Jack Benny Biography
Claim to Fame: Comedian
DOB: February 14, 1894
Date of Death: December 27, 1974
Diabetes Type: 1
With work across the spectrum of stage, radio, television, and film, the work of Jack Benny resonated with audiences throughout his illustrious career. His career in show business began at the age of 17, when he became a band violinist in a vaudeville house following his expulsion from school. Early in his career, Benny (born Benjamin Kublesky) changed his name several times in order to avoid similarities with other performers, finally settling on the stage name he would keep for the rest of his life. When World War I broke out, Benny entered the Navy and joined a revue that toured the Midwest. His violin playing met with a lukewarm reception, so the young entertainer began telling jokes. This made him a hit with audiences. During the next world war (after Benny had become a star), he worked tirelessly selling war bonds and entertaining the troops. Benny met his wife Sadie in 1922 at a Passover Seder he attended with Zeppo Marx. The two met again on a double date in 1927, and married shortly after, later giving birth to daughter Joan.
Some critics might argue that Jack Benny was at his best on the radio. On The Jack Benny Program, which ran from 1932 to 1955, he played a character that was the polar opposite of himself: cheap, vain, and self-centered. He surrounded himself with a likeable cast of characters, none more popular than Eddie Anderson, who played Benny's chauffer, Rochester. While there were racial stereotypes associated with Rochester's character, he was also quite revolutionary. Rochester often found himself getting the better of his employer. After World War II ended, most of the racist stereotypes were stripped from the character. Also around this time, Benny began to invite stars such as Louis Armstrong to guest-star on the show. It was during this radio program show that Benny learned some tricks of the trade he would make use of throughout his career. He never hogged all the laughs, and was often the butt of jokes himself. He was also skilled in getting the most of out a perfectly timed comedic pause.
With the exception of more guest stars, little changed when The Jack Benny Program came to television. In fact, several of the radio scripts were adapted for the newer medium. The humor that worked so well on radio translated quite well to television, with the added bonus that audiences could now enjoy Benny's facial expressions as well. The show ran from 1950 to 1965, but only sporadically at first (mainly because Benny was still doing his radio show). It wasn't until 1960 that the show aired every week. Although his unpublished autobiography revealed Benny's ambivalence to television (he referred to the camera as a "man-eating monster"), he appeared in several television specials in the early 1970s.
Benny's film career may not have been as highly regarded as his work in television and radio, but he did make several notable films. The crown jewel of his film career is To Be or Not to Be (1942).
In October of 1974, Benny was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two months later, the disease took his life. He died on December 26, 1974 at the age of 80.
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Reviewed by dLife staff 12/13.
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