The Jack Benny Program

The Jack Benny Program cast: Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny, Don Wilson & Mel Blanc

I am a huge fan of the Radio Classics channel on Sirius XM.  I listen to it almost every day on my work commute, and it led me to discover The Jack Benny Program, which has become one of my all-time favorites.

I first started listening to classic radio shows on KNX 1070 AM when I was a kid, thanks to my best friend A.  I’d spend the night at her house and we’d listen to the radio together in the dark before we went to sleep.  Good times!  KNX used to air a variety of different shows every Saturday and Sunday night, but unfortunately they stopped that some time ago.  Thank goodness Radio Classics on Sirius XM has taken up the slack!

But back to Jack Benny.  I’d heard of him, but never heard one of his shows until I started listening to Radio Classics.  It’s hilarious!  I’ve not only discovered some really awesome performers, but I’ve been able to fill in some blanks in my knowledge of early 20th-century entertainment references and connections (especially those featured in Warner Bros. / Bugs Bunny cartoons, but more on that below).

Here are some of my favorite people and things on The Jack Benny Program:

  • Jack Benny:  My favorite character, along with Rochester.  I love all of Jack’s fussy ways and little mannerisms and in-jokes.  You are probably most familiar with these quirks: his insistence that he is only 39 every time his birthday rolls around, and his legendary tight-fistedness with money.  Even though these gags are a constant, the writers always seem to wring out some new funny aspect of them.
  • Rochester (Eddie Anderson):  Jack’s valet on the show is also a master of comic timing and asides.  Rochester would frequently upstage Jack, and was quite often the voice of reason, although Jack was usually too stubborn to listen!
  • Phil Harris: The show’s band leader for most of its run is my second favorite after Jack and Rochester.  I later recognized his fantastic voice as some beloved characters in these classic Disney films: The Jungle Book (Baloo), Robin Hood (Little John), and The Aristocats (Thomas O’Malley).
  • Mel Blanc: Everyone knows the voice of Bugs Bunny and classic Warner Bros. cartoons!  But it was a very happy surprise to find out that MB was a regular on JB.  You can definitely hear some of the mannerisms of those animated characters in the roles he plays here.  And might I add, if you listen closely you can recognize the genesis of some of the in-jokes from the cartoons.  I’ll have to get some specific examples to add here but trust me, they’re there.

In 1950 the show debuted on television on CBS.  I’ve actually watched a few of these on TV and they’re still good, but I have to admit that some of the really old TV shows seem too slow-paced (even to a nostalgia buff like me). The radio program seemed a little snappier…but I guess I’ll have to give the new-fangled medium of TV a try on this one.

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