Jack Benny

Jack Benny (born Benjamin Kubelsky, February 14, 1894 – December 26, 1974) was a comedian, vaudeville performer, film actor, and one of the most prominent early stars of American radio and television. Often cited for his impeccable comic timing, Benny was an influential comedy innovator, a major architect of the modern forms of standup comedy and situation comedy.

Jack Benny

Early career

Benny grew up in Chicago and Waukegan, Illinois. He began studying the violin, an instrument that would become his trademark, when he was six. By fourteen he was playing in local dance bands, as well as in his high school orchestra, until he failed school and left for a career in vaudeville. In 1911, he was playing in the same theater as the young Marx Brothers, whose mother was so enchanted with Benny that she invited him to be their permanent accompanist. The plan was foiled by Benny's parents, who refused to let their son, then seventeen, go on the road, but it was the beginning of his long friendship with Zeppo Marx.

The following year, Benny formed a vaudeville musical duo with pianist Cora Salisbury. This provoked famous violinist Jan Kubelik, who thought that the young vaudeville entertainer with a similar name (Kubelsky) would damage his reputation. Finally, Bejamin Kubelsky agreed to change his name to Ben K. Benny (sometimes spelled Bennie). He also found a new pianist, Lyman Wood. He left show business briefly in 1917 to join the Navy during World War I, but even then, he often entertained the troops. One evening, he was booed by the troops, so he began telling Navy jokes on stage. He was a big hit, earning himself a reputation as a comedian as well as a musician.

After the war, Benny returned to vaudeville and changed his first name to Jack. He had several romantic encounters, including with a dancer, Mary Kelly, whose devoutly Catholic family forced her to turn down Benny's proposal because he was Jewish. In 1922, he accompanied Zeppo Marx to a Passover seder in Vancouver, where he met Sadie Marks, whom he eventually married in 1927. As Mary Livingstone, she was his collaborator throughout much of his career.

Radio

Benny had been only a minor vaudeville star, but he became an enormously successful national figure with The Jack Benny Program, a weekly radio show which ran from 1932 to 1955, and was consistantly among the most highly-rated programs during most of that run. Benny's program centered around a fictional version of himself: a successful comedian who was cheap, petty, and vain. The program introduced a stable of colorful characters who made Benny their foil. Staples on the show were Eddie Anderson, who played Benny's African-American valet, "Rochester Van Jones" (and who became nearly as popular as Benny himself); rotund announcer Don Wilson, the butt of endless "fat" jokes; Mary Livingstone, Benny's real-life wife, who played his wisecracking lady friend on the show; bandleader Phil Harris, whose tales of drinking and womanizing were risqe for the time (although in reality, the band was led by Malohn Merrick); and tenor singer Dennis Day, who portrayed a nave, sheltered young man. Other cast members included Frank Nelson and the remarkably versatile Mel Blanc, who provided several characters' voices, as well as the famous sound of Benny's aging auto, an early century Maxwell that always seemed on the verge of collapse.

The show featured sketch-like "situations" from the fictional Benny's life (Jack hosts a party, Jack and Mary go Christmas shopping, and so on), with Harris and Day providing musical interludes. The program, which had been broadcast from New York, moved to Los Angeles in 1936, and its new show-biz locale allowed for frequent guest appearances by Benny's celebrity colleagues, including Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, Bing Crosby and many others. Orson Welles guest hosted several episodes when Benny was unavailable. Ronald Colman and his wife Benita appeared frequently in the 1940s as Benny's neighbors.

In the early days of radio, the airtime was owned by the sponsor, and Benny made a point of incorporating the commercials into the body of the show; the sponsors were often the butt of jokes. His sponsors included Canada Dry Ginger Ale from 1932 to 1933, Chevrolet from 1933 to 1934, General Tire in 1934, Jell-O from 1934 to 1942 (Benny is largely credited for making "Jello" a household name), Grape Nuts from 1942 to 1944, and Lucky Strike from 1944 to 1955.

Benny was notable for employing a small group of writers, most of whom stayed with him for many years. This was very much in contrast to other successful radio or television comedians, such as Bob Hope, who would change writers frequently. Historical accounts (like those by longtime Benny writer Milt Josephson) indicate that Benny's role that was essentially that of both head writer and director of his radio programs, though he was not credited in either capacity.

In 1937 Benny began his famous radio "feud" with rival comedian Fred Allen, who complained about the way Benny played violin. In fact, the two were close friends. A typical Benny and Allen episode, in this case on Fred's radio show, was a satire of "Queen for a Day" re-titled "King for a Day". In it, Allen plays host and eventually showers Benny with a ton of worthless prizes in honor of him being named King for a Day. The grand prize is a pants pressing from a local dry cleaning company. The hilarity builds as Jack's shirt is being taken off. Then, his pants are pulled off to the shock of the audience. The laughter was so loud and chaotic at the chain of events that Fred's announcer, Kenny Delmar, was cut off the air amidst the wild laughter while trying to read the credits—Fred's show had ran over-time yet again!

Benny was famous for his carefully timed pauses; one of the most famous laughs in radio came when he was accosted by a robber who demanded, "Your money or your life!" After an extended pause, the gunman reiterated the threat. Benny, ever the cheapskate, snapped, "I'm thinking it over!"

During his early radio show, Benny adopted a medley of "Yankee Doodle Boy" and "Love in Bloom" as his theme song, opening every show. The song later became the theme of his television show as well.

Television

The Jack Benny Show ran on television from October 28, 1950 to 1965. The show appeared infrequently during its first two years on TV, then ran every fourth week for the next two years. From 1955 to 1960 it appeared every other week, and from 1960 to 1965 it was seen weekly. When Benny moved to television, audiences learned that his verbal talent was matched by his assortment of facial expressions and physical gestures. The program was similar to the radio show—many radio scripts were recycled for TV—with the addition of visual gags.

CBS dropped his show in 1964, and he went to NBC in the Fall, only to be out-rated by Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. on CBS. NBC dropped his show at the end of the season, though he continued to make periodic TV specials into the 1970s.

Benny also acted in movies, including the Academy Award-winning The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and notably, Charley's Aunt (1941) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). The failure of one Benny vehicle, The Horn Blows at Midnight, became a running gag on his program.

Toward the end of his career, Benny returned to film, appearing in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in (1963). He also continued to perform live as a stand-up comedian. He was cast in the film version of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, but was forced to give up the role (ultimately played by Benny's close friend George Burns), when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. He died in 1974. He was interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.


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He was interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. He was 89 years old when the series was filmed. He died in 1974. He does not appear in any of the actual storylines. He was cast in the film version of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, but was forced to give up the role (ultimately played by Benny's close friend George Burns), when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Another short-lived series, this time a weekly comedy anthology program whose only connecting thread was George's presence as host. He also continued to perform live as a stand-up comedian. Connie Stevens is, essentially, playing a version of Gracie's character.

Toward the end of his career, Benny returned to film, appearing in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in (1963). George plays narrator in this short-lived series, just as he had in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, but with far less on-screen time, as the focus is on a young couple played by Connie Stevens and Ron Harper. The failure of one Benny vehicle, The Horn Blows at Midnight, became a running gag on his program. An unsuccessful attempt to continue the format of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show without Gracie, the rest of the cast intact. Benny also acted in movies, including the Academy Award-winning The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and notably, Charley's Aunt (1941) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). There were 292 episodes created in all. NBC dropped his show at the end of the season, though he continued to make periodic TV specials into the 1970s. Starting in the third season, all episodes were filmed and broadcast weekly, 40 episodes per year.

CBS dropped his show in 1964, and he went to NBC in the Fall, only to be out-rated by Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. on CBS. Broadcast live every other week for the first two seasons, 26 episodes per year. The program was similar to the radio show—many radio scripts were recycled for TV—with the addition of visual gags. This was George's response to a marked drop in ratings under the old "Flirtation Act" format. When Benny moved to television, audiences learned that his verbal talent was matched by his assortment of facial expressions and physical gestures. This series featured a radical format change, in that George and Gracie played themselves as a married couple for the first time, and the show became a full-fledged domestic situation comedy. From 1955 to 1960 it appeared every other week, and from 1960 to 1965 it was seen weekly. this show featured musical numbers by jazz great Artie Shaw.

The show appeared infrequently during its first two years on TV, then ran every fourth week for the next two years. Advertising a brand new product called "Spam". The Jack Benny Show ran on television from October 28, 1950 to 1965. This series featured another wildly successful publicity stunt which had Gracie running for President of the United States. The song later became the theme of his television show as well. The pair launched themselves into national stardom with their first major publicity stunt, Gracie's ongoing search for her missing brother. During his early radio show, Benny adopted a medley of "Yankee Doodle Boy" and "Love in Bloom" as his theme song, opening every show. In their debut series, George and Gracie shared the bill with Guy Lombardo and his Orchestra.

Benny, ever the cheapskate, snapped, "I'm thinking it over!". He believed he would be reunited with Gracie in Heaven. Benny was famous for his carefully timed pauses; one of the most famous laughs in radio came when he was accosted by a robber who demanded, "Your money or your life!" After an extended pause, the gunman reiterated the threat. Burns faced death very bravely; he often said that in a way he was looking forward to it. The laughter was so loud and chaotic at the chain of events that Fred's announcer, Kenny Delmar, was cut off the air amidst the wild laughter while trying to read the credits—Fred's show had ran over-time yet again!. He died forty three days after his 100th birthday in 1996. Then, his pants are pulled off to the shock of the audience. However, in 1994, Burns was badly injured in a fall and his health steadily declined.

The hilarity builds as Jack's shirt is being taken off. Burns had long planned to celebrate his 100th birthday by performing in Las Vegas. The grand prize is a pants pressing from a local dry cleaning company. On his relationships, he said, "I'd go out with women my age, but there are no women my age.". In it, Allen plays host and eventually showers Benny with a ton of worthless prizes in honor of him being named King for a Day. He never re-married, and though he developed a running joke of being a sexy senior citizen (he was often seen in the company of beautiful young women), he was never crude and his devotion to his wife was unquestioned up until his death. A typical Benny and Allen episode, in this case on Fred's radio show, was a satire of "Queen for a Day" re-titled "King for a Day". Burns remained deeply devoted to Allen after she passed away.

In fact, the two were close friends. Burns continued to be active well into his nineties, writing a number of books and appearing in films and television. In 1937 Benny began his famous radio "feud" with rival comedian Fred Allen, who complained about the way Benny played violin. The film inspired two sequels. Historical accounts (like those by longtime Benny writer Milt Josephson) indicate that Benny's role that was essentially that of both head writer and director of his radio programs, though he was not credited in either capacity. In 1977, Burns made another hit film Oh, God!, playing the title role opposite John Denver. This was very much in contrast to other successful radio or television comedians, such as Bob Hope, who would change writers frequently. Although he had not made a film since 1939 and had never really "acted" before, Burns won wide acclaim and an Academy Award for best supporting actor.

Benny was notable for employing a small group of writers, most of whom stayed with him for many years. Burns had been lifelong friends with Jack Benny and Benny was originally slated to make the film, but after being diagnosed with cancer, he requested Burns get the role instead. His sponsors included Canada Dry Ginger Ale from 1932 to 1933, Chevrolet from 1933 to 1934, General Tire in 1934, Jell-O from 1934 to 1942 (Benny is largely credited for making "Jello" a household name), Grape Nuts from 1942 to 1944, and Lucky Strike from 1944 to 1955. Matthau and Burns played feuding comics reunited for a television special. In the early days of radio, the airtime was owned by the sponsor, and Benny made a point of incorporating the commercials into the body of the show; the sponsors were often the butt of jokes. After Allen's death, many considered Burns a "has been" until he co-starred with Walter Matthau in the 1975 movie adaptation of Neil Simon's hit play The Sunshine Boys. Ronald Colman and his wife Benita appeared frequently in the 1940s as Benny's neighbors. Gracie retired due to poor health in 1958 and died in 1964.

Orson Welles guest hosted several episodes when Benny was unavailable. Burns teamed with his second wife Gracie Allen as "Burns & Allen"; they built their routines and their television sitcom around situations where she said (and did) ditsy things and he made wry comments as asides to the audience, often while brandishing a cigar or golf club. The program, which had been broadcast from New York, moved to Los Angeles in 1936, and its new show-biz locale allowed for frequent guest appearances by Benny's celebrity colleagues, including Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, Bing Crosby and many others. He was born as Nathan Birnbaum to Louis and Dorothy Birnbaum, the ninth of twelve children, in New York City, New York. The show featured sketch-like "situations" from the fictional Benny's life (Jack hosts a party, Jack and Mary go Christmas shopping, and so on), with Harris and Day providing musical interludes. George Burns (January 20, 1896 - March 9, 1996) was a legendary American vaudeville comedian who went on to work in movies, radio, and early television. Other cast members included Frank Nelson and the remarkably versatile Mel Blanc, who provided several characters' voices, as well as the famous sound of Benny's aging auto, an early century Maxwell that always seemed on the verge of collapse. George Burns Comedy Week: (1985) CBS.

Staples on the show were Eddie Anderson, who played Benny's African-American valet, "Rochester Van Jones" (and who became nearly as popular as Benny himself); rotund announcer Don Wilson, the butt of endless "fat" jokes; Mary Livingstone, Benny's real-life wife, who played his wisecracking lady friend on the show; bandleader Phil Harris, whose tales of drinking and womanizing were risqe for the time (although in reality, the band was led by Malohn Merrick); and tenor singer Dennis Day, who portrayed a nave, sheltered young man. Wendy and Me: (1958 - 1959) NBC. The program introduced a stable of colorful characters who made Benny their foil. The George Burns Show: (1958 - 1959) NBC. Benny's program centered around a fictional version of himself: a successful comedian who was cheap, petty, and vain. The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show: 1950 - 1958 CBS. Benny had been only a minor vaudeville star, but he became an enormously successful national figure with The Jack Benny Program, a weekly radio show which ran from 1932 to 1955, and was consistantly among the most highly-rated programs during most of that run. The Amm-i-Dent Toothpaste Show: 1949 - 1950 CBS.

As Mary Livingstone, she was his collaborator throughout much of his career. Maxwell House Coffee Time: 1945 - 1949 NBC. In 1922, he accompanied Zeppo Marx to a Passover seder in Vancouver, where he met Sadie Marks, whom he eventually married in 1927. The Swan Soap Show: 1941 - 1945 NBC, CBS. He had several romantic encounters, including with a dancer, Mary Kelly, whose devoutly Catholic family forced her to turn down Benny's proposal because he was Jewish. The Hormel Program: 1940 - 1941 NBC. After the war, Benny returned to vaudeville and changed his first name to Jack. The Hinds Honey and Almond Cream Program: 1939 - 1940 CBS.

He was a big hit, earning himself a reputation as a comedian as well as a musician. The Chesterfield Program: 1938 - 1939 CBS. One evening, he was booed by the troops, so he began telling Navy jokes on stage. The Grape Nuts Program: 1937 - 1938 NBC. He left show business briefly in 1917 to join the Navy during World War I, but even then, he often entertained the troops. The Campbell's Tomato Juice Program: 1935 - 1937 CBS. He also found a new pianist, Lyman Wood. The Adventures of Gracie: 1934 - 1935 CBS.

Benny (sometimes spelled Bennie). The White Owl Program: 1933 - 1934 CBS. Finally, Bejamin Kubelsky agreed to change his name to Ben K. The Robert Burns Panatella Show: 1932 - 1933 CBS. This provoked famous violinist Jan Kubelik, who thought that the young vaudeville entertainer with a similar name (Kubelsky) would damage his reputation. Radioland Murders (1994). The following year, Benny formed a vaudeville musical duo with pianist Cora Salisbury. 18 Again! (1988).

The plan was foiled by Benny's parents, who refused to let their son, then seventeen, go on the road, but it was the beginning of his long friendship with Zeppo Marx. Oh, God! You Devil! (1984). In 1911, he was playing in the same theater as the young Marx Brothers, whose mother was so enchanted with Benny that she invited him to be their permanent accompanist. Oh, God! Book II (1980). By fourteen he was playing in local dance bands, as well as in his high school orchestra, until he failed school and left for a career in vaudeville. Going in Style (1979). He began studying the violin, an instrument that would become his trademark, when he was six. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978).

Benny grew up in Chicago and Waukegan, Illinois. Sgt. Jack Benny (born Benjamin Kubelsky, February 14, 1894 – December 26, 1974) was a comedian, vaudeville performer, film actor, and one of the most prominent early stars of American radio and television. Often cited for his impeccable comic timing, Benny was an influential comedy innovator, a major architect of the modern forms of standup comedy and situation comedy. Oh God! (1977). The Sunshine Boys (1975) (Oscar). The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956) (narrated).

Honolulu (1939). College Swing (1938). A Damsel in Distress (1937) (1st Fred Astaire movie without Ginger Rogers & 1st in which Burns and Allen danced). Here Comes Cookie (1936).

Love in Bloom (1935). We're Not Dressing (1934). Six Of A Kind (1934). Many Happy Returns (1934) (1st leading role).

International House ([[1933). College Humor (1933). The Big Broadcast (1932) (1st feature film). Lambchops (1929) (a "short" film).

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