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Jack Benny – Radio Stars of America
Jack Dines At The Colmans
Incident At The Drugstore Counter
Jack Gets A New Car
Bumped At The Studio
Jack Benny with Ronald Colman, Mel Blanc, Amos and Andy, and Red Skelton
Recorded 1949-52
LIVING ERA CD AJA 5595 [70.08]



Crotchet Budget price

Benny was a seasoned radio performer – a medium he much preferred to television - by the time these routines were recorded in the years between 1949 and 1952. He’d had his first show on NBC back in 1932 and after some to-ing and fro-ing between NBC and CBS his spot became seven o’clock on Sunday evening on NBC. By 1937 he was number one in the radio ratings and he remained a revered figure in broadcasting history, his switch to television in 1955 bringing him a new audience. With typical Benny caution he’d kept both his radio and TV shows running between 1950 and 1955 before the irrevocable switch to the new medium.

Benny’s show had a roster of contributing characters; Don Wilson, Eddie Anderson (better known as the black factotum Rochester), Phil Harris, Mel Blanc and Benny’s wife who played the character of Mary Livingstone and whose banter with Benny is a recurring highlight. ASV has concentrated on four routines, the second of which is by far the shortest and ends rather abruptly leading me to suppose that either it’s been lost, or the compilers felt it best to truncate it (on average the Benny routines lasted around twenty minutes and could include a number of devices to broaden scope).

As well as that nebulous quality of timing Benny had the art of deadpan recovery. Time and again he saves scenes in which the other actors – often his wife – slip up with their lines. In comes Benny with a quick fire saver that reduces the other actors, much less the audience, to guffaws. When Mary Livingstone trips up over the phrase "mowing the lawn," converting it into "moving the lawn" it’s Benny who first picks up the line, mulls it, spits it back and then – genius of geniuses – keeps returning to it much later in the sketch. With these Benny routines, ideas and phrases are elevated almost to the status of leitmotifs. Language is precise and laconic; jokes at his stinginess abound, a few saucy lines passed the censor and the "look" that Benny must have given so often even manages, in the mind’s eye, to survive the medium. Guest stars appear – Ronald Colman and his wife Benita, her cut glass South Kensington voice wittily going to town on the script, are here. Amos & Andy turn up, but briefly, as does Red Skelton. The master of ceremonies is Benny however and just as an exercise in comic rubato this is a disc to be relished. I don’t know how many re-hearings these routines will stand but, with decent-for-the-time sound, you won’t go far wrong in listening to one of the Masters.

Jonathan Woolf

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