On this Day in 1938 and 1949: Jack Benny Lays an Egg and Hatches It Well

Well, you can’t expect profundities from someone who sports a fake mustache and spots of white paint on his pelt, someone who traipses along the hedgerows in slippers and underwear to go in search of a sound. Easter or not, it was one of those days on which reason lays an egg.

Even if you didn’t observe the self-denial rituals of the season, you can gather that the bleak and lean months are over. You might catch The Easter Parade on television, for instance, or step into a dyed egg that hasn’t been hunted down. You might come to realize that Lent is so yesterday by noticing how the chocolate bunnies have suddenly disappeared from the shop windows, making way for Mother’s Day reminders; or, if you, like me, moved far from the fattening crowd, you can tell it’s time for a feast when the lambs are getting bold or anxious enough to bolt and too big to make it back into the fold once it gets tangled up in wires and brambles, as was the misfortune of the lost one above. Is it just me, or does the woolly one bear a resemblance to American Idol finalist Elliot Yamin?

Now, I am neither shepherd nor hunter. I was busy spring-cleaning, freshening up the paint on my bedroom walls (hence the aforementioned spots), when I got distracted by the noisy lament of the latent dish across the way. Protecting one’s patch of green from being chomped up by hunting down the voracious herbivore that will soon be someone else’s dinner is, though a seasonal probability, not exactly a tradition to be cherished. Unlike Jack Benny’s Easter gambols, which took place on this day, 17 April, in 1938, among animals far wilder and people more peculiar than those above described

Gaily attired in a “funny double-breasted suit” and that most radiogenic of footwear–squeaking shoes–Benny decides to cut short his weekly broadcast to take his gang to the circus. The old skinflint even springs for a round of balloons. Resident crooner Kenny Baker is unimpressed by the offer: “Naw, that’s for children. I want a Tom Collins.” You’d appreciate one, too, getting through some of these early routines.

Having feasted their eyes on the sideshow attractions touted as the “most stupendous aggregation of freaks and curiosities this world has ever seen,” they all saunter over to the main tent, only to learn that Benny’s free passes are no good. Leave it to Benny to come up with a solution that does not involve payment, even if it leads him straight into a lion’s cage.

Eleven years later, on 17 April, in 1949, Benny, just returned from New York, was heard Easter-Parading down Wilshire Boulevard. The creaky old routines sure had gotten smoother since 1938, even though success did not stop Benny, whose long-running program had just changed networks, from being troubled by thoughts of cancellation, as this excerpt from his diary reveals:

April 8: Talked to my sponsor today.
April 9: Talked to my sponsor today.
April 10: Talked to my sponsor today.
April 11: Talked to my lawyer today.
April 12: My lawyer talked to my sponsor today.
April 13: My lawyer will be my summer replacement.

As Benny strolls down to La Brea, greeting passers-by in Easter Parade fashion, there are amusing run-ins with a motley crew of recurring characters (including Benny’s frustrated violin teacher Professor LeBlanc and the chirpy Mr. Kitzel; listening in on the wire are nonchalant telephone operators Mabel Flapsaddle and Gertrude Gearshift).

I would fit right in, I think, especially with that fake mustache I just mentioned. It’s not that I am too follicle-challenged to sprout one. I drew it last night to humor my adopted family, the folks in Connecticut and New York for whom I had appeared on camera for a holiday video conference. They had never seen me without facial hair, which I took off a few days ago after a failed attempt at Don-Amecheing it to pencil-thin perfection. In fear of being threatened with a “summer replacement” of my own, I swiftly grabbed the next best pen and transformed myself for my fastidious audience. As it turns out, the ink is of the waterproof and permanent variety. Now, pardon me while I continue my spring cleaning in front of a mirror . . .

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