THE HISTORY OF JACK BENNY ON THE RADIO
But if the above is true, than it brings up at least one question: why did Jack Benny celebrate his tenth anniversary on the radio in 1941?
Historian and writer (of the online Tralfaz blog, among others) Don M. Yowp wondered about this question as well, and he has uncovered three earlier, pre-1932 Jack Benny appearances on the radio. Due to the passage of time and the fact that there’s little documentation of those early anarchic days of radio, it may be literally impossible to ever know the exact date of Jack Benny’s first appearance. What perhaps could be Jack’s first radio work is listed in the book “Jack Benny: The Radio and Television Work”, published by the Museum of Television and Radio. It lists Jack as participating in the broadcast Hollywood Midsummer Jubilee on August 7, 1929. It aired on Los Angeles radio station KFWB and was broadcast live from the Hollywood Bowl.
The earliest program featuring an appearance by Jack Benny that was uncovered by Yowp is The MGM Movie Club, broadcast on October 9, 1929 on California station KFRC, and originating from station KHJ.
The second is the RKO Theater of the Air, broadcast on Friday, September 4, 1931 at 10:30 pm Easterm Time on New York station WEAF, the flagship station of NBC’s Red Network.
The third appearance aired on Cincinnati station WFBE on an unspecified date in 1931, as recounted in an article on Jack Benny which appeared in the Pittsburgh Press newspaper on June 16, 1937.
Tim Lones of the website Cleveland Classic Media has also uncovered a guest appearance by Jack on January 20, 1930. The program was Voices From Filmland and aired on Cleveland station WHK.THE CANADA DRY PROGRAM
Finally, on Tuesday, March 29, 1932, Jack made his fabled “first appearance” on Ed Sullivan’s Broadway’s Greatest Thrills, airing at 8:45 pm Eastern Time. This appearance proved so popular that Jack was shortly given his own program.
The first program to be hosted by Jack Benny was The Canada Dry Program, which began on May 2, 1932. The Canada Dry Program aired from 9:30 to 10:00 pm Eastern Time, and was broadcast twice weekly, on Monday and Wednesday evenings until the last broadcast on October 26, 1932. It aired on the NBC Blue Network, and the point of origin was radio station WJZ in New York City. 52 episodes were produced on this first version of the show. The original cast included Jack, Alois Havrilla, George Hicks, Ed Thorgerson, Jimmy Wallington and His Orchestra with vocalists Bobby Borger, Dick Hotcha Gardner, and Ethel Shutta. Some sources place Mary Livingstone’s first appearance on radio as occurring on the July 27, 1932 broadcast.
On Sunday, October 30, 1932 the program actually moved to the CBS network, airing over station WABC in New York on Sunday at 10:00pm and Thursday 8:15pm until the last four Thursday episodes, which aired at 8:00pm Eastern Time. This second version of the show ran for twenty-six episodes, with each episode being thirty minutes long. This cast included Jack; announcers Paul Douglas and Bob Gregory, and Ted Weems and His Orchestra, along with Parker Gibbs, Andrea Marsh, Elmo Tanner and Country Washburn. The final program of this series aired on January 26, 1933. Unfortunately, seemingly only three episodes circulate from the seventy-eight aired, and only one of the three is complete.
THE CHEVROLET PROGRAM----SEASON ONE
Jack’s next program debuted on March 3, 1933, sponsored by Chevrolet, and was broadcast on Friday evenings from 10:00 to 10:30 pm Eastern Time. Jack was back on NBC, (their Red Network), and the point of origin for the program was NBC’s flagship station WEAF Radio in New York City. In addition to Jack, the cast included Mary Livingstone, James Melton, Frank Black and his Orchestra (not the Frank Black from the rock band The Pixies, however), and Howard Claney (announcer). This short half- season ran until June 23, 1933. Of the seventeen episodes aired, it seems that only five circulate.
THE CHEVROLET PROGRAM---SEASON TWO
The second season of The Chevrolet Program began on October 1, 1933, airing on Sunday evenings at 10:00-10:30pm Eastern Time. The network was once again NBC Red, originating from WEAF Radio in New York City. The cast was now Jack with Mary Livingstone, Frank Parker, Frank Black and his Orchestra, and announcer Alois Havrilla . The last program aired on April 1, 1934.
THE GENERAL TIRES AND RUBBER CO. PROGRAM
Beginning just five days after The Chevrolet Program ended, Jack’s next program debuted on April 6, 1934. The General Tire and Rubber Co. Program was broadcast on Friday evenings from 10:30 to 11:00pm Eastern Time on NBC Red, originating from WEAF Radio in New York City. Occasional programs were done on location. Starring with Jack are Mary Livingstone, Frank Parker, Don Bestor and his Orchestra (New York shows), Jimmie Greer and his Orchestra (Hollywood shows), and announcer Don Wilson (announcer). Famed Benny bit character Shlepperman made his first appearance on the August 3, 1934 program. The series ran until September 28, 1934.
THE GENERAL FOODS (JELL-O) PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY
Letting no moss gather under his feet, just two weeks after the General Tire Program ends, Jack returns with yet another new sponsor, Jell-O. Unlike the others, however, this sponsor will finally stick around, and General Foods (first with their product Jell-O, and then later on with Grape Nuts Flakes) will remain as the Jack Benny show’s sponsor until the end of the 1943-1944 season. The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny first aired on October 14, 1934, and was broadcast on Sunday evenings at 7:00-7:30 pm Eastern, over NBC Blue. This is the show that would make Jack Benny a bona fide radio star, and the 7:00 pm Sunday time slot would remain as Jack’s domain for the next twenty years. At one point the President of the NBC network told Benny that the time slot would be his for as long as he wished. The Jell-O Program originated from station WJZ in New York City. The cast included Jack, Mary Livingstone, Frank Parker, Sam Hearn, Don Bestor and his orchestra, and Don Wilson as the announcer. The first season ran until July 14, 1935.
The second season of The Jell-O Program began on September 29, 1935, and ran until June 21, 1936. Johnny Green ran the Orchestra, and Michael Bartlett was the resident singer on the program until November 3, 1935, when he was replaced by Kenny Baker. The program finished third in the year-end Hooper ratings.
On October 4, 1936, the Jell-O Program began it's third season (1936-1937) by not only moving to NBC’s Red network, but also by moving the entire program from New York City to Hollywood. More pieces of the “classic” Jack Benny Show line-up begin falling into place: on the first episode of the season Phil Harris makes his debut on the series as the new orchestra leader, Andy Devine made his first appearance on December 13, 1936, and on March 28, 1937 Eddie Anderson first appeared as "Rochester" in a bit on a train. Other classic Jack Benny “bits“ are also debuting this season: the first "Buck Benny" sketch appeared on November 15, 1936, and the January 10, 1937 program marked the beginning of the famous long-standing Jack Benny-Fred Allen feud. This was also the first full season written by Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin. On May 2,1937, Jack celebrated his fifth anniversary on the radio. The program finished second in the year-end Hooper ratings.
Season four (1937-1938) of the Jell-O Program began on October 3, 1937. The cast was now Jack, Mary Livingstone, Kenny Baker, Phil Harris and his Orchestra, Eddie Anderson as Rochester, and Don Wilson, along with semi-regulars Andy Devine and Sam Hearn. Jack bought his notorious "Maxwell" car on the October 24, 1937 program. This fourth season ended on June 26, 1938. The program once again finished second in the year-end Hooper ratings (losing first place to The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show)
The fifth season (1938-1939) of the Jell-O Program debuted on October 2, 1938, and ran until June 26, 1939. First appearances during this season included Jack’s new pet Carmichael the Polar Bear (February 12,1939) portrayed by Mel Blanc. This is the last season for singer Kenny Baker. The program finished second in the year-end Hooper ratings yet again, coming in once more behind the Bergen-McCarthy show.
The sixth season (1939-1940) began on October 8, 1939,with the introduction of singer Kenny Baker's replacement, Dennis Day. This core cast of Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, Eddie Anderson, Phil Harris, Dennis Day and Don Wilson would remain unchanged (with the exception of Dennis and Phil's absences due to military stints) for the next decade.
THE GRAPE NUTS PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY
Beginning on October 4, 1942, sponsorship of the show switched from Jell-O to Grape Nuts and Grape Nut Flakes. Not too much actually , however, as both Jell-O and Grape Nuts were products of the General Food Co.
THE LUCKY STRIKE PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY
Starting off the 1944-1945 season on October 1, 1944, the sponsorship switched again, this time to the American Tobacco Company and their Lucky Strike cigarettes. There will now be an uninterrupted run for the rest of the programs' history, with American Tobacco Company remaining the sponsor. The last program for NBC was on December 26, 1948, and the move to CBS Radio occurred on January 2, 1949.