|Other names||The Jack Benny Show|
The Canada Dry Program
The Chevrolet Program
The General Tire Revue
The Jell-O Program
The Grape Nuts Flakes Program
The Lucky Strike Program
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Home station|| NBC (Blue) (05/02/32-10/26/32)|
NBC (Red) (03/03/33-09/28/34)
NBC (Blue) (10/14/34-06/21/36)
NBC (Red) (10/04/36-12/26/48)
|TV adaptations||The Jack Benny Program (1950-1965)|
|Starring|| Jack Benny |
|Written by||Harry Conn, Al Boasberg, William Morrow, Edmund Beloin, Hugh Wedlock Jr., Howard Snyder, George Balzer, Sam Perrin, Milt Josefsberg, John Tackaberry, Al Gordon, Hal Goldman|
|Produced by||Hilliard Marks (1946-'55)|
|Original release||May 2, 1932 – May 22, 1955|
|No. of episodes||931|
|Opening theme||Love in Bloom/The Yankee Doodle Boy|
|Ending theme|| Hooray for Hollywood |
"The J & M Stomp"
The Jack Benny Program, starring Jack Benny, is a radio-TV comedy series that ran for more than three decades and is generally regarded as a high-water mark in 20th century American comedy.He played one role throughout his radio and television careers, a caricature of himself as a minimally talented musician and penny pincher who was the butt of all the jokes.
On both television and radio, the format of The Jack Benny Program used a loose show-within-a-show format,wherein the main characters were playing versions of themselves. The show often broke the fourth wall, with the characters interacting with the audience and commenting on the program and its advertisements. The show usually opened with a song by the orchestra or banter between Benny and Don Wilson. Then banter between Benny and the regulars about the news of the day or about one of the running jokes on the program, such as Benny's age, Day's stupidity, or Mary's letters from her mother. Then, a song by the tenor was followed by situation comedy involving an event of the week, a miniplay, or a satire of a current movie. Some shows were entire domestic sitcoms revolving around some aspect of Benny's life (e.g. spring cleaning or a violin lesson). The Jack Benny Program evolved from a variety show blending sketch comedy and musical interludes into the situation comedy form now recognized, crafting particular situations and scenarios from the fictionalization of Benny the radio star. Common situations included hosting parties, income-tax time, nights on the town, "backstage" interactions between Jack and his cast at the radio studio during show rehearsals, contract negotiations, or traveling by train or plane to and from Jack's many personal appearances throughout the country (hence the "Train leaving on track five" gag). The writers and star would insert musical interludes from Phil Harris and Dennis Day. With Day, invariably, a brief sketch ended with Benny ordering Day to sing the song he planned for the show that week.
Jack Benny first appeared on radio as a guest of Ed Sullivan in March 1932. —The Canada Dry Ginger Ale Program, beginning May 2, 1932, on the NBC Blue Network and continuing there for six months until October 26, moving the show to CBS on October 30. With Ted Weems leading the band, Benny stayed on CBS until January 26, 1933.He was then given his own show later that year, with Canada Dry Ginger Ale as a sponsor
Arriving at NBC on March 3,Benny did The Chevrolet Program until April 1, 1934, with Frank Black leading the band. He continued with The General Tire Revue for the rest of that season, and in the fall of 1934, for General Foods as The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny (1934–42), and when sales of Jell-O were affected by sugar rationing during World War II, The Grape Nuts Flakes Program Starring Jack Benny (later the Grape Nuts and Grape Nuts Flakes Program) (1942–44). On October 1, 1944, the show became The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny, when American Tobacco's Lucky Strike cigarettes took over as his radio sponsor, through the mid-1950s. By that time, the practice of using the sponsor's name as the title began to fade.
The show returned to CBS on January 2, 1949, as part of CBS president William S. Paley's "raid" of NBC talent in 1948–49. There it stayed for the remainder of its radio run, which ended on May 22, 1955.CBS aired repeats of previous 1953-55 radio episodes from 1956 to 1958 as The Best of Benny for State Farm Insurance, which later sponsored his television program from 1960 through 1965.
In October, 1934, General Foods agreed to take up sponsorship from the struggling tire-maker, using the show (now airing on the Blue network) to promote its low-selling Jell-O desserts. Beginning from this point, Benny was heard Sunday evenings at 7, at the time seen as a "graveyard slot". However, this was eventually associated with Benny, who appeared in that very time spot for his remaining 21 years on radio (counting his TV shows, he would broadcast on Sundays for a record 28 consecutive years). In the fall of 1935, Don Bestor was replaced by Johnny Green as the maestro, while Parker was replaced by Michael Bartlett, who himself left after 13 weeks, with Kenny Baker taking over. In early 1936, Harry Conn left the program after creative conflicts with Benny, who had to resort to vaudeville writers Al Boasberg and Edmund Beloin through the end of the season.
In 1936, after a few years of broadcasting from New York, Benny moved the show to Los Angeles, allowing him to bring in guests from among his show-business friends, including Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Judy Garland, Barbara Stanwyck, Bing Crosby, Burns and Allen (George Burns was Benny's closest friend), and many others. Burns, Allen, and Orson Welles guest-hosted several episodes in March and April 1943 when Benny was ill with pneumonia, while Ronald Colman and his wife Benita Hume appeared often in the 1940s as Benny's long-suffering neighbors.
The 1936–37 season brought many changes instrumental to the development of the show. Aside from having a new writing team (Beloin and Bill Morrow, with script doctoring by Boasberg), Benny returned to the NBC Red Network and established the program in Hollywood. Benny had already done a number of shows on the West Coast for two years—featuring Jimmie Grier as guest conductor—whenever he was doing movie work. Green was replaced by Phil Harris. During this period, the Benny character gradually became that of the vain, miserly, untalented performer for which he would be recognized, while the "ditzy" role went from Mary to Kenny, and Don Wilson would become the target of jokes about his weight. Halfway through the season, the famous "feud" with Fred Allen began, climaxing with a visit to New York, after which Eddie Anderson was cast as a porter. His character was so well received that it was decided to have Anderson join the cast as Rochester, Benny's valet. In 1939, Baker chose to leave the show and was replaced by Dennis Day.
In 1941, NBC celebrated Benny's 10th anniversary in radio in an unprecedented manner, broadcasting part of a banquet dedicated to him, in which the network conceded the Sunday 7:00 to 7:30 pm slot to Benny instead of the sponsor, as it was the custom during the Golden Age of Radio.
In 1942, General Foods switched the sponsor product from Jell-O to Grape-Nuts. World War II affected the show as Harris joined the Merchant Marines, being absent from the program from December 1942 until March 1943. That fall, Morrow joined the Army and Beloin left the show; they were replaced by Milt Josefsberg, John Tackaberry, George Balzer, and Cy Howard, the latter of whom was soon replaced by Sam Perrin. Day enlisted in the Navy in early 1944, not returning until 1946. The new writers emphasized sitcom situations instead of the film parodies prevalent in earlier years.
After 10 years with General Foods, American Tobacco's Lucky Strike became Benny's sponsor from October 1944, an association that lasted until 1959.
The show switched networks to CBS on January 2, 1949, as part of CBS president William S. Paley's notorious "raid" on NBC talent in 1948–49. It stayed there for the remainder of its radio run, ending on May 22, 1955. In 1952, Harris was replaced by Bob Crosby. CBS aired repeat episodes from 1956 to 1958 as The Best of Benny.
In the early days of radio and in the early television era, airtime was owned by the sponsor, and Benny incorporated the commercials into the body of the show. Sometimes, the sponsors were the butt of jokes, though Benny did not use this device as frequently as his friend and "rival" Fred Allen did then, or as cast member Phil Harris later did on his successful radio sitcom. Nevertheless, for years, Benny insisted in contract negotiations that his writers pen the sponsor's commercial in the middle of the program (leaving the sponsor to provide the opening and closing spots) and the resulting ads were cleverly and wittily worked into the storyline of the show. For example, on one program, Don Wilson accidentally misread Lucky Strike's slogan ("Be happy, go Lucky") as "Be Lucky, go happy", prompting a story arc over several weeks that had Wilson unable to appear on the show due to being traumatized by the error.
In fact, the radio show was generally not announced as The Jack Benny Program. Instead, the primary name of the show tied to the sponsor. Benny's first sponsor was Canada Dry Ginger Ale from 1932 to 1933. Benny's sponsors included Chevrolet from 1933 to 1934, General Tire in 1934, and Jell-O from 1934 to 1942. The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny was so successful in selling Jell-O, in fact, that General Foods could not manufacture it quickly enough when sugar shortages arose in the early years of World War II, and the company stopped advertising the dessert mix. General Foods switched the Benny program from Jell-O to Grape-Nuts from 1942 to 1944, and it was, naturally, The Grape Nuts Program Starring Jack Benny. Benny's longest-running sponsor, was the American Tobacco Company's Lucky Strike cigarettes, from 1944 to 1955, when the show was usually announced as The Lucky Strike Program starring Jack Benny.
Benny employed a small group of writers, most of whom stayed with him for many years. This was in contrast to many successful radio or television comedians, such as Bob Hope, who changed writers frequently. One of Benny's writers, George Balzer, noted: "One of the nice things about writing for Jack Benny was that he never denied your existence. On the contrary, he publicized it—not just in conversations, but in interviews and on the air."Historical accounts (like those by longtime Benny writer Milt Josefsberg) indicate that Benny's role was essentially as head writer and director of his radio programs, though he was not credited in either capacity. In contrast to Fred Allen, who initially wrote his own radio scripts (and extensively rewrote scripts produced in later years by a writing staff), Jack Benny was often described by his writers as a consummate comedy editor rather than a writer per se. George Burns described Benny as "the greatest editor of material in the business. He's got the knack of cutting out all the weak slush and keeping in only the strong, punchy lines."
Jack Benny has a reputation as a master of timing. Since his days in radio, he often explored the limits of timing for comedic purposes, like pausing a disproportionate amount of time before answering a question.Balzer described writing material for Benny as similar to composing music, with one element being the rhythm of delivery as equivalent to musical tempo.
During his early radio shows, no recurring theme was used, with the program instead opening each week with a different then-current popular song. Throughout the Jell-O and Grape-Nuts years, announcer Don Wilson would announce the name of the show, some of the cast, then state "The orchestra opens the program with [name of song]." The orchestra number would continue softly as background for Don Wilson's opening commercial.
Starting in the Lucky Strike era, Benny adopted a medley of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Love in Bloom" as his theme music, opening every show. "Love in Bloom" was later the theme of his television show. His radio shows often ended with the orchestra playing "Hooray for Hollywood". The TV show ended with one of two bouncy instrumentals written for the show by his musical arranger and conductor, Mahlon Merrick.
Benny sometimes joked about the propriety of "Love in Bloom" as his theme song. On a segment often played in Tonight Show retrospectives, Benny talks with Johnny Carson about this. Benny says he has no objections to the song in and of itself, only as his theme. Proving his point, he begins reciting the lyrics slowly and deliberately: "Can it be the trees. That fill the breeze. With rare and magic perfume. Now what the hell has that got to do with me?"
Eddie Anderson was the first black man to have a recurring role in a national radio show, which was significant because at the time, black characters were not uncommonly played by white actors in blackface.Although Eddie Anderson's Rochester may be considered a stereotype by some, his attitudes were unusually sardonic for such a role. As was typical at the time in depicting class distinctions, Rochester always used a formal mode of address to the other (White) characters ("Mr. Benny", "Miss Livingstone") and they always used a familiar mode in speaking to him ("Rochester"), but the formal mode when speaking to him about another White character ("Mr. Benny" when speaking to Rochester but "Jack" when speaking to Jack). In many routines, Rochester gets the better of Benny, often pricking his boss' ego, or simply outwitting him. The show's portrayal of black characters could be seen as advanced for its time; in a 1956 episode, African American actor Roy Glenn plays a friend of Rochester's, and he is portrayed as a well-educated, articulate man not as the typical "darkie stereotype" seen in many films of the time. Glenn's role was a recurring one on the series, where he was often portrayed as having to support two people on one unemployment check (i.e., himself and Rochester). Black talent was also showcased, with several guest appearances by The Ink Spots and others. Once, when Benny and his cast and crew were doing a series of shows in New York, the entire cast, including Eddie Anderson, stayed in a prominent New York hotel. Shortly after they decamped at the hotel, a manager told Benny that some White guests from Mississippi had complained to him about Anderson staying in the hotel. He asked Benny to please "do something about it." Benny assured him that he would fix the matter. That evening, Benny moved all his people into another hotel, where Anderson would not be made to feel unwelcome.
On the broadcast of January 8, 1950, journalist Drew Pearson was the subject of a joke gone wrong. Announcer Don Wilson was supposed to say he heard that Jack bought a new suit on Drew Pearson's broadcast, but accidentally said "Dreer Pooson". Later in the show, comedic actor Frank Nelson was asked by Benny if he was the doorman. Changing his original response at the suggestion of the writers, Nelson said, "Well, who do you think I am, Dreer Pooson?" The audience laughed for almost 30 seconds.
Benny teamed with Fred Allen for the best-remembered running gag in classic radio history, in terms of character dialogue. Benny alone sustained a classic repertoire of running gags in his own right, though, including his skinflint radio and television persona; regular cast members' and guest stars' reference to his "baby blue" eyes, always sure to elicit a self-satisfied smirk or patently false attempt at modesty from Benny; perpetually giving his age as 39; and ineptitude at violin playing, most frequently demonstrated by futile attempts to perform Rodolphe Kreutzer's Étude No. 2 in C major. In fact, Benny was a fairly good violinist who achieved the illusion of a bad one, not by deliberately playing poorly, but by striving to play pieces that were too difficult for his skill level. In one of his show's skits, Benny is a USO performer in the Pacific playing his violin when he comes under fire; Benny still plays his violin when two Japanese surrender to him–all the other enemy soldiers committed suicide rather than endure listening to Benny's terrible music!
A skit heard numerous times on radio, and seen many times on television, had Mel Blanc as a Mexican in a sombrero and serape sitting on a bench. Jack Benny sits down and begins a conversation. To each question asked by Benny, Blanc replies Sí. When Benny asks his name, Blanc replies Sy, which would prompt the exchange, Sy?, Sí. And when Benny asks where Blanc is going, Blanc replies, "to see his sister", Sue (Sue?, Sí.), who of course sews for a living (Sew?, Sí.).
A running gag in Benny's private life concerned George Burns. To Benny's eternal frustration, he could never get Burns to laugh. Burns, though, could crack Benny up with the least effort. An example of this occurred at a party when Benny pulled out a match to light a cigar. Burns announced to all, "Jack Benny will now perform the famous match trick!" Benny had no idea what Burns was talking about, so he proceeded to light up. Burns observed, "Oh, a new ending!" and Benny collapsed in helpless laughter.
Benny even had a sound-based running gag of his own: his famous basement vault alarm, allegedly installed by Spike Jones, ringing off with a shattering cacophony of whistles, sirens, bells, and blasts before ending invariably with the sound of a foghorn. The alarm rang even when Benny opened his safe with the correct combination. The vault also featured a guard named Ed (voiced by Joseph Kearns) who had been on post down below, apparently, before the end of the Civil War, the end of the Revolutionary War, the founding of Los Angeles, on Jack's 38th birthday and even the beginning of humanity. In one appearance, Ed asked Benny, "By the way, Mr. Benny ... what's it like on the outside?" Benny responded, "... winter is nearly here, and the leaves are falling." Ed responded, "Hey, that must be exciting," to which Benny replied (in a stunningly risqué joke for the period), "Oh, no—people are wearing clothes now." In one episode of the Benny radio show, Ed the Guard actually agreed when Benny invited him to take a break and come back to the surface world, only to discover that modern conveniences and transportation, which had not been around the last time he had been to the surface, terrorized and confused him. (Ed thought a crosstown bus was "a red and yellow dragon".) Finally, Ed decides to return to his post fathoms below and stay there. The basement vault gag was also used in the cartoon The Mouse that Jack Built and an episodeof The Lucy Show .
A separate sound gag involved a song Benny had written, "When You Say I Beg Your Pardon, Then I'll Come Back to You". Its inane lyrics and insipid melody guaranteed that it would never be published or recorded, but Benny continued to try to con, extort, or otherwise inveigle some of his musical guests (including The Smothers Brothers and Peter, Paul and Mary) to perform it. However, none ever made it all the way.
In keeping with his "stingy" schtick, on one of his television specials he remarked that, to his way of looking at things, a "special" is when the price of coffee is marked down.
Another popular running gag concerned the social habits of Benny's on-air orchestra, who were consistently portrayed as a bunch of drunken ne'er-do-wells. Led first by Phil Harris and later by Bob Crosby, the orchestra, and in particular band member Frank Remley, were jokingly portrayed as often being too drunk to play properly, using an overturned bass drum to play cards on just minutes before a show and so enamored of liquor that the sight of a glass of milk would make them sick. Remley was portrayed in various unflattering situations, such as being thrown into a garbage can by a road sweeper who had found him passed out in the street at 4 am, and on a wanted poster at the Beverly Hills police station.
Crosby also got consistent laughs by frequently joking about his more famous brother Bing Crosby's vast wealth.
One popular scenario that became a tradition on The Jack Benny Program was the annual "Christmas Shopping" episode, in which Benny would go to a local department store to do his shopping. Each year, Benny would buy a ridiculously cheap Christmas gift for Don Wilson, from a harried store clerk played by Mel Blanc. Benny would then drive Blanc to insanity by exchanging the gift countless times throughout the episode. In the 1946 Christmas episode, for example, Benny buys shoelaces for Don, and is unable to make up his mind whether to give Wilson shoelaces with plastic tips or metal tips. After exchanging them repeatedly, Mel Blanc is heard screaming insanely, "Plastic tips! Metal tips! I can't stand it anymore!" A variation in 1948 was with an expensive wallet, but repeatedly changing the greeting card, prompting Blanc to shout, "I haven't run into anyone like you in 20 years! Oh, why did the governor have to give me that pardon!?" Benny then realizes that he should have gotten Don a wallet for $1.98, whereupon the store clerk responds by committing suicide. Over the years, in the Christmas episodes, Benny bought and repeatedly exchanged cuff links, golf tees, a box of dates, a paint set (water colors or oils), and a gopher trap. In later years, Benny would encounter Mel Blanc's wife (played by Jean Vander Pyl) or the clerk's psychiatrist at the store, and drive them crazy, as well.
One Christmas program had Crosby agonizing over what to get Remley: Benny: "Well, why don't you get him a cordial; like a bottle of Drambuie?" Crosby: "That's a nice thought, Jack, but Drambuie's an after-dinner drink." Benny: "So?" Crosby: "So Remley never quite makes it 'til after dinner."
Starting with the October 24, 1937, radio show, when Jack proudly announced the purchase of his car, a running joke began that Benny drove an old Maxwell automobile, a brand that went out of business in 1925. Although some details such as the car's body style and its exact model year varied over the years, what remained constant was that Benny's old car was so worn out that it would barely run, but the miserly Benny insisted he could get a few more miles out of it. Many of the sound effects for the car's clattering engine came from an actual old motor that the sound-effects shop had salvaged from a Los Angeles junkyard.When a sound-effects man missed a cue for the automobile engine, Mel Blanc quickly improvised a vocal imitation of a sputtering car engine starting up noisily that was so funny, it became a regular feature of the show.
The ongoing saga of the Maxwell was initially interrupted after just five years, when on the October 18, 1942, broadcast, Jack took his car to a local junkyard and contributed it to the World War II junk salvage drive, receiving $7.50 in war stamps in exchange. However, much of the radio audience may have remained unaware that the Maxwell was ever gone, because before long Benny was heard traveling around in a decrepit old car again, and by the end of the 1940s, his car was once more specifically identified as a Maxwell.
When the Jack Benny Program premiered on television in 1950, a 1916 Maxwell Model 25 Tourer became one of the production's standard props. Benny's Maxwell later became a 1923 Tourer. Benny often made public appearances in Maxwells. He drove a Maxwell onto the stage in one of his last television specials.
By 1941, Jack Benny's Maxwell had become such a well-known aspect of popular culture that it was referenced in the Billy Mills song "I'm in Love with the Sound Effects Man" as heard on the June 17, 1941, Fibber McGee and Molly radio show (and later performed on a 1943 recording by Spike Jones). The automobile was also featured in the 1943 Benny film The Meanest Man in the World . Benny and his archaic auto were featured in a series of television and print ads for Texaco from the 1950s through the 1970s. A series of gags was built around the premise that Benny appreciated the value of Sky Chief brand gasoline in keeping his car running smoothly, but was too cheap to buy more than one gallon at a time. In the classic cartoon "The Mouse that Jack Built", Benny and his wife are driven by Rochester in a sputtering Maxwell car. In another gag Benny comes home and Rochester reports that he has just reported to the Police that the Maxwell was stolen (3 hours after it happened).When Benny asks why he waited so long, Rochester replies that it was when he stopped laughing.
Many people believe that Benny appears behind the wheel of his Maxwell in the 1963 film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World , but in fact, it was a 1932 Cadillac.The long shots for the scene were shot months before Benny was cast—with a stunt driver at the wheel—and the role was intended for Stan Laurel (which is why the character wears a derby, which Benny almost never did). When Laurel ultimately passed on appearing, Jack agreed to play the role. According to the commentary on the Criterion edition of the film, his close-ups were filmed on a rear-projection stage at the Paramount studio.
On April 5, 1936, Benny began his famous radio feud with rival Fred Allen when he satirized Allen's show. 359Allen kicked the feud off on his own show on December 30, 1936, after child violinist Stuart Canin gave a performance of François Schubert's The Bee :131 credibly enough that Allen wisecracked about "a certain alleged violinist" who should by comparison be ashamed of himself. Benny, who listened to the Allen show, answered in kind at the end of his January 3, 1937, show, and the two comedians were off and running.:
For a decade, the two went at it back and forth, so convincingly that fans of either show could have been forgiven for believing they had become blood enemies. In reality, the two men were close friends and mutual admirers. Benny and Allen often appeared on each other's show during the ongoing feud; numerous surviving episodes of both comedians' radio shows feature each other, in both acknowledged guest spots and occasional cameos. On one Christmas program, Allen thanked Benny for sending him a Christmas tree, but then added that the tree had died. "Well, what do you expect," quipped Allen, "when the tree is in Brooklyn and the sap is in Hollywood."
Benny in his eventual memoir (Sunday Nights at Seven) and Allen in his Treadmill to Oblivion later revealed that each comedian's writing staff often met together to plot future takes on the mock feud. If Allen zapped Benny with a satirization of Benny's show ("The Pinch Penny Program"), Benny shot back with a parody of Allen's Town Hall Tonight called "Clown Hall Tonight", and their playful sniping ("Benny was born ignorant, and he's been losing ground ever since") was also advanced in the films Love Thy Neighbor and It's in the Bag! .
Perhaps the climax of the feud came during Fred Allen's parody of popular quiz-and-prize show Queen for a Day , which was barely a year old when Allen decided to have a crack at it on The Fred Allen Show —an episode that has survived for today's listeners to appreciate. Calling the sketch "King for a Day", Allen played the host and Benny a contestant who sneaked onto the show using the alias Myron Proudfoot. Benny answered the prize-winning question correctly and Allen crowned him "king" and showered him with a passel of almost meaningless prizes. Allen proudly announced, "Tomorrow night, in your ermine robe, you will be whisked by bicycle to Orange, New Jersey, where you will be the judge in a chicken-cleaning contest," to which Benny joyously declared, "I'm king for a day!" At this point a professional pressing-iron was wheeled on stage, to press Benny's suit properly. It didn't matter that Benny was still in the suit. Allen instructed his aides to remove Benny's suit, one item at a time, ending with his trousers, each garment's removal provoking louder laughter from the studio audience. As his trousers began to come off, Benny howled, "Allen, you haven't seen the end of me!" At once Allen shot back, "It won't be long now!" The laughter was so loud and chaotic at the chain of events that the Allen show announcer, Kenny Delmar, was cut off the air while trying to read a final commercial and the show's credits. (Allen was notorious for running overtime often enough, largely thanks to his ad-libbing talent, and he overran the clock again this time.)
Benny was profoundly shaken when, in 1956, Allen suddenly died at age 61 from a heart attack. In a statement released on the day after Allen's death, Benny said, "People have often asked me if Fred Allen and I were really friends in real life. My answer is always the same: You couldn't have such a long-running and successful feud as we did, without having a deep and sincere friendship at the heart of it." Allen himself wrote, "For years people have been asking me if Jack and I are friendly. I don't think that Jack Benny has an enemy in the world. ... He is my favorite comedian and I hope to be his friend until he is forty. That will be forever."
The radio series was one of the most extensively preserved programs of its era, with the archive almost complete from 1936 onward and several episodes existing from before that (including the 1932 premiere).
A few episodes from the series' later years remain missing, however, such as the shows from September 30 and October 7, 1951.
|The Jack Benny Program|
|No. of seasons||15|
|No. of episodes||260 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||24–25 minutes|
|Production companies|| CBS Television (1950–1955)|
J&M Productions, Inc. (1955-1965)
|Original network|| CBS (1950–1964)|
|Original release||October 28, 1950 –|
April 16, 1965
Jack Benny made his TV debut in 1949 with a local appearance on Los Angeles station KTTV, then a CBS affiliate.On October 28, 1950, he made his full network debut over CBS Television. Benny's television shows were occasional broadcasts in his early seasons on TV, as he was still firmly dedicated to radio. The regular and continuing Jack Benny Program was telecast on CBS from October 28, 1950, to September 15, 1964 (finally becoming a weekly show in the 1960–1961 season), and on NBC from September 25, 1964, to September 10, 1965. 343 episodes were produced. His TV sponsors included American Tobacco's Lucky Strike (1950–59), Lever Brothers' Lux (1959–60), State Farm Insurance (1960–65), Lipton Tea (1960–62), General Foods' Jell-O (1962–64), and Miles Laboratories (1964–65).
The television show was a seamless continuation of Benny's radio program, employing many of the same players, the same approach to situation comedy, and some of the same scripts. The suffix "Program" instead of "Show" was also a carryover from radio, where "program" rather than "show" was used frequently for presentations in the nonvisual medium. Occasionally, in several live episodes, the title card read The Jack Benny Show.
The Jack Benny Program appeared infrequently during its first two years on CBS-TV. Benny moved into television slowly; in his first season (1950–1951), he only performed on four shows, but by the 1951–1952 season, he was ready to do one show roughly every six weeks. In the third season (1952–1953), the show was broadcast every four weeks. During the 1953–1954 season, the Jack Benny Program aired every three weeks. From 1954 to 1960, the program aired every other week, rotating with such shows as Private Secretary and Bachelor Father . After the radio show ended in 1955, Benny took on another biweekly series, becoming a regular on Shower of Stars , CBS's hourlong comedy/variety anthology series, effectively appearing almost every week on one of the two series; on Shower of Stars, Benny's character finally turned 40, throwing a large birthday party for the occasion.Beginning in the 1960–1961 season, the Jack Benny Program began airing every week. The show moved from CBS to NBC prior to the 1964–65 season. During the 1953–54 season, a few episodes were filmed during the summer and the others were live, a schedule that allowed Benny to continue doing his radio show. In the 1953–1954 season, Dennis Day had his own short-lived comedy and variety show on NBC, The Dennis Day Show .
Live episodes (and later live-on-tape episodes) of the Jack Benny Program were broadcast from CBS Television City with live audiences. Early filmed episodes were shot by McCadden Productions at Hollywood Center Studios and later by Desilu Productions at Red Studios Hollywood with an audience brought in to watch the finished film for live responses. Benny's opening and closing monologues were filmed in front of a live audience. From the late 1950s until the last season on NBC, though, a laugh track was used to augment audience responses. By this time, all shows were filmed at Universal Television.
In Jim Bishop's book A Day in the Life of President Kennedy, John F. Kennedy said that he was too busy to watch most television, but that he made the time to watch the Jack Benny Program each week.
Outside of North America (being also one of the most popular shows on the CBC), one episode reportedly aired first in the United Kingdom (where one episode was filmed). Benny had also been a familiar figure in Australia since the mid- to late 1930s with his radio show, and he made a special program for ATN-7 Jack Benny In Australia in March 1964, after a successful tour of Sydney and Melbourne.
James T. Aubrey, the president of CBS Television and a man known for his abrasive and judgmental decision-making style, infamously told Benny in 1963, "you're through."Benny was further incensed when CBS placed an untested new sitcom, the Beverly Hillbillies spinoff Petticoat Junction , as his lead in. Benny had had a strong ratings surge the previous year when his series was moved to Tuesday nights with the popular Red Skelton Hour in the time slot prior to his. He feared a separation of their two programs might prove fatal. Early that fall, he announced his show was moving back to NBC, where he was able to get the network to pick up another season. Benny's fears proved to be unfounded; his ratings for the 1963–64 season remained strong, while Petticoat Junction emerged as the most popular new series that fall.
In his unpublished autobiography, I Always Had Shoes (portions of which were later incorporated by Benny's daughter, Joan, into her memoir of her parents, Sunday Nights at Seven),Benny said that he made the decision to end his TV series in 1965. He said that while the ratings were still good (he cited a figure of some 18 million viewers per week, although he qualified that figure by saying he never believed the ratings services were doing anything more than guessing), advertisers complained that commercial time on his show was costing nearly twice as much as what they paid for most other shows, and he had grown tired of what was called the "rat race".
As with the radio shows, most of the television series has lapsed into the public domain, although several episodes (particularly those made from 1961 onward, including the entire NBC-TV run) remain under copyright. During his lone NBC season, CBS aired repeats on weekdays and Sunday afternoons. 104 episodes personally selected by Benny and Irving Fein, Benny's associate since 1947, [ citation needed ]were placed into syndication in 1968 by MCA TV. Telecasts of the shows in the late evening were running as late as 1966.
Four early-1960s episodes were rerun on CBS during the summer of 1977. Edited 16mm prints ran on the CBN Cable Network in the mid-1980s. Restored versions first appeared on the short lived HA! network in 1990. As of 2011, the series has run on Antenna TV, part of a long-term official syndication distribution deal. [ citation needed ]The public domain television episodes have appeared on numerous stations, including PBS, while the radio series episodes have appeared in radio drama anthology series such as When Radio Was .
Public-domain episodes have been available on budget VHS/Beta tapes (and later DVDs) since the late 1970s. MCA Home Video issued a 1960 version of the classic "Christmas Shopping" show in 1982 and a VHS set of 10 filmed episodes in 1990. In 2008, 25 public-domain episodes of the show, long thought lost, were located in a CBS vault. The Jack Benny Fan Club, with the blessing of the Benny estate, offered to fund the digital preservation and release of these sealed episodes. CBS issued a press statement that any release was unlikely.June 2013 had the first official release of 18 rare live Benny programs from 1956 to 1964 by Shout! Factory. This set, part of Benny's private collection at the UCLA film and television library, included guest shots by Jack Paar, John Wayne, Tony Curtis, Gary Cooper, Dick Van Dyke, Rock Hudson, Natalie Wood, and President Harry Truman, and the only TV appearance with longtime radio foe Ronald Colman.
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||Rank||Rating||Tied with|
|First aired||Last aired||Network|
|1||4||October 10, 1950||May 5, 1951||CBS||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|2||6||November 11, 1951||June 6, 1952||9||42.8||N/A|
|3||8||October 10, 1952||May 5, 1953||12||39.0||N/A|
|4||13||September 9, 1953||May 5, 1954||16||33.3||N/A|
|5||16||October 10, 1954||May 5, 1955||7||38.3||N/A|
|6||16||September 9, 1955||April 4, 1956||5||37.2||N/A|
|7||16||September 9, 1956||April 4, 1957||10||32.3||N/A|
|8||16||September 9, 1957||April 4, 1958||28||27.1||N/A|
|9||15||September 9, 1958||April 4, 1959||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|10||15||October 10, 1959||May 5, 1960||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|11||26||October 10, 1960||April 4, 1961||10||26.2||N/A|
|12||26||October 10, 1961||April 4, 1962||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|13||27||September 9, 1962||April 4, 1963||11||26.2||Dr. Kildare|
|14||28||September 9, 1963||April 4, 1964||12||25.0|| I've Got a Secret |
|15||28||September 9, 1964||April 4, 1965||NBC||N/A||N/A||N/A|
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