Do you have a favorite comic device? Jack's on-air cheapskate character became so believable that some felt he truly did have a moat, alligators, falling knives, a vault, and a security guard in his basement protecting the fortune. It also helped that Jack embellished and played up this character trait in numerous personal appearances on talk shows and on other comedian's programs (such as Burns and Allen, The Fred Allen Show, and The Red Skelton Show).
In one radio episode it's revealed that Jack loves money so much he kept a stack of Confederate money in his vault just in case there's another Civil War. Jack remarks to himself, as he's eying his millions, that if the South would've won he'd have been a billionaire.
Are you familiar with the running gag of his age being 39? It stopped at 39...and a lot of blogs and other fan-created offerings include "39" somewhere in their tributes and salutes as an in-joke. In my blog title I chose to use "40" because this marks the 40th anniversary of his 1974 death.
Did you know that he really didn't live right next door to Ronald and Benita Colman? On radio the couple made several visits and portrayed themselves as living right next door to Jack...he was always inviting himself to their upper-class dinners or their other high society gatherings. Even on episodes that didn't feature Ronald and Benita, in person, Jack often referred to them as his next door neighbors and counted them among his most loyal friends (comments like that brought in huge laughs due to Jack's obliviousness to the Colman's real feelings.)
As you can tell these are comical situations...requiring the zero use of one-liners or actual joke telling to induce laughter. It's been said that Jack's radio format featured the first known use of the elements that make up a conventional sitcom (an abbreviation for situation comedy).
I have several books about Jack's life and career. The oldest one is the book that his manger, Irving Fein, wrote entitled, Jack Benny: An Intimate Biography, published in 1976...
LINK. That must have been several weeks or months after I had purchased the book.
As a kid the thing that stood out the most for me is that among the Jack Benny cast was Mel Blanc (voice of many cartoon characters...Bugs Bunny being the most popular).
This remains one of several must-see memorials that aired following Jack's death 40 years ago. This one is hosted by Charles Kuralt and it features many appearances of Jack's radio and TV co-stars and peers.
Kelsey Grammer hosted a nice tribute to Jack in 1995...
Jack Benny and Frank Nelson bicker and converse about an upcoming airplane flight. Given that the routine takes place later in the episode, for those that hadn't seen the beginning, you aren't going to get the joke that Frank delivers near the end of his scene...
In the collage below there's Jack and character actor Charlie Cantor. He played various dimwit characters on Jack's radio and television programs; earlier he portrayed Socrates Mulligan in the original version of Allen's Alley on Fred Allen's radio program; most famously portrayed Clifton Finnegan on Duffy's Tavern. In the photo in the top right is Dennis Day (the program's tenor singer). Then it's the program's long-time announcer, Don Wilson, and next to Don is the orchestra leader, Phil Harris. Phil has a second appearance in the bottom row featuring his wife, Alice Faye. Lastly there's Jack and the Colman's reading over a script.
Amidst those highly entertaining figures that became associated with Jack Benny there is one cast member that you couldn't do a salute to Jack Benny without having this person mentioned somewhere...and that person is Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. For pretty much the length of the Jack Benny run on American entertainment, both on radio and on TV from the early 1930s through the early 1970s, Rochester typically had his share of on-air time and later, screen time...often poking fun at his boss' reputation for being cheap and refusing to purchase a modern-day car. Rochester acted as Jack's butler, chauffeur, cook, and tended to the outside chores (gardening, mowing the yard, etc. etc.). I believe Rochester also as in charge of keeping Jack's various pets fed: Carmichael the Polar Bear and Polly the Parrot (both voiced by Mel Blanc) and the alligators in the basement. Rochester always had a comical zinger to deliver and his scenes often ended with those. His exposure increased more and more in the television years as the setting became much more of a traditional, domesticated sitcom. On radio, since the Rochester character worked at Jack's house, he wasn't written to be a part a part of Jack's celebrity world and the only times Rochester would be heard interacting with Dennis Day or Phil Harris, for example, is if they visited Jack's house. The program had a show-within-a-show format. Scenes involving Rochester took place at Jack's house.
|"Okay Boss...Pay Up..."|
Jack Benny died on December 26, 1974 at the age of 80 due to complications from Pancreatic Cancer. He was buried on December 29, 1974...ironically on a Sunday...
|Jack Benny: 1894-1974|