The son of Polish-Jewish immigrants to the United States, Benjamin Kubelsky grew up in the suburbs of Chicago with a strong push by his parents to develop his musical skills with the violin. Benny had great raw talent and loved to play but hated to practice. But he still played it well enough to be noticed on the vaudeville stage by Minnie Marx, the mother of the Marx Brothers (and part of their “Six Mascots” musical group before they got into comedy). Minnie invited young Benjamin to add his musicianship to the group, and those subsequent acts first got him noticed by NBC.
On this day, May 2, in 1932, “Jack Benny” made his first radio broadcast, hosting NBC’s Canada Dry Program. Displaying his customary wit and the tightfisted persona he would become known for, he opened by saying it was a fortune to make his first appearance “professionally…by which I mean I’m getting paid. Which of course will be a great relief to my creditors.”
Benny’s personality was fully developed when NBC gave him a a weekly program, The Jack Benny Radio Hour. It ran for over two decades, bridging into television by the closing years, and remained on the highest-rated and most beloved program for most of those years. It was there that Benny crystallized his character’s cheapness in the immortal gag. Benny’s character was confronted by a hold-up man saying “You money or your life?”, and after a long pause answering “I’m thinking it over!”