Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story

During the last years of his life, comedian Jack Benny composed an autobiography, then — for reasons unknown — stuck it away in a file drawer. Sunday Nights at Seven is a condensed version of his manuscript interspersed with daughter Joan’s recollections of growing up charmed in Beverly Hills. Benny’s anecdotes, surprisingly, are flat and perfunctory, all too often just summarized skits. He drops names, but rarely bothers to sketch in personalities. Even the members of his famous radio and TV ”family” are given short shrift. About longtime announcer Don Wilson, for example, Benny writes that ”he could read a commercial with laughter in his throat, and he proved a great foil to play against.” And that’s about it for his long association with Don Wilson.

Unlike her dad, Joan Benny has a few scores to settle, though they’re all fairly mild ones (mother Mary Livingstone was a cold fish and something of a social climber). As far as gossip is concerned, well, she gives us the complete guests lists of several ”glittering” Hollywood parties.

In his brief introduction to Sunday Nights at Seven, George Burns says of his best friend, ”he was a nice man.” Nobody will dispute that he was. Joan Benny seems pretty nice herself. But no matter how you cut it, reshape it, annotate it, and package it, nice is still dull, and dull makes deadly reading. C-

Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story
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