Jack Benny’s career as a comedian started while he was in the Navy during World War One, so it’s perhaps appropriate that he would have been among the stars traipsing around entertaining soldiers during World War Two. He did it at camps and bases in North America and, more importantly, overseas.
Jack didn’t have an astounding film career, but he did work with a number of funny and attractive leading ladies. He was also quite the ladies’ man before (and some say after) he settled down with Mary Livingstone. So it seems fitting that Jack should be the one interviewed about soldiers overseas and the ladies they want. Jack’s findings may be surprising.
The following feature story was printed in Every Week Magazine, one of those Sunday newspaper supplements. It’s dated June 11, 1944. The author has an annoying habit of using Jack’s given and surname throughout the story.
Pin-Up Favorites Abroad
By Dee Lawrance
Women with men overseas should love Jack Benny.
Women whose husbands, sweethearts, sons and brothers are on any of the fighting fronts should be very grateful to Jack Benny.
Because he’s the first entertainer to visit the boys and come back with a truly encouraging word to the girls back home.
Jack Benny feels, and backs up his feeling by having checked every barrack he came near on his travels, that pin-up girls are greatly overrated.
If any of you women have ever gazed enviously at a well-turned ankle on a movie starlet; wished you could boast of the same set of curves in the same places; yearned to be as pretty in the picture you are sending your “him”—just forget it.
So says Jack Benny, and he’ll oven thump his fist on the table for emphasis. Jack’s not the violent type, so you can see how much he means it when he says:
“The real pin-up girls of the American armed forces are the home girls. For every cutie I saw tacked up on barrack walls, pinned inside tents, pasted in planes and ships, I saw at least 20 pictures of the girls they left behind.
“By that,” amended Jack Benny, and the laughter lines around his gray eyes crinkled, “I don’t just mean sweethearts, either. In fact, wives—no matter how long a guy has been married —don’t get any competition from the smoothies from Hollywood in a pictorial manner. And kid sisters and mothers are right up there, matching the others in popularity.”
When you think of soldiers and pictures, you must never forget the wallets. Returning actors and actresses who have spent any time overseas all remark up on the readiness of G.I. Joe to haul out snapshots to show. In fact, more and more movie stars are sending fan pictures designed to fit in a wallet.
“The wallet pictures they carry,” continued Jack Benny, “feature home girls, first and foremost. And here’s a message to all wives, mothers, sisters, sweethearts—get as many pictures taken as you can, pictures of yourselves, of the house, of friends, of places and things he knows—and send them to him.
“You’ll never know, until you have been there and lived with our boys, just how much your pictures will mean. A snapshot can come in for an awful lot of attention when you’re sitting around waiting to go into action. They mean more than any of us will ever know.”
Having settled the hash of the pin-up girls, Jack Benny relented and admitted that there were pin-up pictures to be seen in the camps he had visited.
“Mostly,” he qualified, “when the boys haven’t got girls of their own, though. And there you will see Annie Sheridan’s lovely face plastered all over the place. Rita Hayworth is another favorite. So is Maria Montez—the boys like her for the exotic costumes she wears in her films. And Betty Grable, of course.”
Speaking of Betty brings up an amusing anecdote from Jack Benny’s trip some months ago which took in Egypt, Nigeria, the Sudan, Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Persia, Sicily and South America.
“In Brazil,” he said, “I arrived just after the news of Betty Grable’s marriage had reached there. And everywhere I went the soldiers said: “Grable can’t do this to us—a fine thing, that lovely creature going off and getting married!
“As a matter of fact, when any of the glamor girls, whether it's Rita, or Betty, or any of them get married, the boys make a great thing of it—and get a lot of fun moaning about their bad luck in losing still another gal to wedded bliss.”
Right now, Jack Benny is working on plans for another trip overseas. The popular comedian feels, as do all entertaining personalities who have gone overseas on visits to our forces, that there is nothing now as important. On his last trip, Benny’s troupe was composed of Anna Lee, a songstress named Wini Shaw, and the famous harmonica player, Larry Adler.
“The girls,” Jack recalled, “were amazing. Not a whimper out of them at hard conditions, traveling difficulties, strange places to stay.
“They took everything like a man and were, on the whole, much less complaining than many a man I have known. Place either of them on a camel, in a jeep, plane, truck or just on their own feet, and they went along beautifully. Don’t ever try to tell me the gals can’t take it. I watched Anna and Wini—and I know!”
Just taking it and not making a fuss is only the first requirement of an entertainer in far-off camps and outposts. Just as important, perhaps even more so, is the ability to laugh and talk with the lonely men, to make them laugh and talk with you.
QUESTIONS about the home folk—with emphasis on the feminine gender—led all the
other questions the boys shot at the visitors from home.
“Chiefly, they asked whether they looked as pert and pretty as ever,” Jack Benny went on.
“ ‘Do they wear bows in their hair and how short are their skirts, and how about their stockings—are they having a hard time getting them?’ they would ask.
“They wanted to know, the ones who had been in longest, how food rationing had affected life at home. Was the rationing of gas a hardship? They showed a tremendous concern for the happiness of the ones they had left behind—and you should have seen the satisfied faces, the smiles, when we assured them the home folks were fine, and behind them 100 per cent.”
Anyone who has ever gone on one of those extended trips with an entertaining troupe knows the difficulties and hardships of them They are constantly on the move. Hardly a day passes without miles put behind the troupers, never a day passes without at least two shows. You can’t be a slouch and go on one of these trips.
Yet Jack Benny said it was a rest for him.
“For 33 years,”he explained, “I have been on the radio. One program a week, performed
twice, 52 weeks a year. And for each program you have to write 12 pages of jokes, out of which 15 pages have to be good—or you’re out.
“Then there have been movies in between to make. It keeps a guy busy. And so you can see why the tour was a rest —and why I want to be allowed to make another trip as soon as I can.”
In a few months he will be seen again—playing an angel. “The Horn Blows at Midnight” might be the title for any sort of picture, particularly a serious one. Yet the fact that it stars Jack Benny guarantees that it will bring a spot of gaiety to a war-torn world.