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THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM
by Billy Ingram


YOU KNOW JACK
TV blog / Jack BennyThe first episode of The Jack Benny Program, the TV version, is on You Tube. In fact the first 4 episodes and entire radio shows are easy to access. That's great because few TV shows were as funny and just plain pleasing to watch as the Benny program. More than any other entertainer Jack Benny epitomizes old school entertainment, the kind my grandparents' enjoyed. His easy-going, gentry lifestyle was something that generation aspired to, his living room set a reflection of early-1950's moderne. The show's pace was low key, especially compared to other sitcoms like I Love Lucy or Our Miss Brooks.

I always got the feeling that black characters were treated with respect, though Rochester was problematic - but Eddie Anderson was a wonderfully talented performer.

Benny's humor is timeless - at least I think it is. Because his best TV productions are pre-color it may be difficult for moderns to come across the shows. And will anyone under the age of 30 even listen to an old time radio program? Oddly enough, with ubiquitous earbuds and a world of podcasts perhaps the radio shows could catch fire again. Wouldn't that be cool? Especially when you consider the Old Time Radio Convention is no more.


There's a really interesting book by Jack Benny's daughter Joan called Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story that combined an autobiography that the comedian 'wrote' alongside Joan's remembrances. It's a frustrating book in that the father's contribution is one of those celebrity hagiographies that were popular until the late 1960s when Benny's book was rejected by the publisher. You get almost no sense of who the man was from his writings - and Joan's memories seem tempered by the need to keep the star's image intact. But what she does reveal is fascinating and a bit touching, I've read the book several times. Guess that means I liked it.

Here's episode 4 of The Jack Benny Program:

 

Jack didn't rush into TV like contemporary Fred Allen who quickly failed in his attempts to master the new medium. Benny started out with a series of specials in 1950 on CBS then gradually made his way to a weekly slot. It allowed him to get comfortable with television and made it more of an event for the audience.

Jack's weekly shows came to and end in 1965 and he was once again back to doing specials, this time on NBC where he migrated in 1964 after CBS canned his show. He died in 1974.

Jack Benny's last TV appearance came on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast for Lucille Ball which aired weeks after the comedian's passing.

Jack Benny sat down with Dick Cavett and was joined by Phil Silvers, another great 1960's TV personality. 

 


One of Jack Benny's radio shows from 1941:

 

 

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