Another Depression era collection has been processed thanks to the NHPRC grant! 130 cubic feet of Jack Benny papers have been re-processed, and the finding aid is now available online. An inexpensive escape from the challenges of daily life was especially important for the population during the Great Depression. Radio provided an excellent outlet for this escape. Jack Benny (born in 1894 as Benjamin Kubelsky in Waukegan, Illinois) was not only one of the greatest radio stars of the time, but one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century.
As a young boy, Benny showed an early talent for violin. He brought his violin talents with him onto the vaudeville stage, where he learned that he was especially adept at comedy. It was here that he met his future wife, Mary Livingstone. In 1932, he started on radio with The Jack Benny Program, a half-hour comedy starring himself, Mary Livingstone, and a host of other regular cast members. Guest stars included many famous celebrities, such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, and George Burns. The radio show lasted until 1955. He brought The Jack Benny Program to television in 1950, where it aired until 1965. He continued to have television specials until 1974.
In addition to his radio and television programs, Benny appeared in numerous films, most notably To Be Or Not To Be and George Washington Slept Here. He (along with his Jack Benny Program cast) also went on numerous USO tours during WWII and the Korean War to entertain the troops. Although portrayed as an incredibly cheap man in his programs, in life Benny was very charitable. In his later years, he traveled to countless cities to perform concerts in support of local symphonies. Benny died from cancer on December 26, 1974.
The Jack Benny collection contains numerous scripts from his radio and television programs, including many that are Benny’s original radio scripts which are signed by Benny and contain his notes and edits. Many photographs are present in the collection, including him with other celebrities and on his USO tours. Some film of his programs is present, including most of his TV specials. A fairly substantial amount of his financial files are included, as is correspondence, including condolence letters sent to his wife, Mary Livingstone, after his death. The collection also contains sheet music, much of it handwritten and arranged especially for Jack Benny.
Anyone interested in Jack Benny or entertainment in the 20th century would find much to fascinate them in this wonderful collection!
–Emily Christopherson, Project Archivist