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JACK BENNY

JACK BENNY (Feb 14, 1894 – Dec 26, 1974): Jack Benny, born Benjamin Kubelsky, was an American comedian, vaudevillian, radio, television, and film actor. 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 (although an accomplished violinist) playing the violin – poorly!

Benny was known for his comic timing and ability to get laughs with either a pregnant pause or a single expression, such as his signature wave of the hand with an exasperated "Well!" His radio & television programs, tremendously popular from the 1930s to the 1960s, were a foundational influence on the situation comedy genre. Dean Martin, on the celebrity roast for Johnny Carson in November 1973, introduced Benny as "the Satchel Paige of the world of comedy."

* PROGRAM HISTORY:
Benny had been only a minor vaudeville performer, but he became a national figure with The Jack Benny Program, a weekly radio show which ran from 1932 to 1948 on NBC and from 1949 to 1955 on CBS. It was consistently among the most highly rated programs during most of that run.

* SPONSORS: With Canada Dry Ginger Ale as a sponsor, Benny came to radio on The Canada Dry 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. He continued with sponsor General Tire through the end of the season. In October, 1934, General Foods, the makers of Jell-O and Grape-Nuts, became the sponsor most identified with Jack, for the next ten years. American Tobacco's Lucky Strike was his longest-lasting radio sponsor, from October 1944, through the end of his original radio series.

The show returned to CBS on January 2, 1949, as part of CBS president 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 old radio episodes from 1956 to 1958 as The Best of Benny.

The primary name of the show tied to the sponsor. Benny's first sponsor was Canada Dry Ginger Ale from 1932 to 1933. Benny's sponsors included Chevrolet from 1933 to 1934, General Tire in 1934, and Jell-O from 1934 to 1942. The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny was so successful in selling Jell-O, in fact, that General Foods could not manufacture it fast enough when sugar shortages arose in the early years of World War II, and the company had to stop advertising the popular dessert mix. General Foods switched the Benny program from Jell-O to Grape-Nuts from 1942 to 1944, and it became, naturally, The Grape Nuts Program Starring Jack Benny.

Benny's longest-running sponsor, however, was the American Tobacco Company's Lucky Strike cigarettes, from 1944 to 1955, and it was during Lucky Strike's sponsorship that the show became, at last, The Jack Benny Program once and for all (although it was often announced by Don Wilson at the start of the show as The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny).

* SITUATIONS:
The Jack Benny Program evolved from a variety show blending sketch comedy and musical interludes into the situation comedy form we know even now, crafting particular situations and scenarios from the fictionalization of Benny the radio star.

Any situation from hosting a party to income tax time to a night on the town was good for a Benny show, and somehow the writers and star would find the right ways and places to insert musical interludes from Phil Harris and Dennis Day. With Day, invariably, it would be a brief sketch that ended with Benny ordering Day to sing the song he planned to do on that week's show.

One extremely popular scenario that became an annual tradition on The Jack Benny Program was the "Christmas Shopping" episode, in which Benny would head to a local department store. Each year, Benny would buy a ridiculously cheap Christmas gift for Don Wilson from a store clerk, played by Mel Blanc. Benny would then have 2nd, 3rd, even 4th thoughts about his gift choice.

This drove Blanc (or, in two other cases, his wife and his psychiatrist, as well) to hilarious insanity when he exchanged the gift, pestered about the Christmas card or wrapping paper countless times throughout the episode. As a result, in many cases, the clerk would commit suicide, or attempt & fail to commit suicide ("Look what you done! You made me so nervous, I missed!"). In the 1946 Christmas episode, for example, Benny buys shoelaces for Don, and then is unable to make up his mind whether to give Wilson shoelaces with plastic tips or shoelaces with metal tips.

After Benny exchanges the shoelaces repeatedly, Mel Blanc is heard screaming insanely, "Plastic tips! Metal tips! I can't stand it anymore!" A variation in 1948 concerned Benny buying an expensive wallet for Don, but repeatedly changing the greeting card inserted—prompting Blanc to shout: "I haven't run into anyone like you in 20 years! Oh, why did the governor have to give me that pardon!?" Benny realizes that he should have gotten Don a wallet for $1.98, whereupon the put-upon clerk immediately responds by committing suicide. Over the years, in these Christmas episodes, Benny bought and repeatedly exchanged cuff links, golf tees, a box of dates, a paint set, and even a gopher trap.

* THEME MUSIC:
During his early radio shows, Benny adopted a medley of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Love in Bloom" as his theme music, opening every show. The strange interpolation of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" seems to have been an inside joke at Benny's expense. Jack Warner of Warner Brothers had once promised to cast Jack Benny as George M. Cohan in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy (which of course didn't happen, although Warner did cast Benny in The Meanest Man in the World, based on a Cohan play).

Originally posted 2018-01-09 04:35:13.

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