WHEN Hugh Wedlock Jnr reached the age of 83, he joked that he was the only living man still calling himself 'junior'. Wedlock was one of the first and last writers to work for Jack Benny, with whom he had a firm friendship. In an unusually long career, he also provided comedy material for Eddie Cantor, Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball, Joan Davis, Jack Haley and the cast of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Although he was of Irish extraction, his speech was constantly peppered with Yiddishisms. Another of Jack Benny's writers, Milt Josefsberg, once asked him why he used so many Jewish words. 'Hell, Milt,' he said, 'how else can you express yourself?'
Wedlock began writing gags while working as a Broadway press agent. To get his clients' names into the gossip columns, he churned out witticisms which he credited to them. Soon he was collaborating on comedy material with Howard Snyder, a friend and fellow press agent. In 1936 they were added to the staff of Jack Benny's radio programme. After two seasons on the show, they started writing for films.
During the Second World War, Universal Pictures made a 'B' movie every week, and the studio found the Wedlock-Snyder team useful in writing such supporting features as Melody Lane, San Antonio Rose (both 1941), Don't Get Personal, Almost Married (both 1942) and All By Myself (1943). They wrote an award-winning short subject designed to sell war bonds. It starred Jack Benny.
Wedlock and Snyder also worked for Universal on Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949) and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), for Paramount on Salute for Three and The Good Fellows (both 1943) and for RKO on George White's Scandals (1945). Wedlock wrote the original story on which the Abbott and Costello vehicle In Society (1944) was based, and contributed material to the Rene Clair fantasy It Happened Tomorrow (1944).
In 1956 he and Snyder were signed to write CBS-TV's Shower of Stars, a series of one-hour spectaculars which starred Jack Benny. In one of these shows, the guest artist Tallulah Bankhead spoke a much- quoted Wedlock-Snyder line. 'Darling, I'm absolutely furious with my agent,' she told Benny. 'He let Phil Silvers beat me to the Sgt Bilko part]'
After Snyder died in the 1960s, Wedlock wrote television material for Lucille Ball and Eddie Cantor, and was one of the Laugh-In writers when that series began in 1968. At the time of Benny's death in 1974, Wedlock had just finished co-writing an NBC-TV special for him.
Milt Josefsberg, in his book The Jack Benny Show, tells of receiving a telephone call from Wedlock, who said: 'Happy Jewish New Year, Milt. By the way, what year is it exactly?' '5734', Josefsberg replied. 'Damn it,' said Wedlock. 'For the next three months I know I'll still be dating my cheques 5733.'