Monday, April 3, 2017

More Shakespeare, Jack Benny, and Ronald Coleman

"Jack's Scrapbook." The Jack Benny Program. CBS. 16 January 1949. Radio.

A Shakespeare scholar on one of the LISTSERVs to which I subscribe brought up the issue of Ronald Coleman and his association with Shakespeare.

I couldn't resist calling the group's attention to the time Ronald Coleman and Jack Benny exchanged speeches from Othello on The Jack Benny Program (for which, q.v.).

And that reminded me of the time Ronald Colman did a Lucky Strike advertisement based on Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy.

I started with my memory of a line from the speech: ". . . or to smoke a Lucky and so to feel thine level best." I was slightly inaccurate in my memory, as you'll see.

I thought I could narrow down the era by figuring out when that Lucky Strike campaign began. With the help of a reference librarian, I learned that the campaign begin in 1949. In scholar's terms, that gave a terminus a quo. It was then a simple matter—well, actually, it did take some time—to track down the guest appearances of Ronald Coleman on The Jack Benny Program from 1949 on. And when I started up the first of them (from 16 January 1949), I knew I had the right one.

The premise of the show is that Jack and Ronald have switched roles; in this sequence, Ronald is dreaming that he is Jack Benny. I've provided the audio in the clip below (you can find the full show here (scroll down to find "Jack Benny Program 49-01-16 (678) Jack's Scrapbook.mp3")—and I recommend it as one of the best shows); the video comes from Derek Jacobi's Hamlet from the BBC Hamlet. Again, it's a bit surreal, but it's the easiest way for me to get an audio clip to you.

Transcribed, the speech is as follows (I haven't tried to break it into verse, but you may feel free to experiment along those lines):
To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to enjoy a Lucky and so to feel thy level best. To smoke—to puff—perchance to blow a smoke ring: ay, there's the thrill. Come, let me light thee. Art thou not round and firm and fully packed? Art thou not first again with friends, Romans, countrymen? Art thou not a noble creation, your praises tripping lightly from the nimble tongue of Speedy Riggs? Ay, Horatio: the tobacco's the thing that makes a Lucky fitting for a king.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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