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October 04, 2006

Two-Time Emmy Winner George Balzer Dies

Comedy writer worked with Jack Benny for 25 years

Van Nuys, CA - Award-winning comedy writer George Balzer died of natural causes on September 28 at his home in Van Nuys, California. A longtime resident of the San Fernando Valley, the Pennsylvania-born scribe was 91.

Balzer began his 25-year working relationship with comedian Jack Benny in 1943.  Over the next 25 years, he wrote first for Benny's radio program and helped to launch the "The Jack Benny Show" on television in 1950. He won two Emmys for his work in the late fifties.

His son, Tim Balzer, who said that his father was most proud of writing for Benny, said his father brought him up as a gentleman: "He always said to me, 'Don't ever do anything you don't want other people to find out about - because they will.'"


In George Balzer's Own Words

Below are some excerpts from an in-depth interview George Balzer granted the Archive of American Television in January 2001.  To view the two-hour footage in its entirety, please contact the Television Archive on the Television Academy campus, headquartered in North Hollywood, California, at (818) 754-2800.

On moving to Los Angeles:

"[When I was] four, my dad came home one night and said to my mother,,,we’re going to California. She says “Okay. When?” He says “Now.” And within about four days, he sold the house, sold the car, sold whatever else he had and we were on a train going to California... That was 1920… Our family was eight people, my mother and father and six kids."


On getting started as a writer:

"When I graduated from high school, I joined with my father and the other members of the family in the laundry business. I was only out of school maybe six months or so when I became ill, and was forced to take considerable bed rest. That gave me a chance to listen to a lot of radio."

"I never had any idea that radio might be my business but I was interested in it, so I pulled away from the laundry and started writing at earnest...I still have the first two scripts I ever wrote and they were both written for Jack Benny. Not on assignment but just for my own enjoyment."

On the relationship between Jack Benny and his writers:

"Jack understood us, we understood him. And I remember one Saturday, we were in the conference room at NBC and we’re working on a script. The purpose of this meeting was to punch it up here and there, wherever Jack wanted it.

We’re sitting around the table, Jack says “Fellows, I want a [new] joke right here. Page six, a new joke.” And there’s absolute silence.

He says right here “Page six, I want something good. It just calls for something to make it so and so and so and so. A new joke.” There was silence. We didn’t respond at all.

And after awhile, I leaned over to him and said “Jack, we'll get you a new joke.”

He says, “Oh, you agree with me, huh?” I said “No, but it’s possible that the four of us could be wrong.”

He looked at me for a split second and broke into the biggest roar you had ever heard, laughing. Got up off his chair, slid down the wall and sat there at the corner, laughing. And as he got up, he says “I wouldn’t change that joke now for a million dollars.” And he didn’t.

We went on the air and it got a big laugh and Jack just looked up at the booth as if to say, “You son of a gun.” And that was it. That was the kind of relationship we had. And he had great faith and trust in his writers.

On working for Jack Benny:

"We’d do a show on the air Sunday evening. When that show was over we really didn’t know what we were going to do the next week, but we didn’t let that bother us. On Monday, we took off. On Tuesday, we began to think about the show and would contact one another by phone.

Tuesday night, we would call Jack and say we’ve got an idea that might work. We would decide with Jack’s approval what to work on. And he says, “Yeah, sounds kind of funny go ahead and do it.” Then on Wednesday, we would firm up an idea.

So, we divide the show up, the four of us and we’d call Jack and say, “Jack, this is what we’re on.” So then Wednesday and Thursday, we’d write both halves of the show. Each half and we’d have it ready to go to Jack on Friday.

Then we’d sit down with him and we’d get it all cleaned up and ready to go to for a Saturday morning dress rehearsal and then on Sunday, we’d do the broadcast. And once again, we were right where we were a week before.

It lasted for I don’t know, twenty-five years or more. And that’s pretty much my career. Kind of dull; I could have been on a lot of shows, I guess. But I was lucky. I’m not ashamed to say so. I got myself attached to people that just couldn’t be nicer. And that’s where I spent my entertainment life.

For more on the life and works of George Balzer, please visit the Archive of American Television Update blog.

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