Best American Comedy: Jack Benny

Jack Benny and President Harry Truman
Jack Benny and President Harry Truman | Source

Jack Benny Music and Jokes

Jack Benny started his comedy career as had Larry Fine of the Three Stooges - as a talented and accomplished violinist in vaudeville.

Jack had done this fiddling by the age of 17 and the Marx Brothers wanted to hire him to go on the road with them, but his parents forbade it.

Instead, he added comedy to his act later on and played his violin in a wretchedly squealing manner - hard to do that badly if you are not actually talented. Comic Jackie Vernon later copied this hilarious style with a bad trumpet repertoire and played badly on the Jackie Gleason Show in a focused spotlight.

Jack had a limited wardrobe of jokes and they were one liners or setups that made fun of the characterizations he had created for himself. He worked hard to present himself as a vain cheapskate, claiming to be 39 for over 40 years, running after pennies, and refusing to throw anything out. Here is a classic setup from The Jack Benny program on Radio:

Footsteps approach Jack Benny from behind and surprise him.

A male voice threatens, "Your money or your life."

Silence.

The voice threatens again, more strongly, "Your money or your life!"

Silence.

When you are about to turn the channel, Jack replies, "I'm thinking."

Other times, Jack would create a joke of a situation that had gone against him just be exclaiming, "Well!"

Even his walk was funny. Bob Hope once quipped that they had legalized his walk in England (meaning homosexuality around the early 70s or there abouts).This type of joke is not accepted today.

During a large Jack Benny New Year's Eve party, a disgusted neighbor bothered by lost party goers put up a sign on his lawn:

Jack Benny Does Not Live Here, He Lives There

The Jack Benny Program On TV & Film

Eddie Anderson (Rochester) and Jack Benny with a camel costar.
Eddie Anderson (Rochester) and Jack Benny with a camel costar.

One Liners

One liners were another of the jokes that Jack enjoyed telling, with pointed comic timing. Here are a few:

  • Give me golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner, and you can keep the clubs and the fresh air.
  • I don't want to tell you how much insurance I carry with the Prudential, but all I can say is: when I go, they go too.
  • My wife Mary and I have been married for forty-seven years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce; murder, yes, but divorce, never.

Today the Jack Benny Fan Club hosts photo caption contests for fans who can come up with similar one liners about Jack.

The Horn Blows at Midnight

The Horn Blows at Midnight

I always liked this old flim because I played cornet in maching and concert bands for years and was able to do the number "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" (different film) with my quartet at special events.

The Horn Blows at Midnight is hilarious, surreal, and well-written. It is Twighlight Zone on laughing gas. The film made little money at the Box Office, however, and numerous jokes were made about it, similar to:

The big wigs at Warner Brothers must have been on vacation when Benny made that one.

It was so bad, that he never made another movie.

The movie actually has a musical theme very like the old Looney Tunes or Merry Melody scores.

Swimming in Paradise

A bad trumpet player for a radio show sponsored by Paradise Coffee, "The Coffee That Makes You Sleep", Jack certainly falls asleep.

He dreams that he is an angelic trumpeter of heaven, seeking a promotion. Heaven is nothing but a bureaucracy with a huge orchestra that prevents promotions. The angels take the hotel elevator back and forth to earth for their assignments and jam the hotel lobby, the men wearing long white robes over their suits, the female angels in robes.

Jack is so bad at the trumpet in Paradise that he is sent to Earth to blow the Horn that ends the world. In once scene, he is seen swimming in a huge cup of (Paradise) coffee on a billboard on a skyscraper and later, several people are hanging from the ledge. Fallen angels trick him into paying for lunch with his horn. It is all incongruous and quite fun and it ends well.

Talking Cars

Before My Mother the Car and Knight Rider, Jack Benny used a talking car of his own.

Jack's Maxwell automobile was voiced by Mel Blanc, the future cartoon voice genious. Just hearing a car talk was funny, let alone the puns and darts.

Being cheap, the Benny character likley starved his car for gasoline and oil or picked up lost rationing coupons.

Speaking of cheap, a Hollywood Tour the Homes of the Stars busride proceeded without event for about 30 minutes, the driver poiting out the lovely Hollywood homes. Next, he points and announces, "And here is the home of Mr. Jack Benny." In the back of the bus, Jack pipes up, "Driver, this is where I get off."

All this joking lasted for 23 years on Sunday-night radio, before the TV show even started.

Jack and Groucho on You Bet Your Life

Born on Valentine's Day

Born in February 14, 1894, Jack Benny died 80 or 82 years later, depending on different sources, but most likely the day after Christmas in 1974. His widow, 11 years younger than Jack, began to receive a single red rose daily shortly afterward and, wondering why, she contacted the florist. Jack had arranged for her to receive a fresh rose every day for the rest of her life (until 1983). She was fairly young, so he was not a cheapskate, but a generous, funny gentleman that continues to make us laugh with his particular brand of jokes on film.

Jack Parodies a TV Season

Liberace and Jack Benny

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Comments 14 comments

stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Patty - this is great! A wonderful Hub, and he totally makes me laugh. Thanks for your research and putting it all together!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

I'm glad it made you laugh!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Another great job, Patty. Benny had a great cast. His wife, Mary Livingston, as well as Rochester, Dennis Day and Phil Harris. His ongoing feud with Fred Allen was a great ploy that reminded me of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope banter.


gredmondson profile image

gredmondson 8 years ago from San Francisco, California

Patty, thanks so much! I had seen the video with Groucho Marx, but the video with Marilyn Monroe was new to me. Great Hub! It wasa good laugh!


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 8 years ago from Chennai

Thank you, Patty. Great hub on a very good comic. I'm into my 'humour' education and this hub was just the thing I needed.


C.M. Vanderlinden profile image

C.M. Vanderlinden 8 years ago from Metro Detroit

Great hub, Patty. I really enjoyed reading this :-)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

Hi William, I remember Dennis Day from the program especially, and Rochester, my favorite besides Benny. Don Wilson was pretty funny as well. The Allen - Benny feud sounds very much like fun. I will try to find some old tapes. 

gredmondson - I remember watching the Marilym Monroe broadcast, but I di dnot see the Groucho episode, so bravo YouTube! Thanks for suggesting Benny to me, because it brought back good memories. Glad you enjoyed it!

Kenny - e had some very good people that were also comedians. Some younger comedians today are finding that they need not use obscenities on stage. Fred Travalina travals around and gives a fine example fo that - he was big in the 70s I think but he is hilarious today.

CM - So glad you enjoyed it. :)


TitoB 8 years ago

Hi Patty,

I have an Allen, Benny, Eddie Cantor sketch on my hub about Fred Allen. I love that whole era of comedy and wit.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

Thanks very much TitoB; I'll have a look.


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

You know, there is just not enough words to begin to describe the talent and genius of Jack. I still have 8 hours of "The Jack Benny Program" on VHS. I don't have a VHS player anymore, but I still have the tapes.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

I hope you can find another VHS in working condition, or transfer the tapes to DVD. He is certainly one of my favorites and I was glad to see the quotes on your Hub that I had not heard before. Thanks!


caulkwoman 7 years ago

Try the website Live365.com. They have the otr shows under KIBM Benny vs Allen. Awesome comedy! There are also a nuber of sites like otr.net that lets you listen for free.


Etaoin Shrdlu 6 years ago

Last week I received the following e-mail message from Laura Leff, President of the International Jack Benny Fan Club:

In December 2008 when I was at CBS overseeing the color specials transfer, I was told that CBS had the Benny television program masters.  I was breathless!

I got a listing of their holdings, and selected about 25 shows that are currently uncirculated and in the public domain.  I sent the request for us to digitally preserve these shows, at the IJBFC's cost, to Lorra-Lea Bartlett, the Manager of the CBS Contracts Rights and Clearances department.

This was followed by about nine months of waiting for the CBS New York legal department to respond to the request.  On September 7th, I was asked to provide a letter from the Benny Estate requesting that the programs be released, and "that should get this unstuck."  The Estate happily provided the letter to CBS.  I continued to follow up weekly for status.

Today I was informed by Peter Murray, Lorra-Lea's assistant, that she had talked with CBS' Vice President of Business Affairs, and "there are so many issues with those shows, that even if we took the time to figure it out, we still almost certainly wouldn't do the deal."  So that's it.  Access to the Jack Benny television masters is sealed.

In 1964, James Aubrey told Jack Benny that his weekly television series was terminated with the words, "YOU'RE THROUGH, OLD MAN!"  Sadly, 46 years later, CBS has repeated the sentiment by condemning these shows to permanent silence.

--Laura Leff

President, IJBFC

www.jackbenny.org

Well, indeed.

Ms. Leff has told me that continued pressure by her to preserve this cultural treasure will only cause CBS to "dig in their heels." It is up to us to do something before the masters are lost forever. We and subsequent generations may never have the opportunity to view these uncirculated episodes of The Jack Benny Program.

Please join the Facebook group Tell Les Moonves to preserve The Jack Benny Program masters, and please pass this information on to anyone who might be interested.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tell-Les-Moonves-to-...

Mr. Benny has brought us all a lot of pleasure over the years, now let's do something in return.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

1000s of people still love Jack benny, so this is most horrible. I hope eveyone visits the facebook site to complain and express their dislike of this. Thank you for this information!!

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