Jack Benny

Yes, I said "Benjamin Kubelsky". That was the name of the Waukegan, IL native who the world would come to know as Jack Benny (1894-1974).

I wanted to say "who the world remembers as" instead of "would come to know as", but frankly, I'm not sure the world does remember Jack. A shame, really. Jack's timing, cast of characters, and his legendary stranglehold on his money made the perennial 39-year-old unique in the entertainment world.

Jack's shows still rank highly on my list of favorites, easily surpassing anything on TV these days. Unfortunately, these shows are apparently only available on some PBS outlets, as is the case here in Orlando. The last nationally available airings that I am aware of were on The Comedy Channel (a predecessor of today's Comedy Central cable channel). Though that run didn't last nearly as long as I'd hoped, the editing was much superior to a previous run on the Family Channel.

Ideally, I'd like to see the show return on a channel like Nick at Nite, but given the state of the programming on that particular operation, I'm not holding my breath.

Instead of wasting my time and yours on a lengthy treatise here, let me suggest you check out the book, Sunday Nights at Seven, Jack's autobiography, with running commentary by daughter Joan Benny. Excellent book. But for right now, here are some snapshots and my humble (?) notes:

The radio cast

The radio cast.
From left to right: Eddie "Rochester"Anderson, Dennis Day,
Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny, Don Wilson, Mel Blanc.

Jack and Mary

Jack and Mary Benny
Mary, born Sadie Marks, was a distant cousin of the Marx Brothers.  She took her character's name "Mary Livingstone" as her own when she became so well-known in the role.


Joan Benny
Though Joan only appeared on her father's TV show a couple of times, as a teenager she often filled in for her mother on the radio show.  Mary's stage fright was such that she could not face the audience.  Thus, Mary's part would be pre-recorded, and Joan would stand in during the broadcasts.

Jack and Marilyn

Jack and Marilyn Monroe
As Jack's character was unmarried, he was "free" to pursue gorgeous younger women. (Hey, I would've in his place!!!)  My favorite part of these gags were the slight nods to the fourth wall.  Everyone involved knew how ridiculous these situations were, but the fun was in watching them play them straight.

Rochester and Jack

Rochester and Jack
No question who was the real brains in this outfit.  Somehow, the term "second banana" doesn't apply to Rochester.  The relationship onscreen, as in real life, was more that of equals than of any boss/employee situation.

Mel and Jack

Mel Blanc and Jack
The legendary Mel Blanc, in addition to being the voice of Bugs Bunny and other cartoon characters, was a regular with Jack's cast.  Here, he and Jack reprise their "Si, Cy, Sue" routine.  Mel also provided the sounds of Jack's infamous Maxwell automobile.

To Be or Not To Be

Jack in To Be or Not To Be
One of Jack's running gags was how bad his final movie,The Horn Blows at Midnight, was.I've never seen it (I've taped it, but I haven't had the time to watch it), but this film, a satire on Hitler's pre-WW II Germany, is regarded as a classic - if only by those few fortunate to have seen it.  It pops up on AMC from time to time; well worth a look.

Jack and Giselle

Jack and Giselle MacKenzie
Giselle shows Jack a thing or two about fiddling around here.  Jack, though he wasn't as proficient on the violin as he wished he was, was actually more serious about his playing than the general public might have thought.

Ironically, the song most associated with him, his theme music "Love in Bloom", was the song he hated most. He felt the lyrics made no sense for him; after all, what did a love song have to do with comedy?

Rich Little and Jack

Rich Little and Jack
Jack was also known for being genuinely entertained by other comedians.  On this night, a Dean Martin celebrity roast, there was certainly no shortage of comics available to entertain him.  Here, Rich Little is doing his impersonation of George Burns, Jack's longtime friend - and the one man who could consistently get Jack rolling on the floor.  Jack never could get George to crack up, though.  Probably another source of ironic amusement.

Oh, have I mentioned Jack's most "animated" project? Click on the sign for a closer look:

The Mouse That Jack Built

Updated (slightly) March 25, 2003

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This page debuted February 4, 1997

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