5/7/18

BILLY WILDER MEETS JACK BENNY



In April 1962, Billy Wilder appeared as a special guest on 'The Jack Benny Show'. So far as I know, it was the celebrated writer-directors only 'acting' appearance ever--he played himself, natch. (Years later, he was approached by Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise to play the aging sports agent/mentor in 'Jerry McGuire' but he not so respectfully passed, yelling at Crowe that he was too old and he should 'get a real actor!' and not bother him anymore).

Benny and Wilder were Beverly Hills-style pals--their group included Walter Mattheau, playwright Leonard Gershe ('Butterflies Are Free'), Producer-Director Freddie De Cordova (who directed this show as well as most of the Benny shows and later was the producer of the Johnny Carson 'Tonight Show') and comic genius Ernie Kovaks (who unfortunately died in an auto accident on Santa Monica and Beverly Glen after leaving a party at Wilder's apartment on Wilshire and Beverly Glen). Wilder appears in the last third of the show and you can feel the pal-ship in their little routine--Jack does what he can to make the non-actor comfortable and Wilder actually comes off very well, with good timing and acidic delivery. I recall seeing this episode at a Wilder Writers Guild Tribute in the early 90s and being frustrated for years at not finding it available anywhere--even Youtube took awhile to upload it. The episode is particularly well-written (were the Benny writers eager to live up to their guest star's scrutiny?) and the only peculiarity is Wilder's clothing. He was, while not exactly a clotheshorse, a famously well-turned-out fellow, always with a hat with a brim, Sulka shirts, Carrol and Co. jackets, Bass Wejuns loafers etc. In this episode, though, Wilder inexplicably has his jacket buttoned too tightly which leads to it rumpling when he sits which in turn causes his tie to come semi-unraveled. Mistake? Nerves? Lack of time to do a re-take? Or was this the Beverly Hills show-biz look of Spring, 1962?

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