6 December: Two moves for Jack Benny

1936 was a very good year for J. Benny, and 1937 wouldn't be half bad, either. (Photo: NBC.)

1936 was a very good year for J. Benny, and 1937 wouldn’t be half bad, either. (Photo: NBC.)

Jack Benny in 1935-36 is a man in transition. Long based in New York, Benny finds himself getting enough film offers from Hollywood that he figures a move to California is about the only way to satisfy that demand while continuing his increasingly popular radio show.

So Benny packed up his radio company minus music director Don Bestor and high tailed it (well, took a long and slow enough cross-country journey, including a stop to observe the Bruno Hauptmann trial) to California. And it pays off almost at once. Not only does Benny receive good reviews for his performance in the film It’s In the Air, but he’s about to get a network promotion that enables him to rule his night.

NBC in 1936 isn’t shy about using its Blue Network as a sort of Triple-A farm for the talent it comes to brandish aboard the Red Network. Name the Blue Network show that smells like a hit and it gets called up to the Red Network major league, or so the impression might be had.

Thus does NBC pluck its Babe Ruth, Jack Benny, from the Blue Network beginning in 1936-37 and move it to the Red Network. Benny says thanks for the promotion by pulling up as the number one show on Sunday night and of the 1936-37 season as a whole, his 28.9 Hooper rating a whopping 16.1 above the Sunday night ratings average and 17.;1 above the seasonal average as a whole.

Only one thing could top that success—parenthood. Benny and his wife, Mary Livingstone, absolutely doted on their adopted infant daughter, Joanie. “During this period,” her brother Hilliard Marks would review, in the biography he fashioned with his sister, “Mary spent as much time at home as possible.”

She was all wrapped up in being a good mother, and enjoyed discovering new delights every day. Joanie was an enchanting, extremely bright and responsive baby, and Mary reveled in the depth of her own maternal instincts.

As for Jack, no matter how hectic his schedule, every day began and ended with a visit to the nursery. Early on, he had discovered his baby’s attraction to neckties—particularly bright, red ones. Even if he were going out in a sports outfit, he would put on a tie when he went in to see Joanie. It made him happy to find the baby so alert, even if she did grab ahold of his tie and pull—hard.

In fact, Marks revealed, when George Burns and Gracie Allen moved to the West Coast likewise, the Burnses having adopted two children themselves (including daughter Sandy, close to Joan Benny in age), the ladies tended to make Beverly Hills toy shops ecstatic—because Mary Livingstone and Gracie Allen “were pushovers for the latest in stuffed animals, dolls, rocking horses, and assorted children’s games. Talk of baby formulas and the latest activities of their respective kids temporarily replaced backgammon as (the couples’) favourite indoor sport!”



The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny: Money Ain’t Everything (NBC, 1936)

Jack complains about local gas station service and frets about a small eye problem involving an argument while pondering whether there’s room enough for himself and Phil (Harris) on the show. Also: a shipboard society drama called “Money Ain’t Everything,” which draws no few snickers from cast and crowd alike.

Cast: Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Kenny Baker. Announcer: Don Wilson. Music: Johnny Greene, Phil Harris Orchestra, Kenny Baker. Writers: Al Boasberg, Howard Snyder, Hugh Wedlock, Jr.


Further Channel Surfing . . .

The Shadow: Death Shoots an Arrow(crime drama; Mutual, 1942)
The Life of Riley: The Greatest Man I Know (NBC, 1947)
Boston Blackie: Atkins, the Jewel Thief (crime drama; ABC, 1945)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Making Christmas Cards (comedy; NBC, 1949)
Dragnet: The Big Canaries (crime drama; NBC, 1951)
Fibber McGee & Molly: A Party for John Cameron Swayze (comedy; NBC, 1954)

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