Little Bits of History

“I’m Thinking”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 2, 2010

Jack Benny and colleagues

May 2, 1932: Jack Benny’s radio show premieres. Jack Benny, whose real name was Benjamin Kubelsky, was an American vaudeville performer, comedian, radio and television star, and actor. Benjamin was born to Polish immigrant parents residing in Chicago. His father was a saloonkeeper who later became a haberdasher. Ben studied violin from the age of six and due to his local fame, he was invited to play his instrument on tour with the Marx Brothers. But, at age 17, his mother refused to allow it. A famous violinist of the age was Jan Kubelik who was frightened the horrible vaudeville entertainer would tarnish his reputation. He insisted the young man change his name. He became Ben K. Benny.

After serving in the Navy during World War I, at times entertaining the troops, he returned to the stage and his violin act. He now added standup comedy sketches to his act as well, having learned in the service that when his violin playing (which was truly accomplished) was not well received, his jokes were. Ben K. Benny took to the stage, only to find someone else thought the name too similar and threatened to sue. He took the common sailor’s name, Jack, and became Jack Benny.

His stage persona was based on a lousy violinist who was stingy yet completely self-satisfied. He was vain and petty on stage, and gave his audience a rich set of characters which his foils were always given the opportunity to best. As long as the show got laughs, Benny was happy. He carried on a ten-year radio feud with his real life friend, Fred Allen. His comedic timing was legendary and led to a career of well known sight and sound gags.

Rochester, his chauffer, was one of the first African-Americans who was treated as an equal on stage and allowed – even encouraged – to outwit his boss. Benny’s wife also worked on stage with him, performing as a “friend” rather than as a wife or even girlfriend. Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, also provided Benny violin lessons and tons of sound effects. Jack Benny’s radio show ran from 1932 to 1955.

“When they asked Jack Benny to do something for the Actor’s Orphanage – he shot both his parents and moved in.” – Bob Hope

“My wife Mary and I have been married for forty-seven years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce; murder, yes, but divorce, never.” – Jack Benny

“It’s not so much knowing when to speak, but when to pause.”  – Jack Benny

“Hors D’oeuvre: A ham sandwich cut into forty pieces.” – Jack Benny

Also on this day, in 1230 William de Braose was hanged after being caught in bed with his host’s wife.

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