Thursday, February 2, 2012

James Melton & Jack Benny

While doing research for the biographical memoir of my father, I was drawn to Joan Benny’s biography of her father, Sunday Nights at Seven. The book I was writing was based largely upon an unpublished manuscript by my mother—just as Joan’s book used an unpublished manuscript of her father’s. I was intrigued by how she intertwined her own memories with those of her parents. Plus, there was the fact that my father had been on Jack’s radio show a number of times in the mid 1930s; he and Jack shared an affinity for antique cars; and the Meltons and the Bennys each had adopted a baby girl. I felt a special bond with Joan.

On a very personal level, Joan’s recollections of growing up were remarkably close to mine in many ways. The Meltons and the Bennys both impressed upon their only daughters how lucky we were to be adopted, because we were “chosen”—that made us special.

We shared the enigma of our parents’ relationship to each other, especially the separate bedrooms. This was always explained to me as a result of my father’s erratic schedule, often necessitating the need to sleep until noon, while my mother had to be up early to get me off to school.

As children, Joan and I both liked our milk served warm rather than ice cold. Joan says in the book it’s because in the 1930s it was believed that cold milk was bad for children. Whatever the reason, I too grew up liking warm milk.

Although Joan appeared on her father’s television show, the closest I ever got to show biz was an occasional appearance on the concert stage when my father needed a little girl to whom he could sing “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” from Oklahoma. (See my 9/5/09 blog post)

Jack sized up TV as a “man-eating monster” which gave performers too much close-up exposure and lead to audience disinterest quicker than radio. How true! My father’s TV show, “Ford Festival,” lasted only two years, while his radio career lasted for twenty.

Here’s a bit of Benny-related trivia. In the mid-1930s my father made three rather forgettable movies for Warner Brothers. In “Melody for Two” my father plays a band leader who has career ups and downs due to professional and personal jealousies. Predictably, it all comes out right in the end, he gets the girl and the conniving music arranger gets his comuppance There's a brief appearance by a black janitor who supplies the success-producing hot swing arrangements—the latest thing from the Harlem clubs. It sure looks and sounds like Eddie Anderson, Jack Benny's gravel-voiced sidekick "Rochester," but he's not named in the credits. (See my 5/13/10 blog post)

No comments:

Post a Comment