Jack Benny

The Early Years

1894
Benjamin Kubelsky Jack Benny is born on February 14 at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, IL to Meyer and Emma Kubelsky of Waukegan, Illinois. The Kubelsky family live at various addresses in Waukegan during Benjamin’s childhood, including several years at 224 S. Genesee Street.
1900
Benjamin’s only sibling, his sister Florence, is born on September 12. At 6 years of age, Benjamin receives a half-size violin for his birthday.
1907
Benjamin graduates from South School, then located on Liberty Street between Utica and Oak in Waukegan.
1908
By age 14, Benjamin is playing in local dance bands as well as in his high school orchestra.
1910
At the ate of 16, Benjamin obtains a job playing the violin in the pit of the Barrison Theater in Waukegan and drops out of school.
1911
Following a visit to the Barrison Theatre by the Marx Brothers, Benjamin is offered an opportunity to tour with them for $7.50 a week plus room and board. His parents decline the offer.

Birth of a Showman

1912
Benjamin joins Cora Salisbury to form the vaudeville duo "Salisbury and Kubelsky: From Grand Opera to Ragtime." Due to a conflict with another performer with a similar last name, Benjamin changes his name to Ben K. Benny. Salisbury retires from the act one year later.
1913
Benny teams up with Lyman Woods to form the duo "Bennie and Woods: From Grand Opera to Ragtime." Bennie and Woods have success during the next four years and they perform at the famous Palace Theatre in New York.
1917
Benny returns to Waukegan to care for his ailing mother, who dies in November of that year.
1917
Benny enlists in the Navy and is assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Station; there he receives a small, yet very successful, role in The Great Lakes Revue," that launches his career in comedy.
1919
After two years of service in the Navy, Benny creates a solo vaudeville act, "Ben K. Benny: Fiddle Funology."
1921
Benny eliminates most of the singing and music in his act and focuses more on comedy. He also changes his name for the last time to Jack Benny. His vaudeville show is now called "Jack Benny: Aristocrat of Humor."

The Icon

1927
Jack Benny marries Sadie Marks Mary Livingstone of Vancouver on January 14 at the Clayton Hotel on Sheridan Road in Waukegan.
1929
Benny signs a five-year contract at MGM Studios for $850 a week.
1932
On March 29, Benny appears on a fifteen-minute radio program hosted by Ed Sullivan. His first line: This is Jack Benny talking. There will now be a slight pause while everyone says, ‘Who cares?’

The Jack Benny Radio Program

The show ran from 1932 to 1948 on NBC and from 1948 to 1955 on CBS. It was consistently among the most highly rated radio programs. It evolved from a variety show blending comedy and musical interludes into a situation comedy, crafting particular situations and scenarios from the fictionalization of Benny the radio star.

The Jack Benny Television Program

  • The show ran from 1950 to 1964 with CBS and had one year with NBC in 1965.
  • Benny appears infrequently on television during the first 2 years.
  • During the 1953-54 season one-half of the episodes were live while the other half were filmed during the summer, to allow for Benny to continue his radio show.
  • From 1955-60, The Jack Benny Program appears every other week.
  • In 1959, The Jack Benny Program wins an Emmy for the best comedy series on television.
  • From 1960-65, the show appears weekly.

Motion Pictures

Jack Benny appeared in 22 motion pictures including: Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round (1934), Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), The Big Broadcast of 1937 (1936), College Holiday (1936), Artists and Models Abroad (1937), Man About Town (1939), Buck Benny Rides Again (1940), Charley’s Aunt (1941), To Be Or Not To Be (1942), George Washington Slept Here (1942), and The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945).

His Legacy

1961
Benny attends the dedication of the Jack Benny Jr. High (now Jack Benny Middle School), 1401 Montesano Avenue in Waukegan.
1974
Benny makes his final visit to Waukegan and appears at the inaugural concert of the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra on April 24.
1974
On December 26, Jack Benny dies at his home in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 80.
1975
The Music Center of Lake County is renamed the Jack Benny Center for the Arts, with the address changing to 39 Jack Benny Drive in 1986.
2002
On June 8, the City of Waukegan dedicates the Jack Benny statue in Benny Plaza on Genesee Street.
  • Benny was an influential innovator and major architect of standup and situation comedy.
  • Benny is credited with being the first comedian to good-naturedly kid the commercial plugs of his sponsors and to play the straight man for other people and guests on his show.
  • Benny used various running gags throughout his show, including facial expressions, he pretended stinginess, a make believe feud with Fred Allen, a sputtering Maxwell automobile, and always saying he was 39 years old.
  • An estimated $6 million was raised by Benny during his lifetime in support of many worthy causes, including help for his hometown city of Waukegan.

Some of Benny's many awards:

  • Emmy for Best Male Performer in a Comedy, 1957
  • Laurel Leaf Award of the American Composers Alliance, 1959
  • The March of Dimes Humanitarian Award, 1974
  • Special Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Award, 1987
Posted on June 6, 2012 and filed under Entertainment.