Sunday, 3 January 2021

Pennies From Benny

Besides helping himself to a bigger pay envelope starting at the end of 1948, Jack Benny was helping others, too.

Granted, the tax department and Benny had to go into a prolonged legal battle at what rate he should be taxed (income vs. capital gains), but as he switched networks to start 1949, he also launched a drive for the March of Dimes. He had been involved with the charity for a number of years, prompting feuding Fred Allen to remark “there hasn’t been a dime minted that could march past Benny.”

The Hollywood Reporter of December 27, 1948 helped him along with a bit of publicity. Jack was very familiar with almost all, if not all, of the cities from vaudeville. The first six mentioned were all part of the Orpheum circuit (though not in order) after an act finished its stop in Vancouver.
Benny Will Launch Dimes Drive Today
Jack Benny and his radio troupe will highlight the ceremonies today launching the 1949 national March of Dimes campaign from the steps of City Hall. The “Pennies From Benny” drive will in inaugurated for fighting polio.
Major portion of the event will be the dedication of a covered wagon, donated by Benny, which will tour 24 major cities to dramatize the drive for funds. Civil leaders will be on hand to get the campaign officially under way.
The covered wagon will visit Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Omaha, Denver, Kansas City, Dallas, Memphis, Louisville, Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond and Washington.
The campaign got loads of publicity because of Benny’s name, but Jack was busy doing a radio show so he didn’t go along with the caravan.

The wagon, which newspapers pointed out was once used by General George Armstrong Custer, didn’t actually roll all the way across the U.S. It was transported by plane. When the pennies reached Washington, they were to be presented to President Harry Truman, who wouldn’t give them hell, but would give them back to Benny in exchange for a $5,000 cheque.

Even cities not on the group of 24 were civic-minded enough to pitch in, with local community groups from the territory of Hawaii to the state of Maine doing their part to raise money. It’s a nice reflection of post-war small-town America. Here’s a story from the Shreveport Times of January 20, 1949, where the local CBS affiliate joined service clubs in raising cash.
Benny and KWKH to Aid 'March of Dimes' Drive
A 250-pound iron vault, symbol both of Jack Benny's generosity and of his miserliness, will be at the corner of Texas and Market streets today through Monday to collect Shreveport contributions to the 1949 "March of Dimes" campaign for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
The "Ten Pennies from Benny" campaign is the largest single promotion campaign to be conducted by the national foundation in their 1949 drive, having originated in Los Angeles Dec. 27 when Benny presented his "vault" to officials of the foundation and the city.
The Shreveport “Ten Pennies From Benny” drive is under sponsorship of radio station KWKH. Benny' vault is an express safe turned over to the local CBS station by F. W. McConnell, Shreveport agent of the Railway Express agency, for collecting pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and currency. The Railway Express will call for similar "March of Dimes" strongboxes at the 170 CBS stations over the nation and deliver the entire shipment on January 30 to the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis at the Treasury building in Washington. Each safe will arrive at Washington containing the original coins and bills donated.
An express truck will be parked at Texas and Market streets, marking the location for the programs which will continue today through Monday from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily. KWKH folk song acts will make personal appearances, broadcasting their programs from the express truck, weather permitting.
Among these are Zeke Clements, Cousin Emmy and Her Kinfolks, Cousin Wilbur, Johnnie and Jack and the Tennessee Mountain Boys, Hank Williams, Harmie Smith, and the Bailes Brothers and their West Virginia Home Folks.
Before 11:45 a.m. and after 1:30 p.m. members of Shreveport Civic organizations will be in charge of "March of Dimes" donations near the express truck. Members of B'nai Brith will man the March of Dimes booth on the postoffice corner today. Other civic clubs and their days to solicit dimes at the booth are as follows: Optimist club, Friday; Shriners, Saturday; Shreveport firemen, Monday, Jan. 24; Rotary club. Tuesday, Jan. 25; Kiwanis club, Wednesday, Jan. 26; Lions, Thursday, Jan. 27; Civitan club, Friday, Jan. 28; and Shreveport policemen, Saturday, Jan. 29. Dimes will be solicited from about 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day.
On the two Saturdays of the drive, the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs of Cedar Grove will jointly man the Cedar Grove March of Dimes booth, which will be located in front of Yearwood's department store, 129 East 70th street, according to E. C. Thomson, Caddo parish chairman of the campaign.
Jack Benny has already placed in his vault ten of the first pennies he ever earned, as his contribution toward the $1,000,000 goal he hopes to achieve with the "Ten Pennies From Benny" campaign. Benny will buy back" the ten old coins with a $5,000 donation to the Infantile Paralysis Fund if the million-dollar goal is reached. He also has contributed his screechy violin, which has been treasured by him as his professional trademark for many years.
"I'm ready to oil the old vault door and dig down deep for the 1949 'March of Dimes' and I sincerely hope that the people of our nation will do their part for this great and urgent cause," Benny has said. "If we, as a nation, can meet such challenges as we've met in the past decade, and win over them, then with the same effort we can defeat infantile paralysis."
There were also five and 15-minute transcribed radio programmes promoting the March with different guest stars. I don’t know whether Jack was a guest on any of the 1949 shows, but Al Jolson was featured in the five-minute campaign, and Bob Hope and stooge Irene Ryan appeared on one 15-minute show. There were television campaigns as well, with Hope standing firm on stage for 75 minutes straight in a four-hour broadcast in Cleveland. Jack had appeared on special programmes for the March in previous years.

Jack Benny was known for his charitable work helping preserve old legitimate theatres and keeping symphony orchestras alive. That was in the 1950s onward. Before that, he involved himself with other good causes. This was only one of many.

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