Jack's movie career took off in the 1930's with a series of well received outings, among them:
Broadway Melody of 1936
It's In the Air
The Big Broadcast of 1937
Artists and Models
Artists and Models Abroad
Man About Town
'Man About Town' debuted at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, IL, Jack's home town, and the production company transported the casts of both the radio program and the movie to Waukegan for the June 25, 1939 opening--the largest gathering ever in Jack's home town up to that date. No doubt, the presence of co-star Dorothy Lamour contributed greatly to the turn-out as well.
As the 40's approached, Jack's radio program continued its unprecedented success, and Jack also made some of his most memorable movies ever:
Buck Benny Rides Again
Love Thy Neighbor
(1940) - a screen elaboration of his feud with Fred Allen, 1941
To Be Or Not to Be
'To Be or Not To Be' was written by Ernst Lubitsch specifically with Jack in mind for the male lead. Carole Lombard--at Jack's insistence--was cast as his leading lady and the chemistry between them was predictably unforgettable. Though his hard-core fans would tend to pick 'Buck Benny Rides Again' as the best of his movies, 'To Be Or Not To Be' was clearly his greatest success to date, both critically and fnancially.
'To Be or Not to Be" Lobby Card from 1942
Alternate'To Be or Not to Be" Lobby Card from 1942
America found itself at war on December 7, 1941, in the midst of shooting 'To Be Or Not To Be' and though Jack went ahead with that night's radio broadcast, the poignant similiarity between the plot of the movie (the Polish Undreground's struggles with Nazi Germany) and the events of the day was not lost on anyone. The movie was completed ahead of schedule and the wrap party was celebrated on Christmas Eve, 1941.
1942 unfolded on a tragic note. On January 12 Carole Lombard left on a War Bond Tour with 'To Be Or Not To Be' in final editing. On their return home Friday, January 16, Jack and Mary saw the headline in Saturday's paper, announcing that Carole Lombard had been killed in a plane crash. Jack was distraught beyond words. The Benny program of January 18 was cancelled and replaced with an half hour of music. 'To Be Or Not to Be' made a quiet debut March 6, having been played down by the studio due to Lombard's untimely death.
'To Be or Not to Be" Poster from 1942
Carole Lombard from 'To Be Or Not To Be'
Carole Lombard Publicity Photo
Jack's father, Meyer Kubelsky and sister, Florence, attended a showing in Miami. When Jack in Nazi uniform and saluted Hitler, his father stormed out of the theatre. Avoiding Jack's attempts to contact him for weeks, he finally answered one of Jack's calls. Jack said, "This is Jack, your son," Meyer responded, "You're no son of mine!" Jack later got him to go back and watch further to see that his character is actually ridiculing Nazis. Meyer eventually calmed down, and went on to see 'To Be Or Not to Be' 46 times.
February 22, 1942, marked the beginning of an historic series of Benny Program shows on location from military camps and bases, the cast of characters playing much more to the audience than in Studio shows.
Those first shows were close enough to Los Angeles to enable the cast to be close to home (San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Ana, etc.) and still perform in both camp and Studio shows.
By the end of 1942, sugar was being rationed and General Foods wasn't able to keep Jell-O on the shelves, electing instead to switch Jack to the Grape Nuts and Grape Nuts Flakes product lines.
For the next three summers, Jack toured in European Theater and Pacific Theater USO shows with Larry Adler, Martha Tilton, Ingrid Bergman, and others. Jack also made more movies:
George Washington Slept Here
The Meanest Man in the World
During the summer of '43, Jack hired the team of George Balzer, Sam Perrin, Milt Josefsberg, John Tackaberry, and Cy Howard for writing duties. Though Cy Howard left the team after 13 weeks to go into movies,the rest remained for the next 33 years.
By the end of the 1943 season. Jack had offers from several other sponsors and broadcast his last show for Grape Nuts on June 4, 1944. Jack debuted 'The Lucky Strike Program' on October 1, 1944.
Jack's next (and last) film outing proved to be something of a stinker. 1945's 'The Horn Blows at Midnight', was a fantasy surrounding an angel sent to destroy the world with 'a trumpet blast at midnight'. The movie received tepid reviews at best, and was eventually immortalized as a "stinker" at the hands of both cast and guests on The Benny shows. Oddly enough, The Ford Theatre reprised 'The Horn Blows at Midnight' for it's March 4, 1949 episode to rave reviews.
During 1946, Jack approached Taft Schreiber, a Vice President at Music Corporation of America (MCA). Legendary mogul Lew Wasserman and MCA had recently cut a deal to move Amos and Andy to CBS, and Jack's latest contract with the American Tobacco Company wasn't panning out as hoped. In June, 1947, MCA created Amusement Enterprises, Inc., for production of the Benny show and other properties. Jack would own 60%, Myrt Blum 30%, with the remaining 10% going to Jack's lawyer and accountant. Schreiber then renegotiated with American Tobacco for Jack to receive $10,000 per show and Amusement Enterprises to receive $27,500 per show. Amusement Enterprises also produced a show starring a then-unknown, Jack Paar, as the Benny 1948 Summer Replacement Show.
By November of 1948, CBS made Jack an unprecedented offer of $2.4 Million for Amusement Enterprises. Turning down a equally unprecedented offer by NBC, Jack struck the deal with CBS. Jack's lawyers and accountants rightly viewed the sale of Amusement Enterprises as a capital gain and filed Jack's taxes as such that year--the IRS didn't see it that way.
The IRS prosecuted Jack for filing the profit as a capital gain, as opposed to straight income--this on the heels of Jack's extraordinary efforts raising War Bonds and entertaining the troops throughout World War II. After numerous appeals, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling in Jack's favor, setting a precendent for all other current and future celebrities that formed their own production companies.
On December 26, 1948, Jack broadcast his last show for NBC, and on January 2, 1949, his first show for CBS since the Canada Dry series. It was a highly unusual move to make such a change in the middle of a season, and it precipitated the move of other shows such as Burns and Allen, Red Skelton, and Bing Crosby. Visionary CBS' philosophy was that there was a new medium on the horizon, and they would have the stars to succeed when television became commercial reality.
On May 8, 1949, Jack did a test program for television at CBS Radio Studio A. The included guests were Benny favorites Isaac Stern, Lum and Abner (Jack and Chet Lauck, who played the role of Lum Edwards, were close friends), the Andrews Sisters, Rochester, and others. Unfortunately, no recording--radio transcription or kinescope--of this program was preserved. More importantly, however, Jack amply demonstrated his ability to transfer his comedic talents to the small screen.
Still doing the radio program, Jack traveled to New York to do his first television shows on October 28, 1950. His first line was: "I'd give a million dollars to know what I look like!" The first shows were shown live to the East Coast, and broadcast at a later date for Western viewers due to the lack of coast-to-coast television transmission facilities. The 1950 show ran 45 minutes, as Jack thought that half an hour was too short and an hour was too long. Subsequent shows were 30n minutes, and aired on January 28, April 5, and May 20, 1951.
On November 4, 1951, Jack broadcast his first show from the new CBS Television City in Los Angeles. Budgets for radio were being reduced throughout the industry, and the shows began to reflect it, with major star appearances dwindling from a couple times a week, to once or twice a month. June 1, 1952, Phil Harris did his last regular show with Jack, Phil citing that he had simply "had enough", didn't want to go into television, and preferred to concentrate on helping Alice raise the family.
Mary had "left" the program. In 1948 due to a growing sense of stage fright she'd developed over the years. She was persuaded to continue with the program by recording her lines at home, with another woman standing in for her during the actual performances (the stand-ins included daughter Joan Benny, script secretary Jeanette Eyemann, or occasionally an unknown actress), and Mary's lines were edited in at a later time. On a couple of occasions the stand-in would fluff a line and get a good audience reaction, requiring Mary to fluff the same line intentionally in her home recording. Mary was reticent about following the program to television, although filming of the show persuaded her to appear on selected appearances through the mid-50s.
Doubling between radio and television, the writers started creating running gags for the radio show. One of the most long-lived was born on September 30, 1951 when Jack "wrote" the song 'When You Say I Beg YourPardon, Then I'll Come Back Home to You'. His trying to get the song published or performed by a notable celebrity ran until the end of the television series, having been performed by people ranging from Frank Sinatra to Lawrence Welk to Peter, Paul, and Mary. Hal Goldman and Al Gordon were added to the writing staff. to assist with the dual radio and television years. Many scripts were reused between radio and television.
By 1953, it was clear that the golden age of radio was drawing to a close, if not over. The radio program featured several reruns during the 1954-55 season. On May 22, 1955, Jack's last regular radio program was aired. It was given no particular fanfare; simply another Jack Benny program Jack's radio programs would continue to be rebroadcast as "The Best of Benny" from October 28, 1956 to June 1, 1958.
Benny now 'belonged' to Television and his involvement with radio all but ended. Television embraced Jack Benny as fondly as radio had since 1932 and he remains Radio's most successful personality irrespective of his equally unprecendented Television career.
- Daughter Joan first married on March 9, 1954 and on July 16, 1955, presented Jack and Mary with their first grandchild, Michael.
- In 1957 Joan presented Jack and Mary with their first granddaughter, Maria.
- On October 2, 1956, Jack reached the pinnacle of his symphony career, playing a benefit to save a financially-troubled Carnegie Hall and raising $50,000 in the process.
- In 1957, Jack won an Emmy for "Best continuing performance [male] in a series by a comedian, singer, host, dancer, EmCee, announcer, narrator, panelist, or any person who essentially plays himself".
- In 1958, the show took the Emmy for Best Comedy Series.
- In September, 1962, Jack's program moved to Tuesday at 9:30--the first time in 28 years that a program of his had not graced the Sunday night lineup.
- In 1963, Joan married Bob Blumofe at the Roxbury home. Joan and Bob had a son, Bobby, on June 23, 1964, and a daughter, Joanna, on June 29, 1965.
- At the end of the 1963-64 season, CBS elected not to renew Jack's contract. He signed a one-year contract with NBC, which slated the show for Fridays at 9:30PM.
- On April 16, 1965, the Smothers Brothers guested on Jack's last regular television program; Jack was 71 years old.
- The fall of 1965 brought the first season without a Jack Benny Program in over 33 years.
-- Jack Benny Filmography --
- Jack Benny's First Farewell Special (1973) (TV)
- Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jack Benny But Were Afraid to Ask (1971) (TV)
- Swing Out, Sweet Land (1970) (TV) .... Man who finds George Washington's silver dollar
- Jack Benny's Twentieth Anniversary Special (1970) (TV)
- Jack Benny's New Look (1969) (TV)
- Evening with Jack Benny, An (1969) (TV)
- Jack Benny's Birthday Special (1969) (TV)
- Jack Benny's Bag (1968) (TV)
- Carnival Nights (1968) (TV)
... aka Jack Benny's Carnival Nights (1968) (TV) (USA: complete title)
- "Kraft Music Hall, The" (1967) TV Series (1967)
- Jack Benny Hour, The (1966) (TV)
- Bob Hope Christmas Show (1965) (TV)
- Jack Benny Hour, The (1965) (TV)
- Tennessee Ernie Ford Hour, The (1964) (TV)
- Bob Hope Comedy Special (1963) (TV)
- Gypsy (1962) (uncredited)
- Carnegie Hall Salutes Jack Benny (1961) (TV)
- Who Was That Lady? (1960)
- Jack Benny Hour, The (1959/II) (TV)
- Jack Benny Hour, The (1959/I) (TV)
- Beau James (1957)
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Beauty (1955)
- "Shower of Stars" (1954) TV Series .(Host [II])
... aka "Chrysler Shower of Stars" (1954)
- Bing Crosby Show, The (1954) (TV)
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood's Great Entertainers (1953)
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood's Pair of Jacks (1953)
- Somebody Loves Me (1952) (at a benefit)
- Screen Snapshots: Memorial to Al Jolson (1952) Narrator
- You Can Change the World (1951)
- "Jack Benny Program, The" (1950) TV Series .
... aka "Jack Benny Show, The" (1950)
- Cassino to Korea (1950)
- Screen Snapshots: The Great Showman (1950)
- Jack Benny Program, The (1949) (TV)
- March of Time Volume 14, No. 1: Is Everybody Listening? (1947) Jack Benny Radio Program
- It's in the Bag! (1945)
... aka Fifth Chair, The (1945) (UK)
- Hollywood Canteen (1944)
- Show Business at War (1943) ... aka March of Time Volume IX, Issue 10, The (1943)
- Hollywood Goes to Town (1938) (uncredited) .
- March of Time Volume IV, Issue 5, The (1937)
- Paramount Headliner: Broadway Highlights No. 1 (1935)
- Mr. Broadway (1933)
- Taxi Tangle (1931)
- Cab Waiting (1931)
- Broadway Romeo, A (1931)
- Children of Pleasure (1930) (uncredited)
- Song Writers' Revue, The (1930)
- Hollywood Revue of 1929, The (1929) Master of Ceremonies... aka Hollywood Revue, The (1929)
1934 Collectable Spotlight on Jack Benny
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1934 Collectable Spotlight on Mary Livingstone
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CBS announces Jack Benny on CBS from Life Magazine
Jascha Heifetz (right) and Jack Benny play duet "To A Wild Rose" in reply to appeal that ''World's best and worst violinists'' appear on the same 'Command Performance' program