Posted by: Dahni | May 27, 2008

Wisdom of Jack Benny

© 05/27/08

By Dahni

   Jack Benny (born Benjamin Kubelsky February 14, 1894 – December 26, 1974), was an American comedian, vaudevillian, and actor for radio, television, and film. He was known (from his comic routines), as a a skinflynt or stingy with money, his perpetual age of always being only 39 years old, his self-centered vanity nature, of acting as if he was better than he actually was, and his horrbile violin playing which brought tears to eyes and caused glass to break, (figuartively speaking). His playing could be compared to running fingernails down a blackboard and he was probably the most recognised WORST violin player in the world. These were all a part of his comic genius, but were completely opposite of the man he was outside of entertainment. Each of the true characteristics of Jack Benny will be handled separately.

   Beginning with his ‘skinflynt’ persona it was just an act for he truly was a very generous man both professionally and in person. His character was basically everything he was not: cheap, petty, vain and self-congratulatory. He turned the average, mundance and perhaps pitful soul into a common, everyday and lovable character. 

“I don’t care who gets the laughs on my show, as long as the show is funny.”
-Jack Benny-

   In a predominatly white medium, Jack Benny was one of the first to showcase the talents of black comics. Eddie Anderson portrayed as his valet-chauffeur, Rochester van Jones. His character was as popular as Benny himself. Considering the era, this was highly unorthodox and  ‘Rochester’ as a black man was allowed to one-up his vain, skinflint boss.

   [In more ways than one, with his mock-befuddled one-liners and his sharp retorts, he broke a barrier down for his race. Unlike many black supporting characters of the time, Rochester was depicted and treated as a regular member of Benny’s fictional household. Benny, in character, tended if anything to treat Rochester more like an equal partner than as a hired domestic, even though gags about Rochester’s flimsy salary were a regular part of the show. (Frederick W. Slater, newsman of St. Joseph, Missouri, recalled when Benny and his staff stayed at the restricted Robidioux Hotel during their visit to that town. When the desk staff told Benny that Anderson (‘Rochester’), could not stay at the hotel, Benny replied, “If he doesn’t stay here, neither do I.” The hotel’s staff eventually relented. 

   Benny deserves credit for allowing this character and the actor who played him. It is difficult if not mpossible, to picture any other performer giving Rochester what Anderson gave him, to transcend the era’s racial stereotype and for not discouraging his near-equal popularity. A New Year’s Eve episode, in particular, shows the love each performer had for the other, quietly toasting each other with champagne. That this attention to Rochester’s race was no accident became clearer during World War II, when Benny would frequently pay tribute to the diversity of Americans who had been drafted into service. In fact Benny made a conscious effort after the war, once the depths of Nazi race hatred had been revealed, to remove the most stereotypical aspects of Rochester’s character. He also often gave key guest-star appearances to African-American performers such as Louis Armstrong.] 

[ ] = Edited and Quoted from:

   His self ebasing humor was seen In 1932 when he was invited to appear on the  Ed Sullivan’s radio program.

“This is Jack Benny talking. There will be a slight pause while you say, ‘Who cares?’…”
-Jack Benny-

   In comedy, Jack Benny was a master if not The Master, of what is known as, ‘the pregnant pause.’ He had incredible timing with even a single expression one of which was simply just, “Well!” Benny was one of the leading and most popular entertainers of the 20th century and his radio programs in the ‘40’s & ‘50’s perhaps set the foundation for situation comedy. His use of ‘the pregnant pause,’ was quite possibly best illustrated in the following gag, ‘Your Money or Your Life.’

   The climax of one of his programs, showed Benny returning home when he was approached by a would-be mugger. To get close before springing his deceptive trap, the man asked Benny for a match to light a cigarette.’ As Benny stopped walking, the man demanded, “Don’t make a move, this is a stickup. Now, come on. Your money or your life.”

   Benny paused and the audience laughed, knowing his skinflint character. Frustrated, the mugger repeated his demands, “Look, bud! I said your money or your life!”

   Benny snapped back, without missing a beat, “I’m thinking it over!”  The audience roared!

   Jack Benny always seemed to never age beyond thirty nines years. Upon his death, having celebrated his 39th birthday 41 times, some newspapers continued the joke with headlines such as “Jack Benny Dies – At 39?”  In February 2006, Benny’s name appeared in the news again when his fans petitioned to put this famous 39er on the US postal stamp after the standard postal rate for first class letter was increased to 39 cents. One of Jack Benny’s best and most memorable lines was,

“Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
-Jack Benny-

   His violin playing was often joked about, disdained and ridiculed. Perhaps no greater comment was ever made about this, than by a famous, American violin virtuoso.

“You know, Jack, when you walk out in front of a symphony orchestra in white tie and tails and your violin, you actually look like one of the world’s great violinists. It’s a damned shame you have to play!”
-Isaac Stern-

   The truth however is, Jack Benny was an excellent violist. He showed great promise even at the tender age of seven. Even then he loved to play, but hated practice.

   One of the most touching aspects of his true character was seen in carrying out the provisions of his will, after his death in 1974. He had arranged for a single long-stemmed red rose, to be delivered to his wife, Mary Livingstone, every day for the rest of her life.

   Many of us are taught at perhaps a very tender age (not 39  ) ), to set goals and to plan out our lives. This is a great thing to do, but sometimes with such detailed plans for our lives to succeed, we may have no room to actually live.

   In trying to explain his successful life, Benny summed it up by stating,

“Everything good that happened to me happened by accident. I was not filled with ambition nor fired by a drive toward a clear-cut goal. I never knew exactly where I was going.”
-Jack Benny-

Just Imagine,



  1. Jack Benny was born on Valentine’s Day and he was born on the anniversary of the mentioning of the name Lithuania (February 14, 1009). Benny himself is of Lithuanian (but with Polish or Belarusian origin).

  2. Thanks for the information!


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