One of the reasons so many people were shocked when Jack Benny passed away in 1974 was that even though he was 80, he had the appearance and energy of a man who was, well, not 39, but considerably younger. It just shows how insidious cancer is and how quickly it can kill.
Jack seems to have been on a never-ending parade of media interviews up until he died. Both Jay Sharbutt (Associated Press), Vernon Scott (United Press International) and Peer J. Oppenheimer (Family Weekly) interviewed him around his 80th birthday. We’ve re-printed Oppenheimer’s and Sharbutt’s feature stories (Sharbutt’s father was Del Sharbutt, who was one of the Lucky Strike announcers on Jack’s radio show). Here is Scott’s, published February 10, 1974.
Jack: 39 for 40 Years
By Vernon Scott
HOLLYWOOD (UPI)—Jack Benny will celebrate his 80th birthday this week when Frank Sinatra hosts a party for him in Palm Springs.
The comedian contemplated the celebration with mixed feelings. Clearly he did not relish turning 80—two years older than his pal George Burns. But he was looking forward to the Sinatra clambake.
Benny sat in his Beverly Hills office puffing contentedly on a cigar. He was dressed in expensive blue slacks, sports shirt and highly polished shoes. Whenever possible he directed the conversation to his activities and away from his age.
For a man who told national radio and television audiences he was 39 years old for 40 years, Jack took no notice that he more than doubled those years.
Benny's mind is keen, his memory unfailing. He walks more than three miles to his office every day. His weight is 145 pounds, lighter than he has been for many years.
"I don't eat very much so I don't have to worry about getting fat," he said. "I have a highball before dinner at night with Mary. Other than that I don't drink.
"I play golf as often as I can. And the caddy who gets me is lucky. He rides in the cart and I do all the walking. Best thing in the world for me.
"Most nights I go to bed early unless we go to somebody's house to see a movie. I'm usually in bed by 9 o'clock and fall asleep watching TV."
Benny has his own projection room but seldom uses it. His home is a large mansion surrounded by manicured gardens, set well back from the street in Holmby Hills, a fashionable enclave of the wealthy tucked between Beverly Hills and Bel-Air.
He wears his wealth unostentatiously. He wears his years lightly.
"It was May 10, 1932. I'll never forget it. If you asked me any other date I couldn’t tell you. I remember my opening line of my first show: "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Benny—I will now pause while everybody says,'Who cares?!'"
As it turned out, millions cared, and still do.
Jack Benny recently starred in the television special "Jack Benny's Second Farewell Appearance." His first won the highest ratings he'd ever received. He plans a third, fourth and as many other farewells as he can.
But through the years the comedian has given higher priority to his violin concerts with symphony orchestras for which "I don't get paid a dime."
He reckons he has saved dozens of such orchestras in the United States from bankruptcy. "I should practice the fiddle more. But I do take two lessons a week and I try to practice two hours a day.
"Actually, I'm playing better than ever now. I love the violin and it's a great form of entertainment for me because I can play and talk at the same time.
People come to the concerts out of curiosity. They hear the best violinists in the world, so I can't play too lousy.
"Isaac Stern, my closest friend in the music world, tells people, 'Jack plays the violin well enough for his purposes.' But I'm proud to say no critic has ever panned my playing.
"I love getting into white tie and tails and walking out in front of a 90-piece orchestra. It's the greatest feeling in the world. At every concert I get a lot of laughs, but I'm also playing the very best I can."
Jack, who enjoys good health and good friends, has no plans to retire. His youthful outlook forbids even mentioning the word retirement.