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Jack Benny Show

Jack Benny vs. Groucho 1955

On his TV show, Jack Benny plays a contestant on Groucho’s “You Bet Your Life” Program. That’s Irene Tedrow in between the two masters. This is just a treasure I have to share.

The Jack Benny Program, starring Jack Benny, is a radio-TV comedy series that ran for more than three decades and is generally regarded as a high-water mark in 20th-century American comedy.  Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, and Eddie Anderson (Rochester) in a group portrait.

Jack Benny 

(born Benjamin Kubelsky, February 14, 1894 – December 26, 1974) was an American comedian, vaudevillian, radio, television, and film actor, and also a notable violinist. Widely recognized as one of the leading American entertainers of the 20th century, Benny played the role of the comic penny-pinching miser, insisting on remaining 39 years old on stage despite his actual age, and often playing the violin badly.

Benny was known for his comic timing and his ability to get laughs with either a pregnant pause or a single expression, such as his signature exasperated “Well!” His radio and television programs, popular from the 1930s to the 1960s, were a foundational influence on the situation comedy genre.


Group photograph of Eddie Anderson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny, Don Wilson, and Mel Blanc

Jack Benny Program: Jack at the Supermarket

Rochester beat Jack in gin rummy and has taken the afternoon off to play golf, leaving Jack stuck with the household chores. Jack finds out how Rochester cheated and uses it to his advantage. Don Wilson and Dennis Day come to visit, and Dennis sings a song. Jack leaves for the supermarket, where he encounters Frank Nelson as a salesman.  Jack’s stingy stage character is shown when he sees a table of free samples of cake.

  • jbposeJack Benny – Himself. Protagonist of the show Benny is a comic penny-pinching miser, insisting on remaining 39 years old on stage despite his actual age, and often playing the violin badly.
  • Eddie Anderson – Rochester Van Jones, Jack’s valet and chauffeur. Early in the show’s run, he often talked of gambling or going out with women. Later on, he generally complained about his lack of salary.
  • Don Wilson – Himself. Don generally opened the show and also did the commercial. He was the target of Jack’s jokes, mostly about his weight.
  • Dennis Day – Himself. Dennis was always in his early 20s no matter how old he actually was. He was sweet but not very bright. When called upon, he could use a wide variety of accents, which was especially useful in plays. He usually sang a song about 10 minutes into the program. If the episode was a flashback to a previous time, a ruse would be used such as Dennis singing his song for Jack so he could hear it before the show.
  • 250px-Mary_Livingstone_around_1940Mary Livingstone – Mary Livingstone circa 1940. Herself. Although in real life she was Jack Benny’s wife, on air (TV or Radio) she only played a friend to Jack. Sometimes she was presented as a date, sometimes as a love interest and sometimes she was just there. Her role changed from plot to plot and she was never a steady girlfriend for Jack.
  • Phil Harris – A skirt-chasing, arrogant, hip-talking bandleader who constantly put Jack down (in a mostly friendly way, of course). He referred to Mary as “Livvy” or “Liv”, and Jack as “Jackson”. An on-air joke explains this by saying, “It’s as close to ‘jackass’ as I can get without being fired or getting into trouble with a censor.” Spun-off into The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show with his wife, actress Alice Faye. Harris left the radio show in 1952 and his character did not make the transition to television.
  • Mel Blanc – Carmichael the Polar Bear, Professor Pierre LeBlanc, Sy the Mexican, Polly (Jack’s parrot), The Maxwell and many other assorted voices. An occasional running gag went along the lines of how the various characters Mel portrayed all looked alike. He was also the sound effects of Jack’s barely functional Maxwell automobile—a role he played again in the Warner Brothers cartoon The Mouse that Jack Built. Another participating voice actor was Bert Gordon.
  • Frank Nelson – The “Yeeee-essss?” man. He was constantly the person who waits on Jack wherever he was, from the railroad station, to the clerk in the store, to the doorman, to the waiter. Frank always delighted in aggravating Jack, as apparently, he was constantly aggravated by Jack’s presence.
  • Sheldon Leonard – A racetrack tout (originated by Benny Rubin) who frequently offered unsolicited advice to Benny on a variety of non-racing-related subjects. Ironically, he never gave out information on horse racing, unless Jack demanded it. One excuse the tout gave was “Who knows about horses?” His catchphrase was “Hey, bud… c’mere a minute.” He also participated with Benny in producing the longest laugh (that’s the claim, anyway) in radio history. Leonard was a holdup man who approached Benny demanding “your money or your life.” The long laugh resulted from Benny NOT responding at all; finally, Leonard said “Well!?” Benny responded “I’m thinking it over!”
  • Joseph Kearns – Ed, the superannuated security guard in Jack’s money vault. Ed had allegedly been guarding Jack’s vault since (variously) the founding of Los Angeles (1781), the American Civil War, the American Revolutionary War, or when Jack had just turned 38 years old. Burt Mustin took over the role on television following Kearns’ death in 1962. {Mel Blanc played the part of Ed the Guard in the 1959 cartoon The Mouse that Jack Built who asks if the US had won World War I!}
  • Artie Auerbach – Mr. Kitzel [who originally appeared on Al Pearce‘s radio show in the late 1930’s, where his famous catch phrase was, “Hmmmm… eh, could be!”, and several years later as a regular on The Abbott & Costello Show], who originally started out as a Yiddish hot dog vendor selling hot dogs during the Rose Bowl. In later episodes, he would go on to lose his hot dog stand, and move on to various other jobs. A big part of his schtick involved garbling names with his accent, such as referring to Nat King Cole as “Nat King Cohen”, or mentioning his favorite baseball player, “Rabbi Maranville“. He often complained about his wife, an unseen character who was described as a large, domineering woman who, on one occasion, Kitzel visualized as “…from the front, she looks like Don Wilson from the side!” He often sang various permutations of his jingle, “Pickle in the middle and the mustard on top!” Kitzel was often heard to say, “Hoo-hoo-hoo” in response to questions asked of him.
  • Bob Crosby – In 1952, Crosby replaced Phil Harris as the bandleader, remaining until Benny retired the radio show in 1955. In joining the show, he became the leader of the same group of musicians who had played under Harris. Many of his running jokes focused on the wealth and lifestyle of his older brother, Bing Crosby.
  • Benny Rubin – Played a variety of characters on both the radio and television versions. His most memorable bit was as an information desk attendant. Jack would ask a series of questions that Rubin would answer with an ever-increasing irritated, “I don’t know!” followed by the punchline {among them: “Well, if you don’t know, why are you standing behind that counter?”/”I gotta stand behind something; somebody stole my pants!”}.
  • Dale White – Harlow Wilson, played the son of Don & Lois Wilson on TV. His catchphrase, “You never did like me!”, is usually uttered when he and Jack end up embroiled in an argument, though he once said it to his own mother.
  • Bea Benaderet and Sara Berner – “Gertrude Gearshift” and “Mabel Flapsaddle,” a pair of telephone switchboard operators who always traded barbs with Jack (and sometimes each other) when he tried to put through a call. Whenever the scene shifted to them, they would subtly plug a current picture in an insult such as “Mr. Benny’s line is flashing!” “Oh, I wonder what Dial M for Money wants now?” or “Mr. Benny’s line is flashing!” “I wonder what Schmoe Vadis wants now?”
  • James Stewart and his wife, Gloria – Themselves. Recurring guest stars on the television series playing Benny’s often imposed upon neighbors, in roles similar to those performed on radio by Ronald and Benita Colman (see below), although re-tailored for Stewart’s on-screen persona.

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