Jack Benny's Autobiography
The late Jack Benny wrote an autobiography that was known to almost no one. So
few, in fact, that his only daughter Joan was surprised to find the finished
manuscript among her mother's files after her death in 1983. Joan Benny has
augmented her father's words with her own memories and some interviews
accomplished expressly for the book. It is very good. As one might expect from
the most popular comedian of the age of radio, Jack Benny's memoirs are
fast-paced, lively, and entertaining. His recollections are positive, and he
says almost nothing negative about anyone. He traces back to his humble
beginnings as Benjamin Kubelsky in Waukegan, Ill., and reveals many intriguing
facts about his early life and entry into show business. He was a high school
dropout (although, as he notes with irony, Waukegan eventually built a junior
high school in his honor) and took to serious study of the violin only after
flunking out of the family haberdashery business. ("Do we have to know
their names?" he asked his father after an unknown customer left an account
payment with him.) Over his mother's objections, he eventually found employment
as a violinist with a local touring singer. After a while, he began to talk,
which grew into a comedy monologue. Jan Kubelik, a concert violinist, forced

Benny Kubelsky to change his name in 1912. He next became Ben Benny, and became
fairly well known as a violin-and-comedy performer. After serving in the Navy in

World War I, a similar entertainer named Ben Bernie forced him to change his
name again, and he chose the name Jack, by which all sailors in the war were
informally known to each other. Some of the stories have been told before, but
get a much- deserved retelling from the horse's mouth here. Jack met his wife,

Sadie Marks (she later changed her name to Mary Livingstone, the name of the
character she played on the radio show) when he was 27 and she 14 at her
family's Passover celebration in Vancouver. She was related to the Marx
brothers, and Zeppo Marx (then Marks) had brought his colleague to the home for
the occasion. Mary insisted that Jack listen to her violin playing. He found it
horrible and he and Zeppo made a quick exit. Several years later, they met again
and married in 1927 after a brief courtship. It was only after they were married
that Mary reminded Jack of their first meeting. Jack continued his successful
career in vaudeville, and when his partner took ill, he persuaded Mary to fill
in. She was a hit. Eventually he found himself on Broadway and then in the
movies. He vacillated for a time before deciding that going into radio would be
worthwhile. While they were living in New York, they adopted Joan. She learned
in writing the book that Mary Benny had planned to take her only to nurse her to
health while they awaited an arranged baby. (Jack opposed this idea.) Naturally,
they found they couldn't part with Joan. Much of the book consists of Joan's
writing. She seems to be in a different book from her father. It would be a
major help if she used a writing style that conformed more closely to that set
by her father in the early chapters. Her short, simple sentences slow the pace
in a sudden manner. She provides extreme levels of detail about her early life,
homes, and the trappings of being a celebrity daughter. While this matter is
interesting to a Benny buff, one hopes that none of the venerable comedian's
material was subjugated to make room for it. It would be far more relevant if

Joan Benny were a celebrity in her own right. But this is the fall of 1990 and
such things are to be expected of celebrity offspring. George Bush is our
president and no doubt he approves. Some of Joan Benny's passages are curious.

Obviously, had her father wanted details of his premarital womanizing in his
book, he would have put them there himself. Her life is very well detailed up to
about 1965, but she says almost nothing of her activities for the past quarter
century. Joan Benny pulls no punches in discussing her mother. The two had what
would mildly be described as an adversarial relationship. Mary Livingstone Benny
(who always introduced herself as Mrs. Jack Benny) is portrayed as a vain,
insecure spendthrift. She allegedly was most interested in being with and
accepted by the Hollywood elite. Studio moguls, that is, not the entertainers
that her husband