First on radio and then on television, America had a standing date with Jack Benny on Sunday nights at seven, for almost three decades.That engagement was never intentionally broken,and,like the best of love affairs, it lead to a life long, marriage between a protean performer and his appreciative audience.
The funny, gentle and generous Benny Kubelsky, born on February 14, 1894 in Weaukegan, Illinois, grew-up to become master-comedian and violin virtuoso, Jack Benny.He was an accomplished vaudeville performer who meticulously crafted the vain and stingy character that gave him global fame, extraordinary wealth and universal adoration. His long, deliberate, comic takes and his narcissistic insistence that, even into his golden years, he was only 39 years old, were among his trademarks as a show business icon.
His long running,innovative radio show, The Jack Benny Program, set stringent standards for situation comedies. Each week, Benny and his writers arduously scripted story lines from which Jack and his ensemble of players, including Mary Livingstone ( his real-life wife), Eddie "Rochester" Anderson,Don Wilson, Dennis Day, Mel Blanc and Frank Nelson, could mine rich comedy.His radio series ran on NBC and then on CBS , from 1932 to 1955.
Philosophically, Benny didn't feel the need to get every funny line in the script. Instinctively, he understood that he was at his best reacting to the cast of crazies that surrounded him. He believed that if he or another cast member got a big laugh, it reflected positively on the eponymously named, Jack Benny Program.
His move to television,in 1950,was gradual, cautious and evolutionary.His first CBS-TV shows, were variety hours with long,comic sketches. The series was produced LIVE from Television City in Hollywood, and aired on every third Sunday, alternating with Ann Southern's hit sitcom, Private Secretary.Both Southern and Benny were sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes.
By the late 1950's Benny had moved to a 30 minute,weekly, sitcom format, shot on film , first at Desilu Studios and then at Universal City.The studio in which his show was produced, Universal's Stage One, will soon be the new home of NBC-TV's The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.
The Jack Benny Show was one of America's most watched series, running until 1964 on CBS-TV,and after moving to NBC-TV for one season, the show was cancelled in 1965.Oddly, Benny always referred to his series as The Jack Benny Program, even when the network promoted and branded it as The Jack Benny Show.
In the years that followed, Benny hosted specials for NBC-TV, did guest appearances on television shows and in films, performed at charitable benefits and staged his one man show, An Hour & Sixty Minutes With Jack Benny, all over the world.He died of stomach cancer on December 26,1974. As uber-comedy writer Larry Gelbart said at the comedian's funeral, Jack Benny died too young, because he was only 39 years old.
Below are a series of four clips that constitute the November 13, 1955 episode of The Jack Benny Show on CBS-TV, LIVE from Television City. His guests are multi-faceted entertainer Danny Thomas and emotive singer Johnny Ray, who suffered from a severe hearing impairment and was riding the wave of a hit record, called Cry. You can see in Jack Benny's performance just how hard he worked to maintain the integrity of his parsimonious character. Enjoy !!!!.