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In the early 1960's TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory started his
review of "The Jack Benny Program" with "There are two kinds of jokes.
Regular jokes and Jack Benny jokes." Regular jokes hit you, if you
are lucky, only once. Jack Benny jokes hit you, if you are lucky, over
and over. What Cleveland Amory at the time was referring to was the
way a joke that popped up in the beginning of any given Jack Benny
program episode was not an end in itself but a set-up for two, three,
or four jokes that would emerge throughout he show.
Some time before I was born, Jack Benny started to use, but never milked, familiar masks: his awful violin playing, his stingy nature, his offense at being insulted by his patented pause followed with, "Well!", his insistence that he was thirty nine years old, and his recurring attempts to get a renowned musician to play his pitiful song, "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano".
"Hello, Police Department? I want to report a lost wallet. It is brown leather. Inside there are three one dollar bills. And the serial numbers are......" Inside a sauna: "Gee. I haven't sweated this much since they closed the banks in 1934."
As Jack Benny delighted in telling later in life, sometimes the stories behind the jokes were even more funny than the jokes themselves. Jack would work with the writers in mid-week before any given show. As Jack told it, one week one of the writers thought up the scenario, "Jack is walking down the street and a thug comes up to him with a pistol and demands, 'Your money or your life!'" All readily agreed that that was a good premise for a joke. "But how is Jack going to respond?" All in the room were puzzled and when one writer got impatient by calling out, "Well?", Jack, still stumped for a good punch line, snapped back, "I'm thinking it over!" When the other writers started laughing, Jack asked, "What's so funny?" It took Jack Benny a few moments to get it that he had just invented the best joke of his career.
That Jack will forever be remembered as being forever thirty nine years old is now not a joke but an inspiration for us his fans and survivors to hold on to youth and humor for as long as he did.
I loved The Jack Benny Show. I am so shocked that there were only two comments in your index about it. Yes some of the episodes are almost fifty years old and probably will never see the light of day again, but look at the dreck on tv right now. This show would be just as good as ever. Jack was such a wonderful comic because he always took it so seriously. He didn't even realize how funny he was I don't think. George Burns once said Jack was funniest when he wasn't saying anything. I loved everything about the show and would love to see it again.
This was one of the great comedy shows of all time and one of the TV's
Golden age of programs that begin in the early 1950's and continued
onward into the mid-1960's. Jack Benny had been a regular network-radio
personality since 1932. When he made his first tentative forays into
television in 1950,it was mainly a series of specials that aired on a
infrequent basis in what would eventually become his regular Sunday
night-time slot(that ran from October of 1950,and ending in June of
1962). Ten of them aired during the 1950-1951 season and 1951-1952
seasons. From October 5, 1952,through the following January his show
was televised once every four weeks,and when he returned again,on
September 13,1953,it was an alternate-week basis that lasted through
June of 1960. For his last five seasons,"The Jack Benny Show" aired
every week. It was shown on two major television networks. First it ran
on CBS-TV from October 28,1950 through September of 1964. Then the show
switched networks,this time over to NBC-TV from September of 1964
through September of 1965,which lasted one season.
It amazingly ran for an impressive fifteen seasons on prime-time television. 1950-1965.
The format of the show,and the personality of its star,so well honed in two decades on radio,made the transition television almost intact. Jack's stinginess,vanity about his supposed age of 39,basement vault where he kept all his money,ancient Maxwell automobile,and feigned ineptness at playing the violin were all part of the act-and were,if anything,bolstered by their visibility on the TV show. Added to Jack's famous pregnant pause and exasperated "Well!" were a rather mincing walk,an affected hand to the cheek and a pained look of disbelief when confronted by life's little tragedies. The show also made some headway into the relationship between employer and employee and "The Jack Benny Program" was the only show on television where you could see individuals of different races and backgrounds working with each other. The two regulars that were with Jack throughout his television run were Eddie "Rochester" Anderson,as his valet and Don Wilson as his announcer and friend. Appearing on a more irregular basis were Dennis Day,Artie Auerbach,Frank Nelson,Mary Livingstone(Mrs. Jack Benny),and Mel Blanc,all veterans from the radio show. Blanc,the master of a thousand voices for several cartoon characters(including Bugs Bunny as well the voice of Barney Rubble on "The Flintstones",and Mr. Spacey on "The Jetsons"),was both heard as the engine of Jack's Maxwell and seen as Professor LeBlanc,his long-suffering violin teacher.
Jack's underplayed comedy was as popular on television as it has been on the radio. After fifteen years as more or less regular television performer,he cut back his schedule to an occasional special and continued to appear until his untimely death in 1974. But it wasn't until 12 years after "The Jack Benny Program" went off the air,CBS brought back several episodes of "The Jack Benny Show",originally filmed in the early 1960's,for a limited run in August of 1977. CBS had also aired repeats of this series on weekday afternoons from October of 1964 to September of 1965 as "The Jack Benny Daytime Show",and on Sunday afternoons from October of 1964 to March of 1965 as "Sunday with Jack Benny"
I have to disagree with the other user who said Jack Benny blew. What? Benny is a comic genius and one of the funniest comedians ever. I saw his classic TV show, "The Jack Benny Program", last night and I must admit I loved it, it is very, very funny. Keep in mind this is early 50s TV variety show and yet it is still hilarious. Jack brings back his radio performers to perform his comic acts and sketches. It was awesome! I will be watching it again.
I just finished watching an hour-long JACK BENNY SHOW from 1965 with perhaps the best guests ever assembled: Bob Hope, Elke Sommer, The Beach Boys (introducing some now very classic songs), and Walt Disney! The first skit was a parody of popular shows of that era (The Munsters, The Addams Family, Bewitched, My Mother the Car, The Fugitive, and Peyton Place), but the best skit was an Italian film style version of Mary Poppins with Elke Sommer in the title role, Bob Hope as a chauffeur, and Jack Benny as the father. There is also a great skit with Benny visiting Disney's office asking for free tickets to Disneyland for 110 guests. Lots of music from the Beach Boys and Elke Sommer (who manages to steal every scene, even up against Hope and Benny!). If you find this at an on-line auction somewhere (that's how I found it) it is well worth the investment. A classic the entire family will love.
He was one of a kind; a great performer, and you can also enjoy all the routines-the 'lousy' fiddle playing, his huge vault in the cellar, etc. The surrounding cast-Rochester Anderson, Frank Nelson(Yessss?!!!) and Mel Blanc were screams. Definately worth your time if you get a look-see on TV somewheres along the line....
Jack Benny was unique among the great comedians this country has
produced. Only his comedy was not the product of gags or situations,
though he used them. His comedy arose out of an indelible character he
created, the lovable tightwad who came into our homes via radio and
television for over 30 years.
In real life Jack Benny was not a tightwad, in fact he was a generous man whose charitable giving was known if not publicized. That of course would have ruined the image and the image was the linchpin of his comedy.
Because we knew his character so well, the cheap gags followed. They would mean nothing to anyone else, but because it was Benny we laughed at a burglar saying your money or your life and Benny stalling with a reply of I'm thinking. The sounds of his Maxwell car were second nature, they brought laughs because Benny was too cheap to buy a new car. And his Social Security number, 000-00-0001 in deference to his age.
The Jack Benny Show took us inside the pretend world of tightwad Jack Benny. His announcer Don Wilson, real life wife Mary Livingston, butler Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, and the perpetual adolescent with the piping tenor Dennis Day all were part of that world. On radio Phil Harris as the brash band-leader was there, but he didn't make it to television, deciding to strike out on his own. All of these people bounced gags off Benny's tightwad character and all got generous laughs at his expense. But the laughs were coming for Benny's character, not necessarily out of anything he said necessarily.
Some his shows were classics and allowed people to really enjoy themselves. One of my favorites had Raymond Burr as a guest star who did courtroom sketch and broke into a song and dance before the jury. Burr looked like he was having a great time. Another show I remember had long time show business friends Bing Crosby and George Burns as guests, reminiscing about back in the days when the three of them were a vaudeville trio act.
His shows were welcome in millions of American homes including mine. Would that another Jack Benny would come on the scene today.
Jack Benny is an American entertainment icon. Born in 1894, he had a
very long career in radio, TV, live performances, and the movies. In
his 1950s and 1960s TV show that we used to watch, he always had his
violin. Benny was quite an accomplished violinist, but as part of his
comedy act he usually played it like a beginner might. My dad loved
Jack Benny. My dad also played a violin.
Benny always played a borderline sad sack, when something in a skit didn't go his way, he might stand and look directly at the audience, with a frown, playing for sympathy. But Benny needed none, he was one of the "in crowd" with Bing Crosby, George Burns, and all the other entertainment giants of the first half of the 20th century.
I also had the pleasure of seeing Jack Benny live, in 1968, when he performed on my college campus. Even though he was in his 70s by that time, he was still the same old Jack Benny. His musical guest for that performance was Lainie Kazan, a singer I had never heard of, but she was marvelous. We were so impressed, we bought several of her LP music albums, and she inspired us to name our first daughter 'Lainie'. Although she has not been a working singer for years, Kazan still is a popular actress, often in the role of a big Jewish or Italian NYC mother.
To me "The Jack Benny Show" was a classic and the man himself a genius.
was the absolute king of timing. He would always start a skit so optimistic and calm.. Then little by little his innocent world would begin to unravel. Lines that were not really funny became classic such as "Oh Rochester, oh Rochester?
His dates with Mary were a favorite of mine. He was so well intentioned and
seemed to always loose control of the situation. I am so sad that great shows like this are not there for my son and
grandchildren. I can not imagine growing up without "Laurel and Hardy" or "The Little Rascles." Who owns these shows and how dare they not make them
available to a world that so badly needs laughter?
Jack Benny brought his long standing and carefully developed world to
television following a long and highly successful run on the Radio
Networks. Between 1932 and 1955, Benny & Company campaigned in the
Laugh Wars under various banners such as 'The Grape Nuts Show', 'The
Canada Dry Show', 'The Jello Show' and The Lucky Strike Program'. These
were indeed the days of very strong sponsor identification; and indeed
the various commercial establishments did indeed "own" the various
air-time slots that carried whatever program that pleased the company
suits. It was a prime example of Capitali$m or Free Enterpri$e, if you
will, flexing its 'evil' muscle, throwing a collective tantrum and
having its own way with the Airwaves and the American Peoples.*
Mr. Benny and his troupe of repertory supporting players spent that 1932-55 Radio Period bouncing back and forth between the NBC and CBS Networks. His regulars included Announcer Don Wilson, Band Leader Phil Harris, Singer Dennis Day, Girlfriend Mary Livingstone (the real life Mrs. Benny), Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, multi-voiced talent Mel Blanc, "Yessssssss Man" Frank Nelson, Dialectician Supreme Benny Rubin and others. They all had been assembled one by one as they appeared on the show only to become regulars or recurring players portraying any one of many various characters as called for by the stories.
Once on TV the various sponsor named shows' titles were jettisoned for good. From then on it was THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM (1950-65, CBS until '64, the last season of 1964-65 on NBC). After that, Jack and the gang did a number of hour long specials on NBC, such as the aptly titled "Jack Benny's 40th Birthday" (1969). One very important part of the Jack Benny comedic persona and central to his supposedly being given to major bouts of vanity is his ever claiming to be 39 years old.
Although we always think of Jack as having a fine comedy-variety show in the same tradition as Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Danny Kay, Carol Burnet and even Tom & Dick Smothers; it was that and something else too. Jack's show was highly complex and hence was not all so easily classified. Read on, Schultz!
In a typical season of THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM featured two different sorts of half hours. The first was In Studio, On Stage, with a Studio Audience and done at first truly "Live" then later (after 1958) via the wonders of Video Tape. As far as we can tell, Jack did maybe a half-dozen of these per season; yet they are the ones that have made the most lasting affect to our collective memory.
The second type was filmed episodes that went far beyond the stage; often getting us glimpses of what Jack's life was in the "real" world. These often began at the Stage during a fictional presentation of the Show; but followed the action after the "Show's" conclusion; or began at Jack's home and followed the storyline in such subjects as "The Beverly Hills Beavers" (Jack's kids' club.) or the Jack Benny Fan Club, which was composed of Females who were as enthusiastic as any of Elvis' followers; albeit not as youthful.
But there was one thing that all of Jack's shows had and that is plenty of laughs. Jack was obviously very unselfish and not at all a vain man as his miserly character; his famous cheapness being another comical invention. Mr. Benny didn't care who got the laughs as long as there were laughs. He very often made himself the object of the joke; and in doing so, established all of his regulars as first rate comedians in their own right.
And any installment of THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM was masterfully constructed. The slow, deliberate pacing was an outgrowth of the Great Comedian's own Stage Personality. The jokes in the monologue always fit him like a well tailored suit. The gags were always slowly and meticulously developed and milked for all they were worth. And, most usually, a gag introduced early in the proceedings would be referred to once again later; often time being the shows ultimate "punch line."
All of this seemingly simple formula did was to make Jack Benny a household word for two separate and distinct generational types. The first being on the Radio with the children of The Great Depression-World War II Generation and of their kids in the Post War Baby Boomer period via the magic of Television. **
NOTE: * C'mon, Schultz, I was just funnin' ya! Whatever our complaints about the price of this or the cost of that, our way sure beats any Socialist way of having the State owned Television deciding what we're to view and hence think. Can you say "PBS" or "NPR"?
NOTE ** We haven't even mentioned Jack's Film career. And just remember, NONE of his movies were as bad as he always makes us believe that THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT (Warner Brothers, 1945) was. It was just another example of the now famous Jack Benny self deprecation.
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