Thursday, May 14, 2015

Jack Benny Show: “Goldie, Fields and Glide" (CBS-TV,

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Two nights ago Charles and I watched a March 21, 1954 episode of the Jack Benny Program called “Goldie, Fields and Glide,” a marvelous little gem of entertainment in which Benny’s guest stars were Bing Crosby and his lifetime friend George Burns. Benny and Burns did woefully little together (the only other collaboration I’ve seen of theirs is the Paramount film The Big Broadcast of 1937, a bit of a letdown) but they’re marvelous here. The gimmick is that Benny wants Bing Crosby as a guest on his TV show but worries that Bing will want too much money, so he’s invited both Bing and Burns to play golf with him — only they never get near the golf course. Benny has set up his valet, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson — who, because of Benny’s penchant for letting his sidekicks score off him, was virtually the only African-American comedian of the age who got to play street-wise instead of stupid — with a preposterous Keaton-esque contraption with which Rochester can rack Benny’s hammock, fan him, churn butter and make ice cream (Benny has decided to sell the last two items by sneaking his phone number onto Carnation trucks — at the time Carnation was George Burns’ sponsor and Lucky Strike cigarettes was Benny’s) all at the same time, though he runs out of limbs when Benny bids him answer his phone as well. Rochester is doing all this while reading a mystery novel called Murder in the Attic, and he gets so excited about the book that he starts pushing the treadmill of Benny’s hammock-rocker too fast, with the result that Benny goes flying off the contraption and into a tree. (The next thing that happens is Rochester answers Benny’s phone with, “The residence of Jack Benny, star of stage, screen, radio, TV and trying to be Tarzan.”)

Then there’s a marvelous send-up of vaudeville in which Benny recalls his days as “Glide” in the act “Goldie, Fields and Glide” — Goldie being Bing Crosby and Fields being George Burns. Their act, as Benny remembers it, consists of the three of them doing a soft-shoe dance to a typical song of the vaudeville era and a grim spoof of the song “Put Them All Together, They Spell Mother,” which Crosby sings more or less “straight” and Benny ridicules with a talking bridge that savages the cheap sentimentality of the song. When Crosby comes by he, Burns and Benny reminisce — Benny says to Crosby, “You didn’t become big until Paul Whiteman put you in front of the Coconut Grove,” and Crosby says to Burns, “And you didn’t become big until you put Gracie Allen in front of a justice of the peace.” Burns turns to the audience and says, “I’ve got a great comeback for that, but I’m saving it for my own show.” Later, Crosby insists on resting in the hammock — it’s a wonder he doesn’t ask Rochester for a pitcher of Minute Maid orange juice (Crosby co-owned the company) — and he agrees to do Benny’s show for a fee of $10,000. Benny responds by pushing the treadmill and rocking the hammock faster and faster, until Crosby flies off it into the tree — and Benny tells him, “I’m not letting you down until you lower your price.” Crosby refuses, and then the camera pans over to another tree where, lo and behold, Bob Hope is nestled. “You’d better do as he asks,” Hope tells Crosby. “I’ve been up here for four months now.” What’s amazing about this show is how matter-of-fact it was, how much a product of an era in which entertainment this good was considered routine — “Oh, just another Jack Benny show with Bing Crosby, George Burns and Bob Hope” — whereas today we watch with goop-eyed amazement that there were ever people this funny not only regularly featured on TV but beloved as superstars. It’s also jarring, to say the least, to see cigarettes advertised on TV (our source for the show was a commercial DVD that presented both this and the Liberace episode unedited and with the original commercials in place) — especially when a Mexican gardener with the obligatory Frito Bandido accent comes on and delivers the Lucky Strike pitch, albeit ostensibly talking about bananas; the show is obviously both using the strategy of embedding the commercials into the program and making fun of it!