS in Los Angeles, working on such programs as The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Carson’s Cellar and Climax! Next, he spoke about his work on The Jack Benny Show and The Red Skelton Show, and explained the day-to-day process of working as a cameraman on the latter program. He also touched upon his work on The Judy Garland Show, CBS Playhouse and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Next, he reminisced about working on Norman Lear-produced programs including All in the Family and Maude. Finally, he talked about working on Three’s Company and Mama’s Family before becoming a freelance cameraman for the remainder of his career.

Longtime Jack Benny Radio and TV Writer George Balzer Has Died

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

George Balzer (pictured above with interviewer Dan Pasternack), who spent twenty-five years writing for Jack Benny, was interviewed by the Archive of American Television for two hours on January 25, 2001. Balzer died on September 28, at the age of 91.

Here are some excerpts from his Archive of American Television Interview:

On moving to Los Angeles:

[When I was] four, my dad came home one night and said to my mother … our family was eight … eight people, my mother and father and six kids. Came home one day and said we’re going to California. She says “Okay. When?” He says “Now.” And within about four days, he sold the house, sold the car, sold whatever else he had and we were on a train going to California. And we arrived in Los Angeles. That was 1920. And after five years in Los Angeles, we moved to the San Fernando Valley and we resided there until 1937 I believe it was. That’s were I went to grammar school, high school and so forth.

On getting started as a writer:

When I graduated from high school, I joined with my father and the other members of the family’s family in the laundry business. There’s a long history behind that but I was with him in the laundry business along with the others and I was only out of school maybe six months or so when I became ill and was forced to take considerable bed rest and that gave me a chance to listen to a lot of radio. And I never had any idea that radio might be my business but I was interested in it so I pulled away from the laundry and started writing at earnest … I still have the first two scripts I ever wrote and they were both written for Jack Benny. Not on assignment but just for my own enjoyment.

On his sense of humor:

One day, I recall, it was in a history class I think it was or a civics class and when the bell rang for the students to change periods, why the teacher looked right straight down at me and said “George Balzar, don’t you leave this room.” Okay, so I didn’t leave the room. And she says “Come up here.” So, I went up to her desk and she says “What’s wrong with me?” I said “I don’t know what’s wrong with you?” She says “I’m standing up here everyday trying to teach these students and you sit back there with a grin on your face.” She says, “What, is my slip showing? Are my stockings hanging down? What’s wrong?” I said, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” She says “Well I stand up here everyday behind this desk and you’ve got that grin on your face.” Well I said, “It’s nothing.” So, she says “You may go.” So I left. I didn’t know what that meant but as the years went by, I began to realize what was happening. Everything I saw or heard or anything that was said, I saw the lighter side. And most of it made me laugh … to myself. The other people must have thought I was crazy.

On landing a writing job on radio’s “Burns and Allen”:

I had become acquainted with a few of the radio people that used to spend their time at Hollywood and Vine at CBS and NBC and I got to know a few people and they got to know me. And eventually, a break came up and I got it. I had a piece of luck, real luck when a family moved into their new home, which was at the back of our property. So there’s the Balzars house and back-to-back are the Devines. Andy Devine was a player with Jack for about five years. I got to Andy and I said, “Would you do me a favor? Would you look at these scripts and just tell me what you think?” So he did and said “I think they show promise and you should try it if you think you can do it.” So, that’s about the last, for quite a while, that I heard from Andy although he had read other scripts in between there and was always encouraging. And then for maybe a year or two, I didn’t hear anything from anybody and I just continued trying to write, turning samples of my work into agencies and that kind of approach. Suddenly, at one point, I received a call from Andy, a phone call. He says, “Get in touch with Tom Harrington…” So I did and the agency at that time was putting a new show on the air, “Burns and Allen” and they wanted to have me join their staff.

On meeting writing partner Sam Perrin:

And at the end of “Burns and Allen”, we took Sam. That’s where I met my partner, Sam Perrin. Sam and I, we stayed together, I think it was forty years, if not, we stayed together to the end of his life. Well, I always considered him my partner at any given time.

On the relationship between Jack Benny and his writers:

Jack understood us, we understood him. And I remember one Saturday… we were in the conference room at NBC and we’re working on a script. The purpose of this meeting was to punch it up here and there, wherever Jack wanted it. We’re sitting around the table, Jack says “Fellows, I want a [new] joke right here. Page six, a new joke.” And there’s absolute silence. He says right here “Page six, I want something good. It just calls for something to make it so and so and so and so. A new joke.” There was silence. We didn’t respond at all. And after awhile, I leaned over to him and said “Jack, well get you a new joke.” He says, “Oh, you agree with me, huh?” I said “No, but it’s possible that the four of us could be wrong.” He looked at me for a split second and broke into the biggest roar you had ever heard, laughing. Got up off his chair, slid down the wall and sat there at the corner, laughing. And as he got up, he says “I wouldn’t change that joke now for a million dollars.” And he didn’t. We went on the air and it got a big laugh and Jack just looked up at the booth as if to say, “You son of a gun.” And that was it. That was the kind of relationship we had. And he had great faith and trust in his writers.

On working for Jack Benny:

We’d do a show on the air Sunday evening and when that show was over we really didn’t know what we were going to do the next week. But we didn’t let that bother us. On Monday, we took off. On Tuesday, we began to think about the show and would contact one another by phone. Tuesday night, we would call Jack and say we’ve got an idea that might work. We would decide with Jack’s approval what to work on. And he says, “Yeah, sounds kind of funny go ahead and do it.” Then on Wednesday, we would firm up an idea. So, we divide the show up, the four of us and we’d call Jack and say, “Jack, this is what we’re on.” So then Wednesday and Thursday, we’d write both halves of the show. Each half and we’d have it ready to go to Jack on Friday and then we’d sit down with him and we’d get it all cleaned up and ready to go to for a Saturday morning dress rehearsal and then on Sunday, we’d do the broadcast. And once again, we were right where we were a week before. It lasted for I don’t know, twenty-five years or more. And that’s pretty much my career. Kind of dull, I could have been on a lot of shows, I guess. But I was lucky; I’m not ashamed to say so. It was luck. I got myself attached to people that just couldn’t be nicer. And that’s where I spent my entertainment life.

Geroge Blazer’s entire two-hour interview can be viewed at TV Academy headquarters in North Hollywood, CA.

Interview description:

Balzer began by recalling his start in comedy writing, first for Bing Crosby’s “Kraft Music Hall” radio program, and then on the radio show “Burns and Allen,” where he first teamed up with writer Sam Perrin. The duo next worked on “The Jack Benny Program” radio show, and along with writers Milt Josefsberg and John Tackaberry, they transitioned with Benny to his CBS television program. Mr. Balzer discussed the writing process on the Benny show, and talked about some of the more memorable skits and comedy bits. Next, he talked about writing for Lucille Ball’s sitcom “Here’s Lucy.” Finally, he discussed his work on “The Red Skelton Show” and “The Don Knotts Show.”

What are your favorite skecthes from The Jack Benny Program– radio or TV?