The Jack Benny Program

TV classics: The Jack Benny Program

USA 1950-65, 15 seasons,  343 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS & NBC, black & white. Sponsors: Lucky Strike, Lux, Lipton Tea, Jell-O and others, Cast: Jack Benny, Eddie Anderson, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, Mary Livingstone, Mel Blanc, Frank Nelson and various recurring guest stars

Plot summary: As one of America’s most beloved comedians, Jack Benny entertained his audience on radio before he found fame in fifteen consecutive TV seasons on CBS and NBC.

Review: Like many of his contemporaries, Jack Benny originally started out on radio before he took television by storm with a show based on his continued radio success. Reliable as a source of hilarity and entertainment, the comedian created one of those early hit shows the majority of America refrained from missing back in the days. Welcoming many stars of his time, including Humphrey Bogart, Raymond Burr, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, Irene Dunne, Bob Hope, Jane Mansfield, Groucho Marx, Marilyn Monroe, James and Gloria Stewart or Danny Thomas, the show guaranteed diversion and relaxation and succeeded for remarkable fifteen consecutive seasons.

With some episodes now in public domain and the rest eagerly awaited by Jack Benny fans to be released on DVD, today, the comedian is still regarded as one of America’s greatest performers and one of Hollywood’s generous stars. His show, though not easy to categorize, offered previously recorded, as well as live broadcasts and aimed at entertaining the audience often on his own behalf. Judged as easy formula entertainment by some, The Jack Benny Program did a wonderful job diverting an entire generation and their children from their daily hardships in a time that was less cushioned than many people imagine today. Never dwelling on cynicism, Jack Benny offered a good half hour of gags and laughs, while always trying to deliver the best material for the audience to enjoy. Supported by a decent cast and beloved recurring characters, the comedian managed to leave a mark on his audience despite his irregular television appearances in the early 50s. After ending his radio commitment, The Jack Benny Program was broadcast more frequently until his farewell, at the height of his popularity, in 1965 on NBC.

For old fans and new ones alike, selected episodes are available on DVD. Selected radio episodes are available on the Internet Archive.

The Jack Benny Program sample episode with guest star Bob Hope

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Password

TV classics: Password

USA 1961-67, 6 seasons,  1555 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Hosted by Allen Ludden, Celebrity guests: Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Raymond Burr, Polly Bergen, Arlene Francis, Gloria Stewart, James Stewart, Dick Van Dyke, Betty White et al.

Game summary: Two teams, consisting of a celebrity guest and a regular player, are trying to give their partners clues about a word they are supposed to guess.

Review: Password was a daily game show hosted by Allen Ludden, previously known for his work on G.E. College Bowl. Originally airing on CBS from 1961 to 67, the show returned to ABC in 1971 where it lasted another four seasons. Re-imagined over and over again, Password was presented in resembling formats on different channels, including a celebrity-only version where both teams played for the benefit of their chosen charities.

As a pivotal element of its concept, Password welcomed a lot of Hollywood’s big name stars, some of whom even appeared with their spouses or children. Always aiming at the lighthearted entertainment, Allen Ludden encouraged his contestants to bring their sense of humor to the show, sharing more than just one good laugh with the audience. Betty White was one of the early guest stars who made it a habit to reappear on the show on a regular basis. It may be safe to assume however that she did not only like to play the game since she got married to Password host Allen Ludden in 1963, a vow that lasted until his untimely death in 1981.

It’s charming trivia like that that adds to the fun of watching the original black and white Password episodes today – for Betty White enthusiasts, Allen Ludden fans and anyone who likes to play word games.

Selected clips and episodes available on DVD and on Youtube.