Friday, February 14, 2014
Happy Birthday, Benny Kubelsky!
February 14 is both Valentine's Day and the birthday of Benny Kubelsky, a.k.a. Jack Benny. We are thrilled and delighted to celebrate Jack's 39th birthday! First and foremost, read this superb overview of Benny's lengthy career that author Trav S.D. has penned on his Stars Of Vaudeville blog.
Jack started in vaudeville but found his voice - specifically, his vain cheapskate characterization - on radio, beginning in 1932. Unquestionably, Jack was one of the guys most responsible for making the medium the national sensation it was throughout the 1930's and a balm to hurting hearts in the Great Depression. Many of the radio shows are available online via archive.org and David Von Pein's Old-Time Radio Channel on YouTube.
It could be argued that the funniest of Jack Benny's radio programs - although entries from all eras remain a riot - date from 1946-1950, by which time the writers and cast had created quite the well-oiled machine. The Jack Benny shows compare with Burns & Allen, Bob & Ray and, decades later, satirists The Firesign Theatre) as the apex of comedy produced for radio.
Jack's television show, appropriately titled The Jack Benny Program, ran for 244 episodes, from 1950 through the 1964-65 season, and has braved the test of time quite well. While not available in its entirety in a gargantuan box set, a good number of hilarious episodes are to be found on this Shout! Factory DVD release.
The TV series began as an outgrowth of the radio shows, and for quite awhile, he was doing both, along with tours/fundraisers that raised millions for symphony orchestras. Jack was one busy guy and darn energetic for 39!
Among the funniest episodes of both the radio and TV versions of the show were those which entirely consisted of jokes at the expense of rotund yet good-natured Jack Benny Program announcer Don Wilson!
As the 1950-1965 television show evolved, it would differ from Benny's radio work or later TV specials in its use of way-out sight gags and willingness to "break the fourth wall". The television show spotlighted the talented crew of continuing cast members and supporting comedians from radio (especially Mel Blanc, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson and exceptionally goofy comic/Irish tenor Dennis Day), while repeatedly having fun razzing the pop culture images of Jack and his guest stars.
At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we even find Jack's much-maligned feature film, The Horn Blows At Midnight, very funny.
Thanks for the laughs, Jack!