One of the funniest people I ever met is Bern Bennett, who was a staff for roughly 60 years at CBS, beginning in 1944. He started in New York with CBS Radio, then known as the Columbia Broadcasting System, announcing the top-of the hour IDs for the radio network and traveling to all parts of New York to do the program announcing for the various big bands that performed live for some of the network shows.
As television grew in popularity, Bennett started announcing on TV too, and eventually became as well known as some of the program hosts, similar to the status of NBC staff announcer Don Pardo, who passed away this past Summer. Fans of the original Beat the Clock may recall Bennett being a big part of the show along with host Bud Collyer, and to this day I still don’t know if the overemphasized inflection -- or was it his voice breaking? -- was started on purpose or not as he announced Collyer’s name at the start of the show.
Bennett followed CBS television to Hollywood in 1960 and was heard for years on such programs as CBS’s coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade, soap operas The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful; he stayed with those soaps even after retiring officially from CBS.
I originally met Bennett through former original KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM) music coordinator David Schwartz, who now can be found at cable television’s Game Show Network. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I believe Schwartz, Bennett, my Dad and I were off to a book signing related to game shows, one of Schwartz’ fields of expertise.
Regardless of the circumstances, Bennett immediately went into joke-telling mode; turns out that between announcing duties, there was lots of time for jokes. He had an amazing wit, a sharp mind, a great memory, and an amazing ability to tell stories. Most of the jokes I cannot repeat, due to my own poor memory and the fact that almost all of them were dirty.
He told stories about his career, the big bands, the difficulty of managing traffic in New York to make it between the venues for the live programs, the move to television, the people he worked with, and how much he enjoyed working with CBS. I found out that more recently he lived literally right down the street from me: walking distance from my house.
In his spare time, he worked with the LA County Sheriff's Department station in Lomita, acting as one of the citizen patrol volunteers. He was generous, and he loved people.
When I last spoke with him, Bennett told me about some heath issues he was having. My memory was that in his 80s, he was beginning to have occasional seizures perhaps related to epilepsy. I told him I’d help him any time. And then, suddenly, he was gone. Poof. No word.
I went to his condo ... new renters with no knowledge. Lomita Sheriff’s hadn’t heard from him either. Now and then there were clues, such as a brother that made contact with Schwartz, but otherwise, nothing. Even internet searches turned up nothing ... good or bad. I figured he moved somewhere to be with his brother, the only family I had ever heard about; Bennett himself never spoke of family, though I knew he was divorced.
So it is with sadness that I report that Bennett passed away on May 29th, 2014 at the age of 92. His death went unreported except for a short mention in actor union SAG-AFTRA’s magazine, which said he died in the morning, somewhere in San Pedro. Which means I was still close to him even though, unfortunately, I was no longer close to him. Perhaps he was in a care home.
He would have turned 93 last Sunday, October 19th. And I knew him well enough to know that he would not want anyone to be sad. So whether you were a fan or not, this might be a good time to go tell someone a joke and make them feel better. If you can make it dirty, so much the better; Bern would have wanted it that way.