The sobriquet 'Mr. Entertainment' seems to have been rather generously, and perhaps undeservedly applied to any number of male entertainers over the years. But Jack Benny, in every facet of his career, clearly merits this nickname as much--if not more--than any other radio personality of the 20th Century.
Actor, writer, producer, performer, humanitarian, goodwill ambassador, and yes, comedian and violinist. Jack Benny established a radio dynasty that he and the many members of his radio ensemble maintained from 1933 on up through every year of the Golden Age of Radio.
Jack with wife, Mary Livingston c. 1934
Born Benjamin Kubelsky in 1894, Jack Benny began his entertainment career, as did many other notable radio entertainers of the 30's and 40's, in vaudeville with a 1912 act called "Salisbury and Kubelsky: From Grand Opera to Ragtime." Owing to the similarity between Benjamin's given name, and that of a concert violinist of some fame in those days, Benjamin adopted the name Ben K. Benny and thus called his act Salisbury and Benny for the next year. Salisbury retired and the act became "Bennie and Woods: From Grand Opera to Ragtime," Benjamin having teamed up with pianist Lyman Woods.
His mother Emma's losing battle with breast cancer drew him back home through most of 1917, a battle she sadly lost later that year.
Within a couple of years World War I exploded onto the scene and Benny entered the Navy, stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Waukegan. His experiences in vaudeville surfaced and he was tapped to provide some entertainment for the troops stationed with him. His classic violin performance wasn't really electrifying his audience, and it's said that Pat O'Brien of later movie fame, took Benjamin aside and suggested Benjamin lose the fiddle and just talk to the troops. His adlibbing launched with a joke about the relative sizes of the Swiss, Irish and Jewish Navy's, which got a much more favorable reaction from the seamen than had Benjamin's violin rendition of "The Rosary" (go figure, huh?). Thus began Benjamin K. Benny's adlib comedy career.