Jack Benny is arguably the greatest comedian of all time. Beginning in Vaudeville, he played violin and told jokes as a start. But he accumulated comic ticks and personality quirks, one after another, and incorporated them into his act. He nurtured his writers and his supporting cast.
He was a radio giant through the Depression, WWII and the Korean War. He balanced TV and radio appearances in the mid-50s then moved to the tube full time. His series, "he Jack Benny Program," gave way to occasional specials and an endless procession of guest appearances, along with movies and even a Warner Brothers cartoon ("The Mouse That Jack Built").
Many of his TV episodes, numbering over 200, are still being rerun on cable stations. Some are in the public domain and can be found on budget DVD sets. This new "Jack Benny Show - The
Lost Episodes" collection from Shout! Factory, is different. It's very big news of course for fans, but also because many of them figure prominently into pop culture, Hollywood legend and American history.
This set is big news, indeed. Perhaps the most astonishing find among the 18 shows is one with then-married Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, singing, dancing and playing beautifully off Benny. But then most anyone could play well against Benny, even Harry Truman.
Jack Benny's "Truman show" is a rare appearance on an entertainment show by the 33rd President. The episode was shelved after its first broadcast because the sound quality in the Truman sequence is not really broadcast quality. Seeing it now is astonishing.
If you love Jack Benny, this set is a gold mine. While there are not a lot of episodes that follow the "Jack at home" format with Mary Livingston, you'll see Dennis Day, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Don Wilson and Mel Blanc (who does the classic "Sí / Sy" routine).
While some might have to be cautioned about political correctness issues in a very few instances within specific shows, it is worth noting that there is also a very sly inversion of incorrectness in one of the selections. When Benny introduces Lux soap as his new sponsor, an Asian announcer comes onstage and begins a very inappropriate, stereotypical pitch. Then it is revealed that he really speaks in the rich tones of an American announcer, and Benny is the butt of the joke, as usual.
In the last episode of Season 10, Jack faces dismissal when the network executives (real CBS suits played by Joseph Kearns (TV's "Dennis the Menace, Disney's Alice in Wonderland") and Bob Sweeney (actor/director who played Tupper in Disney's "Toby Tyler"). They have discovered that Benny himself doesn't generate laughs. They actually isolate his speaking parts and compare them to those of Dennis Day. It's a wicked jab at network research and corporate pragmatism. Brilliant for its day and for today as well.
Jack Benny also got Hollywood's biggest stars of the day to appear on his show. In addition to Wood and Wagner, there Gary Cooper, Rock Hudson, John Wayne and Tony Curtis. "Lost Horizon" superstar Ronald Colman and his wife Benita Hume make their sole Benny appearance, though they did numerous radio shows in which Benny's character pushed their British courtesy to its limits.
Dick Van Dyke, in the midst of filming his classic TV sitcom and the movie version of "Bye Bye Birdie," appears in a show that, like the others, many of us have never seen before. My personal favorite is the Easter show, because this was the one time we can see Jack walk along the boulevard, greeting members of his oddball troupe. The routine was a radio favorite of mine, so it's cool to see it unfold on film.
I'm the kind of classic and radio fan who has to constantly invest in compilations to find even one or two that I have not seen or heard. How wonderful to find a brand new collection, filled with material I didn't know could ever be recovered!
1. Episode 65, Season 7
October 7, 1956
George Burns / Spike Jones Show
2. Episode 66, Season 7
October 21, 1956
George Gobel / Red Skelton Show
3. Episode 67, Season 7
November 4, 1956
Jack Is Invited to the Ronald Colmans
4. Episode 96, Season 9
September 21, 1958
Gary Cooper Show
5. Episode 111, Season 10
October 4, 1959
Jack Switches Sponsors (The Jack Benny Program 30 Years in the Future)
6. Episode 112, Season 10
October 18, 1959
Harry Truman Show
7. Episode 115, Season 10
November 25, 1959
Jack Paar Show
8. Episode 122, Season 10
March 6, 1960
Natalie Wood / Robert Wagner Show
9. Episode 124, Season 10
April 17, 1960
10. Episode 125, Season 10
May 1, 1960
Final Show of the Season
11. Episode 126, Season 11
October 16, 1960
Guests George Burns, Tony Curtis, Robert Wagner & Mike Wallace (Nightbeat Takeoff)
12. Episode 128, Season 11
October 30, 1960
Milton Berle Show
13. Episode 130, Season 11
November 20, 1960
Guests John Wayne, Frank Fontaine, Jaye P Morgan
14. Episode 161, Season 12
December 24, 1961
15. Episode 189, Season 13
February 18, 1962
Rock Hudson Show
16. Episode 195, Season 13
January 29, 1963
Guest Dick Van Dyke - The Murder of Clayton Worthington
17. Episode 206, Season 14
September 24, 1963
Billy Graham Show
18. Episode 247, Season 14
December 24, 1964
Guest Gisele MacKenzie
* A Conversation with Harry Shearer, Norman Abbott & Dorothy Ohman (42:23)
* Excerpt - Jack Benny's 20th Anniversary Special, Feb 17, 1969 (9:04)
* Excerpt - Jack Benny's New Look, December 3, 1969 (3:48)
* Excerpt - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jack Benny But Were Afraid to Ask, March 10, 1971 (3:30)
* Excerpt - Jack Benny's Second Farewell Special, January 24, 1972 (9:48)
* Hearst Newsreel Footage, 1935-1945 (Total 7:19)