Saturday, April 3, 2004

“Strawberry, RASPBERRY, cherry, orange, lemon and lime…”

Continuing with Day 3 of our Jack Benny salute, I listened to an April 24, 1938 broadcast that features a wonderful musical-comedy spoof of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. After bantering with his cast with a series of jokes on the topic of Daylight Savings Time, Jack announces before the play begins that because the cast is too tall to play “dwarves,” they’re going to be gangsters instead (Jack: “I’m as tough as any of those movie gangsters, ain’t I, Mary?” Mary: “Yeah, you’re a regular Edward G. Buttercup…”)

“Snow White and the Seven Gangsters” is a very funny take-off of Disney’s classic and landmark animated feature, but this particular Benny show has earned a little notoriety of its own of a different nature—in the play, Snow White (Mary) is lost in the forest and she says “Hello” to a little bird. The bird responds with an obnoxiously loud Bronx cheer, which convulses both the cast and the audience, leading to about twenty-eight seconds of laughter, which just may be the longest in the history of the Benny show. (When the mirth subsides, Jack wisecracks: “That canary is somewhat of a critic.”) I was very impressed with this program, in addition to comic re-workings of Heigh-Ho, Someday My Prince Will Come and Whistle While You Work, the show’s tenor vocalist, Kenny Baker, sings a great version of One Song, one of the tunes from Snow White that often gets lost in the shuffle.

The line-up of dwarves is played by members of the Benny cast: Jack is Doc, Don Wilson plays Happy, Phil Harris is Sleepy, Andy Devine as Bashful, and Kenny Baker plays (who else?) Dopey. Schlepperman (Sam Hearn) plays Prince Charming (he wants to take Snow White to his “castle in the Catskills”) and veteran comic actress Elvia Allman (Abbott & Costello, Burns & Allen) is cast in the role of the wicked stepmother, Agatha Witch:

WITCH: Now listen, Snow…I don’t want you to go out with him anymore…he’s just after your money
MARY: So are you!
WITCH: Well, I saw you first!


WITCH: I’ll put a stop to this affair, you little fool…here, have an apple…
JACK: Don’t take it, Snow White! It’s poisoned!
WITCH: Stay out of this, you kibitzer!
MARY: He’s right, stepmother—this apple is poisoned!
WITCH: It is not!
MARY: Then why is that worm waving a red flag?!!

After that, a March 12, 1939 program that has the distinction of being Mel Blanc’s debut on the Benny show—although it was a rather inauspicious one, as he was hired to supply the growls of Carmichael, Jack’s pet polar bear (who was introduced on the show February 12). Blanc had, of course, made quite a name for himself as a vocal talent—supplying many of the voices for Warner Brothers’ famous cartoon characters, like Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, and he auditioned for Benny his repertoire of voices and dialects, to the comedian’s delight. Later, Blanc would “stretch” into character parts on the program, most notably the role of Professor LeBlanc, Jack’s violin teacher.

Carmichael would also become one of the classic Benny characters (he even makes an appearance in Benny’s 1940 comedy, Buck Benny Rides Again)—and the legend has it that the bear (who guarded Jack’s famed bank vault) once devoured the gas man, although no one really knows for certain. Most of the big laughs involving Carmichael were usually generated by Rochester (“Then what happened to the gas man???”), whose relationship with the bear was a tad on the prickly side, as in this phone conversation between him and Jack:

JACK: What’s the matter, is his cold still bad? (off phone) You know, Mary—he caught a terrific cold last week…how is he, Rochester?
ROCHESTER: Doggone that animal!
JACK: Did you give him that hot bath like I told you to?
ROCHESTER: Well, yes and no…
JACK: What do you mean, yes and no???
ROCHESTER: I got him in the bathroom and he got me in the tub!
JACK: Well, look—Rochester, there’s a mustard plaster in the cabinet, so you better put it on his chest…that’ll help…
ROCHESTER: On his chest? What about all that fur?
JACK: Well, naturally, you’ll have to shave the fur off…
ROCHESTER: Boss, if I ever get that close to him with a razor, I’m gonna get even
JACK: Rochester, don’t you dare lay a hand on him…
ROCHESTER: Not if I want it back

Jack is very concerned about his pet (Jack: “Gee, I hope there’s nothing seriously wrong with Carmichael…you know, I’ve become so attached to that bear—he’s just like a relative…” Mary: “Yeah—all he does is eat and sleep…”) and so he departs the show (leaving Don and Phil in charge) with Mary and Kenny to head home and attend to the sick animal (having an amusing run-in with Elliott Lewis, who plays a traffic cop):

JACK: How’s Carmichael—did you put him in bed like I told you to?
ROCHESTER: Yeah, boss—but I had a little trouble getting your pajamas on him…
JACK: Pajamas? Rochester, if those are my new silk ones I’m going to take ten dollars out of your salary this week…
ROCHESTER: What do you mean, out—that’s it!!!


JACK: Gee, look at him—he’s got such a bad cold, I think I’ll pull these covers up around him…
ROCHESTER: Be careful, boss, he’s kinda ornery…
JACK: Well, naturally, he’s sick—look at him (baby talk) Has Carmikey got a bad told?
(Mel Blanc, as Carmichael, sneezes once)
JACK: Gesundheit…
(Carmichael sneezes again)
JACK: Ohh!!! Carmichael, watch it!
ROCHESTER: Should I get you an umbrella, boss?
JACK: No, Rochester—you should have given him a spoonful of this cough medicine every hour…here, open his mouth and give it to him now…
ROCHESTER: Boss, I wouldn’t open his mouth if my best friend was in there…

A quick bit of trivia: the show’s orchestra plays a rousing rendition of My Heart Belongs to Daddy, a Cole Porter song made famous in the Broadway musical Leave It to Me and sung by Mary Martin. Martin would later reprise the tune in the 1940 Paramount feature film, Love Thy Neighbor, in which she would co-star alongside Jack Benny and Fred Allen in a movie made to capitalize on their famous feud.

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