Posts Tagged ‘Jack Benny’

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.

50th Anniversary of a Christmas TV Classic

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Happy Holidays with Jack Benny!  Jack Benny was one of the biggest names in network radio and for years listeners were delighted when the notorious cheapskate did his annual Christmas shopping.  When Benny transitioned to TV, the tradition continued.  Benny’s December 18, 1960 Christmas shopping episode became a TV classic and is available for viewing online. “Man of a Thousand Voices” Mel Blanc is a prominent guest star—a rare “look” at the beloved voice artist— playing a harried clerk.

Watch the classic 1960 Jack Benny Christmas episode, with a link to the radio shows, and an excerpt of writer George Balzer’s Archive interview on the Archive’s show page for The Jack Benny Program: “Christmas Shopping”

The Jack Benny Program aired “live” – part of the reason why it’s been somewhat lost to history.  Of the hundreds of episodes, the ones that are generally circulated are those that were taped for purposes of network repeats and overseas sales.  The script of the famed 1960 Christmas episode was actually a repeat of a “live” episode from three years previous.  This less-famous December 15, 1957 show is preserved on kinescope. The 1960 show improved on the central harried clerk character in dialogue and performance (Mel Blanc in both versions) and switched out one sequence so that Benny regular Dennis Day could be featured.  The original 1957 show however, also has its’ pluses— a funny elevator sequence and the appearance of beloved character actress Barbara Pepper (later known as Green Acres’ “Doris Ziffel,” photo right).  Another interesting footnote is Jack Benny’s pronunciation of “lingerie” in both versions.  In the ’57 version he pronounces it as would be expected; in the ’60 version he pronounces it “langeree.”  Although not used on-air, the original script of the ’57 show features the following closing:

JACK BENNY: “…. I remember once… on radio I said ‘lingerie’ and I got hundreds of letters from people saying it’s not pronounced lingerie it’s pronounced ‘lingeree.’ So the next show I pronounced it ‘langeree.’ Then I got thousands of letters telling me it’s not lingeree, it’s lingerie…. Well, I’d like to know… would someone tell me how to pronounce it….”
MAN’S VOICE: “Underwear.”

It’s to be noted that the script for this Christmas episode featured a hodgepodge of pieces from several of the earlier radio shows.  Benny’s failed attempts at getting help from the floorwalker was part of every annual show (1938’s floorwalker tells Jack to “Go back to Hollywood and squeeze an orange!”); Rochester’s attempt to buy a gift for Jack is found on the 1939 show (“What kind of man is your boss?”) and many more times, including the 1946, 1947 & 1948 shows; the “unbreakable” crystal watch appeared at least twice, on the 1939 & 1950 programs (“Wrap it up! Sweep it up!”); Dennis Day buys a present for his mother in the 1947, 1950, and 1954 shows (“Everyone’s afraid of my mother, when I was born the stork left me a block away from the house… good thing I knew the address”); Jack shopping for lingerie is in the 1948 & 1954 shows (“It’s not for me!”); and Jack buying a present for Don Wilson and forcing the clerk to wrap and re-wrap it is the centerpiece of the 1946, 1948, and 1954 radio shows (“Now what… NOW WHAT!”).  Many of the same lines were used through the years and it’s fun to compare the versions.

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.”