Guide to the Jack Benny Program Scripts

MSN/MN 3008

 

Collection Summary

Title: Jack Benny Program scripts
Dates: 1943-1965
Collection No.: MSN/MN 3008
Creator: Balzer, George M., 1915-2006
Extent: 40 volumes and 1 container; 8 linear feet
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A collection of about 600 Jack Benny Program radio and television scripts, 1943 to 1965. The typescripts are original working copies of George M. Balzer, one of Benny's writers.

Selected Search Terms

Benny, Jack, 1894-1974
Jack Benny program (Radio program)
Jack Benny program (Television program)
Radio advertising
Radio programs -- United States
Television programs -- United States

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection

Preferred Citation: Jack Benny Program Scripts, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Jack Benny Program scripts were donated to the Hesburgh Libraries by George M. Balzer. Finding aid 2013, by Kathleen Monahan and George Rugg.

Biographical Note

George M. Balzer was born on 1 September 1915 in Erie, Pennsylvania, the son of George Jacob and Bessie Sullivan Balzer. In 1920 he moved with his parents to Los Angeles, where he began a 34-year career writing comedy for radio, television, and theater. Early in his career Balzer wrote for the radio comedian Bob Burns on the Kraft Music Hall program (starring Bing Crosby), and for George Burns on the Burns and Allen show. He also co-wrote the musical Are You With It?, which opened on Broadway in 1945 and ran for 17 months. In 1943 Balzer and his writing partner on Burns and Allen, Sam Perrin, joined the Jack Benny Program. Balzer remained on Benny's team for more than 20 years, successfully negotiating the transition from radio to television. Balzer was nominated for five Emmys for his work with Benny (and won two others, including the 1959 "Best Writing of a Single Program of a Comedy Series" for a 1959 episode of Ernie Kovacs). After the Benny show went off the air in 1965 Balzer wrote for the Red Skelton Hour and Here's Lucy. He retired from show business in 1971. In 1942 Balzer married Ada Marie Anderson, with whom he had three children. He died in Van Nuys, California on 28 September 2006, at the age of 91.

The Jack Benny Program (officially named The Canada Dry Program) premiered on the NBC Blue Network on 2 May 1932. Over the course of its history the show went through numerous sponsors, from Canada Dry (1932-33) to Chevrolet (1933-34) to General Tire (1934) to Jell-O (1934-42). When Balzer came to the show it was called the Grape Nut and Grape Nut Flakes Program starring Jack Benny. Starting in 1 October 1944, Lucky Strikes became the sponsor, an arrangement which continued until 1959. On 2 January 1949, Benny moved from NBC to CBS as part of William Paley's much publicized "talent raid" of NBC. Benny stayed with CBS until 1964, when he returned to NBC.

The Benny program's transition from radio to television was a gradual one. In the 1950/51 television season Benny aired only four shows. In 1951/52 he made one television show every six weeks. In 1952/53 this became one show every four weeks and in 1953/54, one every three weeks. From 1954 to 1960 Benny was broadcasting a show every other week; only after 1960 did he air a show every week. He continued his weekly radio program until 22 May 1955. Like the radio show, Benny's television program went through a variety of sponsors: Lucky Strike (1950-1959); Lux (1959-1960); State Farm Insurance (1960-1965); Lipton Tea (1960-1962); Jell-O (1962-1964) and Miles Laboratories (1964-1965). On 16 April 1965 the Jack Benny Program finally went off the air.

The Benny program's comic approach, on radio and TV, remained quite consistent over the decades. The show revolved around the generally understated comic persona of its star (who played himself). Other regulars included Mary Livingstone, Benny's real-life wife; Eddie Anderson, Benny's valet-chauffeur Rochester van Jones; Phil Harris, the bandleader; Dennis Day, a naive young man working for Benny and the musical star of the show; Mel Blanc, who played a number of characters; and Don Wilson, the announcer. From 1944 to 1946 Larry Stevens replaced Dennis Day while Day served in the Navy. Bob Crosby, the younger brother of Bing Crosby, replaced Harris as band-leader in 1952. Benny's show also had a repertoire of recurring spot-players, including Joseph Kearns, Artie Auerbach, Verna Felton, Frank Nelson, Dale White, Bea Benaderet, and Sarah Berner. The program also featured guest stars, who varied from week to week.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of 40 bound volumes, holding some 600 radio and television scripts and encompassing over 14,000 pages. Lacking are radio scripts of the Benny program from the years before Balzer joined the show, and from 1955. Also lacking are television scripts from the first two years, 1950 to 1952. The collection also includes 21 folders holding annotated insertions found throughout the volumes. The scripts are uniformly bound in blue leather, with titles, dates, and "Geo. M. Balzer" stamped in gilt on the spines.

Arrangement Note

The bound volumes of scripts are arranged chronologically. Subsequent to these are a group of 21 folders, each containing the insertions in a particular volume; these too are arranged chronologically.

Related Material

Substantial collections of archival material relating to Jack Benny, including radio and television program scripts, are housed at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming (Jack Benny Papers) and at the Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles (Jack Benny Papers, Collection 134).

Container List