Jack Benny made a fortune by being cheap. He was so cheap, for example, that when Mary asked for diamonds for her birthday he bought her two of them--the eight and the Queen. He was so cheap that when he worked in a nightclub he'd insist Mary stand up and take a bow, explaining, "Now I can deduct the dress. If you'd wave your hand I could deduct the ring too." And he was so cheap that he once gave Gracie a coupon for a year's subscription to a magazine as a gift--and all she had to do was fill it out and send it in with a check.
That Jack Benny was one of the greatest characters ever created. And it proved what a good actor he was, because one thing he wasn't in real life was cheap. Mary made sure of that.
The truth is that Mary provided Jack with an awful lot; a lot of bills for clothes, a lot of bills for furs, a lot of bills for jewelry....The real truth is that Jack did buy Mary a lot of jewelry--he knew he bought it for her because when she showed it to him she always said, "Look what you bought me today." Maybe the most expensive piece of jewelry she had was a large diamond ring that she wore all the time. My son Ronnie used to warn her about that. "Aunt Mary," he told her, "you shouldn't wear that ring in public, because somebody's going to hit you over the head and take it." And Ronnie knew what he was talking about because one day Mary was held up in her suite in the Pierre Hotel and her jewels were stolen. Jack was on an airplane when it happened, but as soon as he heard about it he tried to get Mary on the phone. She wasn't in the suite, so he kept calling and calling. Finally she answered. "I've been worried about you," he said, "where've you been?"
She told him that she had been at Harry Winston's jewelry store looking at diamond rings.
Jack couldn't believe it. "You were robbed four hours ago and you're already looking at another diamond?"
"I have to, doll," she said. "It's like when you fall off a horse, if you don't get right back on, you might never do it again."
Mary really didn't have any concept of money. Once, for example, she decided she was going to have a garage sale. She put all her old dresses on racks and invited the secretaries at CBS, the women who worked in Dr. Kennamer's office and some of the girls from Flo Haley's beauty salon, then marked her dresses down as low as $2,000 apiece!
Of course, Jack didn't have any concept of money either. I think that as far as he was concerned, the most important thing his money did for him was keep Mary happy. I remember when he showed up at the club after signing a $2,000,000 deal with CBS. He was as excited as I've ever seen him. "Congratulations, Jack," I said, "you really look excited."
"I am, Natty," he said. "You know what I just found out? Did you know that if you drive up Wilshire Boulevard at exactly twenty-eight miles an hour you miss every red light?"
"What's the matter with you, Jack?" I asked him. "I'm talking about the contract with CBS. Aren't you excited about that?"
"Of course I am," he said. "If it wasn't for that I never would have driven up Wilshire Boulevard."
Jack and Mary with George and Gracie.