On radio and television, Jack Benny created for himself a legendary character that possessed many unflattering qualities: avarice, cowardice, narcissism, etc. Such an individual would be tiresome to be around (if the tell-all books being written by ex-White House staffers is any indication), so to make Benny more sympathetic, his hard-working scribes also infused him with an identifiable vulnerability in which he was, to borrow Benny’s longtime writer/friend Milt Josefsberg’s description, “Fate’s patsy.” You’re familiar with the scenario: Jack would encounter a waiter or ticket clerk or other customer service-type (and they would be, as likely as not, played by Frank Nelson as the man who truly couldn’t stand Jack) and sometime during the interaction would be reduced to forlornly staring at the audience (granted, it was much more effective on TV than radio) with an expression that screamed “Can you believe this is happening to me?”
In Josefsberg’s book The Jack Benny Show, he reveals that life imitated art when it came to Jack being the “patsy”:
In real life he was the man nearest to the curb and thus inevitably destined to get splashed by a passing car speeding through a puddle of muddy water. He was the Good Samaritan who would be punched in the nose for his attempts to help others or for acting as a peacemaker between two arguing people. If a group of six went into a swank restaurant and were being seated by an attentive waiter, Jimmy the Greek would give odds that Jack would sit in the chair on which someone would inadvertently spill water. On a hike through a desert area, if the participants sat down for a few minutes of rest, Jack would sit on the only piece of poison ivy in the arid wasteland, or within a thousand miles for that matter. He was the guy who would go to the theater and get seats behind the pole in the auditorium, or else he’d be seated in front of the popcorn-engorged kid who would throw up. He could be at a football game, hardly visible in the midst of a hundred thousand cheering spectators, yet a passing pigeon would unerringly choose Jack as his target. He was the eternal innocent bystander, positioned directly behind the target who ducked when a pie was hurled at him, so that Jack got it full in the face.
A few of Jack’s escapades as hapless “schnook” are chronicled in a Radio Spirits collection, Tough Luck!—released in 2017. I wrote the liner notes for this set, and since I happen to have a spare copy I thought it might be fun to have a giveaway on the blog…seeing as how Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s last OTR contest was a little over two years ago. (There’s an explanation for this…but it’s perhaps best overlooked for another day.) A ten-CD collection spotlighting 20 classic Benny broadcasts (SRP $39.95), Tough Luck! not only features Jack and the gang but guest stars like Mary Martin, Peter Lorre, and The Quiz KIds. You will want to love it and hug it and squeeze it and pet it…heck, you can even call it “George” if you’ve a mind to. Here are the contest rules:
1) Send an e-mail with “Tough Luck” in the subject header to igsjrotr(at)gmail(dot)com. You have until 11:59pm EST on March 2, 2019 (next Saturday) to enter. You don’t have to provide me with full snail-mail details if you’re concerned about privacy (I can dig it) but I will need a name. (If so desired, you can also include something clever like “It’s about time you started hosting giveaways again, you schweinhund!” but I should stress that it won’t influence the outcome…it’ll just make me chortle, which is always a good thing.)
2) You will need to be a resident of either the U.S. or Canada to participate; I would love to foot the bill for shipping should someone overseas win this prize…but alas, I am but a poor corrupt official in the tradition of Claude Rains in Casablanca.
3) As a rule, I ask that if you’ve been a previous winner in a TDOY giveaway, wait thirty days before entering another contest so that someone without your phenomenal streak of good fortune gets a chance to win some swag. Of course, it’s been two years since the last giveaway so this rule is kind of moot for this particular contest. (Sorry about that.)
4) I will choose a winner (via the Random Number Generator at Random.org) the morning of March 3rd (sister Kat’s birthday!) and contact that lucky person via e-mail so they can provide me with their snail-mail details. (They’ll even get a mention on the blog! Cowabunga, cartooners!)
5) As always…there is no number five. (I may have to retire this joke soon.)
No one is more excited than your humble narrator that I’m able to resurrect the blog giveaways so if you want a chance to add this delightful set to your OTR collection (or if you’re just starting an OTR collection!) enter today! And remember: Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is the phrase that pays!