|Subject: NY Times obit
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Date Posted: Wednesday, December 26, 06:42:25pm
In reply to:
one of the best comedians of all time, lived to age 80
's message, "Archive: Jack Benny, Dec. 26, 1974" on Wednesday, December 26, 05:25:01pm
Jack Benny, whose brilliant gift for self©\deprecating caricature brought laughter to the nation for 40 years, died late Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 80 years old.
Irving Fein, Mr. Benny's manager and associate for many years, said that the comedian died of cancer of the pancreas. The cancer was not discovered until it appeared on X©\rays last Friday. Mr. Fein said that Mr. Benny's physican had said the case was inoperable.
After word Thursday, that Mr. Benny had terminal Cancer, Gov. Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye and George Burns, who was Mr. Benny's friend for 50 years, visited the Benny home.
Funeral services have been scheduled for noon tomorrow at Hillside Memorial Cemetery in Culver City, Calif. Mr. Hope and Mr. Burns will deliver eulogies. A special tribute to Mr. Benny will be televised by CBS tomorrow from 7:30 tp 8:30 P.M.
The pallbearers will be Mr. Fein; Mervyn Leroy; Hilliard Marks, his wife's brother; Gregory Peck; Mr. Sinatra; Milton Berle; Billy Wilder; Leonard Gershe; Fred Decordova and Armand Deutch.
Honorary pallbearers included Ray Stark, Jules Stein, Taft Schreiber, Lew Wasserman, Ned Miller, Robert Sarnoff, William S. Paley, Mayor Tom Bradley, Alfred Hart, George Murphy, Senator John Tunney, Irving Lazar, Dennis Day, Mel Blanc, Benny Rubin, Dr. Rex Kennamer, Mr. Reagan, Zubin Mehta, Isaac Stern, Mr. Kaye, Gregor Piatigorsky, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, James Stewart, Johnny Carson, George Jessel, Phil Harris, Eddie Anderson and Don Wilson.
In a telegram to the comedian's widow, President Ford said. ¡°If laughter is the music of the soul, Jack and his violin and his good humor have made life better for all men.¡±
Jack Benny's very special talent for the comic was, according to his own analysis, an ability to mirror the failings people recognized in themselves or their acquaintances. Decades of insistence on the air that he was only 39 years old made, the joke better rather than cornier; it was one of show business's most durable hits.
Other comedians told funnier jokes. Other comedians projected their own personalities into stage situations that made an audience laugh. Other comedians were much more effective in displaying their own ad lib wit. Where Mr. Benny told one joke, Bob Hope or Milton Berle could tell three in the same time.
Yet Mr. Benny was perhaps the most constantly funny of America's funny men. He was adored by the public and even the most sophisticated critics appreciated him as an outstanding comedian. The late President Kennedy once recalled that his father used to. herd the family into their home's library every Sunday night to hear the Jack Benny show on radio. No one was ever excused from listening. So it was with much of America.
A Permanent Prop
A masterly sense of timing, worthy of the violin virtuoso he realized he would never be, made him the only performer who could evoke laughter from intervals of silence. He carefully developed a performing character as a tight©\fisted, somewhat pompous fellow who walked with a mincing, almost effeminate gait, and often ex©\I pressed exasperation merely by resting his chin in his hand and making his blue eyes stare, martyrlike, at his viewers. His violin became his most permanent prop, and he performed nicely for fund©\raising with Isaac Stern, President Truman and the New York Philharmonic.
Just as Charlie Chaplin represented the ¡°little fellow,¡± Mr. Benny also caught the frustrations of the average man, maybe a middle©\class American, whose aspirations were always being leveled by family, friends and others.
One of his most famous bits had him being held up by bandit who demanded ¡°your money or your life.¡± Silence. More silence. Silence punctuated with laughter from the audience. Then, desperately, ¡°I'm thinking, I'm thinking.¡±
Philosophy of Humor
It was not so much in his lines and in his delivery that he Scored successes. His philosophy of humor shed little light on the art but it, told something about the man.
It was not the words that brought the house down. It was the peerless execution of little things that became perpetually funny clich4s, such as his piqued utterance of ¡°hmmm,¡± or his fussy, angered riposte to ribbing, ¡°Now cut that out!¡±
¡°Never laugh at the other fellow; let him laugh at you,¡± he said. ¡°I try to make my character encompass about everything that is wrong with everybody. On the air. I have everybody's faults. All listeners know someone or have a relative who is a tightwad, show©\off or something of that sort. Then in their minds I become a real character.¡±
As a result, he was often the butt of his second bananas, who devastated him with their barbs. Eddie Anderson, as Rochester, his valet, lacked shred of servility but always complained to the boss, man to man, about the Benny thrift. Mary Livingstone, his wife, Don Wilson, the announcer, and Phil Harris, the orchestra leader, also shared in the laugh lines. But Mr. Benny somehow came out ahead. Mel Blanc, the man of many voices, among them ¡°Mr. Kitzel,¡± and Sheldon Leonard had choice supporting parts.
Meticulous in Preparation
Mr. Benny was meticulous in preparation. Although it was widely known that he possessed a ready wit and a wonderful humor, which he often demonstrated in off©\the©\cuff observations on off©\the©\air occasions, he never¡ªwell, almost never¡ªdeviated from the, script his highly paid writers had created for him.
¡°There is no tranquilizer like a prepared script,¡± he once explained. For years he kept a good©\humored ¡°feud¡± running with Fred Allen, the humorist noted for his quick wit Once when Mr. Allen had demolished him with a line, Mr. Benny blurted that if his scriptwriters had been there, Mr. Allen: would never have gotten away with that.
He was absolutely serious about his work, in a way that many other comedians were not. At rehearsal, Mr. Benny would be sober©\faced and worried about details. He was not a monster¡ªit has always been impossible to find a colleague or evep a former colleague to speak ill of him¡ªbut he was an earnest, hard©\working funny man.
This was an attitude born of experience.
¡®Timing Was The Key¡¯
¡°I soon discovered that telling jokes was not a breeze, after all,¡± he reminisced. ¡°Sometimes you could throw a punch line away. Other times you had to ride it hard. A pause could set up a joke¡ªor bury it. Timing was the key.¡±
And there was, indeed, sort of lucky timing that determined the course of the life of this comedian out of the Midwest, a timing that found him at the right age in the right age, an age of broadcasting that made reputations overnight, as against the age of vaudeville, when it took years.
Jack Benny was named Benjamin Kubelsky when he was born in Chicago on Valentine's Day, 1894. He grew up in Waukegan, Ill., where his father Meyer, had a store, and Mr. Benny often, for laughs, used to say that this was the town where he was born.
Meyer Kubelsky, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, loved music, and when his son was the father gave him a $50 violin. The boy was soon giving concerts at the town's Barrison Theater.
Got Violin at 8
The young violinist quit school in the ninth grade and at the age of 18, went into vaudeville. He worked with woman pianist, Cora Salisbury and soon teamed up with Lyman Woods, also a pianist. It was during an appearance with her that Mr. Benny, who then called himself Ben K. Benny, told a joke.
¡°The audience laughed,¡± he later recalled. ¡°The sound intoxicated me. That laughter ended my days as a musician for I never again put the violin back where it belonged except as a gag.¡±
Life became the customary round of one©\night stands in the Midwest, and the young performer was not, at least not yet, the man to startle the vaudeville bookers. When World War I came along, he joined the Navy and was assigned to ¡°The Great Lakes Re view,¡± a sailors road show. Here his comic genius made an impression, and his decision to renounce music became irrevocable.
After the war, he embarked on the highly competitive career of the ad libber, where his greatest asset soon proved to be his instinct for proper timing. His silence was eloquent and his double©\takes were the envy, of his profession. By 1926, he had a part in a Broadway musical, ¡°The Great Temptations.¡±
Led Popularity Polls
This led to the most coveted assignment of all: master of ceremonies at the Palace Theater, citadel of the two©\a©\day. Soon he went on to Hollywood, and in 1932, he found his most durable niche: radio. It started with a guest shot on Ed Sullivan's radio show and before the year was out, he had his own program on the National Broadcasting Company network.
From 1934 through 1936 he was the champion of the radio popularity polls, and for many years he was always among the top 10 programs. His wife, Sadie Marks, whom he married In 1927, became Mary Livingstone, the wife of the radio Jack Benny, as he had been calling himself for a number of years.
¡®The Best Format¡¯
He still sawed away at his violin, and his never©\completed rendition of ¡°Love in Bloom¡± became a hallmark of the show. His writers alone received a total of $250,000 a year. In 1948, Mr. Benny took his show from NBC to CBS. As part of the move, CBS paid $2,260,000 for Mr. Benny's Amusement Enterprises organization, as part of a capital gains deal. He got $1,356,000 of this but had to pay more than $1©\million in income taxes when he was unable to sustain his argument that the money did, indeed, fall into the capital gains category.
CBS kept the radio show until 1955, when, 23 years after Mr. Benny had done his first program, it went off the air. Even earlier, however, he had made the acquaintance of the new medium, television. He had been a bit wary of the tube, and his fears seemed to be substantiated by the critical reception of that first telecast, on Oct. 28, 1950.
The critics said the show had little visual attraction, that it relied too heavily on the radio tradition. But Mr. Benny made the grade with his third telecast the next April when he drastically altered his old routines and caused one critid to observe, ¡°Mr. Benny has the, best format, no format at all.¡±
He stepped up his television schedule from irregularly scheduled shows, to semiweekly programs to weekly telecasts, which lasted from 1960 to 1965. When he ¡°retired,¡± he found himself almost as busy as ever, on television and in personal appearances. He appeared in many special telecasts. The last one, last Jan. 24, was billed as ¡°Jack Benny's Second Farewell,¡± because it came not many months after the first.
He began, more than ever, to play nightclubs, the Sahara in Las Vegas, the Waldorf©\Astoria's Room here. He worked the Palladium. He was tireless in performing at benefit concerts on behalf of musical causes whether to save Carnegie Hall or to keep an orchestra afloat. In 1970, it was estimated that he had raised $5©\million in 14 years.
Made Many Films
Viewers of late show or midday movies occasionally glimpse Mr. Benny in many of the films he made. Among them were ¡°Hollywood Revue of 1929¡± (his first), ¡°Chasing Rainbows,¡± ¡°The Medicine Man,¡± ¡°It's in the Air,¡± ¡°College. Holiday,¡± ¡°Artists and Models,¡± ¡°Transatlantic Merry©\Go©\Round,¡± ¡°Buck Benny Rides Again,¡± ¡°Charley's Aunt,¡± ¡°To Be or Not to Be,¡± ¡°George Washington Slept Here,¡± The Meanest Man in the World¡± and ¡°The Horn Blows at Midnight.¡±
Several years ago, when an interviewer asked him why he was making television commercials, Mr. Benny replied: ¡°Show business has changed. I'm changing with it. There's no more class in show business today. You do everything and anything.¡±
But he had already done everything and done it well.
Mr. Benny, who died at 11:32 P.M. (2:32 A.M. Friday, New York time), is survived by his widow, an adopted daughter, Joan Blumoff, and several grandchildren.
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