Obituary: Sam Perrin

Sam Perrin, comedy writer and musician: born 15 August 1901; died Woodland Hills, California 8 January 1998.

Nominated seven times and twice winner of the Emmy Award for his work on The Jack Benny Show, Sam Perrin was, for a generation, a key member of one of the finest and most successful comedy-writing teams in US radio and television.

Perrin was working as a drummer in 1920s vaudeville when he first met Benny, whose laconic style had al- ready inspired one critic to describe his comedy act as "the most civilised in vaudeville". Perrin's offbeat sense of humour amused the discerning Benny, who commissioned jokes from him.

Perrin was soon selling material to other comedians, including Benny's friend Phil Baker, who had one of radio's top-rated programmes. When Baker was cast in the film The Goldwyn Follies (1938), Perrin was signed to touch up his scenes. Despite 10 other writers, two directors, a host of stars and songs by George and Ira Gershwin, Samuel Goldwyn's extravaganza was a disaster, rightly included in Harry and Michael Medved's 1978 book The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time. Not much better was Warner Brothers' Navy Blues (1941), an Ann Sheridan/Jack Oakie potboiler which Perrin helped to write. Variety declared: "It all adds up to the story department unwittingly scuttling Navy Blues before it was even launched."

In 1943 Jack Benny, whose radio series was being beaten in the ratings by Bob Hope's faster-paced show, hired Perrin and three other writers to streamline the programme. The scripting was divided: Perrin and George Balzer wrote one half of the show; John Tackaberry and Milt Josefsberg wrote the other. The arrangement worked well, and the decline in the series' ratings soon stopped.

Although Perrin was a Jewish atheist and Balzer a devout Catholic, the two men proved an ideal team. In 1945 they took a leave of absence from Benny's employ to go east; they had written the book of a Broadway musical. With a score by the veteran composer Harry Revel, Are You With It? was the story of a shy young accountant who, sacked from his firm for putting a decimal point in the wrong place, joins a carnival and finds his sheltered life transformed. The critic George Jean Nathan praised the show's sets and costumes, its leading lady (Dolores Gray), and the welcome absence of pretentious dream ballets - a staple of 1940s musicals.

"Such minor virtues," Nathan added, "almost atone for the presence of the antiquated plot business about the person whose identity is only to be established by a birthmark on an embarrassing part of the anatomy."

Are You With It? ran for 267 Broadway performances, and was bought by Universal Pictures as a vehicle for their star Donald O'Connor. The comedian Lew Parker, who had scored in the stage version as Goldy, an unprincipled carnival barker ("Even as a boy I had to scrimp and scrape. I saved every cent I stole"), played the same role in the film, but failed to achieve an equivalent success; most of his comedy scores were cut. "George [Balzer] and I had no hand in the movie at all," said Perrin. "Universal even dropped all of Harry Revel's tunes and replaced them! There were two studio geniuses assigned to the picture, one to take out the songs, and one to take out the jokes."

In 1952, searching for gimmicks for the Benny programme, Perrin suggested that Jack write a song, and then try, week after week, to make it a hit. A suitably terrible ballad, "When You Say `I Beg Your Pardon', Then I'll Come Back to You", was duly written, and led to a succession of hilarious programmes, as various reluctant star vocalists were urged to sing it.

In 1950 Benny stepped tentatively into television, taking his four writers with him. "No question about it - Jack Benny is as big a tele click as he has been on top of the radio heap for so many years," enthused Variety. In 1959 and 1960 Perrin's work for the Benny shows won him two Emmy awards. In 1974, when Benny finally stopped doing a regular television series, Milt Josefsberg, by then head writer and script consultant for Lucille Ball's Here's Lucy, hired Perrin and Balzer to turn out scripts for Ball.

In his book The Jack Benny Show (1977), Josefsberg wrote: "To list all the great gags and bits Sam Perrin contributed to the success of our shows would fill volumes."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridgeface-off in the final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas