How Jerry Got His Name

Chapter 26

November 17, 2011

Delores Gilbert has learned that her great-uncle, Tommy Franks, passed away on Saturday in Los Angeles.  He was 103.  We extend sympathies to Delores and her family.

Lee Rogers reports that he sold his 27th story plot last week, this one to a French author. So far, 23 of his plots have been turned into successful novels and six movies have been made from the novels. Congratulations once again, Lee.

The annual Harvest Dinner will be held next Thursday in the Elementary School gym.  This year, the dinner is being sponsored by Harry Singleton and Jason Glenn in appreciation of the community’s support of their Convent Bed and Breakfast, which is set to open next Saturday. Leftover turkey on the breakfast menu, gentlemen?

Jennifer Hall’s Veteran’s Day picture, “Why We Call Them Heroes,” was the winner in the elementary school coloring contest. Jennifer received a $25 gift certificate from Walmart.

We reported that the reception and open house at Walnut Rest was to have been on Monday, November 17. As was pointed out by our sharp-eyed readers, Monday was the 14th. Not being confused by the error, forty-four guests showed up Monday evening. We can only hope that as many don’t show up there tonight.

Dr. Frederick Reinholdt’s funeral was held on Saturday at Hope Lutheran Church in Fremont. Many of his former students and legions of friends attended the service. We understand that Marie will be moving to Florida soon to live with her son, Carl, and his wife, Rue.

The Prairie View Extension Club will meet on Monday. The program will be given by Judy Saunders, K-State Extension agent. The title of the program,“Turkey Tips and Tricks,” has been the source of much merriment among Judy’s colleagues. Say, Judy, what’s the name of that program you are doing?

The Main Street/Pride Committee will be meeting tonight to discuss implementation of the design guidelines adopted by the Town Council at their last meeting. Sally Oswald has scheduled a public meeting for December 1 to discuss the guidelines and answer any questions that people in town might have.

Eddie and Glenda Singleton, Hannah, Lauren and Emily, will be in Manhattan beginning Friday, visiting with cousin Charles, wife Jennifer and daughters Rachel and Jessica.

Dorothy and Billy Thompson spent Monday in Kansas City. Dorothy toured the Patricia Stevens Model and Talent Agency and Billy went to the World War I memorial.

Bill Heath reports that his “water retention structure” (AKA fishing pond) has been completed and he is hoping for a few gully washers to fill it up.

Curt and Amanda Jackson went to the Rio in Overland Park to see “Anonymous,” a film that speculates about the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. Curt says the evidence is overwhelming that the author was Christopher Marlowe, but Amanda says after seeing the film, she thinks it was actually Queen Elizabeth I.

I know that there are those who question who writes this column, but I can assure you that…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

Craig Gilbert stopped at Shirley’s for breakfast on Monday before heading to his office in St. Joseph.  Craig’s law practice has expanded since the opening of Victory Foods there.  Craig specializes in immigration law and VF, as it is known, employs a large number of workers from southeast Asia and Latin and South America.  He and his six associates do a great deal of pro bono work representing clients who are suspected of being in the country illegally.

“I’m surprised to see you here this morning,” I said.  “You are usually already in your office at 8:00 a.m.”

“I know, but this morning I’m not due at a hearing in Kansas City until 10:30 so I thought I’d relax a bit first.”

“We were sad to hear about Delores’ uncle Tommy.  Was Betty with him when he passed?”

“No, Betty’s still in the hospital out there and Tommy went unexpectedly.  Tommy’s assistant said he was getting ready to go see her, but he just sat down on the bed, gave a little sigh and died.”

Tommy was Betty’s was husband of eighty-five years.  Betty has been in Cedars of Sinai hospital for a couple of weeks after a fall at their home. All indications are that she is doing well and that Tommy was in good health for someone who had just turned 103.

Tommy and Betty, in addition to being husband and wife, made up the comedy duo of “Franks and Beans.” Beginning in the late ‘20s, they were regulars on the Vaudeville circuit, USO tours during WWII, early TV variety shows and were particular favorites of Johnny Carson.  Tommy Franks and Betty “Beans” Benowitz met at Southwest High School in Kansas City, but dropped out when they were hired by Jacob Shubert to perform at “Shubert’s Missouri” theater.  Tommy and Betty had been doing comedy routines in high school amateur shows, one of which Jacob happened to attend with his theater manager, whose son also attended Southwest, and that particular evening, they did a routine much like the ones George Burns and Gracie Allen became famous for, except that the roles were reverse, with Frank playing a scatterbrained male to Betty’s smart, but perplexed (by Frank’s non sequiturs), female. When the Shubert closed in 1928, they married and moved to New York. With Jacob Shubert’s introduction, they started working at the Palace Theater where they met George Jessel, who took them under his wing. George recognized that Betty was a comic genius and Tommy instinctively understood the importance of the business side of the act.

After a couple of years in New York, Jessel convinced Tommy that the future for acts like his and Betty’s was in movies. With George’s sponsorship, they moved to California and were signed by Herman J. Mankiewicz for Paramount Pictures. Mankiewicz was producing the Marx Brothers at that time and he found parts for Tommy and Betty in Animal Crackers and Duck Soup. Chico was so impressed by the bits that Tommy and Betty did that he convinced S. J. Perelman to write a script for a feature movie for the two. While Horsing Around was never a box office hit like the Marx Brothers movies, their second film, Betty Buys a Bentley, was nominated for an Academy Awards in 1936 for Outstanding Production.

When told of the nomination, Tommy repeated the line he used to end each of their routines: “I’d be amazed if I weren’t so surprised.”

The team went on to appear with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in three of their “Road” pictures; with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby”; and, with Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride in four “Ma and Pa Kettle” movies in the early ‘50s.

Through the ‘40s and ‘50s, the act prospered, but their world shifted monumentally in early 1964.

“I remember seeing them on Ed Sullivan on the Sunday night that the Beatles made their debut in America.  They were supposed to be the headliners that night, but sort of got upstaged, if I remember right,” I said.

“Yes, after that night, they were never quite the performers they had been.  Since I was only three in 1964, I obviously don’t remember it, but I’ve heard Delores’ mom and dad talk about the disappointment Tommy and Betty experienced because of that night.  There seemed to be a change in the attitude towards their comedy.  The old routines didn’t get the laughs they once did and I don’t think they were able to change enough for the culture that emerged.”

That shift affected many comedians of the era — Mort Sahl, Groucho Marx, Jerry Lewis, Joey Bishop, Lenny Bruce, Buddy Hackett — all of whom found their time on network TV limited by the tide of rock and roll bands who took their place and ratings.  While “Franks and Beans” continued to appear sporadically on Johnny Carson (and Dick Cavett devoted an entire hour to them in 1969), they found that they were more often booked for cameos on “Laugh-In,” “Carol Burnett,” and “The Gong Show,” appearances that cast them as performers out of touch with the mood of the country at that time.

They retired from show business in 1975 and lived on the residuals from their two movies and the investments that Tommy, a shrewd businessman all a long, had made in southern California real estate.  In 2000, they were “rediscovered” by Jon Stewart and became regulars on “The Daily Show,” commenting on politics and popular culture.  Tommy’s supposed bewilderment with then-current musicians and national figures, contrasted with Betty’s logical approach, created a comedy environment that meshed perfectly with Stewart’s view of the world.  When they were awarded a special Emmy for “Life-Time Achievement in Comedy” in 2006, they were both celebrating their 96th birthdays.

“Delores and I are flying out tomorrow to attend the memorial service and bringing Tommy’s ashes back to Kansas City. We’ve gotten permission to have them scattered in the little courtyard next to the Folly Theater. That used to be the Shubert where Betty and Tommy got their start. Tommy always said that they kicked off the dust of Kansas City when they went on the circuit, but he wanted his dust to go back there when he died.”

Somewhere, Tommy’s probably trading wisecracks with his Hollywood buddies and saying, “I’d be amazed if I weren’t so surprised.”

………

People often ask me why we named our dog Jerry. It is, admittedly, not a common dog name like Spot, Rover or Lady. In fact, on the list of the most popular male dog names, Jerry comes in way down the list, below Gizmo, Zeus and Sparky.

“Jerry’s not a dog name you hear very often,” one of my neighbors will say. “Is it a family name?”

Ha, ha.

To be honest, Jerry was the first name we thought of, and ultimately, it is the one that most closely fits his personality. Here’s the story:

It was the Sunday before Labor Day, 2005. Judy and I had just gotten home from church and were talking about what to have for lunch that didn’t involve cooking when we heard what sounded like a cross between a whimper and a bark coming from the front porch.  When we went to investigate, we found a bedraggled, scruffy puppy that had a face like a little old man but couldn’t have been more than three months old. Now, it’s not unusual for dogs to show up on our front porch, looking for a handout. In Walnut Shade, most dogs only nominally “belong” to someone; since we have no leash law, many of our pooches tend to roam the town and visit freely with whomever is willing to offer a treat or bowl of fresh water. This puppy, however, was obviously a new recruit.

“I think he’s been dumped here,” Judy said. “He doesn’t look like any of the other dogs in town. What do you think he is?”

“I don’t have clue. He certainly is unusual.” The puppy, already running through the house as if he knew he was home, white with tan patches on his head and back, had long ears and beard. His legs were short like a basset and his bark, once he was inside, was a happy yip.

“Well, you can take him to see Dr. Cramer tomorrow and he should be able to identify the breed.”

With that, we acquired a new puppy. Some things are pretty clear, pretty quickly. Judy’s not one to waste a lot of time considering the alternatives, weighing the pros and cons, thinking things over, particularly when something is sitting on her lap, licking her face.

The next day, Judy’s new best friend and I visited Dr. Cramer.

“He’s a PBGV,” Dr. C said without hesitation.

“Is that something connected to the Russian secret police? A PBG what?

“He’s a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen; a PBGV,” Dr. Cramer explained. “It’s breed of hound that originated in France. He’s not from around here. I’ve never seen one in Miller County before. He seems to be in good health, so I’d say you’ve got yourself a new member of the family.”

“Yes, he and Judy have already bonded and he seems to tolerate me. He’s already mostly housebroken. Are you sure he isn’t some kind of pointer? Last night, he went to the door and just stood there staring at it until I figured out what he wanted.”

“Sounds like you’ve just become the third-smartest person in your household,” Dr. Cramer said, laughing.

“Listen, even when it was just Judy and me, I was still the third-smartest person in my family.”

“Good luck with the new puppy. Let me know what you name him.”

So that was the start of the quest for a name.  For some reason, the night before, we hadn’t thought about giving him a name, maybe because we hadn’t actually come to the realization that we were going to keep him. Well, I hadn’t come that realization; I think Judy understood the situation from the moment we walked out the door and saw him sitting there as if he were just waiting for us.

Later that day, when Judy got home from her office, I told her what Dr. Cramer had said about the puppy’s breed and brought up the question of a name.

“Let’s call him Jerry,” Judy said without hesitation.

“Jerry? Jerry’s not a dog’s name,” I replied. “Why Jerry?”

“Remember what was on TV when we got home from church?”

“I don’t even remember that the TV was on. Was it a baseball game?” Judy is, incredibly, a big Kansas City Royals fan. You’d think that someone who grew up in St. Louis would be a Cardinals fan, but she says that she mainly cheers for the underdog, so KC it is, consistently, every year.

“No, it wasn’t a ball game. What is always on every Labor Day weekend?”

“Mainly sale ads,” I replied. Apparently, you can’t celebrate Labor Day without a sale at Macy’s or Nebraska Furniture Mart. I think it’s the law, sort of like gravity.

“It was the Jerry Lewis telethon. It’s on every Labor Day weekend. So, since the puppy is part French and the French love Jerry Lewis, I think we should name him Jerry.”

For some reason, her logic made perfect sense to me and so our new puppy became Jerry. And I must say, he has lived up to his namesake’s legendary silliness. If there is a funny way to do something dog, Jerry will do it. Chase a ball? Yes, but he never really finds it even though it is in the middle of the floor, practically under his feet. Greet another dog? No puppy bow for him; he lies down and rolls over a couple of times. Sleep? Yes, but almost always on his back and snoring loudly. Goofy should be his middle name.

I think 2005 was the last time we watched Jerry Lewis on TV. We don’t need to watch a telethon when we have our own Jerry, live and in person in our front room every day.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
This entry was posted in Observations, Serendipity, Small Town Life. Bookmark the permalink.

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