Sunday 25 February 2018

The Life of Jack Benny

Did Jack Benny take up the violin in earnest later in life because he never pleased his now-dead mother? That almost seems to be the suggestion in the cover story of the April 1948 edition of Radio and Television Mirror.

This is a very lengthy article (people had longer attention spans then, I suspect), so let’s get right to it. The only thing I’ll mention is this is the first time I heard that Mary played “The Bee” for Jack in Vancouver.

The photos accompanied the article. Unfortunately, the scans are poor.

The Life of JACK BENNY
WHAT makes a winner? What makes a comedian whose grip on popularity grows tighter every season, whose public has just draped him with a wide blue ribbon as "Best Comedian" in Radio Mirror's Awards for 1947?
"It's not enough to be good enough. It has to be as good as you can make it."
If Jack Benny's mother said that to her gangly-legged boy once, she said it a thousand times. She was a gentle, blue-eyed, physically fragile woman — and firm as a rock.
Sometimes it came up over the report cards, and if the grades weren't A's, the homework schedule was tightened.
Usually, it was about the violin, and Mrs. Kubelsky was patient when she said it, sitting at the piano, ready to start from the beginning again of some difficult piece Jack was working up for Saturday's violin lesson at his Chicago music college.
And she nearly always said it as they rode back toward Waukegan in the street car after the lesson was over.
"You'll just have to practice more this week," was her conclusion if the session with Jack's music teacher had been less than triumphant. "You can do it better."
And all the next week Benny Kubelsky was indoors playing the fiddle, improving, polishing, getting it right, while his friends were outdoors playing baseball.
Jack's mother died at forty-seven — and Jack never thinks of it even now without a pang that she saw none of his success — but something that she implanted in him when he was still in short pants goes on ticking away in his machinery, making him the great perfectionist of show business, the man with the million dollar jitters.
Fifty-three now, after sixteen years on the air the best paid and consistently the most popular star in radio, as indigenous a part of Sunday for twenty-five million Americans as ham and eggs and the funny paper. Jack Benny is still improving, polishing, getting it right.
Those early sessions with his mother are half-forgotten now, and he would scoff at any suggestion that his childhood was any more painful or arduous than any other kid's, but everybody who works for him knows that with Jack it's not enough to be good enough. So — like the boss — they make it as good as they can make it.
Education and the arts — what they liked to think of as culture and American "advantages" — loomed particularly large to families like the Kubelskys. Only one generation and one ocean away from a life which was barely more than a cruel struggle for existence, they marveled at the chances to "be somebody" every boy and girl had in this big friendly country, and worked harder than ever to insure their children's future.
Being a boy and the first-born. Jack was the focal point of all of his parents' hopes. By the time his sister, Florence, was born six years after him the fires had simmered down a little, and the little girl could take her time growing up.
But not Jack. By the time he was fifteen, he had quit school to get on with his career. He was what his parents had wanted — a professional violinist — although so far just one of an orchestra in the pit of the Waukegan theater.
Had the elder Kubelskys known that this first job would prove the first step into show business, they undoubtedly would not have permitted it. Jack dreamed of the bright lights and gay times of the theater — envied the carefree vaudevillians to whom Waukegan was just a one-night stand. He confided all this to his one close friend, Julius Sinykin, a Waukegan merchant. But not to his parents.
For them, the job in the pit was the means to another end — as "educational" as high school, in which Jack, at best, had been disinterested, and lucrative enough to pay for more and better violin lessons. It was to pave the way for his ultimate fame and success as a concert star.
When Minnie Palmer, the Marx Brothers' mother and their business manager, tried to lure Jack — he was sixteen then — -away from Waukegan and his family to go on the road with her sons, the Kubelskys were horrified.
Vaudeville! Why, the boy might as well join the circus, or a cheap carnival. Their Jack, who was going to be a great artist!
Frightened now — for Jack had begged to be allowed to go — alarmed that their little boy was revolting at his little boy status and "getting ideas" — they became stricter than ever.
Customers in Father Kubelsky's little store bought their suits and shoes to the rhythm of scales and exercises. Jack was practicing in the family apartment upstairs.
Mrs. Kubelsky was in bed a lot of the time now. She was to die of cancer three years later, but if she knew it then she didn't tell the family. She never tired of the monotonous, repetitious fiddling.
If the boy did, and he frequently did — his father could fix that.
"All right, then," he would say, "if you have no ambition, come on down with me and work in the store."
In actuality it was an empty threat, for his father's business could not have survived for very long the strain of Jack's "help." It was one of his father's favorite stories that Jack, left to watch the store for a single lunch hour, "charged" two expensive suits to a customer but neglected to get his name, and paid another one out of the cash drawer the $48.93 for which he had been billed.
Secretly, the father was proud that his son was such a bad salesman. Just because he had had to wait on people behind a counter all his life was no reason why his son should. His son was going to do something better than his parents had ever been able to do. Everybody's son could try for that, in America.
About Jack's withdrawal from other traditions of the family's past, his father was not so philosophical.
He was alarmed at his boy's casual unconcern — the whole younger generation was guilty of apathy, for that matter — for the orthodox religion of his parents.
"Look, I'm not irreligious. Dad," the boy would say after one of their frequent clashes on the subject. "But why do you have to take it so hard? Why can't religion be something you feel good about?"
But for the older man God was still a frightening God. And on occasion, in His name, Meyer Kubelsky did frightening things.
Once, when Jack had failed to show up at the synagogue on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, he came home to find his father in a towering rage.
White and rigid, he barred the door to the boy, and crying out that he would teach him to make light of serious things, he struck him twice across the face with the nearest thing at hand.
Then he saw what it was — his sacred prayer book.
The rage receded as fast as it had boiled up, and he stood there stricken. He had struck his child, and with a prayer book. His father's visible remorse cut the boy much deeper than the punishment.
The older man disappeared for several hours after the incident, and the whole family suffered for him. But when he came back, he had made his peace. He had found a rationalization.
"You probably don't know it, son," he said — and he hadn't known it himself until that moment — "but it is a blessing to be hit in the head with the Holy Book."
The happy holidays, at Passover, were the wonderful ones. "Then the whole house smelled good for days from the special cooking. The great feast, the Seder, with his mother lighting the ceremonial candles, and his father — in the traditional black cap — reading from the Haggadah of the emancipation of the Jewish people from Egypt while he, the first-born son, self-importantly read the responses — all this made his family, and more, his People, meaningful to the sensitive boy.
Even after he left Waukegan, to travel with a violin-iano act — it was vaudeville, but it was still serious music, which softened the blow for his parents — he managed always to come home for the Seder.
If his childhood had been more work than play he didn't know it, and home was always a lovely place to come back to, where he knew he was loved and welcome, and where, even if he were broke and jobless, it was taken for granted that the setback was temporary because the Kubelskys' boy had an appointment to meet somebody up there at the top.

ACTUALLY, if Jack Benny were headed for the top in those first years of his theatrical career, it was on an almost imperceptible grade.
His vaudeville act was prosperous enough, but it was no headliner. His first partner, a woman old enough to be his mother, had retired and been replaced by another pianist, a young man named Lyman Woods.
They got a comfortable number of bookings, as far west as Seattle — even one series of engagements in England. Jack was relaxing and having fun on his own for the first time in his life, seeing the world, making friends. (It is characteristic of Jack that a lot of these first show-business friends are still his pals and confidants.)
The echo of his mother's voice in his own ambition was not prodding him too hard as yet. He was a young man, and had come a long way. There was plenty of time to cover the rest of the distance.
In 1917, however two things happened which reminded Jack forcibly of the whirling hands of the clock.
One was the death of his mother. The other was that the United States declared war on Germany. Called home unexpectedly from the road to find his father distraught, his sister exhausted from twenty-four-hour nursing duty, and his mother — whom he had always thought indomitable, invincible — frighteningly thin and white in her bed, he felt with a shock that he had failed.
"She is going to die," he told himself, "and I haven't made it. I haven't become what she wanted me to be."
She lay half-alive, half-conscious, on her bed for ten days after Jack arrived. Once or twice, she tried to talk to him.
"You will keep on studying," she said once. It was not a question, but an affirmation.
She was stronger than he was, still the strongest will of them all.
Jack secretly resolved, as he sat there holding his mother's hand, that he would study more, work harder, be better, be best. It was what she wanted, and her dying without seeing it happen made it all the more important that he bring it off.
But he was not to be free to do what she wanted — not yet.
With all the other young men of the country he was swept up into the war to "save democracy."
It was just luck that the war — a disaster in so many lives — was decisive in turning the second-rate violinist into a first-rate comedian.
On his Naval registration blank, when he enlisted, after the word "occupation" he wrote "musician."
A few weeks later, the brass took away his deck-swabbing equipment and gave him back his fiddle.
He was assigned to Great Lakes Naval Training Station, specifically to the cast of a revue which Lieutenant Dave Wolf was whipping into shape to go on the road for Naval Relief.
There was a small part for a comedian who could play a violin.
"I'm a violinist who can tell a joke," Jack volunteered. He had been trying out a bit of patter in his act with Woods, and found it comfortable.
Wolf was dubious, but he told Jack to try it. By the time the show opened, the bit was padded and rewritten — by Jack — into one of the fattest parts in the revue. By the close of the run he was Navy's comedy star — big time at last, and chronically ill of stage fright.
The million dollar jitters had set in, and they grew worse as the safe, solid and familiar violin became more and more a prop.
His success as a comedian doomed once and for all his mother's dream of her son in white tie and tails in Carnegie Hall. (And it doomed "Love in Bloom.") Discharged after the armistice, he went back to his old haunts, but as a "single" now. Jack Benny — and his violin. The qualifying phrase was strictly for moral support. While he closed his performance with a violin solo, still done with some show of virtuosity, the talk was the thing now.
From the first attempt. Jack refined and polished his monologues to a clean, "right," timed-to-the-second precision, and also from the first he went onto the stage for every performance with jumping nerves and a churning stomach.
There was one time when he actually fled in terror from an unfriendly audience. It was shortly after the war, and he was booked into the Academy of Music in New York City, which boasted the most blood-thirsty clientele since Roman "variety fans" threw Christian martyrs to the lions in the Coliseum. The house welcome to each new act was a prolonged raspberry, sometimes accompanied by a shower of not-too-fresh vegetables. Entertainers dreaded to play the spot but egotistically gave everything they had for the applause of the barbarians, as it was equivalent in the theatrical world to a Congressional Medal for Bravery.
Jack sauntered in from the wings for the first performance, apparently relaxed and confident. His nerves never show, out front.
His "hello everybody," was drowned in a resounding bird which swept away also whatever he had planned to say next. Looking the audience in the eye, gripping his fiddle firmly under his arm, he strolled across the stage, paused at the edge, gripping the front border with his free hand. The raspberry subsided, what was left was an ominous, dare-you silence.
"Goodbye, everybody," Jack said, and ducked into the wings, down the stairs to the stage door, and out into the street. He never came back.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, his routines as a monologuist — and the master of ceremonies chores for a whole bill of vaudeville for which he qualified next — were rapidly making his name a powerful one on the Variety circuits.
Jack Benny was in the big-time houses now — his salary expanded with his fame, and his "old pals of the tank-town days moved over to make room in Jack's circle of friends for the headliners of the day. Burns and Allen, the Marx Brothers, Eddie Cantor.

IT WAS through one of the mad Marxes that Jack met the big-eyed little girl he was to marry.
She was still in bobby socks and hair ribbons at the time and to Jack a profound nuisance.
He was playing a date in Vancouver. The Marxes were on the same bill.
He was in his dressing room, wiping away his make-up wondering where and with whom it would be pleasant to have dinner when Zeppo Marx strolled in.
"Have dinner with me," Benny urged.
But Zeppo had a date, with Babe Marks, a girl whose family lived in Vancouver. Why, as a matter of fact, didn't Jack join him — the Markses were hospitable folk, they wouldn't mind.
"Home cooking?"
And what was more, Zeppo promised, with just a hint of a wink. Babe had a sister.
That settled it. Jack eagerly put on his hat and coat.
Babe's sister was a girl named Mary, and she was twelve years old! And to make things worse, she was studying the violin, and proceeded — upon her mother's proud insistence— to perform for Jack.
In the middle of her painful rendition of "The Bee," Jack stood up. Home cooking was home cooking, but this was too much.
"Get me out of here," he begged of Zeppo, with more anguish than tact.
Mary's face flamed. She wasn't then, and she isn't now, a girl whom one could insult with impunity.
"I'll get even with you for this," she shouted after Jack's retreating back, while her older sister and Zeppo roared, and her mother tried vainly to shush her.
She got even.
The next day, at his opening show, Jack came out to face three rows of stony-faced adolescents, captained by Mary.
They were armed with bags of popcorn, which they consumed noisily all through Jack's act. When he finished, they sat on their hands. The audience — the popcorn's crackling had drowned out the jokes — was equally cold. Jack had fallen on his face. He marched off the stage and looked for Zeppo.
"Introduce me to your enemies, from now on, will you, pal?" he barked. "I don't want to know any more of your friends."
Jack left Vancouver that night, muttering that he would stay out of the entire Dominion of Canada until that "Marks brat" grew up or moved away. Nothing in his troubled dreams on the Pullman hop east hinted that he would see more, much more of the "Marks brat." That, indeed, eight years later, he would marry her.
Money flowed freely in the middle twenties, and the show folk — as they always do in a period of lavish spending — got their share.
Like all the other big-timers. Jack found his weekly salary climbing into four figures.
The violin about which his mother had spun her dreams for him was neglected now, and out of tune, but he was a success.
If his father still nursed the old doubts, the conviction that the theater was for wastrels and not for gifted artists like his son, his opportunity to take life easy at last — a product of Jack's prosperity — must have assuaged them.
Not only was Jack a big star on the variety circuits. His name was in lights on Broadway " now, and there were beginning to be nibbles from that new jackpot for actors, the motion picture industry, beginning to feel its muscles in Hollywood.
Things were going great, so Jack's jitters were worse than ever.
His Broadway debut — as master of ceremonies of the Earl Carroll Vanities of 1947 — was a triumph.
The critics were unanimously impressed, if grudgingly. Their presence in orchestra seats had frightened so many seasoned stars into fluffs that they were almost insulted by the controlled, "easy" perfection of this brash young man.
They raved about his "masterly timing." They commented, if a little miffed, at his calm in the face of the biggest ordeal an actor could face in those days.
Actually, Jack had not eaten or slept for days before the opening. He collapsed from emotional exhaustion in his dressing room after taking twenty curtain calls.
Jack Benny celebrated his thirtieth birthday at home alone in a drab hotel room, nursing a nasty cold.
He suddenly felt very old and tired and sorry for himself.
What had he, after all?
He could answer with the old joke line, "a lousy fortune," but what good was it? He had starred m a series of big revues — a dizzying montage of Temptations, Scandals, Vanities — he had become a New York fixture as master of ceremonies at the fashionable Winter Garden. He could pick his spots on any of the Variety circuits. But the pace was wearing him down.
He was sick of staying up all night, and sleeping until noon, he was sick of talking too much and too trivially to too many people. He wanted some fresh air and sunshine and peace and privacy and although he didn't admit it yet — even to himself — he wanted a family and a home.
"A million people around all the time." Jack told his friend Julius Sinykin at about this time, "and yet I'm lonesome."
"Why don't you get married?" Julius asked him quietly.
It was out of the question. What woman would put up with Jack's life, with the dreadful hours, the string of dreary hotel rooms, the backstage intrigues which were all part of the business?
It's a date, still, when the Bennys eat "out." The secret, Mary says, is to be in the same business.
Besides, Jack rather liked — he had thought until this moment — the bachelor life. Pretty girls in lots of towns, fun to know them all.
Better to have one girl, Julius averred, who was there, to be counted on.
But he thought about Julius' advice when he was alone that night, alone and desolate.
During a recent vaudeville engagement in Los Angeles, he had run into Babe Marks again — she was playing at the Hillstreet theater the same week Jack headlined the bill at the Orpheum — and through her had "met" her young and pert sister, Mary.
Jack had long forgotten the Vancouver frost and Mary, who liked him now, despite the fact — as she complained to her sister — that one eye was bluer than the other — didn't remind him that she, too, once had been an aspiring violinist.
Thinking about Mary while he paced up and down in his Chicago hotel room. Jack realized that she was different from the other girls he had dated in his travels about the country.
She had something the others didn't. What was it? He knew, suddenly. She knew how, and when, to laugh.
That's what he needed. Some laughs, to lighten the grim business of being funny for a living.

HE telephoned Babe Marks, who also was playing an engagement in Chicago at the time, and with a lack of subtlety which would have horrified the people who paid good money to hear his slick humor every night he made a proposal.
"I've been thinking about Mary," he began. "Poor kid probably needs a vacation after slaving away all this time in that department store. Why don't you ask her to come and visit you?"
"I'm not sure," Mary's big sister, who was not fooled for a minute, replied, "but I think the kid's engaged."
"Oh," Jack's voice had gone dead. Maybe Mary didn't need a vacation after all.
Babe laughed. "But I'll ask her," she said.
"Let me know," said Jack, his spirits bouncing back like a rubber ball.
Mary wasn't fooled either. She knew what the summons to Chicago meant — and she was as eager to go, yet somehow afraid. She had grown very fond of Jack during their brief whirl together in Los Angeles, and had spent the time since fighting it off. She knew about actors. Like sailors — with a girl in every port. She didn't want to be one of a harem — she didn't want to compete with all of the pretty, flashy show girls a man in Jack's position had to see every day.
He was so sweet, but no — it would never work.
Determined not to be hurt, she had concentrated on liking other boys she knew. Her friends were all getting married, having babies, establishing homes. Why shouldn't she have that, instead of a job back of a hosiery counter, and a torch for a guy who would never settle down?
Babe's hunch had been right. Mary was "engaged" when the relayed invitation from Jack arrived. But her heart wasn't in it. Maybe what she needed was a trip to Chicago, a chance to see Jack in his native haunts. That would cinch it, that would make up her mind.
What she didn't know when she boarded the eastbound train was that the decision had already been reached. Jack had already made up his mind.
On their first date in Chicago, Mary tried to slip back into the humorous small talk she and Jack had found so quick to the tongue on their earlier meetings. But Jack was dead serious and preoccupied.
"What's the matter with you?" she asked at last. "I come half way across the country to see you, and you act as though I wasn't even here. What's eating you? What's on your mind?"
"Nothing," said Jack, biting his nails.
"Don't bite your nails," barked Mary, knocking his hand down from his face with a quick gesture.
He looked up at her, startled.
"But I'm worried," he said.
She noted the hurt surprise in his eyes, the one blue, the other bluer.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't know."
She suggested he tell her all about his troubles, get them off his chest.
"I suppose they're not troubles really," Jack replied, in all seriousness. "I have just been thinking that we ought to get married."
The Mary-laugh, the mocking yet comradely Mary-laugh, bubbled out at that. And Jack's somber face lit up like a delicatessen sign.
That was Friday.
Jack called Julius Sinykin in Waukegan and made all of the arrangements. They would be married in Julius' house next Tuesday — the first day Jack could take a few hours off from the show.
On Saturday they quarreled. On Sunday they made up. On Monday it was all off again.
But they were married on Tuesday, just as they had planned. After all, Julius had gone to such a lot of trouble.
Marriage to a big star was a tough job for the little hosiery clerk from Los Angeles, worse than Mary had feared and dreaded.
As a non-professional, who "just went along for the ride," she had all of the heartaches, none of the glamor of show business.
A succession of hotels, a succession of pretty girls explaining, "Oh, I didn't know Jack was married." Knocking around strange towns, looking in shop windows while Jack fascinated the people, no chance to make permanent friends, not a glimmer of hope for a home, for really settling down. It wasn't so easy.
She told Babe that she couldn't take it. She loved the guy, but it was too tough. Babe had a heart-to-heart talk with Jack.
"Look here," she said, "you can't do this to my kid sister."
"Now wait a minute," Jack said. His nerves too were at the breaking point. "Mary knew what my job was when she married me. She knew it would be a while before we could get out of this racket. Do you think I don't want what she wants — a home, kids, a chance to go to sleep once in a while in my own bed?
"But how am I going to get all that if I don't work?"
Babe had an answer for that. The movies — which had just found their voice — had been making beckoning motions in Jack's direction. If he went to Hollywood, both he and Mary could have what they wanted most — he could have his work, and Mary could have her home.
Jack was dubious. The early talkies weren't keyed to his kind of humor. All noise and schmaltz — they would overwhelm him.
But it was worth trying — it would be a break for Mary, and let's face it, he had been hankering for an occasional chance to get a look at sunlight himself.
Their first home was rented, furnished, but it was home, and Mary bloomed with happiness.
Jack's fat contract at M G M brought in weekly checks but involved only occasional work, so he, too, found out how the other half lives. He found out what the morning looks like, and discovered golf — a game which he took up with as much intensity and passion — if not with quite the success — that he had earlier tackled the violin.
Everything was lovely, dangerously lovely as Jack's shrewd business mind soon reminded him.
His early pictures — "The Hollywood Revue," "Chasing Rainbows," and "The Medicine Man" — were fattening his bank account, but they were affecting his career with a creeping paralysis. He was afraid that he would go back to Broadway tan, healthy, happy and forgotten.
Mary, though reluctant to go back to the life which had defeated her, could see the wisdom of Jack's position.
"You'd better go and see Mr. Mayer," she said, "and tell him thanks so much but I quit."
He did, the next morning.

THIS was the first of a series of moves Benny was to make which looked at the time like professional suicide but which turned out to be professional insurance.
Tearing up his lucrative film contract cost him thousands — but getting his name up in lights on the main stem again, being seen again, doing what he could do best — and better than anybody — pumped new life into his career.
It was good to be back, to see his friends, to feel the wonderful rapport with an audience which is there, in the dark but there, to know when a line is right from the reaction it gets. Jack, back in the theater, was in his prime again.
And Mary was lonely again.
She could manage in New York, where she had friends of her own, a life of a sort, too — but when Jack prepared at the close of the season to hit the road again in vaudeville, she said she couldn't face it. She would wait here, she said.
"I can't stand life with nothing to do," she explained. "I have to have some reason — besides sitting and waiting — for getting up in the morning."
The way she put it gave Jack the Big Idea.
All that was bothering Mary was that she had nothing to do. She didn't hate the theater — she wanted to be in it.
The act Jack was whipping into shape for his new tour had a small part for a girl, a foil for Jack's quips.
Over Mary's protests, he rewrote it for her. She had stage fright at first, but it didn't last.
The early audiences thought her nervous giggles was planned, and laughed with delight.
"Keep it," Jack encouraged her.
She was in.
A few weeks after her painful debut as a comedienne, Mary was a seasoned performer, loving the theater, forgetting that she had once been on the outside looking in.
Sharing so much more with Jack, she found her insecurities vanishing. There was so much more to laugh at now, no time or occasion for fretting.
Or so they blissfully thought.
But something was happening to vaudeville. The first talking pictures had hit the variety world a staggering wallop, the second and third string circuits had shriveled as theaters all over the country had been wired for sound.
But the big-time houses had survived. After a few months of readjustment — months when Jack had been in Hollywood participating in the first efforts of the screen to adapt itself to talking actors — the variety houses in the big cities hit their stride again. Thousands of run-of-the-mill performers had been wiped out, but the big stars were bigger than ever.
But now, in the early thirties — signs were ominous once more. There was the depression; bads news [sic] for all the luxury trades, of course. But there were new factors. The talkies — so embarrassingly brash in their early years — were growing up.
And there was another new factor, immature and amateur like the talkies in their time, but a baby which would grow to an entertainment giant — radio.
Jack Benny, who was still able to get bookings — though fewer — at $2,500 a week, nevertheless began biting his nails again. A man who could walk out on a long-term movie contract because he could feel paralysis setting in, could walk out again. But where — this time — was there to walk?
Pictures? Jack's flesh was still singed from those first painful musicals. Radio? But this new medium was making its own stars; unknowns of yesterday were big names today — Moran and Mack, the two Black Crows, the Happiness Boys, Gene and Glenn. The big parade of the variety stars off the boards and onto the air had not begun.
Nevertheless, Jack decided that radio was for him.
He promptly told everyone that he was quitting the stage (before it quit him) to "go into radio."
"I had no more radio job than a rabbit," he says now. "But I said it loud enough so that nobody asked any questions."
Burns and Allen made it before he did. So did Eddie Cantor. The early sponsors shied clear of anything as subtle and "Broadway" as the Benny school of humor.
When Jack finally did make his radio debut, it was for free — as a guest interviewee with columnist Ed Sullivan.
That fifteen-minute sustaining show was to launch the most fabulous radio career of them all, so for the record, here is the way it began.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Jack replied to Sullivan's introduction, "this is Jack Benny talking. There will be a slight pause while you say 'Who cares?' "
A lot of people cared, most importantly the manufacturers of a now Benny-famous gingerale, who promptly signed him up.
And the process of Benny-izing radio began. After fifteen years, it has come full circle. "Situation comedy," Benny style, generally has replaced jokey routines on the air; getting laughs with character rather than with gags — another Benny innovation — is the aspiration of every top notch performer.
And the legend about a man who is so stingy, so stupid, so grudging and sourpussed, such a smart guy with no brains to back it up has so convinced the American public that every Sunday 25,000,000 roar with laughter when that smart guy falls on his face.

THE laugh is really on them. For Jack Benny is none of those things.
On the air, Jack Benny is a miserly man — a penny-pinching fellow who tips with nickels, who pays Rochester $25 a week, who requires of Dennis Day that for his meager salary he sing and mow the lawn.
Actually, Benny shops for the best performers in the business — pays the highest salaries in the business to his writers and actors, both the regulars on his program, and the extra people who come and go. Even the AFRA actors who come on to say "Telegram for Jack Benny" go off to collect an over-scale check.
In the face of suspicious waiters the country over who have heard tales about this guy, he tips with a lavish hand. When he leaves a hotel not only the maids and the waiters are richer, but the telephone girls, mail clerks, and bellhops. At Christmas time, at NBC, when Benny's secretary, Bert Scott, heaves into view with bulging pockets the cry goes up that Santa Claus has come at last. There are money gifts for everybody — parking lot attendants, pages, thirty-five girls in the mimeograph department, the maintenance crew, the works.
The Benny family lives in luxury in one of the most beautiful homes in Beverly Hills, run with a lavish hand by Mary and a staff of eight professional, fabulously paid, domestics.
Mary is gowned by the best designers, drives the most luxurious cars, not a Maxwell in the lot. Joan, the Bennys' fourteen-year-old adopted daughter, goes to the very best schools. His family and his friends can have anything Jack Benny has.
On the air, Benny cowers before the Big Name. The real Benny has respect only for what a man or a woman can do. Several years ago when he was kept waiting for an hour by a Governor of an eastern state he walked out. Over horrified protests of the receptionist, he made his position clear. He had work to do. The Governor's contract had four years to run — his had only thirteen weeks.
He is credited by the people who know him best — the people who work for him — with a kind of democracy rare among the "Big Boys."
In his weekly all-Friday writing sessions with the writing staff, he is just another writer, easily overruled on any point of disagreement.
Although it has been said that any writer who works for Benny for a week is a Benny writer for life— because the man's influence on the script is so definitive — the result is gained without Jack's ever resorting to the phrase which echoes down most radio halls, "It's going to be this way, because I want it this way."
"We have to keep reminding him that he is a big star," one of the writers jokes.

AT the Saturday read-through — first rehearsal of the Sunday script — Benny is equally off-hand with the twenty-five or so actors, sound men and musicians on hand.
He gets the reading he wants without raising his voice. If he suggests a change in interpretation, it is so tactfully done that no one, least of all the old hands, takes offense.
Rochester has told friends that his relationship with his boss is rare and wonderful because "Jack never holds back, just because I'm a Negro, when he wants to bawl me out." "This is more than racial tolerance; it is acceptance of a man as a man, which is something on a higher level.
Never a soap-boxer on any sort of controversial issue, Benny has nevertheless carried over to radio all of the best parts of the old trouper-democracy, the philosophy that nothing about you matters but what you can do. He doesn't compromise. Hotels which won't accept Rochester's registration lose the whole troupe; this goes for restaurants as well.
On the air, Benny is the "Big I." Off mike, he is self-effacing, eager always to give the other guy the credit. Mary, he says, is a great critic. "She can tell whether a script is a dog or a sensation just from reading it. She knows exactly when a line is right, and if it is wrong she knows exactly why." It doesn't occur to him that Mary acquired this faculty — which she unquestionably has — from him.
Daughter Joan, who wraps him daily around her little finger, is in her father's words "good at everything — everything she does, whether it's playing the piano, riding, swimming, or tennis, she does expertly." It doesn't occur to him that he was the first perfectionist in the family, that Joannie by precept and example must "get it right."
The other fellow's joke is always the funniest joke Benny ever heard. He is a great laugher, the world's greatest living room audience.
And not just jokes. The new sports shoes someone is wearing are the best-looking shoes he ever saw in his life and he is going out right now and buy some.
His golf pro is the greatest golf pro in the world and Jack is so awestruck at his skill that he writes him into the radio script for next Sunday.
He can show enthusiasm for anything. The malted milk he had at the corner drugstore at lunch was the greatest malted milk he ever had in his life.
His intimates have come to accept Jack's modesty as normal. Bert Scott, for years secretary to Jack L. Warner, no longer gasps when his present employer — who pays him a handsome salary to be around when he's needed — prefaces a request that he drop around at the house for a conference with "if it's convenient."
Irving Fein, who handles press relations for Benny, was only mildly shocked when Benny came to his house for a meeting one time when he had a cold in the head.
In New York, San Francisco, Hollywood — the cities where a celebrity must know hundreds of all kinds of people, it is not surprising to see Jack Benny striding down the street, hello-ing everyone. Everyone hellos him. After all, he's a regular caller at the house on Sunday evening; when you see the guy you speak to him.
Scott recalls a walk with Benny down Market Street in San Francisco when Jack spoke to forty people in a block, including one man, an ex-baseball player turned restaurateur, whom he used to actually to know. Jack had walked only for a block when it hit him that the fellow was an old friend. He hurried back to find him and explain.
"I didn't mean to say 'hello'," he said, grinning. "I meant to say 'hello'."
Strangers, full of the Benny legend, approach him with some temerity when they want something.
Once last summer when Jack was on a cross-country driving trip, he stopped overnight in a little Kansas town where obviously no celebrity had ever been seen before. The night clerk at the hotel took his registration with shaking fingers.
"I'll want to be called early," Jack said, "I'm tired now, I'm going straight to bed."
"Yes, sir," the man said with an "I'll protect you" inflection.

A FEW minutes later when a reporter from the local paper rushed in breathless, hoping for an interview, he was told that Mr. Benny had retired. He did not wish to be disturbed.
The reporter sat in the lobby all night. After all, this was his big chance.
When Benny appeared, at six a.m., he stammered out his request.
"Sure," said Jack, who wanted to be nice but also wanted to get started early, "but can't we do it over breakfast?"
Nothing in the town was open that early for breakfast, but, the reporter suggested tentatively, "we could go to my house."
It was quite a breakfast — hot corn meal, ham and eggs, pancakes — "the best breakfast I've ever had in my life!"
The rigorous work schedule he must keep up — constant personal appearances, benefits, in addition to the weekly radio show and the motion pictures he continues to make at intervals — would excuse Jack Benny from many of the obligations of an ordinary fellow.
But he doesn't want to be let off — he is unhappy if his work robs him of any of the pleasure of being a husband, father, or friend.
When he toured the battlefronts during the war he wrote daily to Mary, giving her every detail of his experiences. If he was homesick, he drew a sad Benny face for a signature; if he was heading for home, a Benny with a big smile.
He was in Paris on V-E day and appeared on the broadcast which made the news official. He fretted that he was not allowed to advise Mary that the broadcast was going to take place, but then relaxed.
"Bill Goetz will be listening— he'll tell her," he told his troupe. Goetz is a friend who is an insatiable radio fan. Jack thought he would be listening, even if the broadcast did come at four a. m.
When he landed in New York the next day he called Mary. "Did you hear the broadcast, doll?" he inquired eagerly.
"Of course," she said, "Bill Goetz called me."
When he is away from home, he telephones daily; when it is impossible — although he loves New York and the people of the show world — he hungers for his easy, early to bed life, his golf, his quiet times with the family.
With Joan, he admits that he is a push-over. "If I had to be the disciplinarian," he told her once, "you'd just have to run wild."
"Oh, no," Joannie replied with an adolescent's wisdom, "if mother weren't strict with me you'd have to be."
Joan is now away from home at boarding school, and Jack says the big house rattles. Mondays are visiting days at the school, and Jack and Mary turn up every Monday. It is the thrill of the week.

JACK'S father died a year ago at eighty. He had been spry and happy, was planning as usual to spend the winter in Florida. Jack sensed, however, psychically, he says, for the old man was very close to his son, that his father's heart was wearing out. He made two special trips to Chicago that summer to see him. He felt older himself, and bereft, when he came back home from his father's funeral.
On the air, of course. Jack is played as a vain and conceited man who won't admit that he is balding, bulging and no longer a Don Juan.
Actually, although his hair is thinning, he does not own a toupee. If he has moments of vainness, he isn't allowed to cherish them. The Mary-laugh can still be depended upon to pull his feet back down to the ground.
A new batch of photograph proofs came in from the NBC gallery the other day and Jack was visibly disappointed.
"They're not very good," he complained, "I don't know why it is, but I haven't had any good pictures lately."
"You haven't had a good picture since you were a juvenile at M G M," Mary quipped, adding, "and that was twenty years ago."
But Jack is lean and fit. His expensive, casually cut clothes show off a middle that is not bulging, and since he does the work of ten men and a team of horses every week he cannot be considered a physical wreck.
His friends have their little jokes about his physical prowess.
During the shooting of "George Washington Slept Here," Jack was called upon to play a fight scene in which he was knocked backwards down a hill and then rolled over and over. When the director sent for a stunt man. Jack was offended.
"Do you think I'm a weakling?" he wanted to know. The director compromised. The stunt man could do the fall and most of the roll. When the camera moved in for the close-up Jack could roll over — once.
Jack rolled, and sprained his back. He was taped up for three weeks.
His normal routine — which most men would find arduous — seems to be a breeze for Jack, who finds plenty of time for his daily golf, and for a pleasant, unhurried, suburban kind of life with his family and close friends, the Joel Pressmans (Claudette Colbert), Burns and Allen, the Myrt Blums. (Mrs. Blum is the former Babe Marks.) Jack is relaxed, and his writers and staff insist that they, too, are free of pressure.
When the schedule is complicated, as it was last spring and summer, by a rigorous personal appearance tour, things toughen up for everybody.
Jack played to record audiences — and for a record box-office take — for one week at the Chicago Theater in Chicago, and two weeks at the Roxy in New York. (And took a train out of New York one hour after his final New York show to appear at a testimonial dinner in Kansas for General Eisenhower.)
The radio show, of course, went merrily along through all this. Bert Scott recalls that on the last day of the Chicago run he dropped by Jack's hotel as usual to drive with him to the theater. It was 8:30 A.M., the first show of the five-a-day didn't go on until 10 o'clock. There was plenty of time for breakfast, but Jack — who is always first to arrive anywhere (and who goes crazy, incidentally, at Rochester's roguish insistence upon hopping onto every train they take just as the porter is pulling up the steps) — wanted to get on downtown. They stopped at a drugstore for a cup of coffee.
They were in the theater at 9:30. Not even the janitor had arrived. Jack turned on the lights in his dressing room. Wearily, he removed his coat.
"Would you mind, Bert," he said, "hanging up my coat?"
Scott put the coat on a hanger. Jack had dropped into the chair at the make-up table, his head in his hands.
He had a headache, he said. Would Bert hand him his glasses, they were in the inside right pocket . . .
"But," Bert remonstrated gently, "you're wearing them. Jack."
It was the first time he had seen his boss fagged, really fagged.
And what does he get for taking this punishment? The old joke-line again, "a lousy fortune."
Only on the air is Benny a man who is a sucker for a bad deal. In business, his decisions have been masterful. He holds low score for mistakes as an artist — and his selections of personnel and material have been brilliant. What is rarer in his business, is that he has been equally sagacious as a business man.
His salary in radio is the highest there is. He owns outright his Sunday half hour on NBC, the only such arrangement in radio.
He is the country's top draw in personal appearances. His pictures have all made money — not just the three Jack liked, "George Washington Slept Here," "Charley's Aunt" and "To Be or Not To Be," but all of them, even "The Meanest Man in the World."
In the last two years, he has become an investor in show business. In addition to other interests he is a stockholder in Amusement Enterprises, Inc., which produces not only Jack's own radio show, but several aspiring beginners. The organization plans also to produce legitimate shows for Broadway, and next summer will film a Dorothy Lamour starring picture from Craig Rice's "The Lucky Stiff."
The little boy with the fiddle from Waukegan has kept that date with somebody at the top. But there is still a lot of the Waukegan kid in him.
"Isn't it wonderful," he asked Mary the other day, "I can afford two sets of golf clubs — one to keep at Hillcrest, the other to leave at Palm Springs."
"You kill me," Mary said. "Don't you know that you could buy a new Cadillac if the old one got dirty?"
Not Jack. His father, who scraped and saved to buy those first violin lessons for his talented six-year-old son, would turn over in his grave.
As for his mother — even now Jack thinks of her uneasily.
"You know," he says sometimes, "I wish I hadn't quit school. I wish I'd had an education." (He buys books voraciously which he intends to read.)
"Then," Mary objects, "you would have been a different guy. You get laughs because you're a schmoe." She knows that his comedy is down to earth, real to millions of people, because Jack is close to the people and the roots of America.
When, as sometimes happens, a really big time violinist — a Heifetz or a Menuhin — appears on Jack's show and is amazed that the great comedian actually can, if he wants to, get a good tone out of his own fiddle — Jack worries about that.
"I wonder," he'll say, "if I should have kept up with the violin."
"And lose all those laughs because you're a lousy violinist," Mary tells him. "You're better off doing what you're doing now."
Some ghost of his mother's voice makes him protest.
"I want to be doing what I'm doing now, and be a great violinist," he compromises.
"Sure," Mary comes back, "and you want it should not rain this afternoon and spoil the ball game."
And they laugh.

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