How much did you know about the superstar who lit up stage, radio, TV, AND the silver screen?
Here (above) he is as the ham Shakespearean actor in a theatrical troupe that finds itself playing Warsaw during the WWII Nazi occupation of Poland. The movie is 1942’s To Be Or Not To Be, a marvelous Ernst Lubitsch black comedy that provides a sparkling performance from Benny and costar Carole Lombard.
The movie was released a month after Lombard was killed in a plane crash, returning from a WWII bond drive in the midwest. Gable never got over her death.
The picture also demonstrates our rule: any movie with Sig Ruman in the cast is worth seeing. (A young Robert Stack is also on hand as Lombard’s love interest.)
Granted that Benny did not parlay his excellent performance in To Be Or Not To Be into a successful movie career. Most of his films are poor and deserved their failure, opines British critic David Thomson. But ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ showed how much greater Benny’s talent has been than most of his films required.
OK, on the answers to our Jack Benny Quiz:
1) Question: Opposite Carole Lombard in the 1942 Lubitsch film pictured above, (considered Benny’s best), he plays: a) An inept Nazi officer; b) A ham Hamlet in Warsaw under the Nazis; c) Adolph Hitler; or d) all of the above.
Answer: As indicated above the answer is (b).
2) Question: Benny worked in movies principally for four major Hollywood studios. Which one rated Benny a ‘star?’ a) MGM; b) Paramount; c) 20th Century Fox; or d) United Artists.
Answer: It was (b) Paramount that declared that Benny was a movie star. But his movies made there was not terribly successful.
3) Question: Although he wasn’t in the picture, Benny had a connection to Vincente Minnelli’s 1943 musical fantasy, Cabin In The Sky. What was it? a) He had a hand in financing the picture; b) On an uncredited basis he wrote part of the script; c) Ethel Waters‘ costar in the picture played a regular on Benny’s tv show; or d) Benny had an uncredited role in producing the picture.
Answer: (c) Eddie Anderson (above right) was Ethel Waters’ costar in Cabin In The Sky. This appealing actor with the gravelly voice later appeared as a supporting player (as Rochester) on Benny’s tv shows. He was superb in both capacities.
4) Question: Which one of the following did NOT costar in a Jack Benny picture? a) Priscilla Lane; b) Alexis Smith; c) Ann Sothern; or d) Ann Sheridan.
Answer: d) Ann Sothern.
5) Question: What specific thing does Benny have in common with Fanny Brice, Laurel and Hardy, Edgar Bergen and Abbott & Costello? a) All are film comics; b) All were reputed to be major-league cheapskates; c) All were underpaid given their star status; or d) All have had commemorative U.S. postage stamps issued in their honor.
Answer: (d) See below.