Well! – It’s Jack Benny

By | Feb 14, 2011

While many may be writing about Valentine’s Day today, I decided to write about something a little different. February 14th is the Birthday of the comic Jack Benny, who was born Benjamin Kubelsky in 1894. Beginning at the age of six he began playing the violin, his parents had hopes that he would be a classical violinist. By 1911, he had failed in business school and his father trade and was playing violin at the local Vaudeville theatre.

Jack Benny circa 1960’s

From there it was a natural to begin a career in Vaudeville. He was convinced by a fellow violinist famous Jan Kubelik, to change his name since Kubelsky and Kubelik were too similar. He began using the name Ben K. Benny. It was during the days of the late 1910’s that he began his comic career as well as a musician. As his star was rising he was threaten to be sued by entertainer Ben Bernie and that’s when he began using the name that we all know, Jack Benny.

In 1922 while visiting his friend Chico Marx, he met Sadye (Sadie) Marks. Benny had first run into the Marx Brothers in 1911 and they offered him the chance to be their permanent accompanist, but at 17 was not allowed to leave home by his parents. Benny would marry Sadie Marks in 1927. At one point she was asked to fill in for the “dumb girl” part in one of Benny’s routines. She proved to be a natural and soon adopted the stage name Mary Livingstone as her stage name and was one of Benny’s collaborators as well as wife.

After a brief movie career at MGM, he was released with more than three years left on his five year contract, he found himself on the new medium of Radio. Benny created a cheap, petty and vain character that allowed his supporting characters get the laughs at his expense. He developed a keen comic timing that he could get a laugh with a deliberate pause and a bigger ones afterward with a well timed, “Well!” His radio programed lasted from 1932 to 1955.

Shortly before Benny’s death he had been cast in the role of Al Lewis for movie version of Neil Simon’s Sunshine Boys. He fell ill and requested that his friend George Burns be given the part. Burns, who had last appeared in a movie in 1939 performed the role and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Benny died the day after Christmas in 1974 from pancreatic Cancer, at the age of 39 for the 42nd time. In his well he requested a rose be sent to to his wife each day for the rest of her life. Mary Livingstone died nine years later on June 30, 1983.


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