Today's Video Link
Here's about six minutes from a 1966 Jack Benny TV special. Benny had a half-hour series on CBS from the early fifties until he and his managers made a fatal mistake. They'd been airing on Tuesday nights, back-to-back with Red Skelton's hour-long program and the combo had been strong in the ratings. In early 1963 when the Fall schedule was announced, they discovered that CBS had moved Benny a half-hour later and inserted a new show, a sitcom, between him and Red.
Benny was upset that CBS had made this decision without consulting or informing him, and advance word on this new show was not promising. It was a rural comedy called Petticoat Junction starring a member of his old stock company from radio, Bea Benaderet. Benny loved her but didn't think she could carry a series and he became convinced the change would cost him much of his audience. NBC had made occasional inquiries as to whether he would like to jump networks and he decided the time to do that was before his ratings declined on CBS…so his manager Irving Fein negotiated a deal. Benny would do the Fall '63 season for CBS, then move to NBC as of the following year. As you might imagine, CBS was not happy with this.
Neither was Benny when Petticoat Junction turned out to be a big hit. Following Ms. Benaderet's show, he got some of the highest ratings he'd ever had in television. Then when he moved to NBC, CBS slotted another new rural sitcom — Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. — opposite him and he got killed and cancelled. If he'd stayed at CBS, he would probably have had his weekly series as long as Skelton had his, which was until 1970. (Skelton then moved to NBC also…and also only did one more year.)
After his NBC show went off, Benny appeared in a series of one-hour specials for them…about one a year until his death in 1974. This segment is from what I believe was his second special for them. I further believe the actor playing the stagehand is Bill Baldwin, who was the show's announcer and one of those men whose voice you heard everywhere in the sixties. And shortly after he exits, who should enter but a man with an even more ubiquitous voice?!
As you well know, the great Mel Blanc was in a horrible auto accident in January of 1961. At first, it looked like would not survive his injuries. Then it looked like he would but would never walk again. He beat that prediction, too. Sooner than anyone expected, he was back doing voiceover work — at first, from his home hospital-type bed and then going to actual recording studios. By late '64 (I believe), he was even appearing on TV occasionally again. I think the first time was on Benny's NBC series. They did the "Sí, Sy" routine and I remember a vast amount of joy at seeing him unexpectedly turn up on that episode. I also remember noting that he was seated throughout and the next few times I saw him on TV, he was also seated. Didn't walk, didn't even stand.
He may have worked on his feet on other shows before this one but I think this was the first time I saw that. He not only walks in and stands for the entire routine, he does a bit of a dance in there and gets a big laugh doing it. He also carries in a huge bass which he obviously had no idea how to play.
I thought this was a funny spot but more than that, I remember a feeling of delight that Mel Blanc seemed to have pretty much recovered from that terrible accident. I didn't know the man then but ever since I became aware of who was speaking for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Barney Rubble and so many other characters I loved, I felt a certain kinship to the guy and it was great to see him up and around…