Jack Benny Radio Show


The Jack Benny Program, starring Jack Benny, is a radio-TV comedy series that ran for more than three decades and is generally regarded as a high-water mark in 20th-century American comedy.


  • Jack Benny - played himself. Protagonist of the show, Benny is a comic, vain, penny-pinching miser, insisting on remaining 39 years old on stage despite his actual age, and often playing the violin badly.
  • Eddie Anderson - Rochester Van Jones, Jack's valet and chauffeur. Early in the show's run, he often talked of gambling or going out with women. Later on, he generally complained about his salary.
  • Don Wilson - Himself. Don generally opened the show and also did the commercials. He was the target of Jack's jokes, mostly about his weight.
  • Gene McNulty - Dennis Day, a vocalist who was always in his early 20s no matter how old he actually was (by the time of the last television series, McNulty was 49 years old). He was sweet but not very bright. When called upon, he could use a wide variety of accents, which was especially useful in plays. He usually sang a song about 10 minutes into the program. If the episode was a flashback to a previous time, a ruse would be used such as Dennis singing his song for Jack so he could hear it before the show. McNulty adopted the name "Dennis Day" as his stage name for the rest of his career.
  • Sadie Marks - Mary Livingstone, a sarcastic comic foil whose varying roles all served as, to use the description of Fred Allen, "a girl to insult (Jack)." Marks, who in real life was Benny's wife, later legally changed her name to "Mary Livingstone" in response to the character's popularity. Her role on the program was reduced in the 1950s due to increasing stage fright, and Livingstone finally retired from acting in 1958.
  • Phil Harris - Himself. A skirt-chasing, arrogant, hip-talking bandleader who constantly put Jack down (in a mostly friendly way, of course). He referred to Mary as "Livvy" or "Liv", and Jack as "Jackson".. Harris explained this once by saying it's "as close as I can get to jackass and still be polite" Spun off into The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show (1946-1954) with his wife, actress Alice Faye. Harris left the radio show in 1952 and his character did not make the transition to television.
  • Mel Blanc - Carmichael the Polar Bear, Professor Pierre LeBlanc, Sy the Mexican, Polly (Jack's parrot), The Maxwell and many other assorted voices. An occasional running gag went along the lines of how the various characters Mel portrayed all looked alike. He was also the sound effects of Jack's barely functional Maxwell automobile?a role he played again in the Warner Brothers cartoon The Mouse that Jack Built. Another participating voice actor was Bert Gordon. Mel also played a train station announcer, whose catchphrase was, "Train leaving on Track Five for Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc-amonga.
  • Frank Nelson - The "Yeeee-essss?" man. He was always the person who waited on Jack wherever he was, from the railroad station agent, to the store clerk, to the doorman, to the waiter. Frank always delighted in aggravating Jack, as he was apparently constantly aggravated by Jack's presence.
  • Sheldon Leonard - A racetrack tout (originated by Benny Rubin) who frequently offered unsolicited advice to Benny on a variety of non-racing-related subjects. Ironically, he never gave out information on horse racing, unless Jack demanded it. One excuse the tout gave was "Who knows about horses?" His catchphrase was "Hey, bud... c'mere a minute".
  • Joseph Kearns - Ed, the superannuated security guard in Jack's money vault. Ed had allegedly been guarding Jack's vault since (variously) the founding of Los Angeles (1781), the American Civil War, the American Revolutionary War, or when Jack had just turned 38 years old. Burt Mustin took over the role on television following Kearns' death in 1962. (In the 1959 cartoon The Mouse that Jack Built, Mel Blanc played the part of Ed, who asks if the U.S. had won the war, then asks what would be done with the Kaiser). Kearns also played other roles, that of Dennis Day's father, that of a beleaguered IRS agent, and often of a clerk when it wasn't necessary to have Frank Nelson antagonize Jack.
  • Artie Auerbach - Mr. Kitzel [who originally appeared on Al Pearce's radio show in the late 1930s, where his famous catch phrase was, "Hmmmm... eh, could be!", and several years later as a regular on The Abbott & Costello Show, who originally started out as a Yiddish hot dog vendor selling hot dogs during the Rose Bowl. In later episodes, he would go on to lose his hot dog stand, and move on to various other jobs. A big part of his schtick involved garbling names with his accent, such as referring to Nat King Cole as "Nat King Cohen", or mentioning his favorite baseball player, "Rabbi Maranville". He often complained about his wife, an unseen character who was described as a large, domineering woman who, on one occasion, Kitzel visualized as "...from the front, she looks like Don Wilson from the side!" He often sang various permutations of his jingle, "Pickle in the middle and the mustard on top!" Kitzel was often heard to say, "Hoo-hoo-HOO!" in response to questions asked of him.
  • Bob Crosby - In 1952, Crosby replaced Phil Harris as the bandleader, remaining until Benny retired the radio show in 1955. In joining the show, he became the leader of the same group of musicians who had played under Harris. Many of his running jokes focused on his apparent inability to pronounce "Manischewitz", his own family, and the wealth and lifestyle of his older brother, Bing Crosby.
  • Benny Rubin - Played a variety of characters on both the radio and television versions. His most memorable bit was as an information desk attendant. Jack would ask a series of questions that Rubin would answer with an ever-increasing irritated, "I don't know!" followed by the punchline {among them: "Well, if you don't know, why are you standing behind that counter?"/"I gotta stand behind something; somebody stole my pants; I missed a payment and they nailed my shoes to the floor!"}.
  • Dale White - Harlow Wilson, the son of Don and Lois Wilson, on TV. His catchphrase, "You never did like me!", is usually uttered when he and Jack end up embroiled in an argument, though he once said it to his own mother.
  • Verna Felton - "Mrs. Day", Dennis' frighteningly domineering mother. She often came to near blows with Jack in her efforts to prevent him from taking advantage of Dennis, and she was often portrayed as working various masculine jobs like a plumber, trucker or karate instructor. Although she cares deeply for her son, Dennis' zany behavior aggravates her to no end, and the show has alluded to her hilariously myriad attempts at killing and abandoning him.
  • Bea Benaderet and Sara Berner - "Gertrude Gearshift" and "Mabel Flapsaddle", a pair of telephone switchboard operators who always traded barbs with Jack (and sometimes each other) when he tried to put through a call. Whenever the scene shifted to them, they would subtly plug a current picture in an insult such as "Mr. Benny's line is flashing!" "Oh, I wonder what Dial M for Money wants now?" or "I wonder what Schmoe Vadis wants now?"
  • Jane Morgan and Gloria Gordon - Martha and Emily, a pair of elderly ladies who were irresistibly attracted to Jack.
  • Madge Blake and Jessica Fax - President and vice president (respectively) of the Jack Benny Fan Club, Pasadena Chapter.
  • James Stewart and his wife, Gloria - Themselves. Recurring guest stars on the television series playing Benny's often-imposed-upon neighbors, in roles similar to those performed on radio by Ronald and Benita Colman (see below), although re-tailored for Stewart's on-screen persona.
  • Butterfly McQueen played Butterfly, the niece of Rochester. She worked as Mary Livingstone's maid.

Other cast members include:

  • Ronald Colman and his wife, Benita - Themselves. Not actually members of the cast, they were among Benny's most popular guest stars on the radio series, portraying his long-suffering next-door neighbors. On the show, the Colmans were often revolted by Jack's eccentricities and by the fact that he always borrowed odds and ends from them (at one point, leading Ronald to exclaim, "Butter? Butter, butter!!! Where does he think this is, Shangri-La???"). Dennis Day often impersonated Ronald Colman. In real life, the Colmans lived a few blocks away from Benny's home.
  • Frank Parker - The show's singer during the early seasons on radio from New York.
  • Kenny Baker - The show's tenor singer who originally played the young, dopey character replaced by Dennis Day.
  • Andy Devine - Jack's raspy-voiced friend who lived on a farm with his ma and pa. He usually told a story about his folks and life around the farm. His catchphrase was "Hiya, Buck!"
  • Schlepperman (played by Sam Hearn) - A Jewish character who spoke with a Yiddish accent (his catch phrase: "Hullo, Stranger!"). He would return again as the "Hiya, Rube!" guy, a hick farmer from the town of Calabasas who always insisted on referring to Jack as "rube".
  • Mr. Billingsly - Played by writer and bit player Ed Beloin, Mr. Billingsly was a boarder who rented a room in Jack's home. Mr. Billingsly was a polite but very eccentric man. He appeared in the early 1940s.
  • Larry Stevens - Tenor singer who substituted for Dennis Day from November 1944 to March 1946, when Dennis served in the Navy.
  • Mary Kelly - The Blue Fairy, a clumsy, overweight fairy who appeared in several storytelling episodes. Kelly had been an old flame of Jack's, who had fallen on hard times. Benny was unsure of whether to give Kelly a regular role and instead appealed to friend George Burns who put her on his show in 1939 as Mary "Bubbles" Kelly, best friend to Gracie.
  • Gisele MacKenzie - Singer and violin player, she guest starred seven times on the program. Benny was co-executive producer of her NBC series The Gisele MacKenzie Show (1957-1958).
  • Blanche Stewart - A variety of characters and animal sounds
  • Barry Gordon - Played Jack Benny as a child in a skit where Jack played his own father.
  • Johnny Green - The band leader until 1936 when Phil Harris joined the show.


Jack Benny first appeared on radio as a guest of Ed Sullivan in March 1932. He was then given his own show later that year, with Canada Dry Ginger Ale as a sponsor ?The Canada Dry Ginger Ale Program, beginning May 2, 1932, on the NBC Blue Network and continuing there for six months until October 26, moving the show to CBS on October 30. With Ted Weems leading the band, Benny stayed on CBS until January 26, 1933.

Arriving at NBC on March 17, Benny did The Chevrolet Program until April 1, 1934 with Frank Black leading the band. He continued with The General Tire Revue for the rest of that season, and in the fall of 1934, for General Foods as The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny (1934-42) and, when sales of Jell-O were affected by sugar rationing during World War II, The Grape Nuts Flakes Program Starring Jack Benny (later the Grape Nuts and Grape Nuts Flakes Program) (1942-44). On October 1, 1944, the show became The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny, when American Tobacco's Lucky Strike cigarettes took over as his radio sponsor, through the mid-1950s. By that time, the practice of using the sponsor's name as the title began to fade.

The show returned to CBS on January 2, 1949, as part of CBS president William S. Paley's "raid" of NBC talent in 1948-49. There it stayed for the remainder of its radio run, which ended on May 22, 1955. CBS aired repeats of previous 1953-55 radio episodes from 1956 to 1958 as The Best of Benny for State Farm Insurance, who later sponsored his television program from 1960 through 1965.


Jack Benny made his TV debut in 1949 with a local appearance on Los Angeles station KTTV, then a CBS affiliate. On October 28, 1950, he made his full network debut over CBS Television. Benny's television shows were occasional broadcasts in his early seasons on TV, as he was still firmly dedicated to radio. The regular and continuing Jack Benny Program was telecast on CBS from October 28, 1950 to September 15, 1964 (finally becoming a weekly show in the 1960-1961 season), and on NBC from September 25, 1964 to September 10, 1965. 343 episodes were produced. His TV sponsors included American Tobacco's Lucky Strike (1950-59), Lever Brothers' Lux (1959-60), State Farm Insurance (1960-65), Lipton Tea (1960-62), General Foods' Jell-O (1962-64), and Miles Laboratories (1964-65).

The television show was a seamless continuation of Benny's radio program, employing many of the same players, the same approach to situation comedy and some of the same scripts. The suffix "Program" instead of "Show" was also a carryover from radio, where "program" rather than "show" was used frequently for presentations in the non-visual medium. Occasionally, in several live episodes, the title card read The Jack Benny Show.

The Jack Benny Program appeared infrequently during its first two years on CBS-TV. Benny moved into television slowly: in his first season (1950-1951), he only performed on four shows, but by the 1951-1952 season, he was ready to do one show approximately every six weeks. In the third season (1952-1953), the show was broadcast every four weeks. During the 1953-1954 season, The Jack Benny Program aired every three weeks. From 1954 to 1960, the program aired every other week, rotating with such shows as Private Secretary and Bachelor Father. Beginning in the 1960-1961 season, The Jack Benny Program began airing every week. The show moved from CBS to NBC prior to the 1964-65 season. During the 1953-54 season, a handful of episodes were filmed during the summer and the others were live, a schedule which allowed Benny to continue doing his radio show. In the 1953-1954 season, Dennis Day had his own short-lived comedy and variety show on NBC, The Dennis Day Show.

Live episodes (and later live on tape episodes) of The Jack Benny Program were broadcast from CBS Television City with live audiences. Early filmed episodes were shot by McCadden Productions at Hollywood Center Studios and later by Desilu Productions at Red Studios Hollywood with an audience brought in to watch the finished film for live responses. Benny's opening and closing monologues were filmed in front of a live audience. However, from the late 1950s until the last season on NBC, a laugh track was utilized to augment audience responses. By this time, all shows were filmed at Universal Television.

In Jim Bishop's book A Day in the Life of President Kennedy, John F. Kennedy said that he was too busy to watch most television but that he made the time to watch The Jack Benny Program each week.

Outside of North America (being also one of the most popular shows on the CBC), one episode reportedly aired first in the United Kingdom (where one episode was filmed). Benny had also been a familiar figure on Australia since the mid-to-late 1930s with his radio show, and he made a special program for ATN-7 Jack Benny In Australia in March 1964, after a successful tour of Sydney and Melbourne.


James T. Aubrey, the President of CBS Television and a man known for his abrasive and judgmental decision-making style, infamously told Benny in 1963, "you're through." Benny was further incensed when CBS placed an untested new sitcom, the Beverly Hillbillies spinoff Petticoat Junction, as his lead in. Benny had had a strong ratings surge the previous year when his series was moved to Tuesday nights with the popular Red Skelton Hour in the time slot prior to his. He feared a separation of their two programs might prove fatal. Early that fall he announced his show was moving back to NBC, where he was able to get the network to pick up another season. Benny's fears would prove to be unfounded; his ratings for the 1963-64 season remained strong while Petticoat Junction emerged as the most popular new series that fall.

In his unpublished autobiography, I Always Had Shoes (portions of which were later incorporated by Benny's daughter, Joan, into her memoir of her parents, Sunday Nights at Seven), Benny said that he made the decision to end his TV series in 1965. He said that while the ratings were still good (he cited a figure of some 18 million viewers per week, although he qualified that figure by saying he never believed the ratings services were doing anything more than guessing), advertisers complained that commercial time on his show was costing nearly twice as much as what they paid for most other shows, and he had grown tired of what was called the "rat race."


The radio series was one of the most extensively preserved programs of its era, with the archive almost complete from 1936 onward and several episodes existing from before that (including the 1932 premiere). As with the radio shows, most of the television series has lapsed into the public domain, although several episodes (particularly those made from 1961 onward, including the entire NBC-TV run) remain under copyright. During his lone NBC season, CBS aired repeats on weekdays and Sunday afternoons. 104 episodes personally selected by Benny and Irving Fein, Benny's associate since 1947, were placed into syndication in 1968 by MCA TV. Telecasts of the shows in the late evening were running as late as 1966.

Four early 1960s episodes were rerun on CBS during the summer of 1977. Edited 16mm prints ran on the CBN Cable Network in the mid 1980s. Restored versions first appeared on the short lived HA! network in 1990. As of 2011, the series has run on Antenna TV, part of a long term official syndication distribution deal. The public domain television episodes have appeared on numerous stations, including PBS, while the radio series episodes have appeared in radio drama anthology series such as When Radio Was.

Home media

Public domain episodes have been available on budget VHS/Beta tapes (and later DVDs) since the late seventies. MCA home video issued a 1960 version of the classic "Christmas Shopping" show in 1982 and a VHS set of ten filmed episodes in 1990. In 2008, 25 public domain episodes of the show, long thought lost, were located in a CBS vault. The Jack Benny Fan Club, with the blessing of the Benny estate, offered to fund the digital preservation and release of these sealed episodes. CBS issued a press statement that any release was unlikely. June 2013 saw the first official release of 18 rare live Benny programs from 1956 to 1964 by Shout! Factory. This set, part of Benny's private collection at the UCLA film and television library, included guest shots by Jack Paar, John Wayne, Tony Curtis, Gary Cooper, Dick Van Dyke, Rock Hudson, Natalie Wood, President Harry Truman and the only TV appearance with longtime radio foe Ronald Colman.



Whether on television or radio, the format of the Jack Benny Program never wavered. The program utilized a loose show-within-a-show format, wherein the main characters were playing versions of themselves. The show often broke the fourth wall, with the characters interacting with the audience and commenting on the program and its advertisements. The show would usually open with a song by the orchestra or banter between Benny and Don Wilson. There would then be banter between Benny and the regulars about the news of the day or about one of the running jokes on the program, such as Benny's age, Day's stupidity or Mary's letters from her mother. There would then be a song by the tenor followed by situation comedy involving an event of the week, a mini-play, or a satire of a current movie. Some shows were entire domestic sitcoms revolving around some aspect of Benny's life (e.g. spring cleaning or a violin lesson).

Racial attitudes

Eddie Anderson was the first black man to have a recurring role in a national radio show, which was significant because at the time it was not uncommon for black characters to be played by white actors in blackface. Although Eddie Anderson's Rochester may be considered a stereotype by some, his attitudes were unusually sardonic for such a role. As was typical at the time in depicting class distinctions, Rochester always used a formal mode of address to the other (White) characters ("Mr. Benny", "Miss Livingston") and they always used a familiar mode in speaking to him ("Rochester") but the formal mode when speaking to him about another White character ("Mr. Benny" when speaking to Rochester but "Jack" when speaking to Jack). In many routines, Rochester gets the better of Benny, often pricking his boss' ego, or simply outwitting him. The show's portrayal of black characters could be seen as advanced for its time; in a 1956 episode, African-American actor Roy Glenn plays a friend of Rochester, and he is portrayed as a well-educated, articulate man not as the typical "darkie stereotype" seen in many films of the time. Glenn's role was a recurring one on the series, where he was often portrayed as having to support two people on one unemployment check (i.e., himself and Rochester). Black talent was also showcased, with several guest appearances by The Ink Spots and others.


External links

  • The Jack Benny Program (TV pilot) on IMDb
  • The Jack Benny Program (TV series) on IMDb
  • Jack Benny Christmas Show 18 December 1960 (Season 11, Episode 9) - Internet Archives
  • Video - Jack Benny Program - Internet Archives
  • The Jack Benny Program at TV.com
  • Jack Benny Collection for Radio & Television-Paley Center for Media
  • The Jack Benny Program at The Interviews: An Oral History of Television
  • When Radio Was website


  • Collection of Jack Benny radio show.
  • Jack Benny radio show collection
  • Archive.org 143 episodes
  • Zoot Radio, 766 free old time radio show downloads of The Jack Benny radio show
  • Jack Benny at Outlaws Old Time Radio Corner
  • Jack Benny radio show at oldclassicradio.com
  • RadioEchoes 786 episodes
Source : Wikipedia


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