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"Mrs Fred Allen"
Fred Allen: "Jack, you couldn't ad lib a belch after a plate of Hungarian goulash."
Jack Benny: "You wouldn't say that if my writers were here."
Jack Benny and Fred Allen were long time friends. Both were former Vaudevillians, and had been friends during that part of their careers. Before entering radio, they had been neighbors in New York while playing in different Broadway Productions. They had differing approaches to their performances. Benny's genius was in comedic delivery and timing; he generally stuck close to the script that was written and made it a point to employ the best writers he could find, often having several on staff. According to biographer Sam Bass Jr., "Fred Allen wrote a great deal of his own material, and supervised carefully what others prepared for him." Allen was great at ad-libbing- if a line was blown or didn't play well, his ad-libbed cover would be funnier than the original line.
It was just such an ad-lib that started all the trouble on Dec 30, 1936, during the East Coast Broadcast of Town Hall Tonight. There are no known recordings of the show, and the incident would take place during the unscripted amateur second half of the show, so no one is really sure what was said. What is known is that Fred's guest was a 10 year old violin virtuoso, Stuart Canin. Young Canin that evening played Shubert's "The Bee" (not to be confused with "Flight of the Bumble Bee.") After hearing Canin's masterful rendition, Allen quipped words to the effect, "Only in the fifth grade and he plays better than Jack Benny… A certain alleged violin player should be ashamed of himself."
No one can be sure what Jack Benny actually heard, his writers reacted furiously! On the following Wednesday night Benny asserted that when he was ten, he could play "The Bee!" (Of course, he couldn't play it in 1937!) He spends the next few weeks panning Fred Allen (all the while his cast is laughing at what a funny guy Fred is,) and secretly practicing "The Bee" so that he can play it on the air. On the night he is to play the tune, his violin is stolen! Both comedians appeared on each other's program in the following weeks, and Canin would repeat his performance onTown Hall Tonightand on The Jello Program.
Supposedly the feud would be settled on Mar 21, 1937, during a broadcast of Jack Benny's show from the Hotel Pierre in New York. However the feud would continue to gain laughs for the next twenty years. For many listeners the feud climaxed during a Fred Allen spoof of the Queen for a Day quiz and prize show. During a sketch titled "King for a Day" Benny's character answers the lucky question, and is showered with mostly meaningless gifts. One of the prizes is a proper pressing of Benny's suit. The fact that Benny is wearing the suit is irrelevant. Benny's suit is removed one item at a time. "Allen, you haven't seen the end of me!" yells Benny. Allen immediately shot back "It won't be long now!"
After Fred's sudden death in 1956, Jack Benny stated: "People have often asked me if Fred Allen and I were really friends in real life. My answer is always the same. You couldn't have such a long-running and successful feud as we did, without having a deep and sincere friendship at the heart of it."
Both comedians had fun with the kid who started the whole thing. In 1940 they set up a scholarship for Canin to continue his music studies. Stuart Canin was the first American to win the Paganini prize in 1959, and is currently the concert master of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra.