Skip to main content

Jack Benny Tenors

JACK    "Dennis, what you did to me tonight, scaring me the way you did -- oh
Dennis, that gave me an eerie feeling."

DENNIS  "Gee Mr. Benny, that's where I was born!"

JACK:           "Oh, Erie Pennsylvania?"

DENNIS  "No, Feeling, West Virginia."

The zinger. This is a typical exchange between Jack Benny and his naive,
young comic foils. Jack always enjoyed having this one-dimensional character
to add to the mix of his radio `gang.' The tenor vocal range was the perfect
match for the sweet, dumb kid type. The role was played by a handful of radio
actors over the run of the Benny series among them Frank Parker, Michael
Bartlett, and James Melton. The three that are most memorable in the role and
most aptly portrayed the developing character were Kenny Baker, Larry
Stevens, and Dennis Day.

Longtime listeners and admirers of the Benny show will readily associated
Dennis Day with the role. True, Dennis is mostly closely associated with role
due to having held it the longest.  The role was originally fleshed out by
Kenny Baker, who took over vocalist duties from the then tremendously popular
Frank Parker in 1934. Frank Parker was key in making the vocalist a part of
the comedy troupe as well. But Kenny gave the vocalist role added depth by
further joining the cast in the situations and story lines. He is also
generally credited with giving direction to the "timid tenor" role. The
comedy variety that the naive kid gave the writers was invaluable. In 1938,
Kenny Baker was the biggest star on the program, second only to Benny
himself. All age groups adored him. Kenny gradually grew to be an endearing,
lovable character and was adored by audiences

It should also be noted here, that the tenor on the Jack Benny Show did
create tremendous responses by most who held the positions and enjoyed great
success. So much so, that when Frank Parker left the series, the end of the
Benny show was predicted by the media. When Kenny took the reigns over, he
too achieved great success, bolstering the Benny show as well. Kenny helped
define the role and set the precedent for the character.

However, in 1938, Kenny left the program to join Fred Allen (there are many
stories as to why) Again, the demise of the Jack Benny show was predicted.
Auditions immediately began to locate his replacement.  During one audition
in particular, when Mary Livingston questioned the next candidate, he
answered, "yes, please?" This line caught Mary's funny bone and when he
finished singing, Dennis was sent to California to audition for Jack. At the
time of his hiring, no one really knew what Dennis was really capable of
beyond singing. As it turns out Dennis had an unmatched sense of comedy
timing. He possessed an innate sense of how to feed and react to jokes.
Dennis also had the ability to perform voice impersonations so flawlessly
that had he not been singer, he could have easily been the `Rich Little' of
his era. Dennis copied Jerry Colonna so closely, for example, that Jerry's
wife thought it WAS Jerry Colonna on the Benny show one evening. One needs
only to listen to Dennis mimicking Titus Moody to assuage any doubts as to
Dennis' ability.

Dennis remarked, "thank goodness Kenny left the show, because I wouldn't be
where I am if he hadn't!" Dennis' character was overly timid in his first few
programs with Jack Benny. He had a buffer between himself and Jack through
his Mother, played by Verna Felton. So Dennis had limited lines at first. For
example, Dennis' Mother would say to Dennis, "Say hello to the people,
Dennis." And Dennis would reply, "Hello to the people!" Over time however,
Dennis gained comfort in the role, and comfort in displaying his talent and

himself commented, "I played a silly, naive kid that, partly in
keeping with the character that Jack wanted, was my own personality which was
kind of retiring. I was not a brash person or anything like that."

"You know everything that my character said or did on that show had a certain
amount of logic to it, and of course the logic was always to annoy Jack
Benny," said Dennis Day in an interview.

The following are examples of the crazy situations that Dennis would drag
Jack into.

JACK:           Dennis, I'm a little disappointed in you. You didn't come to
me when I was in hospital.

DENNIS: Well, I couldn't Mr. Benny, I was sick at the time myself.

JACK:           You were? I didn't know that.

DENNIS: Yeah, I had to have a doctor and everything. I felt awful I had
chills, fever, a temperature, and butterflies in my stomach.

JACK:           No kidding. What did the doctor do?

DENNIS: He told me to stop eating the butterflies.

Or the following brief exchange,

JACK:           Dennis, I heard you singing on the other side of the store,
but I
thought it was a record..

DENNIS: Maybe that's because I have a hole in my head.

And this classic set up.

JACK    While I'm on the subject I want to say that although you've been with
me for a good many years, your voice keeps improving all the time. And on
this last show of the season it's a pleasure, I want to tell you it's
pleasure to have you on my show because of your talent, your loyalty, and
your. .

DENNIS  How can you read that stuff? Doesn't it make you sick?

However when Pearl Harbor provoked the United Sates to join the World War,
Dennis joined as well. Upon a character's absence, the highly talented Benny
cast could cover the loss of a key cast member for a few shows. However, with
Dennis in the Navy the void was one in which necessitated a replacement and
Jack knew it. Jack had such an integrated cast that replacing a member was a
careful and thoughtful decision for Benny, and one for which he would not be
rushed. Dennis left the Benny broadcast on April 24, 1944. With an emotional
goodbye, Dennis thanked Jack and Mary personally for the past 5 years. Jack
warmly promised that he looks forward to him coming back. Through the
remainder of the season and the beginning of the fall season the program
utilized guest singers such as Frank Sinatra

Carefully auditions were held until Mary happened on a 21-year-old young man
named Larry Stevens. Mary was at Ambassador Hotel for a bond drive rally.
During the rally, anyone who purchased a war bond could come onstage and sing
with The Freddie Martin Orchestra. Larry was onstage singing thanks to a
buddy of his who purchased a war bond in his name. Mary insisted Larry
audition for Jack and that was all it took.

Larry premiered on The Jack Benny Show on November 11, 1944. Larry aptly
handled the singing duties on the Benny program. Although it took a while to
develop his character and integrate him into the show. This occurred
gradually over the two years that Larry was on the program. Larry never
achieved full assimilation with the show however. It seems as if it was
understood that Dennis would be back and that Larry was in fact a substitute.
Larry performed marvelously, however

It should be noted and made clear that like Kenny and Dennis before him,
Larry also tried to portray the dumb kid persona. However, Benny and his
brilliant staff of writers would develop characters and dialog by
accentuating each actor's own personality traits. In other words, the Benny
characters were amplifications of the actors themselves. So while some
generic dumb kid jokes could easily be interchanged between Dennis and
Larry's role, Larry was a new personality that would require a different
approach in writing for him. Benny's writing staff was keenly aware of this
and worked to tailor the dialog to Larry's personality.

Two short years later, Dennis returned from the Navy to a promise fulfilled
from Jack Benny, he resumed his spot in the cast. Larry went on to some
additional success in radio, having his ego bolstered further on his final
broadcast by having Jack inform Larry the LSMFT really meant "Larry Stevens
Makes Fine Tunes". After Dennis' return he picked up right where he left off
and further ingrained his character in the Benny gang and Dennis' talent went
on to further blossom. His song repertoire included Irish favorites, Broadway
and show tunes, and popular songs of the day. This ability of the tenor, and
Dennis in particular, to flawlessly shift between singing and comedy made the
role one of the pillars of the Benny program.

Dennis noted that being a success on the Jack Benny show was not too
difficult because you had the best writers providing you with the very best
material in the business. Dennis noted " I always got a great charge out of
going to the Jack Benny rehearsals and the shows themselves because you knew
you were going to have fun. And everybody did enjoy themselves. There was no
animosity among any of us, we weren't jealous of one another and we all got
along just absolutely great. Everyone got his feature spot and the material
was the greatest." Through radio and then television Dennis enjoyed 25 years
with Jack Benny and was the last tenor to hold the position.


Popular posts from this blog

"Was Jack Benny Gay?": The Amount of Weight In Jack Benny's Loafers

While doing research for an article I came across an unexpected search result: "Was Jack Benny Gay?" There was no more than the question as previously stated from the original poster, but the replies made for interesting reading, ranging from: Jack Benny Celebrating his 39th Birthday "Of course not, he was a well known skirt-chaser in his youth, and he was married to Mary Livingston for many years" "Sure he was, everyone in Hollywood with the possible exception of John Wayne was and is homosexual!" "Part of Benny's "schtick" was his limp-wristed hand-to-face gestures. He was not gay, but emphasized what his fans observed as "acting like a girl" for humor. While heterosexual Benny tried to gay it up, many really gay actors or comedians in those days tried to act as "straight" as they could muster." "... the idea behind his character was to have him a little on the ambiguous side. His charact

Old Time Radio Shows "Transcribed" Explained

What does it mean on old time radio shows when you hear the show is "Transcribed"? During the Golden Age of Radio , "transcribed" programs were recorded and sent to stations or networks on a disc running at 16 rps. The discs are larger than 33 1/3s. "Transcribed" means it was recorded on a disc. "Recorded" was a term that was known, of course, but not used very much in Radio's Golden Age. During the era, it was also considered very important to distinguish which shows went out live and which were recorded (transcribed), so if a show was transcribed it was announced as such.  "Transcribed" was a colloquialism of the era. One reason they came up with it was because there was still enough skittishness about recording that "pre-recorded" sounded a little obscene inside the industry. CBS and NBC were live through the '30s and '40s. Yet line transcriptions were made for either the sponsor or its ad agency.


Old Time Radio Actor's Name, Character Played, Program Aaker, Lee Rusty Rin-Tin-Tin Aames, Marlene McWilliams, Lauralee Story of Holly Sloan, The Abbott, Judith Lawson, Agnes Aldrich Family, The Abbott, Minabelle Sothern, Mary Life of Mary Sothern, The Ace, Goodman Ace, Goodman Easy Aces Ace, Goodman Ace, Goodman Mister Ace and Jane Ace, Jane Ace, Jane Easy Aces Ace, Jane Ace, Jane Mister Ace and Jane Adams, Bill Cotter, Jim Rosemary Adams, Bill Hagen, Mike Valiant Lady Adams, Bill Roosevelt, Franklin Delano March of Time, The Adams, Bill Salesman Travelin' Man Adams, Bill Stark, Daniel Roses and Drums Adams, Bill Whelan, Father Abie's Irish Rose Adams, Bill Wilbur, Matthew Your Family and Mine Adams, Bill Young, Sam Pepper Young's Family Adams, Edith Gilman, Ethel Those Happy Gilmans Adams, Franklin Mayor of a model city Secret City Adams, Franklin Jr. Skinner, Skippy Skippy Adams, Franklin Pierce Emcee Word Game, The Adams, Guila Mattie Step M