Radio stars (Dec 1938)

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ANYTHING Ribbing and kidding is to a performer what WHEN a comedian or an orchestra leader gets into the star class, something pretty dreary confronts him. He must employ a production and business staff, and unfor- tunately the world is full of people who believe that the way to please the boss is to treat him with the utmost respect. They have the idea that big shots love to sur- round themselves with "yes men" and that the thing to do is to learn how to express acquiescence in as many ways as possible, from "Uh-huh" to "That's right." A big shot in show business finds an atmosphere such as this deadly and withering to his own personality.. The very stimulus to his rise to fame was opposition. He becomes lost, unsure of himself and miserable when all he hears is "yes." What he longs for is a good counter- irritant to the doldrums of success, somebody who is capable of opposing him with a twinkle in his eye, some- body who can make a big shot feel stimulated, jolly. In medieval days, kings and lords had court jesters for this very purpose, clowns who dared to say what no one else dared to say—and got away with it because they were funny. It flatters a big shot, surrounded everywhere by obsequious assistants, to have a crack or a quip made at his expense. It also keeps his feet on the ground. Ben Bernie's a maestro who would be sunk if he were surrounded with earnest, respectful folk. He has a mar- velous sense of humor, and many of the cracks he has used with such success on the air originated through impulses to kid around with and rib those people with whom he was associated in hours of preparation and rehearsal. Therefore, it is necessary for Ben to gather around him people who are stimulating to his sense of humor because they themselves possess the gift of gab. Bernie has been fortunate in this respect. His secretary and "shadow," Eleanor Smith, is not only such an ideal gal Friday that she loads her pocketbook with cigars for Ben, but she has a quick tongue and realizes that there are many times when it is more necessary to say "Oh, yeah ?" than "Yes, sir." Take the morning in the office when Ben flew into a rare "temperamental" rage because Eleanor interrupted him for an important telephone call. Ben's words were something like this: "Didn't I tell you not to bother me ? For the love of blankety blank. The blankety blank thing has been ringing all morning. I haven't had a chance for the script. Everybody wants something. I haven't even had a chance to get any lunch!" Eleanor's eyes snapped. "I see no reason why you should be so hungry, Mr. Bernie—you seem to be fed up." Ben's baleful expression changed to one of startled sheepish- ness as he picked up the telephone. In a moment he was returning Eleanor's spoofing smile with a grin. His tone, as he spoke to the person who had called at this inoppor- tune moment, was eminently "human." Eleanor's crack had relaxed him and he returned to his gag conference in jovial spirits. Eleanor used to be secretary to a Supreme Court judge, and she admits that it took her a while to catch on that people in this business must turn even their most disgruntled moments into laughs, because ribbing and kidding is to a performer what skipping rope is to a boxer—it keeps him in good condition. In 1933, Ben hired a pianist named Harry Bailey. Harry Bailey was a good pianist, all right, but he was a dandy