One of the reasons Jack Benny’s death in 1974 came as such a shock was that he was always so active, almost right up to his passing. He joked about being 39 but he really did look younger than his age (on camera at least) and it may have been because he was always doing something.
Here’s a story from the Associated Press from 1962 about his latest tour which was to take him to New York. It’s made out to be kind of a return-to-vaudeville story, though I doubt Jack shared the bill with Fink’s Mules.
His comments about television are more interesting. One wonders if “being a breeze” begat complacency, especially considering the hours he poured into his show in his radio days. And while Jack said he never worried about ratings, it was his ratings that kept him coming into living rooms year after year.
Jack Benny Going Back To Broadway
By BOB THOMAS
AP Movie-Television Writer
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 7 (AP) — Jack Benny is returning to the medium he left 31 years ago—the Broadway revue.
It was in 1931 when the young (37) Waukegan Ill., funnyman walked out on a tour of “Earl Carroll’s Vanities,” in which he had starred in New York. The move was decidedly not in keeping with his later fame as a penny-pincher.
“I was getting $1,500 a week, and you can imagine how big that looked in 1931,” he says.
But he declined the job because the show was beginning a rugged tour of one-nighters. Besides, he had his eye on something else called radio. And the rest, as they say along the Rialto, is history.
On Feb. 11, the comedian will open “The Jack Benny Show” at the O’Keefe in Toronto and head for a six-week stand at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York, starting Feb. 27. He'll take along a troupe of performers including Jane Morgan and the Beverly Hillbillies — that's his own zany combo not the television series.
Jack Benny is 68. He conducts a weekly television show, plays his fiddle all over the country to raise funds for longhair music, does his act in Las Vegas showrooms at less charitable fees. So why does he return to Broadway?
“Because it’s fun," he said. “I like what I do; I always have. That's why I work.
“This season in television has been a breeze for me. I’ve been able to play nine holes of golf every day. I get in an hour or two of practice with my violin each day. My only problem is what to do with my nights.”
The Jack Benny Show has bounced back in the ratings after a rocky season last year. The shift from Sunday (opposite front-running “Bonanza”) to Tuesday undoubtedly helped.
“But I can’t worry about ratings,” he remarked. “There are too many unknown qualities that determine them. Do you know that the change of one phone call can make your rating drop?
“I’m gratified if the rating is good, especially since we’re up against two strong shows, Dick Powell and ‘The Untouchables.’ I suppose we get some help from a good lead-in—Red Skelton precedes us. On the other hand, some people might say they’ve had an hour of comedy and they want something--dramatic. Who can tell?
STANDARD OF QUALITY
“All I know is that I maintain a pretty steady standard of quality. That’s all I can do.”
There’s no telling how long he will be doing so, Benny never seems to age or to slacken his pace. His secret seems to be a dedication to the sensible life. He works hard but unbends on the golf course. He eats sparingly and has only an occasional cocktail before dinner.
Performing stimulates him; the sound of laughter is a great tonic. Unlike other comics, he also is good listener, His fellow performers love to sharpen their wit before him, because they know what a ready audience he is.
But his real secret of living may be his much-maligned violin. “When I play it, I can’t think about anything else,” he said. “It’s the greatest relaxation in the world.”