( United States: 1894-1974)
For my last few months at Northwestern University in the spring of 1949 when I was allowed to have a car on campus, my mother helped me drive out to Illinois from New York. As we were entering Chicago's South Side, she leaned forward to switch on the car radio. It was time for "The Jack Benny Show." I have recalled that click for almost fifty years, as my mother had never turned on a radio before to my knowledge, but listening to Jack Benny every Sunday night was one of our most honored family traditions. At home my father undoubtedly was at that moment making sandwiches on a card table in the living room for my three younger brothers. The nine hundred miles that separated our family melted away as that familiar voice filled the car, saying in its inimitable tone, with a catch in it, "This is Jack Benny."
We were not alone in our family loyalty to Jack Benny. Years later President John F. Kennedy told Jack Benny that his father, Joseph Kennedy, insisted that his family listen as a group to Jack Benny every Sunday night. In 1944 a national poll on the best-known voice in America found that Jack Benny's was number one, and President Franklin Roosevelt's was number two. From his first radio program in 1932 until his last public appearance in 1974 just before his death at the age of eighty, Jack Benny arguably was the most widely popular and best-loved comedian who ever lived.
Jack Benny, then Benjamin Kubelsky, was born in Chicago on Valentine's Day in 1894, but his family lived in nearby Waukegan, Illinois, where his father