Jack Benny – The Early Years.

This is from information gleaned from several online sources, primarily from Wikkipedia, and the International JackBenny Fan club, but also from a few other sources.

Benny’s father was Myer Kubelski, who in 1889, immigrated to New York from Lithuania. He settled in Waukegan, Illinois and was a Jewish saloon keeper, tailor, haberdasher and dry good store proprietor. Four years after his immigration,Myer married Emma (Sachs) Wagner in 1893. She also was an immigrant from Lithuania.

A story surrounding Jack Benny’s birth concerns a superstition of his mother. She believed that it carried more status, or was good luck, to be born in a bigger city. So she and Meyer temporarily moved. They lived in Chicago for about a year so their first child could be endowed with all the prestige, luck and what ever other good fortune a big city could bring. And so we have the story of why the birth certificate of Benjamin Kubelski reads: Mercy Hospital, Cook County Chicago, Illinois.

The family did move back to Waukegan and their young son had a normal life. The family didn’t have much in the way of wealth, but as a wedding gift, Emma had recieved a piano from her mother. Young Benjamin began showing some musical aptitude by playing simple tunes on that piano. It inspired Benjamin’s parents to present him with a half sized violin for his 6th birthday, which was a popular instrument for young Jewish children to learn to play. It was his parents hopes that he would be a great classical violinist.

His first lessons were taken twice per week from Professor Harlow, who charged 50 cents per lesson. As it turned out, he loved the instrument. He enjoyed playing the violin and was showing promising ability. However, he hated to practice. It is said that He would play for his grandmother. She would sit in a row of chairs that represented a crowd of fans, as her young grandson put on shows for imaginary audiences.

Later that same year, on September 12, 1900 Benny’s sister, Florence was born.

Benny’s violin ability increased and by 1902 was taking weekly lessons at the Chicago Musical College. His new instructor was Dr. Hugo Kortschalk.

As a young schoolboy, life was filled with assorted routines. For Benjamin that meant spending afternoons practicing. From 4pm to 6pm he was forced to sit by the front parlor window at his family home at 224 South Genesee Street. Through that parlor window he could see Lake Michigan, and all the activity that took place on the water’s edge. The boats at the dock, people coming and going and all the distractions to make a young boy’s imagination wander. Practicing the violin just seemed to not be as important.

As time marched on, school, and grades took on less of an interest. By the time Benjamin was 14 years old and entered the ninth grade at Waukegan’s Central High School, his musical ability was accomplished enough to get him a job. He worked in the orchestra pit at the Barrison Theater, the local vaudeville house, which was just a few blocks from his home. Sources also claim that he played in local dance bands as well as in his high school orchestra.

Benjamin was a dreamer and a poor student. He managed to flunk out of every subject that year. Depending on the source, and possibly a combination of them, the truth may be found, one story says that he simply dropped out of school voluntarily. While another story claims that He was expelled from high school, allegedly for hanging out at vaudeville theaters instead of attending class. The reality might well be a combination of things, poor grades, lack of interest and possibly expulsion on academic grounds, due to those bad grades, or poor attendance. Over the next three years, from1908 to 1911, Benjamin most likely both helped out at his father’s store as well as played music when he could get hired on in a band.

Though he was the dutiful son, and tryed his best at the family business, his lack of interest must have been apparent.

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