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Crying Jack Benny Tears

September 11, 1994|THOMAS O'NEIL

"Most people cry when they win an Emmy," Jack Benny once said. "I cry when I lose."

Benny, it turned out, shed tears only twice--in 1955 and again in 1956--before he finally picked up an Emmy Award for being voted TV's best comedian of 1957. Not all of the small screen's biggest stars, however, have been so lucky.

When the Emmy winners are announced Sunday, one of the most popular performers in prime time may face the saddest fate of her TV career. Thirteen-time past loser Angela Lansbury is competing for best drama series actress for a 10th time for "Murder, She Wrote." If her latest bid fails, the star recently acclaimed the most loved person in television by one national magazine will officially become the one least loved by the voters of TV's highest honor. Lansbury, a four-time Tony champ, would then tie Susan Lucci of "All My Children" as the biggest loser in Emmy history.

The award's past is replete with such cruel ironies. Consider the fate of TV's "Great One," Jackie Gleason, who is also among the Emmy unannointed. His co-star, Art Carney, won five for "The Honeymooners", however, and, out of deference to his co-star's sore ego, kept them all in a closet during Gleason's lifetime.

Curiously, the same win-lose ratio applies to a similar comedic combo. Andy Griffith never won an Emmy, but supporting star Don Knotts took home five gold statuettes for "The Andy Griffith Show"--and displayed them proudly in his den.

Variety show kingpin Ed Sullivan never won an Emmy either, which is especially surprising since he was once president of the TV academy, which bestows the award. Like Gleason, he did not suffer the slight well and was eventually placated by being given an honorary Trustees Award.

Emmys also have failed to go to such past TV titans as Desi Arnaz, Gracie Allen, Judy Garland and Dave Garroway. Other stars, by contrast, have been richly rewarded: Mary Tyler Moore and Ed Asner are tied for having the most Emmy Awards among actors: seven.

Today the Emmy is breeding a whole new contemporary crop of losers. "Roseanne's" John Goodman faces his sixth attempt at victory tonight. Eileen Heckart, up for a guest appearance on "Love & War," makes her seventh try. Faith Ford, who plays Corky Sherwood on "Murphy Brown," is up for a fifth time.

If all three stars lose again, they shouldn't shed too many Jack Benny tears, considering the undeserved insults leveled by other show-biz awards. The Oscars never gave any credit to Richard Burton, Cary Grant or Peter O'Toole. Diana Ross, the Rolling Stones and even Bing Crosby never grabbed a Grammy and some of Broadway's brightest stars, such as Lynn Fontanne, never took a bow on Tony's stage.

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