I realize how peculiar it is to be a Jack Benny fan born outside of his lifetime, but it has its rewards. His radio show was always more fun and freewheeling than his television endeavors, but I saw a lot of episodes on “Antenna TV” and YouTube over the long weekend, and found that there’s a lot to love about the video incarnation.
My new favorite is a 1950s episode which takes place on New Year’s Eve. The first half is kind of dull and corny, but the second half, especially if you know the characters well, is a treat. Jack is humbled when his New Year’s date cancels at the last minute, and although he takes it rather well, there’s just the right amount of pathos as he observes New Year’s frivolity as an outsider.
But the best moment, depicted above, is when his butler Rochester foregoes a wild party in order to stay home and hoist champagne with his boss.
It’s almost silly to mention race in this context; after all, it was clearly a non-issue on the Jack Benny show. But I have to wonder if the fact that one of America’s most beloved comedians was depicted, without fanfare, as being a dear friend with a black man caused people of that era to second-guess their own prejudices.