Jack Benny: A Young and Handsome Vaudevillian

If you are over fifty, you’ll probably remember Jack Benny and his comedy routines from television; if you’re over eighty, you’ll probably remember his radio shows as well. But there is no one left alive who remembers Jack Benny from his vaudeville days.

Jack was one of the twentieth century’s most important entertainers and one of the few to have performed in vaudeville, radio, film, stage, and television. A master of comic timing and the pregnant pause, his running gags included his age (always 39), his penny-pinching nature, and his violin playing.

I became interested in Jack Benny when writing my (unpublished) mystery that is set in 1924 in vaudeville. Although I thought I knew a lot about him, I discovered an entirely different person when I dug into his early years. Little is known about his vaudeville days compared to the rest of his career. Born Benny Kubelsky in Chicago he learned to play a passable violin and performed on stage. He met the Marx Brothers when he was 17 and became good friends with Zeppo Marx, eventually marrying one of the Marx cousins. When at 18, he started a musical act with a pianist, a famous violinist named Jan Kubelik objected, saying their names were too similar and his reputation would be damaged by the young upstart violinist. Kubelik’s lawyer pressured him to change his name, so he changed to Ben K. Benny (sometimes spelling it Bennie). No luck. The lawyer of another fiddle performer named Ben Bernie objected, so he changed again, this time to Jack Benny.

To use Jack Benny as a minor character in my novel, I had to find out the dates of all these changes so I could use the correct one for 1924, when he was thirty years old and struggling. Turns out it was Jack Benny at that time, but my character had known him from earlier days when Benny was his first name, so she calls him Benny.

This is a great montage of Jack Benny pictures that I found particularly helpful because it showed me what he looked like in his younger years. What a handsome young man he was!


Published in: on September 6, 2010 at 10:19 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I remember Jack Benny. Oh, yes; what a handsome an’ funny character. Do you know how he started using the hand gesture? Here’s a couple of links I thought you might enjoy; one telling about the hand gesture, the next one sharing the story of his love for his wife in a beautiful poem and the third being a letter he wrote about his golf game. Hope you like ’em.

    Q: How did Jack Benny start using those famous hand gestures?

    Posthumous Roses

    Jack Benny’s Golf Game

    Thanks for the memories.

    ~ Yaya

  2. Thanks for those links, Yaya, they’re great. I enjoy watching some of the old clips of his shows on youtube. My kind of humor. He never had to be filthy or insulting to make people laugh.

  3. You can’t mention Jack Benny without mentioning Waukegan!http://www.waukeganhistorical.org/waukegan.html

  4. Sorry! Waukegan. Waukegan. Waukegan.
    Jack Benny was born in Chicago but raised in the suburb of Waukegan, at various addresses. The only one of these homes left standing has been preserved as a local landmark (the family lived there one year from 1909-1910). There is a Jack Benny Drive there as well.
    There is also a Jack Benny fan club on line at http://www.jackbenny.org.

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