The end of an era for Jack Benny: Old-time radio listening, 26 December

The Jack Benny Program: The Last Show for NBC (NBC, 1949)

An NBC fixture since 1932, Jack Benny says goodbye to his longtime radio home following the network’s hubris—and personal humiliation—negotiating a new deal with its most popular comedian . . . (Photo: NBC)

Jack Benny says farewell to the network that’s been his radio home since 1932, preparing to move in a week to CBS. What’s the big deal, considering how frequently shows changed networks—usually, when they changed sponsors—prior to tonight? Easy: NBC has been Benny’s radio home since 1932, and his loyalty inside the industry is the proverbial stuff of legend.

The problem is that NBC hardballed Benny in new contract negotiations, refusing to accept Benny’s production company, Amusement Enterprises, set up to help ease the tax burden under which Benny and numerous high-earning Americans continue to work, paying as high as 90 percent on earnings over $70,000 a year. And even that might have been overcome, somehow, had NBC not included on its negotiating team a man who’d once humiliated Benny in what amounted to a show trial a decade earlier.

The man was Jack Cahill, a former federal prosecutor who presided over a slightly surreal trial in which Benny and his best friend George Burns were defendants. The two comedians and their wives were traveling in Europe when Benny and Burns bought the ladies some choice jewelry. Seeking to get it back to the United States without having to pay excessive duty on the jewels, Benny and Burns ran into a man who professed to be able to send them through the diplomatic channels.

The problem was the fellow turned out to be a con artist who landed Benny and Burns in an unlikely smuggling case. And Cahill throughout the trial treated Benny, especially, like a common crook, dressing him down at most opportunities humiliatingly. Benny and Burns ended up paying fines, and saw not a day behind bars, but the memory lingered with Benny for years to come.

Cahill in the interim went into corporate private practise; his client list included RCA, the parent of NBC. Bad enough: NBC’s apparent attitude that listeners tuned into the network for its own sake, until the network learned CBS chieftain Bill Paley was very interested in luring Benny to his network. Worse: Seeing Cahill on the NBC side of the bargaining table, Benny probably wanted to explode.

The bottom line: Bill Paley, contrary to NBC emperor David Sarnoff, believed nobody would listen to any network unless they liked what the network offered. And he said as much to Benny himself. Paley even goes far enough to indemnify CBS and American Tobacco Company (whose Lucky Strike sponsors Benny following his long, fruitful relationship with General Foods), agreeing to pay the differences if Benny’s Hooper rating on CBS falls below his best rating on NBC over the previous year.

How does Benny work out? We’ll address that when he premieres for CBS next week. The news that Benny is jumping to CBS—a year after CBS picked Amos ‘n’ Andy off NBC to start what became known as the great talent raid—is already the talk of the industry. Even if everyone knows one and all involved are throwing some very expensive dice on the entire proposition.

Tonight: Benny flips a table and introduces Don Wilson for a change, paying homage to Fame picking Wilson as the outstanding radio announcer of 1948; the cast talks about their Christmas gifts and cheer; Benny prepares for a hot date; and, a characteristically gracious personal farewell to NBC—even if it’s preceded by a cute joke.

Cast: Mary Livingstone, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Eddie Anderson. Announcer: Don Wilson. Mabel and Gertrude: Sara Berner, Bea Benaderet. Music: Mahlon Merrick, Phil Harris, the Sports Men. Writers: George Balzer, Milt Josefsberg, Sam Perrin, John Tackaberry.

FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .

Comedy

Fibber McGee & Molly: Butler Gildersleeve (NBC, 1939)—The McGees (Jim & Marian Jordan) see a visiting relative off at the train and run into Molly’s old school chum, Otis Cadwallender (Gale Gordon), who’s now a raging success, none too modest about it, and thinks the McGees are successful enough to have a butler—and guess who McGee tries to bludgeon into playing the role. Gildersleeve: Harold Peary. Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men, Jimmy Shields. Writer: Don Quinn.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber Controls His Temper (NBC, 1944)—The Steamer of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) finally swears off blowing his top over trivialities—but his newfound equilibrium may send Molly (Marian Jordan) through the ceiling when he becomes too even-keeled . . . even over a rumour of a coming superhighway possibly costing them their home. Alice: Shirley Mitchell. Beulah: Marlin Hurt. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.

The Fred Allen Show: The Maine Murder Trial (NBC; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1948)—A farcical trial with (Fred) Allen presiding over the farcical case of Nemo Hatch. Also: the Main Street regulars talk about the third-worst snow storm in New York history and previous comparable storms. With Portland Hoffa. Boris: Kenny Delmar. Titus: Parker Fennelly. Mrs. Nussbaum: Minerva Pious. Ajax: Peter Donald. Announcers: Kenny Delmar, Alan McPhee. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra, the Five DeMarco Sisters. Writers: Fred Allen, Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Shoveling Snow (NBC, 1950)—The Shoveler of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) is anything but thrilled to have to make with the shovel after a heavy night’s snow—especially when he’s bedeviled by the phone ringing while he’s stuck outside in the snow. Olie: Richard LeGrand. Orville/The Old-Timer/Insurance agent: Bill Thompson. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.

You Bet Your Life: The Secret Word is “Paper” (NBC, 1951)—And the not-so-secret word, as usual, is verbal mayhem, as a pair of young students who’ve never met otherwise; a housewife and a grandmother; and, a Los Angeles civil defence director and a sailor—who doesn’t know the civil defender is also a retired Navy admiral—get the pleasure of wading in and out of the host’s ad-libbing meat grinder. Host: Groucho Marx. Announcer: George Fenneman. Music: Jerry Goldsmith. Director: Robert Dwan, Bernie Smith.

Fibber McGee & Molly: A Belated Gift to Doc (NBC, 1954)—The McGees (Jim and Marian Jordan) may seem to have forgotten a Christmas gift for Doc Gamble (Arthur Q. Bryan), who bought them a spanking new electric mixer, but you’ll never forget the usually proper (in her way) Teeny thanking McGee profusely for a doll the McGees gave her for Christmas . . . in whiplash-fast jive talking you never would have expected her even to know, never mind master. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Announcer: John Wald. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Leonard L. Levinson.

 

Crime Drama

The Adventures of Philip Marlowe: The Old Acquaintance (CBS, 1948)—Marlowe’s (Gerald Mohr) new client (David Ellis) arrives on New Year’s Eve, a man whose fiancee cancelled their New Year’s Eve wedding after a hood (Edgar Barrier) whose advances she once spurned shot his way out of prison and may be looking for her—after running into another old acquaintance (Gloria Blondell) who actually does love the escapee. Here’s one good example of why Raymond Chandler himself thought this was the least offensive of several radio bids to bring his sleuth to life. Additional cast: Lou Krugman, Stan Waxman. Lt. Ybarra: Jeff Corey. Announcer: Roy Rowan. Music: Richard Aurandt. Director: Norman Macdonnell. Writers: Mel Dinelli, Robert Mitchell, Gene Levitt.

Let George Do It: Snow Bird (Mutual, 1949)—A woman (Lurene Tuttle) wants Valentine’s (Bob Bailey) help when she fears her foreign-born husband (Larry Dobkin) is endangered leaving for a ski lodge a night early, but Valentine’s fake telegram to find her more simply produces a train trip, a second woman (Jean Bates) apparently armed with sleeping pills and a gun, and a possible boyfriend. Brooksie: Virginia Gregg. Clerk: Joe Duval. Announcer: John Hiestand. Music: Eddie Dunstedter. Director: Don Clark. Writers: David Victor, Jackson Gillis. 

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