Sunday, 15 April 2018

The 39th Birthday Surprise

How many top stars or celebrities do you think would call you with a special greeting?

Let us tell you about one who did.

Jack Benny spent years insisting he was 39 years of age. It was so embedded in his comedy routine that when a high school in his home town was named in his honour, its sports teams were (and still are) called the “39’ers.” So it was that a husband cooked up a 39th birthday surprise for his wife. Here’s the story from the Indianapolis Star of March 2, 1958. We wonder if Jack played a “reverse the charges” gag.
Jack Benny Phones

A birthday gift--one of those special imaginative ones--will make Mrs. William S. Deckelbaum's 39th birthday a long-remembered event.
Rosalind has been a Jack Benny fan for years and years. On Sunday night she would from the radio to the television to hear his show, ... her family's dinner would wait.
"What could be a better gift," thought her husband, Bill Deckelbaum, "Than a birthday telephone call to his favorite 39'er from her favorite 39'er."
Bill wrote an air mail letter asking Jack Benny if he would telephone a birthday greeting between 7 and 9 p.m. on the special day.
HE WROTE, "In the 17 years we have been married she probably has not missed a single one of your shows. She was your fan before I knew her." He added, "you'll have to do a selling job for she won't believe who it is. She will know nothing about it."
To celebrate the birthday the Deckelbaums invited a group of friends to their home before taking them out for dinner. Bill let the guests in on his secret.
THAT AFTERNOON Rosalind said to Ann, her teen-age daughter, "I thought of borrowing a violin and meeting the guests at the door but I'm afraid they won't know how crazy I am about Jack Benny and wouldn't get the point."
Ann never cracked a smile. Neither did her younger brother, Bill. But Rosalind did think it strange when she heard her daughter tell her date, "I have to be here until 9 o'clock tonight." Ann normally did not think it necessary to hang around when her parents were entertaining.
Around 8 o'clock the phone rang. No one moved. Rosalind answered it ... It was a child calling his mother. The phone rang again. Still no one offered to answer it. Rosalind went again. Another child calling.
Rosalind began to suspect there was a surprise coming over the telephone. "Is it an old boy friend calling?" she asked. No one bothered to say a word.
At 8:55 p.m. the phone rang again. A voice sang "Happy Birthday." She said, "Your voice sounds familiar. Who is it?" There was a grand rush to the telephone extensions. It was only an old friend in town who had remembered the date!
AT 9:50 P.M. the phone rang again. "Long distance" and then, "Rosalind, I want to wish you a happy birthday. This is Jack Benny."
"Oh, come on now!" said the birthday girl. "Rosalind, it IS Jack Benny," said one of the listening guests, not wanting her to waste time on identifications.
BENNY SAID: "Your voice sounds very young for 39." They visited a few minutes and he asked to speak to her husband.
"I just came in and saw your letter," he told Bill. "I looked at my watch and saw I still had a couple of minutes to make the call. I wanted you to know that I am sending back your check." "No," said Bill, "it was marvelous of you to call. Anyway I would like the check with your signature." "When I send the check I'll send a letter," Jack said.
LATER ROSALIND sent Jack Benny a wire thanking him for his call and saying, "I'll never be 39 so successfully again."
"I got a big kick out of the phone call myself," wrote Benny later. And as for her birthday, Rosalind said, "I never felt so pampered in my life."
It was a kind and thoughtful thing to do. No wonder Jack Benny had so many fans.

Mrs. Deckelbaum was a life-long resident of Indianapolis. Benny outlived her by three years. She died in 1971.


  1. It's interesting that both Bill and Jack are quoted in regard to a check Bill had included with his letter, but it isn't explained elsewhere in the article. Do you suppose Bill really thought he had to pay the long-distance charges to get Jack to call? Or did he just want to get the check back with Jack's endorsement?

    I wonder what Jack wrote in his letter, too.

  2. How amazing to read this story about my relatives! What a great story to share with my family. Thanks for posting!