JACK BENNY Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Name: Jack Benny                                                                         
Birth name Benjamin Kubelsky                                                             
Born: 14 February 1894 Chicago, Illinois                                                 
Died: 26 December 1974 Beverly Hills, California                                         
Jack Benny (born Benjamin Kubelsky February 14, 1894 - December 26, 1974) was an         
American comedian, vaudeville performer, and radio, television, and film actor.         
Benny was known for his comic timing and his ability to get laughs with either a         
pregnant pause or a single expression, such as his signature exasperated "Well!"         
Benny was born on February 14, 1894 in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in                 
neighboring Waukegan, Illinois. He was the son of Meyer Kubelsky, a Jewish               
haberdasher and Emma Sachs Kubelsky, both of whom had emigrated to America from         
Lithuania. Benny began studying the violin, an instrument that would become his         
trademark, when he was just six, with his parents' hopes that he would be a             
great classical violinist. He loved the violin but hated practice. By age 14, he         
was playing in local dance bands as well as in his high school orchestra. Benny         
was a dreamer and a poor student and he was expelled from high school. He did           
equally badly in business school and at his father's trade. At age 17, he began         
playing the instrument in local vaudeville theaters for $7.50 a week.                   
In 1911, Benny was playing in the same theater as the young Marx Brothers (then         
known as the "Marks Brothers") and whose mother Minnie Palmer was so enchanted           
with Benny's musicianship that she invited him to be their permanent accompanist.       
The plan was foiled by Benny's parents, who refused to let their son, then 17,           
go on the road, but it was the beginning of his long friendship with Zeppo Marx.         
Benny's wife Mary Livingstone was a distant cousin of the Marx Brothers.                 
The following year, Benny formed a vaudeville musical duo with pianist Cora             
Salisbury, a buxom forty-five year old widow who needed a partner for her act.           
This provoked famous violinist Jan Kubelik, who thought that the young                   
vaudeville entertainer with a similar name (Kubelsky) would damage his                   
reputation. Under pressure from Kubelik's lawyer, Benjamin Kubelsky agreed to           
change his name to Ben K. Benny (sometimes spelled Bennie). When Cora left the           
act, Benny found a new pianist, Lyman Woods, and re-named the act "From Grand           
Opera to Ragtime". They worked together for five years and slowly added comedy.         
They even reached the Palace Theater, the "Mecca of Vaudeville", but bombed.             
Benny left show business briefly in 1917 to join the Navy during World War I,           
and he often entertained the troops with his violin playing. One evening, his           
violin performance was booed by the troops, so with prompting from fellow sailor         
and actor Pat O'Brien, he ad-libbed his way out of the jam and left them                 
laughing. He got more comedy spots in the revues and was a big hit, and earned           
himself a reputation as a comedian as well as a musician.                               
Shortly after the war, Benny started a one-man act, "Ben K. Benny: Fiddle               
Funology". But then he heard from another lawyer, this time that of Ben                 
Bernie, another patter-and-fiddle performer who also threatened to sue. So Benny         
adopted the common sailor's nickname Jack. By 1921, the fiddle became more of a         
prop and the low-key comedy took over.                                                   
Benny had several romantic encounters, including one with a dancer, Mary Kelly,         
whose devoutly Catholic family forced her to turn down Benny's proposal because         
he was Jewish. Benny was introduced to Mary Kelly by Gracie Allen. Later on,             
years after the split between Mary Kelly and Jack, Mary resurfaced as a dowdy           
fat girl and Jack gave her a part in an act of three girls: one homely, one fat         
and one who couldn't sing. This lasted till, at Mary Livingstone's request, Mary         
Kelly was let go.                                                                       
In 1922, Jack accompanied Zeppo Marx to a Passover seder where he met Sadye (Sadie)     
Marks, whom he married in 1927 after meeting again on a double-date. She was             
working in the hosiery section of May's department store and Benny would court           
her there. Called on to fill in for the "dumb girl" part in one of Benny's               
routines, Sadie proved a natural comedienne and a big hit. Adopting Mary                 
Livingstone as her stage name, Sadie became Benny's collaborator throughout most         
of his career (according to Fred Allen's book on vaudeville, Much Ado About Me,         
it was a custom for vaudeville comics to put their wives into the act once               
married, in order to save on expenses and so that the marital partners could             
keep an eye on each other). They later adopted a daughter, Joan.                         
In 1929, Benny's agent Sam Lyons convinced MGM's Irving Thalberg to catch Benny's       
act at the Orpheum in Los Angeles. Benny was signed to a five-year contract and         
his first film role was in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. His next movie, Chasing         
Rainbows, was a flop and after several months, Benny was released from his               
contract and returned to Broadway in Earl Carroll's Vanities. At first dubious           
about the viability of radio, by this time Benny was eager to break into the new         
medium. In 1932, after a four-week nightclub run, he was invited onto Ed                 
Sullivan's radio program, uttering his first radio spiel "This is Jack Benny             
talking. There will be a slight pause while you say, 'Who cares?'..."