Entertainer's Biography: The Life And Career Of Jack Benny

Outline of the old time radio career of comedy genius, Jack Benny. Information on his experiences, influences and humor.

Who was Jack Benny?

If anyone asked you who Benjamin Kubelsky was, you would probably shake your head and not know. Yet if someone asked you who Jack Benny was, the name would bring instant recognition of the comedian of radio and television. Jack Benny was born Benjamin Kubelsky in Chicago, Illinois on February 14, 1894 and livedin Waukegan. It was while a boy in Waukegan that he learned the violin, which he used as a comedic prop so effectively in later years.

Jack Benny worked in vaudeville while in his early twenties and then again after serving in the U.S. Navy. After serving in the Navy, Jack returned to vaudeville not as a violinist but now as a comedian. Typically, a performer would move from vaudeville to radio. Benny went another route by acting in motion pictures, his first being in 1927. It was not until 1932 that Jack Benny began his radio career.

Why was Jack Benny so popular?

Jack Benny had a comedic style that was unique. Instead of making jokes about others, the jokes would often be at Jack Benny's expense. He would allow the other actors on his radio show to get the laugh. He developed a radio character that was extremely miserly with money, vain beyond reason and a talentless violinist. This character was enhanced by a talented cast of actors who worked with Jack.

Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny's real wife, played the character of Sadie Marks, who tormented Jack's character with sarcastic comments during the radio show. Eddie Anderson played the character of Rochester, Benny's valet and driver. He dealt with Benny's eccentricities and stinginess with stoic loyalty but with an eye out for any possible perks that could come his way. Don Wilson was the rotund announcer pitching Lucky Strike cigarettes, Jell-O pudding or any other sponsor. Jack would make comments about Don Wilson's weight and Don would fume and complain until Jack would advise they just forget about it. Dennis Day was the Irish tenor of the program providing musical numbers between the skits. Playing a mental nitwit provided some great laughs on the program. Dennis Day eventually spun off to his own radio program, "A Day in the Life of Dennis Day." It was very successful and ran several years. To round out the cast was Phil Harris, the bandleader. He played a brash, alcoholic who somehow got the music together despite having a decided predilection for liquor. Harris also had his own radio program with is wife, Alice Faye, a movie actress. Phil Harris also went on in later years to work with Walt Disney doing the voice of Baloo the Bear in "The Jungle Book." This core cast brought comedy to the radio in a fresh, vibrant way for 23 years.

In the 1950's with the arrival of television, Jack Benny worked in both radio and TV simultaneously. This lasted until 1955. Reruns of the Jack Benny show ran until 1957. Jack Benny continued his television work until 1965.

This tremendous comedic talent passed away in Beverly Hills, California on December 26, 1974.

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