Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jack Benny Program with Ronnie Burns, April 6, 1958

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Back in August I had downloaded an episode of the Jack Benny Program from which was from the 1958 season (the original air date was April 6) and featured Ronnie Burns, adoptive son of George Burns and Gracie Allen (and his tall Anglo good looks and chiseled features, which these days reminded me of a young Mitt Romney, made it all too clear that he was not George and Gracie’s biological progeny!), doing a lame rock song called “She’s Kinda Cute” in what I guess was a bow to the youth audience. Fortunately, the main part of the show was a good deal better than Ronnie’s kinda silly song; there was a great gag with Rochester (Eddie Anderson) calling Benny while he’s in the middle of his show to tell him that his new suit arrived, only because of how little Benny had been willing to pay for it, the tailor hadn’t put it in a box; instead he actually wore it to Benny’s house, took it off and left it there. While we see Rochester there’s a knock on Benny’s door — it’s the tailor’s partner, delivering the second pair of pants (and having to leave without any pants). “It’s a good thing for the censors he didn’t buy any underwear!” says Rochester.

But the main attraction for this show is a plot line featuring Don Wilson’s jealous hissy-fit that George Burns’ son has got on the Benny show before his son Harlow (Dale White) has. Harlow turns out to be an overgrown baby — they actually feed him in a high chair, and both he and dad eat an entire turkey for their meal (though this was an Easter Sunday show originally, the turkey gag made it quite appropriate viewing for the eve of Thanksgiving!) — indeed, he seems to be anticipating the entire “adult baby” schtick: though he’s the size of a grown man he’s clearly behaving like a child, and the gag is that his parents (his mom is played by Lois Corbett) are stunting his emotional growth big-time. There’s also a neat gag in which every time Don Wilson stomps the floor in anger, plaster comes falling from the ceiling on top of him. The show was then sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes, and whoever uploaded it blessedly left the commercials in it — which were a trip: not only are we no longer accustomed to seeing tobacco commercials on TV but the commercials themselves, crudely animated and (in one case) featuring some Latino stereotypes so obnoxious the Frito Bandito comes off as a model of cultural sensitivity by comparison — an additional bit of cultural history to a show that’s quite appealing on its own even if it evokes nostalgia for a time when the common run of ordinary mainstream TV was this good!