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Frames of Time...

081_04 - Holiday time with the Bessers.
Around Christmas, Joe Besser would always invite "his boys", as he used to call us us, for holiday dinner. Holidays, of course, are a time for friends. This photo reminded me of some of the times Joe talked about his friends and times.

It seemed Joe's best friend had been Lou Costello. Joe spoke of how he had met Lou when both were very young. In fact, Joe would talk of how Lou had borrowed some of Joe's "fussy" persona and gags for his own. Oddly, this was never a sticking point for Joe who spoke fondly of Lou at every chance. Even after a book had come out picturing Costello as a demanding, petty, angry person, Lou remembered how they had spent many a Christmas together. Joe loved working with Loe and counted his time on the ABBOTT & COSTELLO TV as some of his most pleasant.

Joe had lesser opinions of Milton Berle and Jerry Lewis. Both, in Joe's mind, were egotistical to the point of being cruel.

Joe felt Berle was a great comic. Joe had performed on many of Berle's popular radio show and talked of how they worked so well together. Yet Joe's most freqent tale was of the time, during the 1960s, that he ran into Berle on the street. He went up to speak with Berle, only to find Berle didn't recognize him. Joe told us that he then pretended to have mistaken Berle for another man, so as not to embarras Berle. Joe said he later was told that Berle frequently didn't wear his glasses in public and might not have recognized Joe. However, Joe felt that he and Berle had been close enough that glasses shouldn't have mattered. Joe said he never brought it up to Berle on later occasions, but Joe never fully forgave Berle. (I was surprised when years later I saw Berle had done the foreword for Joe's book.)

The mention of Jerry Lewis brought a similar tale of unforgiven pasts. Besser had been in the cast of THE PATSY. Joe talked of all the scenes he had with Lewis and other cast members. Most of these scenes were tremendously funny. "By the time we were done shooting the scene," Joe would say, "The entire crew was laughing." It was after one such scene that Joe talked with a production person who had worked with Lewis for years. He told Joe that the scene had been very funny. "Too funny", as Joe recalled. The hand then explained to Joe that on a Lewis film, any scene in which someone got bigger laughs than Lewis would end up on the cutting room floor. Joe said he didn't fully believe the person, until he saw the final film. "Almost all of my scenes were cut out," recalled Joe. "When I ran into Jerry, he told me they were cut because of time." But Joe mentioned the film did not have a long running time. In Joe's mind, the only reason those scenes were cut was because he had gotten more laughs than Jerry.

Oddly, even though Joe felt he did not always get the historical respect he might have deserved, he was pleased that with the work he did he had gained so many fans. He was always amazed to get letters quoting radio shows gags or dialogue from a guest spot he did on a long forgotten sitcom. Joe would state that some of the letter writers, "remember my life better than I do!"

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