Nick Charles (wheelerwoolsey) wrote in jack_benny,
Nick Charles


I have read several times that Jack Benny's program single-handedly made Jell-O the #1 gelatin dessert in the country. The book Jack Benny: A Biography by Mary Livingstone and Marcia Borie recalls the early days of Jack's association with Jell-O as his sponsor (1934):

For the first six months Jack was on the air for Jell-O, then a fairly new product, there were merchandising problems beyond Benny's control. All across America, those six delicious flavors: strawberry, raspberry, cherry, orange, lemon and lime, were just sitting on the shelves--a fact hardly calculated to make a sponsor happy.

One day, Jack and Mary's agent, Arthur Lyons, showed up at the Benny apartment along with the Jell-O executive responsible to General Foods for the program. After a lengthy discussion, the executive got down to the bottom line. In order to keep the show on the air, General Foods requested that Jack and his entire cast take a cut in salary. Jack said he would discuss the situation and give them an answer within the week.

As it turned out, everyone agreed to the cut except Mary. Jack was astounded, but Mary stood her ground. Firmly she told him: "I won't allow it to get around town that you've taken a cut in salary. It would be bad for you. I can't let that happen, Jack. It would be so unfair to you..."

Touched by his wife's fervent loyalty, Jack asked Mary if she had any other solution to the problem.

Mary nodded. "Let's you and I work without salary until the situation improves," she suggested. "I'd rather we earned nothing than let you accept less than the money you've been getting."

It was a revolutionary suggestion--but Jack went along with it. The rest of the cast continued to get the same salary they had been making. Mary and Jack worked free out of a sense of pride.

Two months passed. By then, Benny's show had swept the country. Jell-O was selling so well, grocers couldn't keep the product on their shelves. The sponsors showed their delight by giving Mary and Jack a dinner party to celebrate the good news. But first, the guests gathered at the Bennys' for cocktails.

One of the General Foods executives toasted them and made a flowery speech about being grateful to Jack, Mary and their whole radio family for doing such a great sales job. Jell-O was a huge hit, and all because of the Benny show. At the end of his speech, the gentleman reached into his pocket and took out a check, which he presented to Mary. It was made out for a very large sum--the combined regular salary which Jack and Mary had given up for a total of eight weeks.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the Benny's maid-cook, Henrietta, had been preparing to serve hors d'oeuvres when there was a knock on the back door. It was a uniformed messenger with a large, specially wrapped gift. Inside the box, she found a huge silver platter--well chilled. On the platter, decorated with fancy garnishes, sat a six-tier mold in the form of a cake--made out of Jell-O. It was so fancy, if she had stuck a tiny bride and groom on the top, it would have been very appropriate for a wedding.

Because it was not part of the planned menu, she carried the platter into the dining room and said unceremoniously, "Mrs. Benny, what do you want me to do with this crap?"

The people from General Foods gasped. Jack's face turned the shade of the first three layers--strawberry, raspberry and cherry.

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