Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jack Benny Without Jack Benny, Part 3 of 6

Continuing my look at the five consecutive episodes of Jack Benny without Jack Benny, we find the March 21, 1943 broadcast, Orson Welles' second week as host! Jack's wife Mary Livingstone returns to this show as of this date, having missed two weeks because of Jack's illness; the return of Mary means the entire cast (save Jack himself) has finally been reassembled!

You can hear this episode for yourself here (right click to download from

As promised on the previous week, Orson invites the cast of Jack's show (Phil, Mary, Dennis & Don) to come visit him on the set of his new movie. As they arrive, Phil repeats his drawled "Orrrson Welles" bit, while Mary echoes one of Jack's repeated lines about Dennis: "It's no use waiting, I've got to have to have a talk with that kid." However, this time Dennis answers with "any time, any place, sister!"

Frank Nelson repeats the role of "Mr. Toodlequirtle," Welles' secretary (even though Orson supposedly fired him last week). Rochester has now become Orson's valet, allowing him to puncture Orson's ego just as he normally had with Jack. Perhaps my favourite bit during Orson's stay on this program is this exchange with Miss Harrington (Verna Felton):

Miss Harrington: "Here's the next scene we're shooting for your approval."

Orson: "Good, I'll glance over it." *sound effect of a book being flipped through* "Oh, no, no, no. This will never do, only an idiot could compose such drivel."

Miss Harrington: "But Mr. Welles, you wrote this yourself!"

Orson: "Then there's no use waiting, I'll have to have a talk with me. Miss Harrington, take down these changes:"

Miss Harrington: "Yes, Mr. Welles."

Orson: "Instead of a ranch house in Arizona, it shall be a penthouse in New York City; instead of guitars playing softly in the background, I want a thunderstorm with lightning;"

Miss Harrington: "How many bolts?"

Orson: "At least a dozen. And finally, instead of the girl slapping my face when I kiss her, she shall thrust a dagger deep into my bosom and I shall die."

Miss Harrington: "Die! But Mr. Welles, it's only the second reel! Who will handle the rest of the picture?"

Orson: "My ghost. I shall work in whitewash."

Orson arrives on set accompanied by fanfare, playing up his status as the show's number one ham actor. Phil soon irritates Orson by calling him "Orsy."

"Dennis, I have spent years inflating the balloon that is Welles; please do not puncture it."

The above is funnier in hindsight, knowing how soon Welles' frame would expand to Don Wilson-like proportions. "Sometimes I wish I weren't perfect so people would differ with me" is another great pompous Welles line. Welles soon attempts to outdo Don Wilson's commercial for Grape Nuts with "Grape Nuts Flakes, I Love You, an Orson Welles Production!"

Welles again attempts to tamper with the show, this time insisting next week Dennis should sing opera: "the quartet from Rigoletto," with Welles himself providing three of the voices! Welles moves on to speak of his picture: "I've called my story very simply, the March of Destiny; it deals with everything that ever happened." However, hearing his leading lady and male lead have eloped together, Orson asks Mary to be the leading lady.

Orson: "And Phil, you'll be my brother."

Phil: "Your brother! Are we twins?"

Orson: "Heaven forbid."

Orson proceeds to guide Phil and Mary through a scene in which he's supposed to discover his sweetheart in the arms of his brother; Orson claims Mary and Phil will be carrying the scene, but it's Orson who hams it up (beautifully).

Orson: "Mildred! What are you doing here? Answer me, I say! What are you doing in my brother's apartment?"

Mary: "Well..."

Orson: "No explanations are necessary! I have eyes, I'm not blind to what's been going on. I've been madly in love with you, Mildred I should have brought things to a climax long ago, and now, Clarence, what have you got to say?"

Phil: "Well..."

Orson: "Alibis! Alibis, nothing but alibis! To think that the two of you have been together every afternoon for months. Why are you looking at me like that, Mildred? Have you something to tell me? Come, speak up!"

Mary: "Well..."

Orson: "Never mind, I know what you're going to say! You're going to say it's me that you love and that Clarence is just a passing fancy. You're so strangely quiet, why don't you speak up? Is it because your guilt is so obvious?"

Phil: "Well, I..."

Mary: "Wait a minute, that's my line!"

Phil: "Oh, pardon me."

Once Orson finally leaves, allowing Phil and Mary to act a love scene, Orson declares "No, no, no, let's cut that, after my exit the scene is definitely over."

Mary closes the show with a quick, "good night, Doll." Until reading the biographies about Jack, I didn't realize Jack and Mary's pet name for each other was "Doll;" once you know, you start catching it everywhere, especially when one of the two is absent (Jack would often do this for Mary). More of Orson Welles as host of the Jack Benny Program tomorrow as I visit the March 28, 1943 broadcast!

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