Benny By The Bay:
The Jack Benny Show Comes To The Bay Area

This is Jack Benny talking. There will now be a slight
pause while everyone says, “Who cares?”

With those words, comedian Jack Benny — already a star of vaudeville, Broadway and movies — made his debut on radio, appearing on New York Daily News columnist Ed Sullivan’s program on March 29, 1932. By the end of the year, Benny would conquer radio as well, being named “Most Popular Comedian on the Air” over Fred Allen, Ed Wynn, George Burns & Gracie Allen, and Eddie Cantor.

Jack Benny (Photo)
Jack Benny, Rochester and the famous 1923 Maxwell.

After originally emceeing “The Canada Dry Ginger Ale Program” on CBS (Mondays and Thursdays at 8 p.m.) for less than a year, Jack moved to NBC and gained even greater acclaim. Over the years, he built a stellar cast around him, including his wife, Mary Livingstone; his long-suffering valet, Rochester van Jones (played by Oakland-born Eddie Anderson); bandleader Phil Harris; announcer Don Wilson (who began his career at San Francisco’s KFRC as part of the “Piggly-Wiggly Trio” in the late 1920s); voicemeister Mel Blanc; and boy singer Dennis Day — not to mention his trademark Maxwell jalopy.

Not content to be tied down to working each week from the same Hollywood radio studio, Jack Benny and his cast and crew ventured far and wide across the country doing shows from Chicago, Washington, D.C., and — especially during the World War II years — from military bases in front of the troops.

More than any other location outside Hollywood, however, Benny and company did numerous broadcasts from San Francisco and its environs, including one memorable show from the Naval Air Station at Livermore in 1944. (The air base site serves today as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.) In the Spring of 1953, the program set up camp in San Francisco, performing the weekly radio show from the city while the star appeared nightly on stage at the Curran Theater on Geary Street.

Notable are the nearly identical opening lines (“Now I know how Berkeley feels”) delivered by Benny at the top of the March 30, 1947, and May 10, 1953, shows.

 

On The Air Sign (Image)

1940 The Jack Benny Show from Oakland Civic Auditorium, January 28, 1940
1942 The Jack Benny Show from the San Francisco Presidio, February 22, 1942
1944 The Jack Benny Show from the Livermore Naval Air Station, March 12, 1944
1945 The Jack Benny Show from San Francisco Civic Auditorium, May 20, 1945
1947 The Jack Benny Show from NBC/San Francisco, March 30, 1947
1953 The Jack Benny Show from the Curran Theater, San Francisco, April 26, 1953
1953 The Jack Benny Show from the Curran Theater, San Francisco, May 3, 1953
1953 The Jack Benny Show from the Marine Memorial Theater, San Francisco, May 10, 1953

 

The Bay Area Radio Museum thanks the International Jack Benny Fan Club
for biographical information used in this exhibit.

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