Nov 21, 2010

Phil the Bandleader

Wednesday, November 21, 1945:
“[Herb and I] went to the Stratford and saw I Love a Bandleader and Scotland Yards Investigator.”
Phil Harris sang “That's What I Like About the South” in I Love a Bandleader. A crazy, fast-paced number, Harris would comically find any excuse to play the tune during his 1940s radio appearances (often responded to by groans from his fellow actors), even though Harris actually was born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, in Linton, Indiana.

In 1936, Harris became musical director of The Jell-O Show Starring Jack Benny (later renamed The Jack Benny Program), singing and leading his band and – when his knack for snappy one-liners became apparent – joining the Benny ensemble playing Phil Harris, scripted as a hipster-talking, hard-drinking, brash Southerner whose good nature overcame his ego---sometimes.

His first trademark was his jive-talk nicknaming of the others in the Benny orbit. Benny was "Jackson," for example; Harris's usual entry was a cheerful "Hiya, Jackson!". He usually referred to Mary Livingstone as "Livvy". His signature song, belying his actual Hoosier birthplace, was "That's What I Like About the South."

His comic persona—that of a musical idiot who never met a bottle he didn't like or a mirror he could bypass—masked the fact that the Harris band evolved into a smooth, up-tempo big band with outstanding arrangements.
Harris' debut on Jack Benny's program can be listened to here.

Here's what Dot and Herb saw on that 1945 evening at the Stratford Theater. From I Love a Bandleader:

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