In Praise of Jack Benny (and JELL-O)

Welcome to another Wildcard! February 14th is a special day — not only is it the most romantic of holidays, it’s also the anniversary of Jack Benny’s birth! To celebrate, we must listen to a few of his classic episodes. Now, I’m a big fan of Benny and his series (particularly on the radio) and one day Wildcard Wednesdays will ideally see season-by-season coverage of his best offerings. But until that time comes (hint: this summer), I’ll tantalize you with a few of my favorites, all of which in today’s post come from 1940, when the show was still sponsored by Jell-O. (While the Lucky Strike years are largely credited with developing the situation comedy as we know it, the earlier Jell-O programs have a delicious looseness and sense of slaphappy fun that I find unmatched.) Happy 39th birthday, Jack!

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01) “Leaving For Yosemite” (Aired: 02/04/40)

This is the first of a month-long story in which the core cast vacations in Yosemite — a great mini arc that gives the characters a lot of fun stuff to play!

02) “Arriving At Yosemite” (Aired: 02/11/40)

The second part of the arc is probably the strongest of the four, with the funniest and most-laugh-out loud moments — listen and see if you agree!

03) “In New York Preparing For The Premiere of Buck Benny Rides Again” (Aired: 04/21/40)

Benny and the cast are in New York for the premiere of Buck Benny Rides Again and, again, going on location provides the show with a sense of jovial fun!

04) “Buck Benny At The Paramount Theater” (Aired: 04/28/40) 

The cast is so loose and giddy in this offering, making plenty of mistakes and enjoying the heck out of them — an infectious and really funny episode!

05) “Phil Tries To Collect A World Series Bet” (Aired: 10/13/40)

As the second episode of the season, I have to say that this one of the funniest installments of the show I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing — riffing off the events of the less enjoyable premiere while employing a looseness of feeling that’s belied by a tightness to the comedy. Really underrated offering!

06) “Jack Is Held Up On The Way To Don’s House” (Aired: 11/24/40)

This is the start of a hilarious arc in which Don invites the gang over to his house to meet his new bride, without telling her. While outside waiting for his cue to enter, Jack is mugged!

07) “Jack Catches Cold At Don’s House” (Aired: 12/01/40)

In the second part of the arc (maybe even funnier than the above), Jack is bedridden with a cold — lots of laughs (and some good Frank Nelson moments)!

08) “Don Is Mad And Walks Out” (Aired: 12/08/40)

Jack and Don are still feuding in the continuation of the story that’s played through in the prior two offerings — lots of well -written fun (as usual)!

 

 

Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in on Monday for one more Jerome Kern musical!

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4 thoughts on “In Praise of Jack Benny (and JELL-O)

  1. Thanks for doing Jack Benny. He was one of my favorites. I still listen to his shows .. You did Our Miss Brooks my all time favorite. I remember sitting on the floor in front of the radio listening to all the comedy and mysteries. I hope you do a show on Fibber McGee and Molly another one of my Favorite radio shows. Do you ever plan to do a show about Broadway and musicals done on radio. There were a few good shows on both media.Thanks again Bob K

    • Hi, Bob! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      If by “musicals done on radio” you mean programs such as THE RAILROAD HOUR or THEATER GUILD ON THE AIR, then I have no plans to devote any individual time to those series, although installments may occasionally be featured in Musical Theatre Monday posts for the corresponding shows (as they have in the past). As for other radio offerings, there will be a post on DUFFY’S TAVERN soon — in honor of our Sitcom Tuesday coverage of CHEERS — but the only series definitively coming up on Wildcard Wednesdays will be THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM, which I believe is the finest of the medium’s comedies and is projected to begin full coverage here on a bi-montly basis starting this August with the ’36-’37 season. Stay tuned . . .

  2. Just wanted to say thanks for the coverage given to Jack Benny. There are a lot of old radio comedies I enjoy, but Jack Benny definitely leads the pack. It’s amazing how well those shows hold up, given that they were done with absolutely no consideration given to future listening.

    • Hi, Nick! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m looking forward to giving full coverage to a radio comedy, something I’ve wanted to do since this blog began. THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM is ideal because not only is it perhaps the best written, but the circulating collection is also more complete than most of the other shows I would consider highlighting. The primary issue has always been making the time to listen to the 39-ish shows per season; I can knock out several episodes on long drives, but otherwise it’s difficult to dedicate the focus needed for intense study. And I don’t want to start a series of posts without being able to maintain a consistent schedule. But I’m thinking I’ll be able to meet the challenge… after all, BENNY’s the best!

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