Friday, March 28, 2014

Jack Benny Without Jack Benny, Part 5 of 6

We have reached Orson's final appearance as host of the Jack Benny Program with this, the April 4, 1943 episode.

Unfortunately, does not have this episode in their Jack Benny archive, but you can follow along using this link to the episode as prepared for a podcast series on Orson Welles at (right click the link to download).

The episode opens again with Gilroy & Radcliff's diner as the cast enter the premises one at a time; Radcliff hits Phil with a pie, unable to stand hearing Phil's corny jokes; hiding from Phil, Radcliff again ducks under the counter, bumping his head.

Mary phones up Jack in a one-sided telephone conversation which serves to inform the audience Jack will return for the next week's show; it also sets up next week by revealing how jealous Jack is of Orson. Phil is the cast member most disappointed to hear Orson will be leaving, insisting the two are "cultural buddies" and have a "lend/lease agreement on brains."

Verna Felton returns as Miss Harrington; this time Mary returns her greeting with "Hiya, Muscles." As in last week's broadcast, Orson's entrance is marked by fanfare.

Orson: "Well, uh, Mary what do you hear from Jack? Have you talked to him lately?"

Mary: "Yeah, I just had him on the phone. Jack's feeling fine now and says he'll be back on the show next week."

Orson: "Well!"

Dennis: "Looks like you'll have to hit the road, bub!"

Orson: "Dennis! Naturally, now that Jack feels better he should resume his rightful position. As for myself, I shall fold my tent like an Arab and silently steal away."

Phil: "When you put it that way, Orson, I could sob!"

I can't do Phil's tearful delivery justice; hear it for yourself, I think it gets funnier every time Orson repeats his "fold my tent" dialogue, causing Phil to mourn for him each time.

Once again the diner piece ends with Radcliff ducking under the counter, the gang heading to the studio and Orson uttering "last one to the studio's an old tomato!" Well, it's mostly like the previous week.

Following a jazzy number by Phil's band, Orson repeats his "fold my tent" line, again upsetting Phil.

Orson: "Seriously, I'm going to miss all of you, and if I ever get my own program I'd like to have this gang sign up with me."

Don: "You mean you'd like to have us work for you?"

Orson: "Yes. Of course, I don't know if I could meet the salaries that Jack's been paying you."

Mary: "They're really lousy. Why do you wanna meet them?"

Orson asks them to give him their phone numbers; Phil, Don & Dennis comply but Mary asserts if she gives Orson her number, he's liable to call her up for a date. When Orson insists he wouldn't, she retorts, "then you can't have it."

Orson goes into his announcement on the week's sketch: the cast expect something Shakespearean (Phil suggests "the Taming of the Stew"), but Orson has prepared for them "Little Red Riding Hood."

Phil: "Little Red Riding Hood? Ain't that kinda juvenile for you and me, Orson?"

Orson: "Perhaps, Phil, but I think the kiddies who are listening in and observing this playlet especially for them. Now I will play the part of Old Man Hood, an elderly farmer who lives at the edge of a forest. Mary will be my daughter Red and Dennis will be my son Robin, ha! ...Robin Hood. Are you giggling, kiddies?"

Orson continues the gag of making lousy jokes then addressing the kids in the audience throughout the impending skit. Don will play a tree in the woods ("which only God can make"), Phil is cast as the woodsman. Mary takes a second part as Red's mother and likewise, Orson will be a wolf.

Mary: "In that case, here's my phone number, Baby Face."

Orson: "Thanks, Mary."

Dennis: "This play is really crazy. Mary is her mother and her daughter, Orson is her father and the wolf, and Wilson is a tree that giggles. I worry about things like that!"

Dennis' "I worry about things like that!" is a running gag with a lot of life outside of these guest programs.

Orson: "What are you going to sing tonight?"

Dennis: "A song."

Orson: "A song, that's fine. And what's the name?"

Dennis: "Dennis Day."

Orson: "The name of the song!"

Before Dennis can sing, Rochester phones, but this time his call is preceded with Orson's fanfare! This cracks Orson up for a moment; Rochester is prepared to leave Orson's employ "after four weeks of sheer bliss." In describing his contract with Jack Benny to Orson, Rochester says a lawyer looked at it and declared, "Mr. Lincoln wouldn't like this." Rochester signs off by stealing Orson's "fold my tent" routine, to Orson's chagrin. Following Dennis' song:

Orson: "You have a marvelous voice, there's no getting away from it."

Dennis: "Well, if it's so marvelous, why do you want to get away from it?"

Orson: "I don't want to get away from it, I paid you a compliment, you little brat!"

Dennis: "Oh!"

Orson: "And now, ladies and gentlemen... on second thought, Dennis, here's your phone number back."

The sketch begins, even as Phil points out they never cast the part of the grandmother; Orson promises the grandmother will be a surprise (any long-time fan who recalls the instances where Jack promises a "surprise" bit of casting already knows who grandmother will be). Orson starts the sketch proper with Jack's familiar: "Curtain! Music!"

Orson adopts a scratchy "rube" voice for the role of Red's father - quite a thing to hear a Shakespearean performer attempt! Grandmother calls up and her voice is immediately recognizable as long-time guest star Andy Devine (last heard 3 weeks prior)!

As Red heads over to grandmother's house there's a great sound effects gag as Mary notes the "howling wind" (with accompanying effect) and "falling snow" (to the sound of a jackhammer). Orson re-enters the story declaring, "It's me, kiddies, I'm a wolf now." Don inserts a Grape Nuts commercial as Mary describes the contents of her basket.

At grandmother's house, the wolf threatens to eat her:

Orson: "Hold still! It'll be over in a minute!"

Andy: "Should I take my boots off?"

Orson's attempt to imitate Andy Devine is pretty lousy, but hey, any excuse to have Orson talk in a funny voice. Phil arrives to kill the wolf, but the swallowed Andy protests at being chopped up and thus the skit ends - like so many of Jack's skits - without an ending. I've heard the Jack Benny Program compared to the Muppet Show and in a sense they were kindred programs - both headed by flustered men unable to properly corral the entertainers into the reputable players he wanted.

Orson delivers a farewell at the end of the show, bringing his tenure to an end; Mary whispers in "Good night, Doll" at the last second.

Tomorrow: Jack Benny returned to his show for the April 11, 1943 broadcast but Orson Welles had yet to exit!

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