Comic legend Jack Benny may not have had a biological child, but he was a proud and doting father to his adopted daughter Joan, to whom he left a majority of his estate when he died. Here’s everything you need to know about the father and daughter duo.
Born Benjamin Kubelsky on February 14, 1894, in Chicago, Illinois, Jack Benny began his career as a violinist before transitioning his career to comedy. He got his first violin at the age of 8 and quit school in the ninth grade.
Ten years later, he was a part of vaudeville, a group of unrelated acts in one bill, which was popular from the 1880s until the 1930s. It was there that he told a joke. When the audience laughed, the sound “intoxicated” him. It was then that he chose to ditch his musical career.
In 1917, he left the group to enlist in the United States Navy for World War I. There, he entertained soldiers using his violin through “The Great Lakes Review.” It was at that time that he changed his name to “Jack Benny.”
In the show, he used his comic genius to make an impression. Realizing he had a gift for making people laugh, he decided to ditch music altogether and pursue a career in comedy instead.
By the 1920s, Benny’s life took off in more ways than one. He had met and performed with a woman named Sadie Marks, who took on the stage and legal name Mary Livingstone.
In 1927, the pair got married. Just two years after, Benny signed a five-year film contract with MGM, and he landed his own radio show titled “The Jack Benny Program” in 1932.
Benny created a sitcom within a sitcom, showing the comic effect of a self-serving version of himself, Jack Benny. He was surrounded by a good ensemble, and it ran from 1932 to 1955, alternating between CBS and NBC stations.
His cast included Don Wilson as the show’s announcer, Eddie Anderson as his valet and chauffeur, Gene McNulty as singer Dennis Day, and his wife as his own girlfriend. Phil Harris starred as himself, and Mel Blanc joined in for a variety of roles.
HIS TRANSITION TO TELEVISION
As his radio show was a big hit, he transitioned it to television, where it aired for 15 years, from 1950 to 1965. For five years, the show even overlapped between the two mediums.
Between all of these happening for him in his career, what not many people knew was that he and his wife were going through something personal as well.
ADOPTING THEIR DAUGHTER MARY
In 1934, Livingstone and Benny adopted a daughter. In the couple’s joint biography “Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story,” he introduced her in a strange yet sweet way, describing her wrinkled face, tiny arms, and crooked legs. He added:
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. ‘Is this the one you picked?’ I asked Mary. Mary was smiling a secret smile. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Isn’t she darling?’ ‘How can you want to adopt a funny-looking thing like that one?’”
The same way Livingstone fell in love with their daughter, Benny did as well. He shared in the book that Joan became very beautiful, and he fell in love with her before she was living with the couple for even two days. “She completed our lives,” he added.
While Joan was growing up, his wife became the disciplinarian, and he was a “softie.” At one point, Joan even proclaimed that she hated her mom, and it was Benny who had to speak to her about it.
In their little talk, Benny admitted to his daughter that he first thought she was ugly. He added that Livingstone wanted Joan so much, and this proved how much she loved her.
After their talk, his daughter said: “Daddy, I love you very much.” He responded, saying, “Joanie, you don’t love me as much as I love you.” She insisted, saying she loved him more, as she loved him all her life, while he didn’t love her until the second day.
When Joan was 19, she married Seth Baker. Their wedding was marked one of the most fabulous weddings in Hollywood history, costing an estimated $25,000.
At the time, Benny walked his daughter down the aisle to wed her New York stockbroker love. The reception took place at the luxurious Beverly Hills Hotel, with white lilac decore flown all the way from Holland. Designer Don Loper flew from France for Joan’s gown.
Through the years, Joan was proud to have had a good relationship with her father. In fact, she often described him as the nicest man she had ever known.
Although she admits that her father’s show might have been his first priority, the two of them were very close. They went to baseball games together, traveled to different cities, and watched concerts.
In the same way, Benny was a great dad, Joan added that he was also a great grandfather. Speaking about it, she said:
“When I was married and had children, I lived not too far away, so dad would come over every two or three days for a cup of coffee and to see his grandchild.”
Benny died at the age of 80 in 1974 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. It was not discovered until it appeared on x-rays just a couple of days before his death.
After finding out about his illness, the likes of Ronal Reagan, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye, and George Burns visited his family home, as they’ve been friends for decades.
Benny left a chunk of his estate to Livingstone, Joan, and his sister. He also donated two valuable violins worth between $50,000 to $100,000 to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Livingstone got $100,000 and a $10,000 monthly income, Joan got $50,000 and a $2,000 monthly income, and his sister, Florence Fenchal, got $20,000 and $650 a month.