The Info List - The Jack Benny Program

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THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM, starring Jack Benny
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 Mel Blanc
Mel Blanc

* Jack Benny
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 weight. * Dennis Day
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
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
Alice Faye
Show with his wife, actress Alice Faye
Alice Faye
. Harris left the radio show in 1952 and his character did not make the transition to television. * Mel Blanc
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
Sheldon Leonard
- A racetrack tout (originated by Benny Rubin
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 , the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
, or when Jack had just turned 38 years old. Burt Mustin
Burt Mustin
took over the role on television following Kearns' death in 1962. (In the 1959 cartoon The Mouse that Jack Built , Mel Blanc
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
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
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. * Butterfly McQueen played Butterfly, the niece of Rochester. She worked as Mary Livingstone's maid.

Other cast members include:

* Ronald Colman
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
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 early 1940s. * Larry Stevens - Tenor singer who substituted for Dennis Day
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 Gracie. * Gisele Mackenzie - Singer and violin player, she guest starred seven times on the program. Benny was co-executive producer of her NBC series The Gisele MacKenzie Show (1957–1958). * Blanche Stewart - A variety of characters and animal sounds * Barry Gordon - Played Jack Benny
Jack Benny
as a child in a skit where Jack played his own father. * Johnny Green
Johnny Green
- The band leader until 1936 when Phil Harris
Phil Harris
joined the show.


Benny was part of a USO show entertaining US troops in Korea. Here he relaxes between shows.

Jack Benny
Jack Benny
first appeared on radio as a guest of Ed Sullivan
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 NBC
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, 1933.

Arriving at 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 1934, for General Foods
General Foods
as THE JELL-O PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY (1934–42) and, when sales of Jell-O
were affected by sugar rationing during 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
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 to fade.

The show returned to CBS
on January 2, 1949, as part of CBS
president 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, 1955. 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.



Jack Benny
Jack Benny
as Robinson Crusoe with Dennis Day
Dennis Day
as an island native, 1963.


COMPOSER(S) Mahlon Merrick


NO. OF EPISODES 260 (list of episodes )


RUNNING TIME 24-25 minutes

Television (1950-1955) J his ratings for the 1963–64 season remained strong while Petticoat Junction
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."


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 NBC
season, CBS
aired 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
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
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 CBS
vault. The Jack Benny
Jack Benny
Fan Club, with the blessing of the Benny estate, offered to fund the digital preservation and release of these sealed episodes. 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
Jack Paar
, John Wayne
John Wayne
, Tony Curtis
Tony Curtis
, Gary Cooper , Dick Van Dyke
Dick Van Dyke
, Rock Hudson
Rock Hudson
, Natalie Wood , President Harry Truman and the only TV appearance with longtime radio foe Ronald Colman .


While Benny has Bing Crosby
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 and Connie Francis
Connie Francis
as his wife who nags him to write a successful song, 1963.

1950-51: ? 1951-52: #9 1952-53: #12 1953-54: #16 1954-55: #7 1955-56: #5 1956-57: #10 1957-58: #28 1958-59: ? 1959-60: ? 1960-61: #10 1961-62: ? (opposite #2, "Bonanza") 1962-63: #12 1963-64: #12 1964-65: ? (opposite #3, "Gomer Pyle")


Main article: Jack Benny
Jack Benny

Whether on television or radio, the format of the Jack Benny
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 978-1-57958-249-4 * ^ 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
Antenna TV
- Shows * ^ CBS
permanently seals Jack Benny
Jack Benny
Television Masters * ^ In this episode, he knows how to tell a fine violin: "How Jack Found Mary". The Jack Benny
Jack Benny
Program. Season 5. 31 October 1954. CBS.