Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14: Happy Birthday, Jack Benny

February 14: Happy Birthday, Jack Benny

I guess we should say "Happy 39th!" Today we cordially commemorate the birthday of the man who had roughly 18 39ths, even if he'd actually be 118 today if he were still alive.

The 39th birthday was a running--we could say annual--gag on "The Jello Program," a.k.a. The Jack Benny Radio Program. Each year would be a birthday program, whether it entailed cast members Don Wilson, George Hicks, Ethel Shutta and Sadye Marks presenting their boss with gifts, or a sketch in which Jack was treated to three different surprise parties.

It's hard to say how common it was to jokingly claim to be 39 at an age that made it clear one was sixty or so, but Benny elevated it to an art form through repetition. The third or fourth year, it probably got old, but by the seventh or eighth it was funny that he kept doing it, and then it was just a tradition.

Why did he pretend to always be 39? "Wellll?" Because it was funny and because it fit in with the radio persona that made Benny's career. Happy 39th, Jack!

6 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday, Mr. Kubelsky. A national treasure to be sure. I particularly love this pose. It's amazing how his crumpling to the floor in laughter when he got zinged by one of his costars created so much laughter, even without seeing it happen. The beauty of our imaginations.

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  2. One of the funniest guys who ever lived. The sense of timing, the deadpan delivery...the only person who comes close to mastering such a casual sense of the absurd is Bob Newhart. I've said before that, while not officially billed as such, I think Jack Benny and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson were as much a comedy team as Lauel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello. And the loyalty between Beeny and those who worked for and with him...check out those credits over the years and a lot of the same names on the writing staff remained unchanged.

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  3. The show you linked from the OTRCat "Jack Benny Annual 39th Birthday Collection" is HILARIOUS. Besides the regulars (Don, Mary, Phil, Kenny Baker and Andy Devine), we are treated to Harry Baldwin in one of his long-running "telegram boy" appearances. Writers Ed Beloin and Bill Morrow appear and Ben Bernie is heard!

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  4. For research purposes I've been listening to some of his pre-1936 radio shows, when Harry Conn was still writing for him. The punctured vanity, the arguing with the costars, the sidelines comments about silliness of the sketches--it's all there. But he's not quite OUR Jack Benny yet. That would come with trial and error. But his obvious affection for his audience, even at that early date, is wonderful to behold.

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  5. "Entertainment writers" who keep on repeating the same old "Johnny Carson didn't want to become a tired has-been like Jack Benny" have either forgotten or were born too late to know what a national institution Jack Benny was at the time of his death. He wasn't just trotted around, barely alive, like Groucho. He was a fully-functional comedian who could still deliver a great monologue.

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  6. Jack Benny to Johnny Carson: "Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

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