Judge P.S. Colbert's own long-running variety show was performed live in various rooms of his childhood home.
You don't know Jack.
You may think you know Jack, but Jack held back…until now.
The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes collects eighteen half hour shows, originally produced between 1956 and 1964, and not seen since their original network broadcasts. Most of them were broadcast live and would have vanished forever, but for Benny having "kinescope" copies made for his private collection, which were then donated by his estate to the University of California archival library.
And what a collection it is! Stargazers can look forward to appearances by George Burns, Spike Jones, George Gobel, Red Skelton, Ronald and Benita Colman, Gary Cooper, Jack Paar, Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Mike Wallace, Dinah Shore, Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, Jaye P. Morgan, John Wayne, Hugh Downs, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles, Dick Van Dyke, Gisele MacKenzie, Mel Blanc, Reverend Billy Graham, and President Harry Truman. That's of course, in addition to Jack's regular posse: announcer Don Wilson, singer Dennis Day, and comic valet Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (Cabin In The Sky).
As any Jack Benny fan knows, the legacy of this legendary comedian's long-running television series (from 1950-64 on CBS and 1964-65 on NBC) has been one of the most mishandled in the medium's history, maligned by scattershot "public domain material" video and DVD releases of horribly sub-standard quality…until now.
The helpful and informative booklet accompanying this set features a note that cautions: "these episodes…exhibit varying degrees of film composition." The article goes on to explain: "In preparation for digital remastering, each film was inspected, sonically cleaned, timed and wet-gate digitally transferred. The majority of the remastering was focused on correcting the age-related artifacts associated with deterioration, such as flicker associated with significantly shrunken film, unstable image and the removal of dust and dirt."
While I'm waiting for someone to translate what all that means, I can tell you that Shout! Factory gets no complaints from me about these full-frame, mono-sound transfers. Sure, there's some evident wear and tear in places, but nothing to get in the way of enjoying this rare treats. After all, one doesn't throw buried treasure back in the ground because it's no longer in mint condition, right?
Each of the three discs comes festooned with bonus features. There's a small reminiscence of their days on the show between Jack's longtime personal assistant Dorothy Ohlman, director Norman Abbott (Leave It To Beaver), and Harry Shearer (This Is Spinal Tap, The Simpsons), who appeared semi-regularly on both Jack's radio and television shows while still a pre-teen. There are also a handful of clips from Jack's post-series network specials in 1969, 1971, and 1974, so teasingly wonderful I'm hoping they'll soon be available in their entirety. Finally, there's a collection of "Hearst Newsreels" (including multiple takes) from 1935-1945 that you can file under "extremely miscellaneous."
Aside from describing the individual routines here (and that's always a pleasure, isn't it?), I don't know what else to tell you but to take advantage of this opportunity to enjoy one of comedy's true masters in top form while you can, and please join me in hoping that this will be the first (legitimate) release of many more Jack Benny collections.
(Pregnant pause). Now, cut that out!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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