50th Anniversary of a Christmas TV Classic

December 18th, 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.

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