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January 10, 2013 — Papers of Jack Benny, one of the 20th century’s most influential entertainers, are now accessible online at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center.
More than 130 cubic feet of Benny papers are accessible at http://rmoa.unm.edu/docviewer.php?docId=wyu-ah08922.xml.
As a young boy, Benny showed an early talent for violin. He brought his violin talents with him onto the vaudeville stage, where he learned that he was especially adept at comedy. It was here that he met his future wife, Mary Livingstone. In 1932, he started on radio with “The Jack Benny Program,” a half-hour comedy that featured guest stars such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and George Burns. The radio show lasted until 1955.
He brought "The Jack Benny Program" to television in 1950, where it aired until 1965. He continued to host television specials until 1974.
In addition to his radio and television programs, Benny appeared in numerous films, most notably “To Be or Not To Be” and “George Washington Slept Here.” He (along with his Jack Benny Program cast members) went on numerous USO tours during World War II and the Korean War to entertain the troops.
Although portrayed as an incredibly cheap man in his programs, Benny was very charitable in life. In his later years, he traveled to countless cities to perform concerts to support local symphonies. Benny died from cancer Dec. 26, 1974.
The Jack Benny collection contains numerous scripts from his radio and television programs. Many are Benny’s original radio scripts that he signed, and contained his notes and edits. Many photographs are in the collection, including some with Benny pictured with other celebrities and on his USO tours.
The collection offers some film of his programs, including most of his TV specials. A fairly substantial amount of his financial files are included, as is correspondence, including condolence letters sent to his wife after his death. The collection also contains sheet music, much of it handwritten and arranged especially for Benny.
The AHC is UW’s manuscripts repository, university archives and rare books library. It is one of the largest and most actively used non-governmental primary source repositories in the United States. In addition to outstanding collections that document the history of most aspects of the Rocky Mountain West, the AHC has internationally acclaimed holdings in popular entertainment (TV, radio and film), aviation and aerospace, railroads, journalism, conservation, aspects of U.S. military history, economic geology and ranching. Its award-winning website is at http://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/.
Photograph of Jack Benny with an unidentified actress, Paramount Pictures, 1939. This is among the photos in the Jack Benny Collection at the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center. (AHC Photo)