On Valentine’s Day in 1894, Benjamin Kubelsky was born in Chicago. He started in vaudeville at 17, playing the violin (something he did rather well, by the way), but gradually began to add quips and jokes to his performance. Soon he was known as a violin-and-patter man. In these years, he met the Marx Brothers, a similarly unknown act, and became lifelong friends with Zeppo Marx.
As he became better known, his name became a problem. A famous violinist named Kubelik sued him, saying that he was damaging his (Kubelik’s) reputation and needed to change his name. Kubelsky changed it to Ben K. Benny. This provoked a reaction from another, better known violin and patter man named Ben Bernie, so he changed again, to Jack Benny. The third time’s a charm–it stuck.
These name changes are important to me because Jack Benny figures in my book, THE IMPERSONATOR. My research showed that in 1924, when the action takes place, he was a Small Time performer who did not yet use the name Jack Benny. But to make him recognizable to readers, I cheated and bumped the date forward a little. I refer to him as Benny Kubelsky and have the main character, Jessie, mention that his name had just changed to Jack Benny.
So HAPPY BIRTHDAY to both Benny Kubelsky and Jack Benny!!