DATELINE: An Innocent Age
Back in 1953 for the first show of his second season, Jack Benny garnered the biggest name and biggest star of the year: Marilyn Monroe. It was called the Jack Benny Program.
As all the set-ups in the Benny program were at the expense of Jack’s delicate ego, he took the barrage of raps and insults with his usual aplomb.
You might be ready for some outdated racial profiling when Rochester showed up: Eddie Anderson always played Jack’s valet who goes with him everywhere and calls him “Boss.” Here they go to Hawaii, and we find Jack lugging all the luggage with no Rochester.
Jack sits on the dock, ready to leave, while flower leis are given to all the departing guests for their generosity, kindness, and friendship. Alas, even a dog gets a lei, but not Jack. Finally a delicatessen owner shows up and gives him a lei of chicken livers. He is warned to be careful of the seagulls.
We learn too that Jack is carrying Rochester’s luggage because he was late for the ship.
When Benny falls asleep on deck, he dreams about the star he saw that night in a ship’s nightly movie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes megastar, Marilyn Monroe. And, in one of her designer gowns, she drops into the barcalounger recliner next to Jack in his dreams.
She professes her love for him despite their age difference. She points out she is 25 and he is 39, but in 25 years she will be 50, and he will still be 39. She is enchanted by his big blue eyes.
It was Monroe’s first TV appearance as a guest star (we don’t count her TV commercials, satirized in All About Eve). She is lovely and charming, and so is Jack.
You simply don’t have that kind of weekly series surprise, even with cable nowadays. It was a gentle treat of a bygone era, and a lovely little escape from today.