When Radio Ruled #67 Jack Benny Goes to Yosemite

Old Time Radio’s Jack Benny show was a sitcom disguised as a variety show.

The cast used their real names, or rather their real stage names, but they all played characters unlike themselves. Characters of diverse comic points of view, each character contrasted with the others. Each funny in their own way and all together a delightful mix of contrasting attitudes and motivations.

rJack Benny was the center of this comic universe. He portrayed a cheapskate, self centered scardy cat who imagined himself a rugged ladies man.

Jack’s real life wife, Mary Livingston, played Jack’s sassy gal pal, boy crazy but not easily impressed by the rich and famous.

Band leader Phil Harris was cast as a drunken, womanizing, musical man about town. More talent than brains and care free.

Tenor vocalist Dennis Day presented as a simple minded momma’s boy. Innocent and child like.

Announcer Don Wilson was the adult in the room, often the object of fat jokes, but treating all with affection and respect. Almost a big brother figure.

The formula for the show was to move back and fourth between the world of putting on a half hour musical/variety radio show and the interpersonal world between the characters.

As you might expect, these characters endeared themselves to their listeners. It was fun listening to the real Jack Benny playing the radio character Jack Benny who was portraying some character in a radio play. It was fun to hear radio Phil Harris pretend to not know anything about music. It was funny when radio Dennis Day believed everything he was told, or Radio Mary recounted the story of a disastrous date.

These moments were broken up with songs from Phil and Dennis, sometimes Mary, and comical Jello commercials from Don. Sometimes sketches with guest stars who in most cases also played themselves in encounters with radio Jack Benny, like the time Barbara Stanwyck rehearsed a radio play with Jack or the time Orson Welles came by to give Jack acting lessons.

In truth, the characters the cast portrayed became so well known and loved that they could stand alone, outside the variety show world.

In early 1940 Jack and his writers did just that. For an entire month, the Jack Benny radio characters were sent on a fictional ski vacation to Yosemite.

The Jack Benny Radio shows February 4, 11, 18, and 25 1940 presented the trip to and the adventures at Yosemite starring the Jack Benny Gang.

Although presented episodically because of Jack’s half hour time slot, these four shows are a single radio play running approximately 80 minutes. It is a radical break from the Jack Benny formula, and adds layers of nuance to the characters as these actors get to really act in the longer more sustained narrative involving these characters.

And that’s what you are about to hear, the entire radio play cut together with commercials etc. edited out in order to focus on the story and maintain pacing.

Believe me, this is good stuff. Jack Benny and the Gang go to Yosemite parts 1, 2, 3, & 4.

Click Here To Go With Jack to Yosemite!

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