Jack Benny Biography

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Benjamin Kubelsky, 14 February 1894, Waukegan, Illinois, USA, d. 26 December 1974, Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA. Having studied violin, Benny failed to build a career in music. After serving in World War I he returned to the stage as comedian Ben K. Benny. His breakthrough came on radio where he and his wife, Mary Livingstone, and Eddie Anderson formed an act with Benny as the meanest man in the world. His deliberately awful violin playing and impeccable comic timing made him an outstanding comic figure. Regulars included singers Dennis Day and Phil Harris and fellow comic Fred Allen, with whom Benny had a make-believe feud. Benny took his routines and perceived persona into films including Hollywood Revue Of 1929 (1929) and The Broadway Melody Of 1936 (1935, as the character Bert Keeler), both with songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, the latter also featured Benny Goodman’s band. Benny starred in Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round (1934, in which the Boswell Sisters appear), The Big Broadcast Of 1937 (1936) and College Holiday (1936), with Burns, Gracie Allen and Raye also in the latter pair.

In the 40s, with his radio show still popular, Benny made Buck Benny Rides Again (1940, with Anderson, Day and Harris), Love Thy Neighbor (1940, with the Benny-Fred Allen feud continued on-screen), Charley’s Aunt (1941), To Be Or Not To Be (1942, an expert blend of comedy and substance), and George Washington Slept Here (1942, adapted from the Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart). Capitalizing upon his perceived persona, which was in direct contrast to his real life generosity, Benny made The Meanest Man In The World (1943, playing the character Richard Clark), Hollywood Canteen (1944, as himself), The Horn Blows At Midnight (1945, as the character Athaneal, and a film that Benny thereafter ridiculed in his shows), and It’s In The Bag (1945, with a Benny-Fred Allen re-encounter). He took readily to television, reprising his radio show style and character and enjoying years of popularity and good ratings. Apart from making over 30 film appearances as himself in guest spots, he also acted in over 20 movies.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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