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.
* 1 Cast
* 2 Radio
* 3 Television
* 4 End
* 5 Syndication and DVDs
* 6 Ratings
* 7 Format
* 8 Racial attitudes
* 9 References
* 10 External links
* 10.1 Audio
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Group photograph of Eddie Anderson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris,
Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny, Don Wilson, and
Jack Benny - Himself. Protagonist of the show, Benny is a comic,
vain, 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
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.
* Sadie Marks -
Mary Livingstone . Although Sadie Marks, in real
life, was Jack Benny's wife,
Mary Livingstone was a very sarcastic,
but well-meaning 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. In one episode,
Fred Allen summarized Mary's role
as "a girl to insult (Jack)." Marks later legally changed her name to
"Mary Livingstone" in response to the character's popularity. Her role
on the program was reduced in the 1950s due to increasing stage fright
and Livingstone's desire to withdraw from performing.
Phil Harris - Himself. 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
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 always 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 in the show's 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
American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War , or when Jack had just turned 38
Burt Mustin took over the role on television following
Kearns' death in 1962. (In the 1959 cartoon The Mouse that Jack Built
Mel Blanc played the part of Ed, who asks if the U.S. had won the
war, then asks what would be done with the Kaiser ). Kearns also
played other roles, that of Dennis Day's father, that of a beleaguered
IRS agent, and often of a clerk when it wasn't necessary to have Frank
Nelson antagonize Jack.
Artie Auerbach - Mr. Kitzel 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.
Verna Felton - "Mrs. Day," Dennis' frighteningly domineering
mother. She often came to near blows with Jack in her efforts to
prevent him from taking advantage of Dennis, and she was often
portrayed as working various masculine jobs like a plumber, trucker or
karate instructor. Although she cares deeply for her son, Dennis' zany
behavior aggravates her to no end, and the show has alluded to her
hilariously myriad attempts at killing and abandoning him.
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?"
* Jane Morgan and Gloria Gordon - Martha and Emily, a pair of
elderly ladies who were irresistibly attracted to Jack.
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
Butterfly McQueen played Butterfly, the niece of Rochester. She
worked as Mary Livingstone's maid.
Other cast members include:
Ronald Colman and his wife, Benita - Themselves. Not actually
members of the cast, they were among Benny's most popular guest stars
on the radio series, portraying his long-suffering next-door
neighbors. On the show, the Colmans were often revolted by Jack's
eccentricities and by the fact that he always borrowed odds and ends
from them (at one point, leading Ronald to exclaim, "Butter? Butter,
butter!!! Where does he think this is,
Shangri-La ???"). Dennis Day
often impersonated Ronald Colman. In real life, the Colmans lived a
few blocks away from Benny's home.
* Kenny Baker - The show's tenor singer who originally played the
young, dopey character replaced by Dennis Day
Andy Devine - Jack's raspy-voiced friend who lived on a farm with
his ma and pa. He usually told a story about his folks and life around
the farm. His catchphrase was "Hiya, Buck!"
Sam Hearn as Schlepperman in 1935.
* Schlepperman (played by Sam Hearn) - A Jewish character who spoke
with a Yiddish accent (his catch phrase- "Hullo, Stranger!"). He would
return again as the "Hiya, Rube!" guy, a hick farmer from the town of
Calabasas who always insisted on referring to Jack as "rube."
* Mr. Billingsly - Played by writer and bit player Ed Beloin, Mr.
Billingsly was a boarder who rented a room in Jack's home. Mr.
Billingsly was a polite but very eccentric man. He appeared in the
* Larry Stevens - Tenor singer who substituted for
Dennis Day from
November 5, 1944 to March 10, 1946, when Dennis served in the Navy. He
returned as a guest star and substituted for Dennis in a few episodes.
* Mary Kelly - The Blue Fairy, a clumsy, overweight fairy who
appeared in several storytelling episodes. Kelly had been an old flame
of Jack's, who had fallen on hard times. Benny was unsure of whether
to give Kelly a regular role and instead appealed to friend George
Burns who put her on his show as Mary "Bubbles" Kelly, best friend to
Gisele Mackenzie - Singer and violin player, she guest starred
seven times on the program. Benny was co-executive producer of her NBC
The Gisele MacKenzie Show (1957–1958).
* Blanche Stewart - A variety of characters and animal sounds
Barry Gordon - Played
Jack Benny as a child in a skit where Jack
played his own father.
Johnny Green - The band leader until 1936 when
Phil Harris joined
Benny was part of a USO show entertaining US troops in Korea.
Here he relaxes between shows.
Jack Benny first appeared on radio as a guest of
Ed Sullivan in 1932.
He was then given his own show later that year, with Canada Dry
Ginger Ale as a sponsor —THE CANADA DRY GINGER ALE PROGRAM,
beginning May 2, 1932, on the
Blue Network and continuing there
for six months until October 26, moving the show to
CBS on October 30.
With Ted Weems leading the band, Benny stayed on
CBS until January 26,
NBC on March 17, Benny did THE CHEVROLET PROGRAM until
April 1, 1934 with Frank Black leading the band. He continued with THE
GENERAL TIRE REVUE for the rest of that season, and in the fall of
General Foods as THE JELL-O PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY
(1934–42) and, when sales of
Jell-O were affected by sugar rationing
World War II
World War II , THE GRAPE NUTS FLAKES PROGRAM STARRING JACK
BENNY (Later the Grape Nuts and Grape Nuts Flakes Program)
(1942–44). On October 1, 1944, the show became THE LUCKY STRIKE
PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY, when
American Tobacco 's Lucky Strike
cigarettes took over as his radio sponsor, through the mid-1950s. By
that time, the practice of using the sponsor's name as the title began
The show returned to
CBS on January 2, 1949, as part of
William S. Paley
William S. Paley 's notorious "raid" of
NBC talent in 1948-49. There
it stayed for the remainder of its radio run, which ended on May 22,
CBS aired repeats of previous 1953-55 radio episodes from 1956
to 1958 as THE BEST OF BENNY for
State Farm Insurance
State Farm Insurance , who later
sponsored his television program from 1960 through 1965.
THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM
Jack Benny as Robinson Crusoe with
Dennis Day as an island native,
NO. OF SEASONS
NO. OF EPISODES
260 (list of episodes )
CBS Television (1950-1955)
J his ratings for the 1963–64 season remained strong while
Petticoat Junction emerged as the most popular new series that fall.
In his unpublished autobiography, I Always Had Shoes (portions of
which were later incorporated by Benny's daughter, Joan, into her
memoir of her parents, Sunday Nights at Seven), Benny said that he
made the decision to end his TV series in 1965. He said that while the
ratings were still good (he cited a figure of some 18 million viewers
per week, although he qualified that figure by saying he never
believed the ratings services were doing anything more than guessing),
advertisers complained that commercial time on his show was costing
nearly twice as much as what they paid for most other shows, and he
had grown tired of what was called the "rat race."
SYNDICATION AND DVDS
The radio series was one of the most extensively preserved programs
of its era, with the archive almost complete from 1936 onward and
several episodes existing from before that (including the 1932
premiere). As with the radio shows, most of the television series has
lapsed into the public domain , although several episodes
(particularly those made from 1961 onward, including the entire NBC-TV
run) remain under copyright. During his lone
repeats on weekdays and Sunday afternoons. 104 episodes personally
selected by Benny and
Irving Fein , Benny's associate since 1947, were
placed into syndication in 1965 by Universal/MCA television. Telecasts
of the shows in the late evening were running as late as 1966.
Four early 1960s episodes were rerun on
CBS during the summer of
1977. Edited 16mm prints ran on the
CBN Cable Network in the mid
1980s. Restored versions first appeared on the short lived HA! network
in 1990. As of 2011, the series has run on
Antenna TV , part of a long
term official syndication distribution deal. The public domain
television episodes have appeared on numerous stations, including PBS,
while the radio series episodes have appeared in radio drama anthology
series such as
When Radio Was .
Public domain episodes have been available on budget VHS/Beta tapes
(and later DVDs) since the late seventies. MCA home video issued a
1960 version of the classic "Christmas Shopping" show in 1982 and a
VHS set of ten filmed episodes in 1990. In 2008, 25 public domain
episodes of the show, long thought lost, were located in a
Jack Benny Fan Club, with the blessing of the Benny estate,
offered to fund the digital preservation and release of these sealed
CBS issued a press statement that any release was unlikely.
June 2013 saw the first official release of 18 rare live Benny
programs from 1956 to 1964 by
Shout Factory . This set, part of
Benny's private collection at the UCLA film and television library,
included guest shots by
Jack Paar ,
John Wayne ,
Tony Curtis , Gary
Dick Van Dyke
Dick Van Dyke ,
Rock Hudson ,
Natalie Wood , President Harry
Truman and the only TV appearance with longtime radio foe Ronald
While Benny has
Bing Crosby up a tree, thanks to Rochester's
hammock invention, he uses the opportunity to bargain with Bing for a
lower appearance fee, 1954. Benny as composer Stephen Foster
Connie Francis as his wife who nags him to write a successful
1961-62: ? (opposite #2, "Bonanza")
1964-65: ? (opposite #3, "Gomer Pyle")
Whether on television or radio, the format of the
Jack Benny Program
never wavered. The program utilized a loose show-within-a-show format,
wherein the main characters were playing versions of themselves. There
was not really a fourth wall , per se. The show would usually open
with a song by the orchestra or banter between Benny and Don Wilson.
There would then be banter between Benny and the regulars about the
news of the day or about one of the running jokes on the program, such
as Benny's age, Day's stupidity or Mary's letters from her mother.
There would then be a song by the tenor followed by situation comedy
involving an event of the week, a mini-play, or a satire of a current
movie. Some shows were entire domestic sitcoms revolving around some
aspect of Benny's life (spring cleaning, or a violin lesson).
Although Eddie Anderson's Rochester may be considered a stereotype by
some, his attitudes were unusually sardonic for such a role, and Benny
treats him as an equal, not as a servant. In many routines, Rochester
gets the better of Benny, often pricking his boss' ego, or simply
outwitting him. The show's portrayal of black characters could be seen
as advanced for its time; in a 1956 episode, African-American actor
Roy Glenn plays a friend of Rochester, and he is portrayed as a
well-educated, articulate man not as the typical "darkie stereotype"
seen in many films of the time. Glenn's role was a recurring one on
the series, where he was often portrayed as having to support two
people on one unemployment check (i.e., himself and Rochester). Black
talent was also showcased, with several guest appearances by The Ink
Spots and others.
* ^ A B C D E F Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of
Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press, 1998.
* ^ Dale White
* ^ "Jack Returns from a USO Tour". September 16, 1951. Retrieved
March 22, 2014.
* ^ C. Sterling (2003), Encyclopedia of Radio, pp. 250–254, ISBN
* ^ April 4, 1949 Life Magazine article "Benny Tries TV", with
photo and review
* ^ Bishop, Jim. A Day in the Life of President Kennedy
* ^ Martin Kasindorf. "How now, Dick Daring?" The New York Times
Magazine. September 10, 1972. 54+.
Antenna TV - Shows
CBS permanently seals
Jack Benny Television Masters
* ^ In this episode, he knows how to tell a fine violin: "How Jack
Found Mary". The
Jack Benny Program. Season 5. 31 October 1954. CBS.